IPT Book Reviews

Title: Why Kids Lie: How Parents Can Encourage Truthfulness  Neutral Review
Author: Paul Ekman
Publisher: Charles Scribner's Sons, New York 1989

Charles Scribner's Sons
866 Third Avenue
New York, New York 10022


Paul Ekman is well known to readers, with eight previous books, the last one entitled, Telling Lies (Paperback Reissue edition).  This lightweight book for parents is divided into six chapters by the author's various family members.  Chapter 3 discusses lying at different ages and Chapter 6 deals with the sexual abuse crisis.  This review will be limited to Chapter 6 (pp. 152-180), "Kids' Testimony in Court," written by Mary A.M. Ekman.

Mrs. Ekman highlights the painful history of child testimony in the United States, never alluding to its antecedents elsewhere.  She then discusses the mistakes made by both prosecutors and social workers in Jordan, Minnesota (Scott County) and the McMartin Preschool in California.  There then follows lightweight sections on how to do the first interview with an alleged child victim followed by a short and inadequate section on the trial.

There is a warning on unfounded sex abuse allegations in child custody and visitation cases, with some unrealistic recommendations for improvement in the process.  The author cites one study to indicate that some expert witnesses are not qualified to help courts, but offers no substitute for them.  She warns that custody is to determine the best interests of the child, not to convict parents (p. 170), and that different levels of courts require different levels of proof.  She decries current reporting laws and their inability to reflect current professional practice issues for teachers, social workers and psychologists.


Mrs. Ekman, although well meaning, has overlooked an abundance of literature that could have buttressed her points, or honestly introduced the equivocal nature of many of the issues.  However, her disturbing finding remains a problem for all courts and parents, "Children sometimes do lie about sexual abuse" (p.179).

Reviewed by LeRoy Schultz, Professor, School of Social Work, West Virginia University.

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