The secret to raising honest kids

Let’s be perfectly honest: nearly all kids--from tots to teens--stretch the truth and for all sorts of reasons:

  • avoid punishment
  • make themselves look or feel better
  • get out of a task, keep their friend out of trouble

The latest research shows that 98% of teens who believe that honesty is the best policy still lie. A U.S. News & World Report poll found that one out of four college students said they would lie on a job application; 84% believe they need to use deception to get ahead in the world today. Another national survey found 80% of high-achieving high school students admitting to cheating and half believe deception is not wrong.

Rather disturbing trends about the state of our children’s honesty quotient wouldn’t you say? But here’s the real irony: the most accepted theory how kids develop the lying habit is from copying us. There’s one bit of good news: It seems parents still play the most significant role in whether their kids turn out honest (that is, as long as you stick to a few premises that research shows are crucial in raising honest kids).

 

Here are four of the key parenting secrets to raising honest kids:

1. Expect honesty. Repeatedly spell out your expectations for honesty: “Everyone in our family is always expected to be honest with one another.” Once you lay down your honesty expectations, ask your child to promise to tell you the truth (and vice versa).

2. Make it easy for your kid to open up. While you should expect honesty from your kid he also needs to feel safe enough to come to you and admit his mistakes. A “too harsh” approach creates fear and he may decide that lying is a better alternative than admitting with the truth; a “too lenient” approach can make lying become a habit he gets away with.

3. Model honesty. One way our kids learn new habits is by modeling our example. So how are you doing? Do you ever:

  • Ask your kid to tell the caller you’re not home? LIE!
  • Keep the change if you’re given too much? LIE!
  • Tell the cashier that your kid is younger to get a break off that ticket price? LIE!

Beware: Your kids are watching and will copy your behavior.

4. Reinforce honesty. Give your kid credit for owning up to his mistakes and having the courage to admit a lie. Behaviors that are reinforced are more likely to be repeated, and repeated behaviors are more likely to become new habits. Praise your child’s honesty.

Whenever your child lies, sit him down ASAP and use it as an opportunity to teach honesty: “I expect you to tell me only the truth and I will do the same so we can always believe each other.” The trick is to find the right balance in your response so your child knows lying is wrong but will still come to you with the truth.


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