Q. My 13-year-old daughter is extremely artistic and creative, but lately she has started drawing Japanese-style cartoons that are far more sophisticated than her previous work. She then shows off this work to friends and family, which gives her much acclaim and attention but I got suspicious when I saw an old light box of mine in her room. This made me ask her several times if she had done the drawings herself and each time she defensively said, “Yes!” When I walked into her room, however, she quickly threw the covers over the light box and told me that I should have knocked first. Obviously, she had been tracing a cartoon.
It seems to me that my daughter is telling a huge lie — almost like cheating — so she can get false self-esteem from something that she didn’t create herself and I don’t know what to do about it. I probably wouldn’t be so bothered if she hadn’t shown her drawings to so many people and then denied that she had traced them.
Should I be worried about this lie? Or should I just let it go?
A. Perhaps the problem bothers you so much because you know, deep in your heart, that it’s much worse to tell a lie than it is to trace a picture, as many artists do and in many ways.
Art students trace drawings done by the masters, because it helps them learn how to draw their own pictures; illustrators copy maps or technical illustrations on the computer, rather than use an old-fashioned light box; and portrait painters often use photographs to measure the distance from the eye to the ear or the nose to the chin, so their paintings will be accurate. Very few of these artists lie about the use of these props, however, and your child shouldn’t lie about it either.
Although 13-year-olds are notoriously vulnerable, your daughter has to learn that it’s wrong to copy someone else’s work and then pretend that it’s her own. At the same time, you have to teach your child that if she lies (or cheats or steals), she will wreck something far more important than her art — she will wreck her character.
You have to correct your daughter’s behavior now so she doesn’t start lying about other inconvenient truths which could become a habit because bad behavior builds on itself. If that should happen, her friends and relations will catch on and then they won’t believe anything she says — even when it’s true — and they’ll tell their friends not to believe her either. This will tear your daughter’s reputation into tatters and it will take her years to get it back. A lie is the gift that keeps on giving.
You probably can make your daughter tell the truth if you have a heart-to-heart talk with her but have it in the dark, so she won’t have to look you in the eye, and phrase your questions differently. Since you know the answer, ask her why she traced those cartoons, not if she traced them. As long as you ask her politely and kindly, she’ll probably tell the truth but if she still denies it, just say, “Sorry, sweetie. I love you too much to let you take credit for someone else’s work. The next time you tell someone that you drew those pictures, I’m going to tell them that you use a light box so you can learn to draw like the Japanese.”
If you should ever have to say that, you’ll only have to say it once but just the idea that you might say it at all could make your daughter straighten up.
You also should offer to send her to a good art class at a museum or to a life class, so she can learn the techniques she needs to develop her own special style and to earn the praise that she deserves.
And if that doesn’t work, tell your daughter that honesty is a family tradition, because children usually think a family tradition is like one of the ten commandments. Or ask her how she’d feel if someone exposed her claims on the six o’clock news. This should get her attention.
A couple of good books might help both of you. Give your daughter a copy of “Aesop’s Fables” by (who else?) Aesop (Forgotten Books; $10.25) because these fables spell out the verities of life in a brief, pithy way. Buy “The Big Book of Parenting Solutions” by Michelle Borba, Ed. D. (Jossey-Bass; $20) for yourself. It will not only tell you how to discipline your child — but why.
Questions? Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.