Mar 14 2011 3:23pm

Spec Fic Parenting: When Is Too Far?

So my son loves to hear stories. Good. He loves to tell stories. Awesome! He likes to role-play out what he sees. Nifty! He is so full of imagination and inspiration that it is awe inspiring. But, there’s a problem. A conundrum, if you will. Mayhap I will call it a dichotomy in this whole Speculative Fiction Parenting motif. When he’s in trouble, he is making up grand stories to try and get out of it. To be blunt, he’s lying on an epic scale.

Now, it should be simple. Teach him to not lie via your preferred appropriate behavioral correction tool, be it time out, spankings, the shark-with-lasers tank, what have you. But I have two moral dilemmas here. Two things that make this not exactly the easiest and clearest cut problem to handle, and these are even beyond making sure he understands the actual working difference between the truth and a lie.

See, my first problem is: I lie to him like a mafia hitman in confessional. Wizard’s towers, robots that hide outside and protect the house, pirates, ghosts, skeletons, dragons, aliens. All of these are, in his opinion, proven quantities in the great world, right up there with Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, and it is my fault. Granted, I don’t take it too far; that is to say, I don’t make up fantastical excuses to get me out of things with him. Such as saying we can’t go to the park even though I promised because a demon is attacking it. Nope, I make a promise, I carry through. But, what if he is telling me a story because he doesn’t know what happened as opposed to he’s hiding something he is at fault at? I can’t always know the difference right off the bat.

Then this kind of brings me to the second problem. If I chastise him falsely for lying or concealing the truth, then I’m more likely to hurt his imagination and his willingness to use it. It isn’t that I’m so frightened of his creativity being so fragile that a few false-positives will destroy it, but I still don’t want to punish him for being creative and entertaining as opposed to lying. That won’t help him stop lying, nor will it help him stay creative. So, if I get lucky, I only chastise him for lying and don’t hurt his imagination. Plenty of healthy doses of still asking him to tell me stories are surely in order. Also, while I do believe in spanking—that was how my parents taught me to not lie when I was five years old—I personally am aiming more for redirection, especially with a focus on making very sure that he understands the difference between a lie and the truth, and knows when it is okay to tell stories.

Oh, but that brings up our bonus conundrum! There is a certain youthful innocence that I am loathe to shatter, and that is the fine line between truth and lies. Perhaps I’m being romantic about the concept, but it seems to me there is something magical in that place between truth and fiction that young children inhabit, where they know something isn’t quite right, that perhaps some things are less real than others, but before reality has settled into the boring duality of “true” and “false” that us adults live in. So while I definitely don’t want my son to think he can get away with telling me bald-face lies, it is hard to make him understand that without hammering out the binary nature of world and destroying that fuzzy in-between. It is the destruction of this in-between, in fact, that I think makes children growing up come to start resenting fantasy and science fiction. They see such “unreal” things to be childish and push them away. Also kind of makes them hate you when they figure out Santa has to fall on the “false” side of the binary world instead of the “true,” despite all of their finagling about Mall Santas just working for the real one and all that.

So, there I am. Yeah, I am trying to soft-paw my way into getting my son to understand that he shouldn’t outright lie, but I’m still trying to preserve that fuzzy middle-space. As I see it, Wizard’s Towers, Dragons, and trips to other planets should stay as “very possible truth” for as long as possible, and be something they can ease out of while still enjoying the concepts. I guess time will only tell, though.

As usual, tell me your thoughts. How are you, my fellow Spec Fic Parents, handling the lying thing that all kids go through?

Richard Fife is a writer, blogger, and firm believer, still, in the “trichotomy” of the universe. He is self-publishing a free-to-read, illustrated serial steampunk novel called The Tijervyn Chronicles, and you can follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

Steve Butler
1. Steve Butler
The difference between a tale and a lie is the element of personal gain. Exaggerating the size or number of fish caught is telling tales for entertainment. Lying about how the lamp got broken is for personal advantage.

That's where the line is.
Steve Butler
2. dwndrgn
What Steve Butler said.

I've also heard that there is a lying phase where kids try out the lies. The key is to ensure that kids understand the difference between right and wrong and the rest will all follow.

And I don't see why your 'the house is protected by demons' lie is any different than the Santa Claus one.
Steve Schaper
3. Sodbuster
I think that we can keep stories stories and legends legends, and the children enjoy them just as much. We don't need to lie to them, and we need to teach them that it is wrong to lie.
Steve Butler
4. Chris Johnstone
I don't know whether the parenting advice would be useful, but for understanding when a lie is a lie, Dorothy Rowe's Why We Lie is worth reading (though it more or less comes down to what Steve Butler said).

Also, if you don't want your child to ever settle into the boring duality of true and false, you could introduce him or her to the exciting confusion of probabilistic uncertainty.

Steve Butler
5. cemry
I believe the lil guy- he sounds super cool by the way. I really adore how you are taking the opprtunity to step into the world of pretend, of grand stories with him!- he is testing the boundries, being aware now that there are indeed boundries and it is still being innocent, learning how this all works. Keep teaching him that stories and ideas are wonderful! And make the distinction. Like above, that's where ethics fit in. It reminds me when my daughter would tell a lie, then would become uncomfortable and say she was just kidding. Also, you could maybe create empathy for the falsely charged, poor old wizard...dragon...demon. And continue the tale~
Amir Yoeli
6. Betterthenyouknew
Fables / Allegories / Moral tales... All of these types of stories, the basis of modern story-telling were originally used to teach lessons. Lessons, such as... Lying is wrong.

A great example, that popped to mind is the story of Never Cry Wolf. I'm sure you know it.

What I suggest, is maybe put an emphasis on the stories you tell him, to be stories with simple lessons you want to teach. change classics into fantasy if you want (make it: Never Cry Dragon - much cooler), but use his imagination to teach him.

Failing that... yeah, a good spanking works too. I could count on one hand the amount of times I was spanked growing up and I'd have fingers to spare. Those lessons though, rare though they were... They kinda stuck with me... As proven by my ability to count them :)

Good luck.
Let us know how it goes.
Steve Butler
7. DarrenJL
Never Cry Wolf, the Farley Mowat book? I know Mowat is said to have lied in the book, and most of it has been discredited. Seems a complex lesson for a toddler, though.
Sandra Zabarovska
8. Kibrika
1) I don't remember being in "that fuzzy place". That's why I completely don't understand why people (parents) convince their children of nonexistent things like Santa.

2) I was spanked once and wrongly and the fact that I still remember it and mention it makes me think spankings are not all that good at all.

I got lots of stories in my childhood that I loved (and didn't need to think were real) and a lot of reason. If there was something I wasn't supposed to do, I got the reason for why I wasn't supposed to do it. Including why I wasn't supposed to lie about doing it (like stealing sweets from an unopened box and hiding it left mom without a gift for a friend when she was counting on having that unopened box of sweets).

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