“Kids have good instincts,” the president said. “They look at the other guy and say, ‘Well, that’s a bull*****, I can tell.’”
Well, sure they do. We all do. It’s a human fallibility — we all believe we know when someone is lying to us. But that’s exactly what it is, a fallibility. And young people, particularly the kids Obama was speaking of, are vulnerable.
(And make no mistake, his remark was in response to Rolling Stone Executive Editor Eric Bates’ 6-year-old daughter’s words sent to encourage the president.)
“Lie detection is a complex skill that improves with age, and studies have repeatedly shown that young children are exceptionally poor at identifying deception,” writes Brian Palmer in Slate magazine. “President Obama has bought into a widespread myth that children have an intuitive ability to sniff out deceit.”
That myth has been disproven repeatedly in scientific studies. Two researchers, Charles Bond Jr. and Bella M. DePaulo, found in 2008 that people have about a 54 percent chance of telling when someone is lying to them. The number for purely random responses would be about 50 percent. So as lie-detectors, people stink.
And children are even more vulnerable.
“There have been instances where people misused their positions in Scouting to abuse children, and in certain cases, our response to these incidents and our efforts to protect youth were plainly insufficient, inappropriate, or wrong,” said Boy Scouts national president Wayne Perry just three weeks ago. “Where those involved in Scouting failed to protect, or worse, inflicted harm on children, we extend our deepest and sincere apologies to victims and their families.”
How were they able to inflict such harm? By gaining the trust of children.
As the Los Angeles Times reported about the Boy Scouts scandal, “Many suspected molesters engaged in what psychologists today call ‘grooming behavior,’ a gradual seduction in which predators lavish children with attention, favors and gifts.”
President Obama, a father himself, should know better than to perpetrate the myth of a young person’s uncanny ability to detect lies and deceit.
Today is Halloween, of course. Neighborhood trick-or-treating has all but vanished. And in families that still participate, the children aren’t let loose without lots of warnings and almost always a watchful eye.
Why? Because we know they’re vulnerable.
We haven’t touched on the propriety of the President of the United States using such language, even in the midst of a heated campaign; it speaks for itself.
But again, Obama was likely just pandering to a young audience. We all like to be told we’re smart and discerning.
If only it was always true.