By P. Berman, K. Hecht & A. Hosack
What are they talking about? Will they tell me?
Davy came bouncing into the room. He had heard the tail end of his mommy’s conversation with Mrs. Carson and he was very curious. He could tell by their tone of voice that they were having a serious grown-up conversation; he wanted to know what it was all about. “Mommy, what are you and Mrs. Carson talking about?” Davy asked giving her a big smile.
Claire wasn’t fooled by the smile. She could tell by the look on his face the Davy was just curious, and he didn’t need to know what they were talking about. It wasn’t a little kid’s topic. Or was it? After a moment reflection, Claire changed her mind- it was a kid’s topic. “Davy we were talking about something very important, it was how to tell the difference between a good and a bad friend,” Claire said. “If I kid is a friend of mine, then he’s got to be good!” said Davy. “You could be right, but not always. What if you met another boy at the park and he shared his snack with you? (Davy is nodding yes). I see you think he’s a great friend, but I don’t know. It was a great snack – it was a candy bar and chocolate milk. But is a great snack the same thing as a great friend?” Claire asked.
“Of course, it is mommy. He shared delicious stuff with me that he could have just eaten by himself,” Davy said. “He did share delicious stuff with you. Sharing is a sign of being a good friend. But what if when you were done, he told you that he was still hungry, but you didn’t have any food to share with him? Would that make you a bad friend?” “No mommy no. I would have shared something with him, but I didn’t have anything to share.” “That’s right Davy, you wouldn’t be a bad friend just because you didn’t share food with him. I never send you to the park with food.”
“What if your friend said, you didn’t need to bring food to the park. His mommy hadn’t given him any food to take either,” Claire said. “This story doesn’t make sense mommy how could he be giving me a candy bar and chocolate milk if he didn’t bring any food with them to the park,” Davy said. “What if he told you that he could show you how to have food at the park whenever you wanted it. Would that make him a good friend?” His mother asked.
“He must be a magician mommy if he can have food whenever he wants it even when his mommy or his Mrs. Carson doesn’t give it to him,” Davy said. Mrs. Carson smiled broadly but Claire still had a serious look on her face. “What if your friend said follow me and I’ll teach you how to get food whenever you want it. He then brings you to a small store that’s right at the corner of the park. The store is very busy with lots of grown-ups rushing in and out buying things. There’s only one man at the store checking people out and taking their money in exchange for the things they’re buying,” Claire said, “Mrs. Carson are you getting curious how this friend gets food?” “Maybe his family doesn’t give him food to take to the park,” Mrs. Carson said, “but they give him money to spend at the store.”
“What do you think Davy, if his family gave him money to spend at the store and he bought snacks and then shared them with you, does this sound like he’s a good friend?” Claire asked. “Yes, yes mommy, he actually spends his valuable money on something that he shares with me,” Davy said. “He is sharing again isn’t he Mrs. Carson?” “That is one sign of being a good friend that you will share something valuable with that person whether it is food, or money, or toy,” Mrs. Carson agreed.
“Unfortunately, this new friend doesn’t have any money in his pocket. He turns to you and says, I always come to the park now because it’s really busy at the store now and the man doesn’t notice when small people like us sneak in and out to get treats,” Claire says, bringing the story to an end.
Davy was looking down in confusion. “That’s a sad end to this story Claire,” Mrs. Carson said. “This child doesn’t understand that stealing from the store is wrong. He is now trying to get Davy to steal. This is what makes him a bad friend. He’s trying to do something nice, but he’s involving Davy in something bad.”
“Why would he do such a bad thing mommy?” Davy asked. “No one learns right and wrong all by themselves my Davy. They need help the kind of help that me and the Carsons’ have given you,” Claire concluded. “Maybe he could become a good friend if he was given help learning about right and wrong mommy,” Davy asked sadly.
“You are so right Davy. He could learn about right and wrong and stop stealing. However, it wouldn’t happen fast, it would take time,” Claire said.
Did you ever lie when you were a child?
Did you ever steal anything when you were a child?
If your answer was yes, then you’re part of the great majority. Almost everyone has stolen and lied at some point. It is often not whether a child has ever done this that is the issue, it’s the intent. If the child at the park is hungry all the time because his parents are not providing him with enough food, while he shouldn’t steal, the fact that he is stealing because he is hungry provides a different context for understanding his behavior than if he steals for the thrill of it.
When do children learn the difference between the truth and a lie?
An important study on truth telling found that children’s understanding of morale reasoning matched their actions (Fen Xu, Xuehua Bao, Genyue Fu, Victoria Talwar, & Kang Lee, 2011). This article also summarized how adults “teach” children to lie in certain circumstances. To read the article go to:
What social advocacy steps could you take to help others understand children’s ability to understand right and wrong?
Do you think you could explain to the school board why they should take an educational approach, rather than a punitive one to a child lying?