post truth parenting

Parents!  The Fate of the post-truth world rests in your hands!

 

Very recently I was contacted by CROOKED Natalie from the FAILING Parent Pause to be a guest columnist. SAD!

…It’s going to be an amazing column.  Tremendous column. The best column.  Believe me.

Now ‘Pause’.

Imagine it’s fifteen to twenty years from now when your little bundle of joy is now a fully-fledged adult and this is how everyone, EVERYONE, in the entire world talks and behaves.

It’s a world where every opinion is regarded as a ‘fact’, where politicians are elected by the number of re-tweets and right-and-wrong is dictated by large corporations to push products rather than rule of law and good-old honest values.

Okay so a bit Orwellian and more than a tad “first-year-sociology -bore-at-the-Two-4-One-Tuesdays”.  I shouldn’t be so melodramatic, right?  Surely this won’t happen in real life?

Alternative Facts

Day-to-day mistruths are more like when my wife tidies the home, forgets where she puts my wallet and claims not to know anything about it, only for it reappear days later.

But the problem is that we’re already in an environment where major government representatives and serious policy makers decree journalism as ‘Fake News’, bandy about actual Orwellian phrases such as ‘Alternative Facts’ and our public figures continuously and demonstrably devalue honesty.

It’s going to be harder for us than it was for our parents.  Unless this column has been adapted for TV and is being repeated on channel Dave sometime in the year 2036, we all grew up in a time when at our most formative, our authority figures were relatively restricted to our parents, guardians, teachers, peers and episodes of Friends.

Today we live in a twenty-four hour, non-stop, multi-platform, live-stream-everything world and the challenge of raising our children to stick to principles of honesty and integrity will be made that much harder as the utter drivel espoused by key influencers are thrust into our children’s lives just as they’re being moulded into the people they will become.

The Fate of the World

So what can be done?  Well the unfortunate post-truth truth is that it’s up to you.  Yes you, you bleary-eyed, semi-comatose zombies of the 3 – 4:30am feeding slot.  The fate of the world rests in your hands.

We spend the first year of their lives just trying to keep them alive.  Then the toddler years, when we’re bouncing between both ends of the emotional spectrum: the pure joy created by a silly face we’ve made and the complete despair caused by nothing more than not being able to reattach the top of the muffin to the base.  (And this is just the adults.)  Then follows the maze of pre-school years, school years, tweens and teens.

Where and how in this haze of stopping them wash their hair in the toilet and educating them to juggle with scissors are we supposed to teach the value of honesty, to challenge points of view and to make informed choices?

Being professional and expert parents yourselves, you’ve probably guessed by now that there isn’t a right answer.  (Sorry I should have mentioned this right at the start to have saved you getting this far.  But then you wouldn’t have got the Trump bit, would you?)

Does lying may make you smarter?

The starting point for me was asking myself what were my values and how could I best arm my children.

Oddly enough, I came across a study a year or so before that found that lying is actually a key developmental milestone.  According to on-going research by the University of Toronto there are clear links between learning to lie and cognitive progress in adulthood.

So this now became an ethical question of how much do I let them a lie and where did I consider the boundaries between little white lies and a down-right-dirty-full-blown fib?

I’ll have to leave judging where your boundaries are as individuals and as parents are to you. I will tell you however, that my wife and I actually wrestled with this one for months.

Little White Lies

The problem, you see, was that our little angel didn’t actually seem to do much wrong.  Any lie, if any, was so insignificant and would nearly always contributing to pretend play.

It was during one particularly joyous Sunday morning at the shops.  I sat outside the changing rooms with the kids and several other male partners (not my wife’s you understand) who all shared the same 1000-yard stare.

At some point during the David Blaine-style challenge my wife had embarked on, involving one skirt, one changing room, four days and no food or water, it prompted my daughter to want to play ‘shopping’ as soon as we got home.

Being the kind of Dad that doesn’t like to say no, I said ‘non’ and thought nothing more of it until we got home.

Years later we reached home and my daughter pulled me into her room intent on playing shopping.  As I mocked up various voices and accents of different shopkeepers, giving them each a back-story in my head to stop me from going mad, we got to the bit where we had to pay.

I braced myself for what I was certain would be a long and meandering conversation with a toddler about money.

“Well then” said Bert the shopkeeper surveying three socks and one tutu.  “That’ll be three pahnd, please.”  (It’s worth telling you Bert had a hard life growing up in the post-war East End of London but thanks to a resurgent market for tutus, he was a boy done good.)

“Okay” she said and went over to the corner of her room.

I was initially rather shocked that a princely sum of three pounds didn’t faze her until seconds later she reappeared presenting a shiny silver credit card.  My shiny silver credit card, to be precise.

“Where did you get that, then young lady?” Bert asked quietly.

“Ummmm” said the tiny customer.  “Mummy got it for me”.

“I knew it,” Bert muttered under his breath, got up and left the room (presumably, as it was late 1949, to invent a credit card machine).

Winning Again

Of course, a toddler playing with your credit cards is nothing new, but what was concerning was that she tried to divert the blame.

So that’s when my wife and I decided that from that moment forward, we’d consider a lie to be worse than the act.  The strategy behind this was to encourage honesty and the policy was only to punish if she did something wrong and lied about it.

I’ve got to say that this policy has been really effective for us.  Not only has it encouraged her to communicate more freely with my wife and I but hopefully has given our daughter the foundations to understand that honesty and integrity matter despite what nonsense people try to push down her throat.

We’re winning again.

– this post was originally written for The Parent Pause

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