From my general experience, the majority of people I have met have told at least one lie (by admittance or direct observance) and their parents had also told them to never lie in the past.

Similarly, I am sure this also holds true for the population of this and other sites, and most of the people here would have told at least one lie despite being told to never lie.

Since children almost always grow up to tell lies despite being taught to never lie, is there any benefit to this approach over teaching them how to choose when to and when not to lie by weighing the respective benefits and drawbacks? It seems from a naïve perspective that this would better prepare them for a world when lying is extremely common and sometimes even arguably necessary for certain jobs.

  • It does seem to me that you're really asking two different things: one in the title (easy to answer) and one in the body (much harder and possibly POB). Aug 20 '15 at 5:09
  • @anongoodnurse How so? They seem to be both asking the same question.
    – March Ho
    Aug 20 '15 at 5:11
  • 4
    One asks "Are there benefits to teaching children not to lie", the other asks "Would it be better to teach them when to lie?", these are not the same. The first is a list of positive traits for one approach, the other is a comparison between two approaches.
    – Erik
    Aug 20 '15 at 7:23
  • "Don't lie" is the basics anyway. As long as you child grows, it becomes easier to put some nuance together with it: sometimes you lie just not to hurt somebody (no honey, you're not fat), sometimes for a bit of "magic" (Santa) or surprise (surprise birthday). This basically ends up discussing the real nature of a lie, which leads to difference between good and bad, and these concepts are usually understood by "normal" people...
    – Laurent S.
    Aug 21 '15 at 12:58
  • Honesty is rare and a valuable skill, especially in relationship and the office. What ever the parents teach, they should have a higher moral standard to themselves. Parents often ask kid not to lie while they themself lie to the kid (this is counter productive). I wouldn't punish kid for lying either, it will just teach them to hide problems. This doesn't mean they should hurt other people, or being honest infront of someone aggressive. Don't worrie, the good times to lie will be learned over time as they get older.
    – the_lotus
    Aug 26 '15 at 11:25

I think you are asking about something that happens in various subject areas. For example, most of us hear strict grammar rules but then find that pretty much any serious author will ignore those rules as they deem fit for the occasion. We define rules but we don't really expect those rules to be followed all the time.

The real issue about lying would appear to be that it will be somewhat negative or destructive with respect to relationships. Avoiding going down that road, and potentially forming a habit of lying about things that shouldn't be lied about, seems like a very good plan.

However, as we all know, it is important to lie socially. As children develop judgement they will eventually know that they should answer "No" when asked if someone's clothing makes them look fat. Or, in a simpler sense, saying something like "It's great to meet you" or "I'm happy to see you again" as part of a social situation.

As people age, or develop skills in the subject at hand, most of the time they pick up clues about when the rules should be broken. A bit of guidance may be needed if they are taking the rules too literally or too liberally.

  • 2
    +1 First, learn the rules. Once you're good at playing by the rules, you'll know when it's a good idea to bend/break them. Works for almost everything.
    – Geobits
    Aug 20 '15 at 15:03

Two thoughts:

(a) What do you mean by "lie"? Do you mean any statement that is not absolutely and completely true? Or do you mean untrue statements meant to deceive or take advantage? In my humble opinion, there's a huge moral difference between, "Oh, your cookies tasted great, I just don't want any more because I'm stuffed", when in reality the cookies were awful; versus, "I have no idea what happened to your missing hundred dollar bill", when in fact it's in your pocket. I wouldn't call the first statement a "lie". I don't want to debate definitions of words, so if you say that it is a lie, okay, fine, in that case I'd say that not all lies are bad. I don't recall ever having to explain the difference to my children. Not that they never told a malicious lie, but that they understood intuitively the difference between a malicious lie and a an untruth for the sake of politeness. I suppose there are gray areas. Like flattery: Are you saying nice things to make the other person feel good, or are you saying nice things to win the favor so you can take advantage of them? In practice that can get hazy.

(b) If we're talking about untrue statements intended to deceive, then we're talking about what sort of morals you want to teach your children. If you're asking whether you should teach your children that it's okay to cheat customers or spread rumors about co-workers if that's what you need to do to get ahead in business, I'd say no, it's not okay. I'd rather lose money than lose my integrity. If you don't agree with such a moral position, I probably won't persuade you otherwise with a forum post.

  • Most people will define a lie as the former statement, I.e. white lies are lies. It is not clear that while your children immediately got it, everyone will.
    – March Ho
    Aug 25 '15 at 7:00
  • @MarchHo RE definition of "lie": Maybe so. That's why I didn't want to get into an argument about definitions, because I don't think it would add anything to the conversation. RE all children immediately get it: Good point. I didn't mean to imply that all children will realize the distinction on their own, just that in my case, I never had to try to explain the difference. I'm sure there were things I had to explain to my kids that others figured out on their own, etc.
    – Jay
    Aug 25 '15 at 14:49

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