The truth is, we all lie. Deny it and you’re probably lying. Small lies are called fibs, big lies are called whoppers, and "necessary" lies are called white.

We live in a culture where lying is commonplace. Soon after we learn to walk, we learn to lie. According to the book The Day America Told the Truth, 91 per cent of those surveyed admitted to lying routinely, on average twice a day. We lie to protect or promote ourselves. We lie to elevate or excuse ourselves. We lie, period.

Those of us living in the trenches of parenthood would like to believe we’ve mastered honesty. We haven’t. Most of us have simply given ourselves a license to lie ("Your fish went to live with Nemo in the ocean" or "Of course there’s a tooth fairy"). Unfortunately, our "little white lies" have consequences: they diminish our credibility and distort our kids’ understanding of reality.

When our back is against the wall, we feed our kids verbal snack food filled with clichés and half-truths intended to soothe their spirits – a technique I call "Pinocchio parenting." Yet the thoughts we feed our kids today become the foundation of their behaviours tomorrow.

Chances are, you’ve probably told your kids at least one of the following parental fibs:

Fib #1: "Honey, you can be anything you want to be."


My parents wanted to inspire me beyond my limits and often told me that I could be anything I wanted to be. If I could dream it, then I could do it. It’s a fashionable saying, but is it factual? If it is, then I want to play quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys!

Here’s the problem. Like it or not, birds can’t swim and fish don’t fly. An acorn can’t become an apple tree, nor could Picasso have become an accomplished accountant. Our children cannot become someone they were not designed to be.

All of us want to inspire our kids to go from average to awesome, but sooner or later, reality will cause our kids to question this message – and the messenger. God has given each of our kids unique talents and has a plan for their life. Education will help develop their minds, motivation will help drive their dreams and God will help define the calling, but research confirms that success is based more on ability than desire. I’m tasked as a parent to help them discover and develop their gifts, then teach them how to seek God’s direction for their lives.

Fib #2: "Looks don’t matter; it’s what’s on the inside that counts."


Scripture tells us time and time again that God looks on the inside, not the outside. Unfortunately, He may be the only one. In North America today, we have a beauty bias. Research tells us that attractive kids are perceived as friendly, sociable, smart and successful, while less attractive and overweight kids are seen as lazy, undisciplined, slow and lonely.

Educational psychologists describe a "halo" effect for the buffed, bronzed and beautiful. In school, teacher’s expectations are higher for the good-looking, and students tend to live up to them. After graduation, they’re more likely to be hired, more likely to be promoted and will receive an average of nine per cent more income than the rest of us. Research tells us that first impressions are lasting, they take only a few minutes to form, and 65 per cent are based on appearance.

Don’t get me wrong: Appearance should never matter more than character and competence – and seeking a surgical solution for every imperfection isn’t healthy. But as much as we’d like to believe otherwise, the notion that appearance is irrelevant simply isn’t true. Kids who develop a healthy balance between the exterior and the interior will maximize their potential for social, academic and vocational success.

Fib #3: "God helps those who help themselves."


For generations, this cliché has been the rallying cry for parents trying to promote initiative, responsibility and ambition in their kids. And after all, it’s Scripture, isn’t it? Actually, while 82 per cent of us believe this maxim is found in the Bible, it’s not. These words were spoken by Benjamin Franklin to motivate the mediocre in Philadelphia. As parents, our intentions may be honourable, but our theology is questionable.

On the surface, this is a message encouraging self-initiative. That’s not a bad thing. The apostle Paul denounced those who dillydally during the day then want to sit down for dinner. He wrote, "If a man will not work, he shall not eat" (2 Thessalonians 3:10). On the other hand, God knows where complete self-reliance leads – those who think it’s all up to them ultimately falter.

What’s really wrong with this cliché is that God has a history of helping those who can’t help themselves. When the Israelites had their toes in the Red Sea and the Egyptians were on the horizon, God showed up. When Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were fed to the flames, God showed up. When Daniel was destined to be a bedtime snack in the lions’ den, God showed up. Kids who believe that God expects them to help themselves, however, will tragically ignore the help that their heavenly Father provides.

These are only a few examples of the lies we tell – and the damage is far-reaching. It’s time to take another look at our Pinocchio parenting and reclaim the truth. Our children – and their faith – will be better for it.

Dr. Chuck Borsellino was a clinical psychologist, ordained minister and former television host at the time of publication.

© 2008 Focus on the Family (Canada) Association. All rights reserved.

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