Are White Lies a Necessary Part of Parenting?

Society winks at and even encourages parents to tell their children white lies. But are little lies really harmless to our children?

“Come on, please get out of the pool. It’s time to go!”

The frustrated mother looks over at me, pleading for help. I sympathize with her, but look away to continue monitoring the pool. As a lifeguard, it’s my job to ensure everyone’s safety, but often I am required to do a little babysitting as well.

A little later, I hear her yell, “Okay, you have five more minutes and then you have to get out or else!” The child keeps swimming. Oh no, I think, as I see the parent start to walk over to me. The mom winks and says behind her hand in a whisper, “Hey, can you blow your whistle and say the pool is closed? When we leave, everyone can get back in. That is the only way Maddie will leave the pool. She just won’t listen to me.”

As she said it, she looked at me for approval of her idea—but it was something I could not give. Instead of lying about the pool closing, I firmly instructed her child to leave the pool. As I became a nanny and then a teacher, I regularly witnessed these types of interactions between caregivers and children.

Survey says

In 2013 a parenting survey collected data from around the United States on a variety of topics related to parenting techniques and the parents themselves. The survey was titled, “Spanking? Lying? Confessions of American Moms.” The parents surveyed were 99.1 percent women, 81.7 percent of them were married, and 49.4 percent had a bachelor’s degree or higher.

A few of the questions focused on parents deceiving their children, such as: “Have you ever lied to your child to get out of something you couldn’t deal with (for example, saying you couldn’t go to the toy store because it was closed)?” The survey reported that 48.4 percent of the parents said yes and 25.8 percent said sometimes.

Although the numbers who lie to their kids seem shocking at first, think about how many times you have heard empty threats like, “If you do not come now, I am going to leave you at the store and never come back”? or heard parents tell their children, “You better not do that, Santa is watching.”

Are all lies harmful?

Sure, we all know the Bible says it’s wrong to lie, but telling your child Santa exists or that fairies are real is just a fun form of pretending, right? Sometimes it’s just easier to not tell the truth. Are white lies really that harmful?

Lies, big or small, leave a child with a sense of manipulation and distrust.Yes! Studies have shown that lying to your children in any way can erode trust between you and your child. This can also lead to issues when the child is developing relationships throughout childhood and even into adulthood.

Lies, big or small, leave a child with a sense of manipulation and distrust. According to psychologist Kate Roberts, “Researchers at MIT have found that children are not gullible and they can in fact sense when parents are lying to them, causing them to distrust the very people who are their caretakers.”

What does the Bible say?

What about white lies or lies that are good for your children? What if your children will only behave with a little extra help from fudging the truth? As Christians, we must find answers to these questions in God’s Word. The 10 Commandments are listed in Exodus 20, and the Ninth Commandment states, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” (verse 16). God knows that lying damages human relationships. Strong relationships, between anyone, are built and strengthened through honesty—never deceit (in any form).

Titus 1:2 tells us that God cannot lie. We can trust God completely because we know He will never lie. Christians should be striving to have character just like God’s. We, too, should not lie. God does not take the easy route. He is always honest and clear with His people, giving them a sense of security and assurance. Our faith in God is increased as we see Him keep His promises and show His words to be true.

Proverbs 12:22 says, “Lying lips are an abomination to the LORD, but those who deal truthfully are His delight.” Parents should be the most reliable and trustworthy people in their children’s world, which helps children build security.  

Nothing but the truth

Instead of lying to get your child to behave, use tough situations as teaching moments.

For example, with the toy store scenario, there could be many reasons it is not a good time to buy a new toy, such as, time, money or other priorities. Depending on their age, children need to learn how to budget and set priorities, and they will learn through your godly example and instruction. Next time they want to go to the toy store, instead of pretending it is closed, ask them why they think you can’t go today and discuss the truth together.

Proverbs 12:19 says, “The truthful lip shall be established forever, but a lying tongue is but for a moment.” If we lie to get out of a tough situation, we only temporarily fix the problem. We may get a moment of relief, but the lasting effect will be negative.

Instead, teach your child, through your example, a truth that will endure with them forever—the importance of honesty.

About the Author

Brianna Wine