Teaching your Scouts the value of telling the truth

Teach your kids the value of telling the truth.

One of the first poems most kids learn contains this bit of doggerel: “Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire.” Unfortunately, by the time they learn it, they’ve probably also learned to lie. It’s a good thing liars’ pants don’t spontaneously combust or the fire department would stay pretty busy.

Lying, of course, goes against the values Scouting teaches. The Scout Law starts with trustworthiness; the Venturing Oath includes a promise to seek truth and fairness. And yet few Scouters have encountered a Scout who didn’t stretch the truth—sometimes past the breaking point.

Why Kids Lie

According to the nonprofit American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, kids lie for a number of reasons. Children under age 6 often tell tall tales for fun, blurring the line between fantasy and reality. Older children, on the other hand, lie for the same reasons adults do: to evade responsibility for their actions, to cover up more serious problems, to protect their privacy, to enhance their self-image, and to avoid hurting other people’s feelings by using the truth-stretching tactic known as white lies.

To some extent, lying is normal—if not acceptable—behavior. But chronic or purposeless lying can point to more serious problems, according to clinical psychologist and author Michael Thompson. In his book, co-authored with Teresa Barker, titled It’s a Boy!: Understanding Your Son’s Development From Birth to Age 18, Thompson writes, “You should be worried only when a boy continues lying when he’s been caught at it in the past. Then he’s telling you that he’s driven to lie for emotional reasons, that he feels aggrieved and helpless, and that he is trying to make the world into a better place for himself.”

There could be even more serious reasons, according to family therapist and author Michael Gurian. “Sometimes children will start lying or otherwise seeking negative attention when their parents are fighting and the child is scared a divorce or other trauma will occur in the home,” he writes in his book The Good Son: Shaping the Moral Development of Our Boys and Young Men.

The Lying Game

Kids (and adults) who lie fail to realize that they’re usually making the situation worse. They have to keep track of increasingly elaborate stories, they live in fear of being caught, and they typically must still deal with the problem that caused them to lie in the first place.

In her book What Do You Stand For? A Guide to Building Character (For Kids), Barbara A. Lewis suggests a game—“Wink the Truth”—that demonstrates how hard it can be to maintain a lie. Here’s how to play the game with your guys:

Assemble a group of four or more players to tell a story. The topic might be last weekend’s camp-out or an incident that happened at school. The first player says two sentences, one of which is true and the other is false. The order in which the stories are told doesn’t matter, but he must wink when he tells the lie.

The second player repeats the first two sentences and adds two sentences of his own, winking for both lies (the one he’s repeating and the one he made up). Player three adds two more sentences to the story, again winking for each lie. Continue the story until players start forgetting which sentences are true and which are false.

Debrief the exercise by discussing these questions:

  • How hard was it to remember which sentences were false? Did it make any difference whether the lies were yours or someone else’s?
  • Have you ever been in a real-life situation when you had to maintain a lie?
  • What problem caused that situation?
  • How did you feel in that situation?
  • What happened when the lie was discovered? Did the lie solve the problem? Did the lie worsen it?

Playing the “Wink the Truth” game might not break your Scouts from lying in all situations. But it might cause your boys to reflect on another bit of verse, this one from Sir Walter Scott: “Oh, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practise to deceive!”


  1. What would you say if I told you that I just got off the phone with Boy Scouts concerning a matter that in part dealt with the fact that my son’s adult venture/scout leader asked him to lie about his nomination to crew leader and I am being told that the council’s decision to do nothing about it is the right decision?

    Worth noting that there is no debate on whether or not the adult leader asked him to do it (seems that the leader acknowledged it).

    I find it interesting and a bit troubling that (at least on a local level) this apparent contradiction of values is absolutely OK.

  2. Who do I contact about a Scout who my son and I “helped” on his Eagle Scout project in our church’s prayer garden. My son and I told this Scout months ago that we would help and that I would be glad to donate plants. I even told him I would take him to a nursery an hour away where trees and shrubs were 75% less than what they would be in Lowe’s/Home Depot. He asked me to take him one weekend but we could never sync our calendars. I had 1/2 day off work Friday and went to the nursery myself and picked up shrubs & trees to “donate,” to his huge project. Upon his request my son and I also dug up perennials and bulbs from our yard and my Dad’s yard to donate.
    HOWEVER, on the day we met this Scout to work, his Mom apparently knew nothing of these conversations and exclaimed rudely to me that plants and pavers were NOT part of his original plan (I can’t return plants to a discount nursery). I had also donated 86 cement pavers that this Scout said he wanted from my Dad’s yard.
    Since this was the first I had heard of a plan I was taken aback. I also had purchased mulch, soil, clay breaker, manure to properly plant the trees and shrubs, as well as at least 25 pine straw bails. ALL DONATED expecting nothing in return. In total, I spent close to $1,000 which I do not mind doing one bit. HOWEVER on work day, this Scout repeatedly told my son and I that he was the “LEADER” and was not supposed to be doing any work (I am a woman and just turned 55) and he pretty much made sure he didn’t do heavy work. Sitting down in front of me on a bench at one point even, while I was digging the ground with a pick ax! Seriously? This is going to be an Eagle? UNBELIEVABLE.
    Other Scouts came to help but only two Scouts did substantial work (real Scouts); the other ones were on their cell phones avoiding work. In order for my son and I to “stay the course” (despite the criticism and ungrateful rudeness we were experiencing) and get the plants in the ground so they would not die, we had to change our focus from helping this lying Scout to instead doing it for God and the many families who have lost loved ones. My son and I stayed a couple of hours after this Scout and his Mom left. (This Scouts’s little 14 year old sister helped more than this Scout.)
    In an earlier conversation about the military draft and my son and this Scout getting to the age that they needed to sign up for availability if there was a draft, this same Scout also told my son he would NEVER be drafted and would never be fighting in any war. (This is a potential Eagle?) I do not know a lot about Scouts but lying, laziness, sitting on your tail (leading) while others around you work their tails off (without even a THANK YOU) so YOU can get “EAGLE” does NOT seem like the qualities Scouts would want representing them. AND, this kid having no interest in serving the country he is blessed to call home.
    My son has NEVER been in Scouts and I have to tell you… if THIS is what being in Scouts produces, I am so grateful I never put my son in Scouts because he is already more of a man than the kid we helped will ever dream of being. What we experienced absolutely needs to be reported to the Eagle Scout Board and questions directed at this Scout without the board revealing that they know what has been going on, just to see how this Scout responds. Ask him questions about leadership, honesty, trustworthiness…. Just see how he responds.

  3. Leaders and adults, including council, only care about numbers and behave in manners we don’t want are children to follow. The program has sunk in past 20 years, embarrassing

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