Bill Cosby has a comedy routine that talks about how people without children often say, “I just love children.”
To which he demands, “Why?”
“Because they’re truthful, children are truthful.”
“It’s a LIE”, he responds, “I’ve got five of ’em.”
All kids say things that aren’t true at some point. Whether it’s because they are acquiescing, making up stories, remembering incorrectly, or outright lying, they all tell falsehoods.
Kids will often agree to things whether or not they are even plausible. If you ask them if an alligator ate their teacher today at school, they might say yes and even give details, regardless of how ridiculous and unbelievable they are.
Sometimes they make up outlandish stories just for the heck of it. The other day Preemie told us a story about her uncle involving him cutting her belly, cutting his own belly, and sticking her in the toilet, among other things. She thought this was hilarious. I have no idea why she made this up or why she picked him as the subject of her story, but she did.
Often kids flat out lie to cover their own butts. The kid who takes a cookie when mommy says not too, will likely lie about it. I don’t know what little kid wouldn’t unless they are really little and don’t yet understand the concept of lying to keep from getting into trouble.
Another reason a kid might say something that isn’t true is that they may be having a false memory. This is very common, even in adults but especially in young children. By now, Preemie’s story is probably long forgotten by her. But if she does remember that story, down the road she might actually start to think it’s true. My mom often told me a story about walking to the doctor’s office in the snow, carrying me under her coat when I was about 18 months old. For the longest time I thought I remembered this and thought it was so cool that my earliest memory went all the way back to 18 months old. It wasn’t until I learned about false memories in college (and I learned that my “memory” didn’t exactly jive with my mom’s) that I realized I had created a picture in my mind of what had happened whenever my mom told me the story and I mistook this for an actual memory.
Many false memories are created by suggestion. If you tell a child that their teacher from last year got eaten by an alligator, the child might not only believe you but start to develop a “memory” of that happening. Which is why child advocates who deal with possible child abuse victims aren’t allowed to ask, “Did this happen to you?” because a child might say, “Yes,” either to please the person or just for the heck of it. They might also create an elaborate false memory from the suggestion that this thing happened to them, leading to the possible false conviction of an innocent adult. Instead, people working with children who are possible victims of abuse are only allowed to ask if the child has anything they want to talk about so they can come up with the information on their own.
So if Preemie can come up with a story out of nowhere about her uncle hurting her, which I know for a fact has never happened, should a child’s testimony be trusted at all? If not, then how can we know when a child is really being hurt? I guess we need to investigate what they’ve said to see if we can find any proof. Unfortunately, without being able to trust a child’s testimony, abusers sometimes go free and sometimes innocent people are falsely accused. It’s too bad that Bill Cosby’s joke is so true, otherwise things would be a lot easier.