Children and Lies


When in doubt, tell the truthSome of my math manipulatives had mysteriously gone missing. A plastic deli container full of buttons was reduced to a fraction of the original amount. The glass blobs, which were smooth, pastel discs used for sorting and patterning exercises, were also missing.  Puzzled, I called a class meeting to get to the bottom of the mystery.

“Boys and girls, we have a mystery to solve. ” The kids gathered around, excited that the mysteries that I read to them every day were about to be reenacted in real life.

I showed them the containers.  “Our supplies from the math center have gone missing.”  They were visibly disappointed.  Apparently, I was the only one who was not in on the mystery.

“It’s Amanda,” one boy said. “She put them in her book box.”Amanda vehemently denied it.

“It’s true,” said another student. “I saw her.” Many other kids nodded their heads in agreement.

I looked at Amanda, who was scowling at the whistleblowers, and said, “Let’s not accuse someone without proof.  If you know what happened to the supplies, please write what you know on a piece of paper and return it to me.” I passed out post-it notes and the children began writing.  Note after note produced Amanda’s name. Some notes included details of what happened.  One note said “Mark” but I figured that was Amanda’s contribution to solving the mystery.

The children went to Music class, and I searched Amanda’s desk and backpack.  There were no buttons or glass blobs, but there were 3 magnifying glasses, 2 bags of volcanic rocks from our science kit, two writing correction pens, a decorative magnet that another child had made for me,  and three books that belonged to other children.

I collected these items, and held Amanda back from recess to discuss my findings with her.  “I’m concerned that your name turned up on almost all of the notes about the missing math supplies.  Can you help me figure out what happened to them?”

She vehemently denied taking anything, and volunteered no information about what had happened. I produced the things that I had found, and she denied taking them from class. When I pressed further, she accused a little boy who sat next to her of putting them in her desk and backpack.  I called her home and spoke to her parents, who had been quite mystified by the items she was bringing home.  Amanda told them that I had given her gifts for doing well on spelling and math tests.  I explained that while she was doing very well on her tests, I wasn’t giving her gifts, and these items were needed classroom supplies. I asked her parents to have Amanda return the things to class tomorrow.

I thought of Amanda’s story as I listened to the Today Show’s segment about children and lying.  It included findings based on a study by the University of Sheffield. According to the Today segment about the study, 135 children were tested, and the findings have “revealed that the liars in the group performed better on a trivia test than honest children.”  Psychologists reached this conclusion due to the fact that “lying requires thought and memory skills — a child who is not telling the truth needs to be able to keep their story straight.” Apparently, children who lie use their memory to recall fabricated details, fictional series of events, and alterations of facts, makes them smarter than children who tell the truth.

This is so sad to me as both a mom and a teacher.  A child who tells the truth and owns up to a situation even knowing there may be consequences, shows integrity.  A child who lies may use more of their brain or cognitive processes to fabricate the lie, according to the University of Sheffield study, but lacks the integrity and honor of a child who tells the truth simply because it is the right thing to do.

Amanda returned some of the pilfered items the next day, with an apology letter written to me for her actions.  I told her that I accepted her apology, and stressed the importance of telling the truth.  Trust is not as easily replaced as school supplies.  Actions, such as stealing have consequences, but lying also has consequences.  That is something that honest children are smart enough to know.


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