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11 Most Common Lies Parents Tell Their Kids
written by Sam Greenspan

I saw an article yesterday about how one in 12 parents admit they have a favorite child. Makes me glad I was an only child. I would've hated having a bunch of brothers and sisters resenting me for being the favorite.

It also made me remember that I was going to write about a study I saw a few weeks back by the University of San Diego and Zhejiang Normal University in China on the most common lies parents tell their kids. I thought it was interesting stuff, even though I don't have kids and don't really remember my parents telling me any lies as a kid. I remember telling them a lot of lies.

Ya know, maybe I wouldn't have been the favorite.

Here are the 11 most common lies parents in the U.S. tell their kids. (I just focused on the U.S. data, not the China data, and filtered out the redundant responses.)

  1. "‘If you swallow a watermelon seed, it will grow into a watermelon in your stomach." I don't remember ever hearing this one, but I do remember that you're not supposed to swallow gum or it stays in your body for 20 years. Naturally, when I had gum for the first time (I can actually remember the moment, around age six), I swallowed it. It was one of those gum cigarettes, back when it was cool to sell kids candy shaped like cigarettes. I wonder if that gum came out when I was 26?

  2. "If you don't follow me, a kidnapper will come grab you." This falls under the genre of "scarring lies." Little kids are freaked out about being kidnapped, because they've been told they're special -- and in their minds, that makes them kidnapping-worthy. Little do they know that what makes you special in the overwhelming majority of cases is custody battle.

  3. "If you lie to someone, your nose will grow." Seems like it's a little wasteful to blow one of your big lying cards on something that will get debunked as soon as your kids see Pinnochio. As soon as they see that "growing nose" is put on the same level as "living wooden boy," "talking cricket," and "bad guy who loves taking little boys to a place called 'Pleasure Island'" -- lie is over.

  4. "I didn't bring money with me today." From what I've observed about parenting, it's just a string of saying "No" over and over again with occasional moments of unbridled joy and horror sprinkled in. "I didn't bring any money with me today" is just a deflecting respite from the monotony of "no."

  5. "If you don't quiet down and behave, that lady over there will be angry with you." "That lady will be mad at you" is like the equivalent of telling a friend bad news by opening up with: "People have been saying -- not me, of course -- that you [are ugly/smell bad/gained weight/etc.]"


  6. What happens to kids at the grocery store.
    "We can buy that next time." Whenever I'm at the grocery store, and I'm in line behind a mom with her kid, two things are true. One, I am stuck in that line only because the other lanes had elderly people in them. And two, the kid will ALWAYS ask if he can buy something off the candy rack. It's uncanny. This lie seems like a fairly passive-aggressive way of not buying the candy, but so much less Sisyphean than launching into an educational lecture about sugar.

  7. "There's no more candy in the house." This might be the hardest lie to pull off; kids have an incredible amount of knowledge of everything that's everywhere in the house. When I was a kid I knew what was in every drawer, every box, every closet and every corner. Short of hiding candy inside a safe or inside the dog, I'm not sure you can keep it from a kid.

  8. "That's beautiful piano playing." I'm not sure that this is an intentional lie. I think parents just have serious blinders up when it comes to their kids. To parents, a kid banging out Hot Cross Buns and missing half the notes sounds as good as Sergei Rachmaninov covering Crocodile Rock.


  9. The tooth fairy?
    "If you put this tooth under your pillow, the Tooth Fairy will bring you money." I learned there was no Tooth Fairy when I lost my first tooth. And couldn't find it. The prevailing theory was that it fell out while I was eating a McDonald's hamburger and it fell to the styrofoam -- yes, this was back in the McDonald's styrofoam days -- where it blended with the little baby onions that I'd scraped off the burger. Anyway, I was happy that I got my tooth reward when I woke up the next morning anyway, making it clear that it was the work of my parents and not a magical black market tooth dealer or Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson.

  10. "If you don't come with me now, I'll leave you here by yourself." This finished second among the U.S. parents surveyed... and first among Chinese parents. I get the feeling like it carries more weight over there -- since when if you get left by yourself in China, the government can claim you as their own under the five-second rule.

  11. "Santa Claus will come to bring you presents on Christmas Eve." Since I didn't experience Christmas, it's taken me years to realize just how much power the specter of Santa holds over children. And hopefully they don't become *too* disillusioned when they find out he's not real and they've been beholden to an imaginary character their whole lives. Which, ya know, must be how adults one day feel when they get to the afterlife and find they bet on the wrong deity. "Buddha? No shit. Oh well. Nicely played."


This post was originally published on Friday, February 22, 2013 at 11:00:00 AM under the category Personal.

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