New York Magazine has a very interesting article about kids and lying. Any parent should want to read this because it drives home the point that all children, good and bad, lie. Often, they learn to lie from watching us and our "white lies" that ease our daily life. As someone who cares about guiding families away from Internet dangers, I read this article with such interest. If your child will lie to you about minor concerns such as which movie they actually saw at the mall last night, won't they also lie to you about the websites they visit or their social networking activity? You betcha!
The article gives some insight into why kids lie based on recent university research. One finding is that lying increases earlier than you might have thought. Just as I've learned that risky online behavior seems to peak in middle school and not in high school (as I had previously believed), lying follows a similar pattern.
First, why do kids lie? Apparently, at the earliest ages (2 years old), lying is associated with intelligence. Lying helps a child gain an advantage or avoid a punishment. Similar advantages await the older child who occasionally lies. "By withholding details about their lives, adolescents carve out a social domain and identity that are theirs alone, independent from their parents or other adult authority figures. To seek out a parent for help is, from a teen's perspective, a tacit admission that he's not mature enough to handle it alone. Having to tell parents about it can be psychologically emasculating, whether the confession is forced out of him or he volunteers it on his own. It's essential for some things to be "none of your business."
The big surprise in the research is when this need for autonomy is strongest. It's not mild at 12, moderate at 15, and most powerful at 18. Darling's scholarship shows that the objection to parental authority peaks around ages 14 to 15. In fact, this resistance is slightly stronger at age 11 than at 18. In popular culture, we think of high school as the risk years, but the psychological forces driving deception surge earlier than that."
Resistance to parental authority peeks at ages 14 to 15 but is slightly stronger at age 11 than at 18. This is so similar to the issues we see with kids and their online behavior. You've got to start paying attention to what your children are doing in general and especially online when they are ages 9-11 and set your families rules into place then. Do not wait until they are 15 years old in anticipation that it will get even worse in a few years. You will have missed your parenting window of opportunity.
And as you'll see in the article and with important implications for all of us parents, you really need to select just a few areas to have rules for your child and ENFORCE THEM. If you are strict about everything, you won't be able to follow through on every transgression. And if you are strict about nothing, your children will take more chances, lie more about their activities and be more at risk. You might succeed in your effort to be your child's "friend" but yet again, we have research to demonstrate that every child needs their parent to be a parent.