Regarding the education of children it is a generally held dogma that they should be taught not to lie. However, I personally have some doubts whether this really is a good thing to instill in my daughters. First of all there are the so-called "white lies". Such as

  • It is not you it's me.

  • That meal you cooked was delicious.

  • No, you don't look fat at all in that dress.

Without these "white lies" society would be needlessly cruel and hard. Then there are some lies who might come in handy some day for my daughters. Such as.

  • "I already have a boyfriend" to some creepy guy.

  • "Yes I always wanted to become an account manager/scrum master/sales representative" when applying for a job.

  • "No I can't really offer more than 100.0000, that's all I have got" when they buy a house.

Is it not better to teach my children, that contrary to conventional wisdom, lying isn't generally a bad thing but in some cases even a must?

  • I just like to point out: these white lies are a cultural agreement that isn't really necessary, and are IMHO even damaging. I wouldn't want to hear any of them. "Dear mom, thank you very much for your cooking, we appreciate that! But we like the noodles better." only hurts a psychologically, well, challenged mom and saves all a lot of trouble in the long run. So I'm not teaching my son to do any of that - I just tell him that there are people who have mental trouble to face the truth. He can decide later himself what to do. Dec 16, 2020 at 21:39

1 Answer 1


I think in essence you're right that "you should never lie" is an oversimplification of the value we want to teach. I think most simple rules we teach could potentially have more nuance.

I teach my kids not to use violence, but I can conceive of situations I'd want my kids to violently resist. Some people find it important to foster respect for authority, but I think everyone agrees that authority should only be obeyed to a point.

What we want is for our children to grow into adults who can critically reflect on situations that arise and the applicability of the values they've been taught.

I think the value that we should not intentionally and without notice deceive others is a value that is quite widely applicable. Lying out of politeness, in bargaining a deal, or bluffing in poker, say, are what I might consider rules of the game. Nobody expects total honesty in these scenarios so I'd argue that doesn't qualify as deceit without notice.

That being said, in raising children I think there's a merit to oversimplification. The above is quite a bit of nuance, and it'll all come down to age appropriateness. If your children are mature enoguh to reason about the nuances with, I'd say go for it. For the very young, I think "we should never lie" is the simplest version of the rule that they can easily accommodate, and elaborate on later.

Lastly, don't worry. Diverting from the truth is a skill I'll expect them to master even without your explicit teaching.

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