How to Talk to Kids About Lying When Liars Are in Power

President Donald Trump plays fast and loose with the truth. There’s a lesson in that.

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Politicians lie. They always have and they probably always will. Candidates aim to please more people than their policies ever will, so they tell a few half-truths to get more votes. This has been the norm since the early days of the republic, but the lies don’t feel normal anymore. They have become brazen, callous, and obvious. They have, with a strong push from President Trump, become impossible to ignore and incredibly hard to explain to even politically minded children. They now exist at the center of our public discourse, making it both difficult to discuss politics and — perhaps more importantly — difficult to convince young citizens that lying is a bad idea.

This is not to say parents should vilify the president for his lies. That doesn’t help. The reality is that everyone lies and, within the current political climate, it’s increasingly important that American parents acknowledge that fact to their lying children.

Lying comes naturally to kids, and that’s not entirely a bad thing. More than two decades’ worth of research from psychologist Kang Lee has identified deception and lying in children as a behavioral strength. According to Lee, children who lie have better “executive functioning skills,” control over impulses, ability to focus, increased perspective, cognitive development, and are more socially adept and well adjusted. In other words, it’s good for kids to understand how to lie. The moral question is about when they should lie.

“Adults lie all the time,” says Shanna Donhauser, LICSW child and family therapist at the Happy Nest in Seattle. “Often the lies are benign — like lies to protect people’s feelings, to buy ourselves more time…

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