There’s the outright lie we tell to children: “Are you eating chocolate?” No, you respond with a mouthful of chocolate.
Then there’s the “white” lie we tell to children: “Where did you go?” To run an errand, you say, which is true, but you leave out that the errand was to buy some chocolate yogurt you greedily ate in the car.
Kids ages 6 and 7, but sometimes as young as 4, can detect when they’re being fed misleading information, Stanford psychologists say.
Sins of omission
A study in “Child Development” in May looked at whether young children could discern “sins of omission,” or technically accurate, but misleading information.
In four experiments with ages 6 and 7 and later younger kids, children were able to distinguish between helpful puppet teachers and those puppet teachers that omitted information important to the learning of “Sesame Street’s” Elmo.
“We, as adults, frequently omit information to children when something is unnecessary, redundant, too hard, and even when we want them to know ‘the truth, but not the whole truth,’ ” said the study’s lead author Hyowon Gweon, an assistant professor of psychology.
Who do they trust?
Omitting information can be useful, or it can be misleading, Gweon said. It’s the adult’s job to determine when omitting information can be a “sin.”
Children’s ability to recognize a sin of omission is important, said co-author Mike Asaba, because young learners are at a critical stage of deciding “whom to approach and trust for information, and whom to avoid or discredit.”