Did you ever lie as a kid? I know, trick question. It’s just the sort of question that adults often use, which unconsciously sets our kids up to lie.
“Billy, did you write on this wall?” is a really silly question, when the afore mentioned crayolas are firmly pressed in his hands. But it’s just the kind of question that we ask, which opens the door to feeling shame and the choice to lie and cover it up.
Recently, I’ve seen several stories of grandiose lies gone wrong where the guilty party was ultimately caught in the web of their own deceit. A few weeks ago it was Rachel Dolezal and this week it comes out that the so-called genius child, Sara (Jung Yoon) Kim, who was praised for receiving admission to Harvard and Stanford, had fabricated the admission to both historic universities. It got me thinking about whether we as a society are lying more.
Lying isn’t new of course. As a parent coach, it’s something I regularly hear complaints about from parents and teachers alike. We fear so much that children will become pathological liars, that every single lie they tell hits us like a dagger to the heart, making us quick to try and train or punish out the lying. Developmentally some lying is normal. The normal lies of childhood, that the American Academy of Children and Adolescent Psychiatry describe as non-problematic includes toddler and preschool age children and rarely leads to long term consequences. But what I think we are seeing in Sara’s case is more in line with what they describe as lies getting out of hand in older children, when they find it to be the “easiest way to deal with the demands of parents, teachers and friends”.
Both the lying and the so-called demands of involved adults come from the same place in my mind. The greater underlying themes of fear, shame and insecurity make my inner Brene Brown scream. Her research on shame has impacted the way I parent. Shame, I believe, has begun to cloak our society in a darkness that breeds lies like moist, dark spaces breed mold and fungus. I won’t go off on a tangent about the impact that airbrushed magazines have on females of all ages feeling disgusted by their bodies or how Facebook wreaks havoc in marriages as spouses compare their private relationships to the falsified public versions of others. But what I will say is that what people are really longing for is a sense of belonging and connection, and even the temporary version that comes from a lie often fits the bill.
The truth about lying, is that it comes from a place of fear. The fear that you’re not good enough, and the fear that someone else might find you out.
The longing for someone to tell you that you matter, or that you good enough is good enough is a powerful force. Thinking about Sara Kim, I understand exactly how this lie could have gotten to this proportion. One of the byproducts of our current educational system is that gifted or accelerated students, like Sara, are often as unhappy as lower performing or struggling students. The pressure to achieve weighs as heavily on them as it does on the teachers, add in a dose of cultural expectation or even a competitive nature and you’ve got the all the makings of the perfect storm worth of lies.
So today, my hope is that each of you reading this will have a little more courage to stand in the sun and be fine with your truth. I’m telling you that you matter and that you are ok. I want you to take a healthy heaping tablespoon of truth serum in the form of self-acceptance. Not in a way in which you ignore the changes that you need to make or that you allow narcissistic thoughts to creep in and undermine the value of those around you, but in a way that means you with all your imperfections continue to have worth. Parents, share this with your kids and let them know that they are ok too.