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Lying in Children’s Development

Lying is an important issue in human development due to its nature and the inability of some people to understand if it is an obligatory skill or a shortage that has to be eliminated. On the one hand, it is a usual process that a child lies to cover personal mistakes or hide some kind of transgression. On the other hand, parents get upset when they understand that their children start lying under different circumstances.

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Many researchers, psychologists, and theorists are involved in the discussion of a child lie-telling process and demonstrate different opinions and attitudes to this aspect. The position of Kang Lee, a psychology professor who aims at understanding the development of social cognition and human behavior, attracts the attention of millions of people around the whole world due to his intentions to support lying as a significant part of human development.

In his less than 15 minutes TED talk, Lee (2016) states several interesting details concerning children’s development, including the fact that many children start telling lies as soon as they enter an elementary school and comparing lying to an ordinary cooking process with two key ingredients for evaluation. The chosen TED talk is an interesting and educative source of information because Lee does not want to introduce a clear position and prove his appropriateness only, but makes people conclude that, despite their levels of knowledge and experiences, they can hardly recognize and understand children’s lies.

Similar positions are supported by many modern scientists, writers, researchers, and thinkers like Luksic (2016), Lavoie, Leduc, Arruda, Crossman, and Talwar (2017), Williams, Leduc, Crossman, and Talwar (2017), and Hilt (2015). They believe that it is wrong to make children tell the truth all the time, and telling lies is a normal behavior for any developing child (Luksic, 2016). Although lying is characterized by a number of physiological and cognitive changes, they do not have a purely negative impact on children.

Lying is typical among adults, as well as among children (Lee, 2013). However, a child lie turns out to be a more complex issue because this ability may depend on a number of anti- and pro-social purposes and be improved with age (Lee, 2013). In children, lying usually appears long before they understand the essence of a moral code and the importance of such values as trust and honesty (Hilt, 2015). Therefore, it is hard for many people to realize if children’s lies are harmless actions that have to be promoted or personal crimes that should be abolished.

The evaluation of the situations when children tell lies will be developed regarding the position introduced by Kang Lee in his TED talk. The aim of this paper is to analyze Lee’s theoretical standpoint concerning the development of social cognition among children and their abilities to control emotions, speeches, facial expressions, and body language.

There are three main tasks in this paper: first, it is necessary to discuss the conditions under which children start lying, and if it is possible to avoid such situations, second, a theory of mind training processes through the works of different researchers will be evaluated to explain the positive aspects of lying, and third, the importance of Transdermal Optical Imaging (TOI) to decode hidden emotions of people will be proved in terms of various situations. Lee’s approach to celebrate children’s lies as a part of human development and the idea to use a new lie-detection technology contribute to an understanding of children’s cognitive development and learning.

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Critical Analysis

The peculiar feature of the TED talk developed by Lee is the intention to cover different aspects of children’s lie-telling. First, there is a theoretical standpoint with the help of which it is possible to understand the main components of lying. Second, there is a developmental aspect where child’s cognition and learning should be discussed. Finally, lying, as any usual activity people may be involved in, should have a definition and certain characteristics. Lee (2016) offers to celebrate children’s lie-telling. However, at the same time, he suggests a technological solution and encourages the development of a new lie-detection approach, TOI, proving that lying can be a problem for society.

Theoretical Perspectives

Lying is a process that people are free to develop in a number of different ways. As a rule, children at the age of two years prefer to lie in order to meet their personal goals or hide their mistakes and transgressions. Lee (2016) identifies lying as a typical part of human development and compares lying to a cooking process that should have two main ingredients that are the theory of mind and self-control.

The theory of mind, also known as the mind-reading ability, discusses the ability to differentiate between what one person knows and what another person may not know because people may have a different knowledge about a situation (Lee, 2016). Self-control is another significant issue of lie-telling, including the possibility to control personal speech, to keep neutral facial expressions, and to consider body language.

The combination of these two ingredients proves that lying is a complex process. It is not enough to know something in order to be successful in lying. A child has to understand how to behave while lying, what emotions should be demonstrated, what expressions should be hidden, and when it is necessary to answer questions (Lavoie et al., 2017). A developmental model of lying offered by Lee (2013) and supported by Talwar, Yachison, and Leduc (2016) tells that children are ready to lie in order to conceal their transgressions.

Their lies may be of different types: primary (without considering listener’s mental state), secondary (with some consideration of listener’s mental development), and tertiary (with a consistent consideration of the facts that may be available to a listener) (Vitelli, 2013). Therefore, it is possible to say that children lie not because they want to hide something but just because they understand that they can do it.

Developmental Aspects

Lee’s speeches and theories are based on the importance of cognitive development and learning abilities of children at the age of two years. Nowadays, many parents, as well as psychologists and caregivers, start worrying as soon as they discover children’s lies and try to search some new ways to solve possible problems, help children, and avoid further complications and misunderstandings (Ankowski & Ankowski, 2015; Martineau, 2014).

Lee does not find it necessary to recognize lie-telling of children as a cognitive or developmental problem. On the contrary, he underlines that if children cannot or do not want to lie, they may suffer from such health problems as AHDH or autism (Lee, 2013).

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Therefore, earliest lies of children should occur between 2 and 3 years of age and may have different forms, and it is important to consider initial deceptions and mistaken utterances in children’s talks (Vitelli, 2013; Williams et al., 2017). In other words, it is possible to conclude that at the age of two years, some children are able to create strong and effective lives intentionally or unintentionally, and some children may face certain challenges when they need to avoid the truth. In both cases, it is hard to judge the level of cognitive development of children because a number of social and cognitive factors, as well as the environment, may play a certain role in a lie-telling process.

Two-Sided Lying

As well as there are two possible sides of every story and every idea, there are also two different sides of a child’s lie. Sometimes, it is hard for a person to create a lie and prove the chosen position. However, there are also the situations when people are in need of good or bad lies just in order to hide a transgression. In many cases, children tell lies without even thinking about the consequences or the level of knowledge available to their listeners.

They do not understand that their lies can break some moral norms and rules according to which people have to live (Talwar et al., 2016). As well as children are not sure of why they lie, parents, social workers, judges, lawyers, and police officers are not able to detect the situations when a child lies (Lee, 2016). The question of why children lie remains to be open. Instead of finding the answer to this question, Lee (2016) offers to find a solution and develops a new technology with the help of which it is possible to detect lives.

Lies are very important in a child’s development process, and it is wrong to try to eliminate this process or think about the steps in order to prevent lie-telling. The goal of psychology is not the elimination of all negative aspects of a human life, but a search of solutions with the help of which it is possible to facilitate human relations and prove the importance of trustful communication.

Technologies in Children’s Development

A lie-telling process influences the work of the body in different ways. Though it is wrong and useless to expect a fast-growing nose like in the Pinocchio paradox, there is a possibility to observe some changes in the facial blood flow: the flow increases on nose and decreases on cheeks. However, people do not possess such an ability as the detection of blood flow changes with a naked eye, and what they need is an additional technology or software that can help to reveal facial emotions and prove that a person lies or not.

Transdermal Optical Imaging is one of the newest technological approaches offered by Lee (2016) to detect lies. With the help of a specially developed video camera, it is possible to record people when they experience different hidden emotions and make correct conclusions. Then, transdermal images can be extracted in order to observe if any blood flow changes occur on a human face and understand if a person lies or not. Such procedure is noninvasive, remote, and inexpensive with a possibility to obtain correct answers with an accuracy of about 85% (Lee, 2016).

Instead of relying on chances and hope that it is better to learn children and their behaviors, there is a guarantee to detect lies, and people are free to use it. Lie-telling can be no longer a problem in the relations developed between parents and their children.

Lee (2016) also suggests using this program in classrooms to identify if some children are challenged by new tasks and knowledge, in communication with parents who may have a tendency to lie in order not to bother their children about their health conditions, or in marketing to clarify what people actually think about products. In fact, there are many pros of TOI in different fields of life, the only question that should be raised in terms of this discussion is an appropriateness of such device and a true necessity to know if a lie actually occurs.

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Lying and Truth in Human Life

In the discussion of the situations when children lie and if parents are able to detect their lies, it is necessary to clarify if the detection of lie is as important as it seems to be. Lee (2013) proves that lying is an important part of cognitive development. Hilt (2015) admits that lies are common in everyday life, and children are not the only ones who prefer to lie. Sometimes, it is enough for a parent to express concerns and disappointments and give a lesson (Martineau, 2014).

In many cases, parents want to communicate with their children and explain the importance of trustful and fair relations with society (Ankowski & Ankowski, 2015). The development of parent-child relations may be based on lies, and there is nothing wrong with such conditions. Lies are hard to avoid in a modern world, and even if children are not always good at lying, they should not stop their attempts to create a perfect lie and achieve the desired result. The success of this activity is one of the best proofs of a child’s development.


In general, the TED talk developed by Lee about the importance to detect kid’s lying helps to understand certain theoretical and cognitive aspects of a child’s development. At the age of two, children should have executive functioning skills that are necessary for lying. They may use lies to cause compassion or understanding or to explain their needs. However, the most frequent reason for lies among children is the necessity to achieve their goals.

In some cases, children lie because they can or because their parents or other caregiver allow this happening. Regarding an existing variety of attitudes to lie-telling, it is not enough to answer the question if a parent can detect a child’s lie, but it is important to realize if the detection of lies is necessary and not harmful to a child’s development and learning. Is it really necessary for a parent to know about their children’s lies and detect them each time? Lee (2016) does not give the answer to this question but explains that there is a possibility to detect lies.

Therefore, parents are free to make their final decisions and investigate the positive and negative aspects of such technology as Transdermal Optical Imaging. This device cannot prevent or predict lives. Still, there is always a chance for a person to know if lies occur and what their effects on human development can be.

The investigations of different researchers covered in this paper, as well as Lee’s ideas and the theory of mind and self-control as the main ingredients of a lie-telling process, help to understand that lie may be not only positive or negative issue. It is a typical part of a child’s development, and instead of detecting it and thinking about how to prevent new lies, parents should clarify the moment when they need this detection to be done.


Ankowski, A., & Ankowski, A. (2015). Think like a baby: 33 simple research experiments you can do at home to better understand your child’s developing mind. Chicago, IL: Chicago Review Press.

Hilt, R.J. (2015). Lying children, frustrated parents. Pediatric Annals, 44(7), 255-256.

Lavoie, J., Leduc, K., Arruda, C., Crossman, A.M., & Talwar, V. (2017). Developmental profiles of children’s spontaneous lie-telling behavior. Cognitive Development, 41, 33-45.

Lee, K. (2013). Little liars: Development of verbal deception in children. Child Development Perspectives, 7(2), 91-96.

Lee, K. (2016). Can you really tell if a kid is lying? 

Luksic, N. (2016). Why lying is a sign of healthy behavior for children. CBCNews Health. Web.

Martineau, M.M. (2014). What to do when my child lies? 13 Ways to respond, prevent, and strengthen honest communication. Huffpost. 

Talwar, V., Yachison, S., & Leduc, K. (2016). Promoting honesty: The influence of stories on children’s lie-telling behaviors and moral understanding. Infant and Child Development, 25(6), 484-501.

Vitelli, R. (2013). When does lying begin? How early do we learn to lie? And what purpose does it serve in young children? Psychology Today. 

Williams, S., Leduc, K., Crossman, A., & Talwar, V. (2017). Young deceivers: Executive functioning and antisocial lie-telling in preschool aged children. Infant and Child Development, 26(1), 1-17. Web.

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