Is It OK to iLie?


    You have a friend who has a kindergarten-aged daughter who's been known to tell white lies. To try to get his daughter to stop, my friend told her he has an iPhone app that detects lying. Isn't lying to teach a kid about truth setting a bad example?

    Dear Miriam,

    A friend of mine has a kindergarten-aged daughter who has been known to tell a white lie or two. To try to get his daughter to be more truthful, he told her that he has an iPhone app that can detect lying. I think lying to teach a kid about telling the truth is setting a bad example. What do you think?


    Dear iLie,

    While my daughter is only two, I tell little white lies to her all the time: We’re all out of cookies, that bird on the sidewalk is just sleeping, you have to get out of the bathtub now because it’s the water’s bedtime. I don’t know any parents that don’t do it, and it’s a parenting survival tactic that I think makes a lot of sense. I don’t go out of my way to lie, but sometimes an age-appropriate story is a better option than the absolute truth. (Spoiler alert: the bird wasn’t sleeping).

    Storytelling is a means both to inform and protect children. It’s where myths come from. It’s why people say God is bowling during thunderstorms. It’s why we have morality lessons in the Torah and other religious texts. Especially relevant to your question, it’s why stories like Pinocchio have enduring value. If you just say to your kid all the time, “Don’t lie,” it’s far less compelling than, “Here’s what happened to a little boy who told a lot of lies.”

    If he wanted to influence her behavior in other ways (sticker charts, rewards systems, time-outs for lying), he could do that, but if he’s finding this “app” to be effective, then it makes sense for the myth to continue. Kids remember the stories their parents tell them, even the ones that they know aren’t actually true. Your friend’s daughter may believe the app is real, or she may have doubts that she wouldn’t be willing to test, just in case. Even if she’s super technologically literate, she’s not going to be able to prove that there isn’t such an app, and the threat, told in tech language that is probably ultra-relatable to a six-year-old, may have a positive influence on her behavior.

    Someday, she’ll realize what her father was doing and she may be mad, but I think she’ll probably understand where he was coming from. Maybe she’ll call him out on his lying, and they’ll have a great conversation assessing the ethical implications of lying to achieve higher moral standards. Or maybe, by then, such an app will actually exist. I’m sure a lot of parents would be thrilled to have it.

    Be well,