Dear Doctor,

My daughter has told me about my grandson, who is 10 years old. She says he lies about everything. When she asks him why he lies, he says he does not know. She is a wonderful mother, so I would like to have your thoughts about children and lying.

Honest Granny

Dear Granny,

When speaking to groups of parents, I often ask who in the room has ever in their whole life lied. After some urging, the vast majority of hands go up. Then I ask how many have ever stolen anything, even a cookie or forbidden candy. After some coaxing, most hands go up. Then I say, "Now that I know I am speaking to a room full of liars and thieves, let's talk about our kids."

Obviously, the point is the imperfection of our species and the need for learning to eschew bad behavior. We do not emerge from the womb with honest, civilized behavior. It is learned. Some aspects of our neurology develop in the learning process. Teen behavior, for example, requires the continuing development of the supra orbitofrontal cortex. This is the prefrontal cortex just above the eyebrows and does not complete developing until about age 25. This partially explains why someone looks back on their teen years with some embarrassment over things they may have done.

Tell your daughter never again to ask your grandson "why." He doesn't know. Rather, have her work on a simple strategy. Make the lie ineffective. Make it not work. Lies are sometimes distortions: "The fish was the size of a small whale." Some are used to evade trouble: "I turned in that test. The teacher lost it." There are many varieties of skillful lying.

So, when grandson tells a whopper, do not lecture, "Why are you lying to me?" Simply stick with the truth. This should be matter of fact and low key. If an adult goes ballistic, it makes the likelihood of lying more probable. For example, begin with "I understand" and then focus on the truth. "I understand it is a problem when one does not turn in a test." When grandson insists, stick with the truth and without undue emotion.

I have known some champion liars over the years. I cannot think of one who did not develop into an honest person.

Dr. Larry Larsen is an Andover psychologist. If you would like to ask a question, or respond to one, email him at lrryllrsn@CS.com.

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