Author: Your Kids May Be Lying
MICHEL MARTIN, host:
Now the question of keeping things on the up and up at home. Today, we are continuing a conversation we started a while back about communication within the family. We just talked about the fact that Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick is facing serious criminal charges related to allegations that he lied. Of course, former New York Governor Elliot Spitzer recently stepped down after his alleged involvement with an escort service became public. And of course, there's former President Bill Clinton who famously deceived the country about his personal conduct.
So if leaders lie to their families, how do we demand better from our children? To talk about us - all of this, I am joined by our regular Mocha Moms - Jolene Ivey and Cheli English-Figaro. We're welcoming back special guest mom, Jennifer Marshall Lippincott, author of the book "7 Things Your Teenager Won't Tell You, and How To Talk About Them Anyway." Welcome, ladies, moms.
Ms. JOLENE IVEY: Hey, Michel.
Ms. CHELI ENGLISH-FIGARO: Hi, Michel.
Ms. JENNIFER MARSHALL LIPPINCOTT (Author): Hey, Michel.
MARTIN: Jennifer, I'll start with you. Every generation thinks the younger generation is going to hell in a hand basket. I want to ask if you've come to believe that kids today have a different concept of truthfulness, or do you think teenagers in general have always had a different concept of truthfulness, and we're just starting to understand that difference?
Ms. LIPPINCOTT: Well, I think there is a difference, Michel, and I'm sorry to have to say that. But the data shows that over the last ten years alone, there's been an increase in incidents of kids lying to their parents. And this is mostly teenagers. From 83 percent to 93 percent, so it's always been high, but it is increasing. And there's a lot to explain that. I think the media obviously is the go-to culprit right off the block, because our kids are exposed to so much prevarication, to so much, you know, dishonesty in media figures, in political figures, in television...
MARTIN: I'm sorry, what are you talking about? Are you saying because there is so much media available, they're in a media saturated environment? Are you saying that figures in the media lie a lot, or that..
Ms. LIPPINCOTT: No.
MARTIN: Or that entertainment media supports lying?
Ms. LIPPINCOTT: The 21st century street corner is the virtual world. And that virtual world is devoid of a moral code. And so to get the moral code, they have to find it elsewhere. They have to find it at home. They have to find it from parents because when they're out on that 21st century street corner, whether it be online or just watching television, they're at the mercy of the moral code of whoever is perpetrating, or perpetuating, or serving up what they're doing.
MARTIN: And when you say that kids today are more inclined to lie, what do you mean? Do you think that they know what they're saying is not true? Or they think the truth is more elastic a concept than we perhaps thought it was?
Ms. LIPPINCOTT: Well you know, I have a chapter in my book that's truth is as malleable as their Friday night plans. Kids want what they want when they want it. And they're really good at making their case. Now having said that, they are looking at truth differently than we might. And they use it for omissions. They use it for distortion. But they don't necessarily lie to be deliberate liars.
MARTIN: Jolene, can I hear from you? Have you noticed this?
Ms. IVEY: I really haven't. I can't say that my kids have never told me a lie. That would be a lie.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. IVEY: But when I was a kid, I can't remember lying to my parents excessively and although I'm sure my kids have not been completely honest with me at all times, I don't really feel that there's a pervasive culture of dishonesty in my house.
MARTIN: Cheli, what about you? Have you noticed this?
Ms. ENGLISH-FIGARO: Well I have to tell you, I'm not a hundred percent sure, in terms of whether it's more. I'm sort of believing Jolene in the sense that I don't see a huge amount of lying going on in my household. My three year old is not really lying to me at this point right now. And my seven-year-old, if she's lying, it's sort of, did you turn on the TV? And she'll quickly turn it off and say, I'm not watching TV. So maybe she's a little slicker than we thought. I don't know.
MARTIN: But it's an interesting question. Do you think about, like all the service academies have always had honor codes. Maybe it's like one of these arguments without an end whether evil walks the earth or not. Or you know, when you talk about like plagiarism, scandals, or kids writing papers using sources from the internet. That wasn't available 20 years ago. You couldn't do it. And yet, but there were other ways to cheat. Plagiarize.
Ms. LIPPINCOTT: Certainly. There's been a large increase in cheating. The Josephson Institute on Ethics does a lot of studies. Forty-one percent of college-bound students agree with the statement that a person has to lie or cheat in order to succeed. Eighty-one percent of National Merit Scholars admit to lying or cheating in order to succeed. So it is an issue. And there is definitely an upsurge. And I think the media, their exposure to sort of uncontrolled environments contribute.
MARTIN: And do you think - and, forgive me, I don't mean to be cliche about this, but the whole President Clinton scenario, where he was involved with this young woman, initially denied it very strongly, and then subsequent evidence demonstrated that that was not truthful. You know, and was widely ridiculed statement, it depends on the meaning of is is. How do you read something like that? What effect do you think that has on the kind of teen-aged mind?
Ms. LIPPINCOTT: I think the teenage mind, first of all, really mimics, and so repeated behaviors get imprinted on the brain, and they mimic it. And teenagers are, and I'm sure you've all seen this, they're absolutely adept at identifying hypocrisy. You know, they're all about fairness and hypocrisy. Now of course, you know when it comes to getting what they want when they want it, they're also sort of willing to bend things. So I think that they are taking all of it in, and we can't for a minute think that even when we tell little lies, you know, we exaggerate an age because we don't want to buy them the more expensive movie ticket, you know, they are taking it in.
MARTIN: If you're just joining us, I'm Michel Martin. You're listening to Tell Me More from NPR News, and we're having our weekly visit with the Mocha Moms. We're talking with the regular Mochas, Jolene Ivy, Shelley English-Figaro, and special guest mom Jennifer Lippincott about kids, and truth, and how to encourage our kids to be honest.
So let's talk about how we encourage the kind of communication and honesty that we want to see. Jolene, you started with some thoughts about this. How do you encourage kids to be - it's an ethical question really, to behave ethically in their communications with each other, with us, with teachers, etcetera?
Ms. IVEY: Well, the couple of times, and I can only think of a handful of times when one of my kids has done something really egregious and dishonest. And on those times, I have come down on them so hard, so immediate, that that child has never made a repeat.
MARTIN: Cheli, your kids are younger and as we know, little small children don't always know the difference between, you know, fantasy and reality.
Ms. ENGLISH-FIGARO: And that's true.
MARTIN: You know, if I see some Tootsie Roll wrappers on my floor, and I say to my son well, you know, who ate that? He'll go, a ghost.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. ENGLISH-FIGARO: And he wants to believe that. I believe he wants to believe that a ghost ate it. And I- we have that some times. That happened even in my own childhood. When I was very young, and I don't know what happened, but I think I broke a mirror, and I distinctly remember saying to my parents the cat did it.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. ENGLISH-FIGARO: You know? And I had to of course later confess, but I really wanted to believe my cat did it.
MARTIN: You really wanted to believe it.
Ms. ENGLISH-FIGARO: I wanted to believe that.
MARTIN: So what do you do to encourage ethical communications with your kids?
Ms. ENGLISH-FIGARO: The first thing I do, I'm really careful about what they hear me say, and what they see me do. I never lie about getting a movie ticket, anything like that.
Ms. IVEY: I've done it, I confess.
Ms. ENGLISH-FIGARO: That was Jolene speaking, just so you know.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. IVEY: Sue me. I'm not perfect.
Ms. ENGLISH-FIGARO: No, I'm absolutely anal about that. They don't hear me tell them, tell so and so I'm not home. Now, I'm not necessarily saying I don't do it, but they're not within earshot. No one's within earshot because I want them to see me acting the way I want them to act.
MARTIN: Tough one. So if there's someone that you don't want to speak to when the phone rings, what do you do? Just don't answer it? You don't put them in the middle of...
Ms. ENGLISH-FIGARO: Absolutely not.
MARTIN: Of dishonestly?
Ms. ENGLISH-FIGARO: Absolutely not.
MARTIN: I see your point.
Ms. ENGLISH-FIGARO: Absolutely not.
MARTIN: Jennifer, what are your thoughts?
Ms. LIPPINCOTT: Well you know, it's funny. Abraham Lincoln has a saying that human beings don't have a good enough memory to be good liar. And, you know, I think that if we want the truth from our kids, we need to be ready to hear what they have to say. I talk in the book about the three rules of play - stay safe, show respect, and keep in touch, as the things, as parents, we really, really care about. And that's what we go to.
So in our conversations about lying, you know, we talk about truthfulness as the royalty of virtues. And you know, my feeling is that you don't want to get into a match with your kid where you're saying you're a liar, and they're saying no, I'm not. That's a no win situation. But what we want to do is focus on the benefit and the value of being truthful as the only gateway to trust as opposed to how bad it is to lie.
Now having said that, we have to be ready with consequences.
MARTIN: Well, what about that whole if you tell me the truth, I won't get mad thing? Because sometimes that just really fights the facts.
Ms. LIPPINCOTT: Right, right.
MARTIN: I mean, if you find out that your, you know, your kid has snuck out of the house with someone who you know to be dangerous or to live unhealthy lifestyle, for example. And then they say, well, if I tell you the truth, you're not going to get mad, right? And you are mad.
Ms. LIPPINCOTT: Right.
MARTIN: How do you handle that?
Ms. LIPPINCOTT: I think there's a difference between being disappointed, and upset, and getting mad. You know, to getting - just sort of yelling and screaming at the kid. I think they need to know what disappoints us, and what upsets us, and we have every right to do that and to show that.
MARTIN: Sometimes we don't tell the whole truth because we don't want to let dad know what his Christmas present is, for example.
Ms. LIPPINCOTT: But that's not a lie. That's not a lie and if you want to call it a sin-of-omission, that's even stretching it. You know what I'm saying?
MARTIN: OK, but what about the famous does this dress make me look fat? Yeah, it does? I mean, you don't particularly want your kid doing that either.
Ms. ENGLISH-FIGARO: Yeah, you do. I mean, you know what?
Ms. IVY: No, you don't.
Ms. ENGLISH-FIGARO: It's OK. No, you know what?
Ms. IVEY: Don't tell me.
Ms. ENGLISH-FIGARO: You know what? I want to hear it, OK? And I expect my girlfriends to tell me the truth. If I look crazy, please tell me. Be honest. Be my friend. And I want my children to tell me the truth too, so if I'm trying on a skirt, and my children look at that skirt and say, mmmm! I don't know mom. I know that they're telling me the truth.
MARTIN: OK, Cheli's hardcore. Jolene, where are you on this?
Ms. IVEY: The important thing is to start early with your kids - to have a strong and warm loving relationship with them. And then like Jennifer said, if they disappoint you, it just is so much more hurtful to them, and they don't want to do that. You don't want to disappoint someone who you have a close, loving, warm relationship with. If you're always kind of cool, distant, mean, then they've got fewer reasons to please you.
MARTIN: Jennifer, give us some sort of final words of wisdom about how we can encourage the kind of communication we want.
Ms. LIPPINCOTT: If we want the truth from our children, we need to tell them that we expect it, and then we need to prepared not to get it. So it's the trust-but-verify notion because their brains are not capable yet of understanding the consequences of all of their actions.
MARTIN: Could you just give me those three rules again that you think we should follow? Three simple rules in maintaining relationships with the kids.
Ms. LIPPINCOTT: The rules of play are that they stay safe, that they show respect for themselves, for others, for us, and that they keep in touch.
MARTIN: Jennifer Lippincott is the coauthor of "Seven Things Your Teenager Won't Tell You." She joined us from our studio in Washington. We're also joined by our regular Mocha Moms - Jolene Ivey and Cheli English-Figaro. And they were here in our studio in Washington. As always, you can find links to the Mocha Moms and Jennifer Lippincott at our website, npr.org/tellmemore. Ladies, thank you so much.
Ms. ENGLISH-FIGARO: Thank you, Michel.
Ms. IVEY: Thank you, Michel.
Ms. LIPPINCOTT: Thanks, Michel.
MARTIN: Do you have a question for the Mocha Moms? It can be anything from planning a great kids party to overstepping your bounds as a relative, or if you have concerns about he way your friends are raising their children, and you want to know should you say something? Send us your questions at npr.org/tellmemore for the Mocha Moms Mail Back.
I'm Michel Martin, and this is Tell Me More from NPR News.