A very long time ago, I occasionally watched television. My husband would flip around to different channels as I sat next to him and read, and, sometimes, something would interest me, and I would set aside my book.
Once, we watched a show on children and lying. Some researcher theorized that young children – under the age of 6 or so – were incapable of telling a lie.
Now, many years and 6 children later, I theorize that the researcher had very limited experience with young children. But at the time, I, myself, had very limited experience with young children, and so I watched with fascination as the show led gullible me through the methodology employed to test the theory.
A little girl was given a Snow White doll. The researcher explained that Snow White was on the run from the Wicked Witch. The researcher helped the little girl hide the doll in a model tree or house and explained that she must not tell where Snow White was hidden to save Snow White. The researcher got the little girl to agree that hiding Snow White was the morally correct thing to do. Then the researcher had a Wicked Witch doll enter the scene, and she (the researcher) faked a Wicked Witch voice and asked the little girl where Snow White was hiding. Repeatedly, this little girl and others pointed out Snow White’s hiding place.
Conclusion: young children can’t lie.
I wonder if that researcher, like me, now has a bunch of children. And I wonder if she’s really embarrassed. Because no matter what your preconceived notions of children are, you can not live with young children for very long before realizing that lying just happens. Perhaps the little girls in the show were actually smarter than the researcher realized; they knew it was just a doll, and knew they didn’t have much stake in what happened in a fictitious story. And they knew the researcher already knew where the Snow White doll was. Duh.
I have a better way to test the same theory. Put a child in a room with a bucket of crayons…and no paper. Leave her alone for 5 minutes. Bad things will happen. And the child will definitely lie about it.
Last night, I was picking up the house. In the corner by the front door, someone had propped an umbrella. As I grabbed it to put it in the closet, I noticed scribble marks on the wall. Mary was nearby, and I called her over.
“Is that pencil or crayon?” I asked her. Note that I did not ask her if she did it or not. I know the answer to that question.
“I don’t know,” she claimed.
“Yes, you do, Mary. Is it pencil or crayon?”
“I didn’t do it,” she said.
“Yes, you did, Mary. I know you did.”
“Am I in trouble?”
Round 874 in the Naughty Chair.
Now, I’m not saying that the average 3 year old could give a convincing cover up if the Wicked Witch is hot on your trail. But “incapable of telling a lie”? What parent in the world thinks that research was a good expenditure of tax money?