Do you remember Pinocchio, the little wooden boy carved from a piece of pine by the woodcarver, Geppetto? Even though Pinocchio dreamt of becoming a real boy, there was very little real about him – except that he had a nasty habit of lying. Whenever he lied, his nose grew. If he told a whopper, it grew very long, while a little white lie caused only a little growth.
According to Dr. Chuck Borsellino, the author of Pinocchio Parenting, many adults suffer from Pinocchio's problem. No, they're not blatant liars, and their noses don't grow, but they use false clichés to teach their kids, which can be problematic.
Before you think you couldn't possibly be a "Pinocchio Parent," check out these four common lies that adults tell their children. While people may repeat these untruths at any time, I've broken them down by ages and stages for extra insight.
Early Stages (0-3)
"Yes, Honey, there is a Santa Claus."
During the Christmas holidays, tiny tots all over the United States gather in shopping malls to sit on Santa's lap. Soon, with a little coaching from Mom and Dad, our littlest citizens believe in the magic man in the red hat and long, white flowing beard.
You might be thinking, OK, wait a minute! What's wrong with Santa? He is part of the magic of Christmas. Granted, many people agree that there isn't anything wrong with St. Nick, including Dr. Dobson, the founder of Focus on the Family. "I wouldn't take that away from early childhood. My kids loved Santa."
While Dr. Borsellino agrees with Dobson that play and fantasy are a fun part of childhood, the main lesson parents should glean from Santa is to be "careful telling your kids anything that you'll have to un-tell them later."
Discovery Years (ages 4-7)
"What's on the inside is what matters."
The first time that Julia came home from middle school crying because her classmates ridiculed her about her "elephant-size" ears, her mother tried to comfort her by saying, "Sweetheart, it's what's on the inside that matters."
While this sounds like a good argument because what's on the inside does matter to God, the truth is that we in the United States have a beauty bias. And, according to Borsellino, "We lie [to our kids] when we don't face that."
What can a parent do when teens, especially girls, are demoralized by the world's message that you don't matter if you don't look like a movie star? While a parent does not want to emphasize outward appearances, Borsellino believes parents should teach kids to make the most of what God gave them. "If the barn door needs painting, paint it," he says. We should also eat healthy and exercise to take care of our bodies. Of course, making the most of our outward appearance should never be done at the expense of faith or character.
Tween Ages (ages 8-12)
"The best things in life are free."
When your children start to grow, it's natural for you to want to teach them to be grateful. You want them to value the little things in life, right? For this reason, just about every parent tells their kids, "The best things in life are free."
While this may sound good, the question is this: when is the last time you really valued something that was free? It's probably been a long time, or it may have never happened. The truth is that anything that is worth something costs something. It costs courage, dedication, money, sacrifice or relational commitment.
The college graduate who studied for years will tell you they value their diploma. The husband and wife who have worked their way out of a deep marital ditch will tell you that a healthy marriage isn't free. The young pastor who works two jobs to keep his congregation afloat will say that it costs dedication.
So you see, the truth is that the best things in life aren't free, and according to Dr. Borsellino, "Whatever you earn cheaply, you will also value to the same degree." No doubt, this is a great truth to teach your kids.
Teen Phases (ages 13-18)
"You can be anything you want to be."
When parents want to encourage their teens about finding a career they often say, "You can be anything you want to be." Is it a lie? Absolutely.
"The truth is, if you're 4'9," says Borsellino, "you can't play in the NBA."It is also true that we have more opportunities in the United States than just about anywhere else in the world, but no one can be whatever they want. A skilled engineer will probably go crazy trying to write a book, and an artist would most likely go bananas if she had to crunch numbers for a living. Yes, God has given everyone gifts, but no one has every gift.
Rather than tell kids they can be whatever they want, Dr. Borsellino suggests that parents ask themselves, "What kind of gifts and talents can I fertilize in my children?" In other words, how can I encourage growth of the particular gifts, talents and bents that God has placed in each of my children? Parents should also teach their kids to strive for excellence by doing their best with whatever skills and talents God has given them.
Most importantly, Borsellino wants his readers to know that the most dangerous lie is not one we tell our kids, but the one we tell ourselves. It's when we say, "I don’t matter." No doubt, this lie will rob parents who believe it of their ability to parent effectively.
The greatest proof that we do matter is the cross. Through Christ's act of unconditional love, God said, "You mean the world to me, even if the world says you don't matter." Not only is this one of the greatest truths that parents should embrace, but it's one they can share with their children, at any age or stage.
Copyright 2008 Shana Schutte. Used by permission.