Advertising, children, lies and the internet

When children are small they don't know how to lie. I remember seeing a fascinating program on the TV with Professor Winston explaining that learning that you can say an untruth and be believed is a step to knowing that you are a separate person from your parents (and everyone else) up until that point you don't lie because you assume that what you know every one else knows.

When children begin to lie the lies are often outrageous and hilarious. A face covered in chocolate will still respond "No mummy, I haven't had any chocolate" but this is practice, children are working out which lies work and which don't (all very 'tree in the garden of Eden' allegorical stuff)

snake and apple garden of eden

When children are in their early teens and maybe before the lies become annoying, now they are 'real' lies, lies about where they are going, who they have seen, what they have done...

So as a parent you teach that lying is wrong, you explain that the truth is important (unless mum asks 'do I look fat in this?') and if you are wise you explain about advertising.

Lots is being talked about lately with regards to children and advertising and one of the reasons that advertising to kids annoys me is that children don't always understand the lies used in advertising (yea yea OK not lies, exaggerated claims?) remember in Toy Story? the ad on TV for Buzz Lightyear - THIS IS NOT A FLYING TOY but even Buzz himself believed what he saw, he believed the hype.

I have explained to Dd from early on about truth and lies, for a long time she believed in the magic finger that could spot a lie if touched to your forehead as you spoke (ironically this was of course a lie) but now she seems fairly OK with the truth, there is sneaking, but not much.

Oddly on the subject of caution online, I have now encouraged her to lie, or at least to avoid the truth! She rarely reveals her real name (I'm the same) we are a secretive sneaky couple. When she rings radio stations to ask for records she invents names and unusual home towns. She is practised in the untruth as well as the truth.

When on twitter she sees accounts promising "follow me and gain 10000 followers in 4 hours!" and I ask 'how many followers do they have?' she quickly sees that for a lie (they have 39 followers if they are lucky usually). Ads on TV now make her sneer like I do, 'remove all wrinkles? with a cream? yeah right' she comments.

Life is so complicated, what is real, what is true, how can children cope in this complicated mixed up world where lies are both encouraged and discouraged. TV shows are fact interspersed with amazing advertising claims. Twitter is a mix of real people and fake. How can we know who can we trust?

I think this blog post is a long and rambling one so kudos to you if you are still reading.Now tell me, do your kids know that adverts might not be 'true'? Do you teach on line safety and lies? Are your kids honest?

Is honesty always the best policy?


  1. Ah now this is a subject that I am struggling with. My 10yo has a disability and takes things very litterally. Its a nightmare trying to explain the non truths of advertising and the little white lies that us grown ups use on a frequent basis. In fact even calling them white lies is met with a blank stare (you cant see lies so how can they be white). Now I've waffled to, but hopefully you get the gist that I havent figured this lie thing out yet!

  2. Love this post. I teach media studies and it makes your stomach turn to realise how many teens soak up advertising (and the Daily Mail) without ever questioning the messages or ulterior motives. They just don't think for themselves! I want my children to know when they are being taken for a ride and, like you, I think I'll train them to be able to decide for themselves when it's okay not to tell the truth.
    B. x

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