Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Why Lying to Kids is a Good Thing

The only time it’s required to tell the truth is if the person has to know the truth. Sometimes, and most especially for kids, it’s necessary to tell them lies.

Of course, it depends on how you define lies. Lying to kids is a form of play, and that kind of lying is necessary for them to grow up and be good people.

Play is a rehearsal for growing up, and as such necessary to becoming an adult. Kittens and puppies play all the time, much to the damage of my fingers and hands. For children, one of the ways adults help children grow up is to lie to them through amusing stories.

Stories are a way to transfer the accumulated wisdom of the human race from adult to child. The ones that are both entertaining and amusing are the best ones. Stories sharpen kids’ minds and develop their talents.

The best kinds of stories are one that show truths, not merely tell them. And what is acting out a story called? A play. Shakespeare, for example, was never meant to be read. His stories were meant to be watched on stage (watch the movie, Anonymous sometime).

For another example: I used to tell some little kids I knew that a dragon lived outside their house and that he was always trying to drag me outside the door by my feet. The two boys, less than five, would rush over, grab my arms, yell, and drag me inside.

Their sister, on the other hand, sat on the couch and just looked at me.

What we did was put on a little play. An absorbing play, one that entertained and educated. Actually, they were improvisational plays.

There are certain rules that make improvisation comedy work (and these are good rules for life). The first rule is: deny no suggestion. Whatever someone says, never say no to it. If you say no, the other person has to go in a different direction. If you say yes, they can build on it. It flows. It’s serious but spontaneous. In other words, you go with the flow.

“Accept all offers made,” writes Keith Jonestone, one of the founders of improvisation comedy, “which is something no ‘normal’ person would do.” Unless, of course, they’re playing with children. I was engaging in that little dragon-play with the boys, one looked outside and said he didn’t see the dragon. “He’s invisible to kids,” I told him. “Only adults can see him.” I had to improvise, and they accepted my explanation.

The boys were learning some courage, although they weren’t exactly scared and I suspected they knew there really wasn’t a dragon outside (although when I asked them about it years later, they told me they thought there was).

Courage, self-discipline, a sense of humor, working together, helping those who need it, imagination, creativity, empathy – these are some of the traits that play develops.

People who can’t play are literal-minded people. They’re not only boring; they’re a danger to society if they get into positions of authority (usually they end up as bureaucrats).

I still do that kind of lying play with children. Most adults, at least ones with a sense of humor, do it their children. It’s a very good thing and there is no bad side to it.

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