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Training Students to Tell the Truth: Can you spot a liar?

One year our elementary teachers reported experiencing a significant increase in lying. Students were lying about finishing their homework, copying someone’s homework, cheating on tests, lying to avoid punishment, and lying to parents about school things. The staff felt a need to emphasize the importance of honesty, not just in school but also in their families, especially with their parents.

Over the new couple posts I will be sharing some thoughts on lying and how to deal with it. You can find more information on this topic in our book, Who Done It: Truth and Consequences Guide for Educators. Every educator needs a copy of this book.

Before focusing on honesty, students must know what lying is. One way to accomplish this is through discussion, using some specific questions. For example, “How would you define a lie?” “Do you think it is okay to lie?” “If so, when would this be?” “What do you think a white lie is?” “Can you recall someone telling you or you telling someone a white lie?” “Are there other ways that a person can lie?” “We all have at one time, or another told a lie. What is the biggest lie you have ever told someone else?” “If you had an opportunity, would you repeat the lie?” “How do you feel when someone tells you a lie?” “What are some of the reasons why people tell lies?” “What does God’s Word say about lying.” When we put these questions to our students, it was amazing how everyone knew what being honest meant; yet, many chose to lie.

Our staff decided to incorporate “What happens when someone tells a lie” in their discussions with students.” The discussions centered around a list published by psychologist Carl Pickhardt.

The list includes the following:

Liars injure those they love. Parents who are lied to can feel hurt because lies take advantage of their trust, feel angry because of being deliberately misled, and feel frightened because now they do not know what to believe and feel out of control.

Liars are double punished. Lying is a gamble. If the teenager is not found out, then there is no punishment; but if the teenager is found out, they are often punished twice—first for the offense and second for lying about it.

Liars complicate their lives. Liars must remember two versions of reality: what they actually did (the truth of what happened) and the lie they told about what they did (the falsehood they created). Keeping this distinction clear proves twice as complicated as telling the truth. Liars must manage double lives.

Liars live in fear. Concealing the truth, liars must live in hiding. They wonder whether the deception they created will hold up or come crashing down around them if caught. Liars live in fear of being found out.

Liars feel out of control. Covering up one lie with another, pretty soon, liars lose track of all the lies they have told. They find it harder and harder to keep their story straight. Liars cannot remember all the lies they have said.

Liars hurt themselves. Because they lack the courage to own up to their actions’ truth, liars live a coward’s life. Each time they deny the truth, they do not dare to be honest. Liars lower their self-esteem.

Liars are lonely people. To avoid questions and keep from being found out, liars distance themselves from those to whom the lies were told. They become isolated from family and friends they have deliberately misled. Liars cut off closeness to those they care about and love.

Liars become confused. Lying to others can become confusing when liars start believing the untruths they have told. The more often they tell a lie, the more likely they will believe it. Liars start by deceiving others, but they end up fooling themselves.

In our next post, we will discuss how to train students to tell the truth and the importance of reinforcing the truth.

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