When things are strange and complicated, people like to explain them by analogy. Sometimes, this analogy is over simplified; for instance, atoms are usually described as a proton-neutron nucleus with electrons orbiting it like planets round a star, but doesn't resemble the solar system at all. However, it is still useful because it gives the listeners a simple concept they can grasp, while a more accurate explanation would confuse them or simply go over their heads. Once they've learned the analogy, they can continue to more complex topics that will eventually lead to the truth of the situation — or to another, more complicated set of Lies to Children.
This is likely to backfire if the listener takes the analogy too literally.
The term was coined by Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen, and used in the book The Science of Discworld. Discworld books occasionally make an odd analogy, then, when taxed, say, "no, it's nothing like that, but it's a lie you can understand."
Truth in Television as the atom example above shows. Considering how much we don't understand of the universe, science itself is this to a degree.
General Real Life examples only, please. (ex: "the atom looks like a solar system" analogy)
See also Phlebotinum Analogy. May pop up while giving The Talk. Compare Layman's Terms.
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In Runaways, Gert lampshades the fact that their parents never told them they were supervillains by listing all of the things parents lie to their children about: Santa, The Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy and God.
Addams Family Values. One of the jokes has normal children telling the Addams kids about the stork—Wednesday responds by explaining where babies really come from.
In Miracle on 34th Street, Mrs. Walker tried to avoid this with her daughter, Susan, by telling her the truth about everything, in this case the reality about Santa Claus. The argument the movie makes is that kids can become bland and lack imagination if this is all they are taught.
In Ink, the soul of a little girl, Emma, is kidnapped, leaving her body in a coma. A Storyteller, captured while trying to rescue her, tries to explain what is happening and make the girl less afraid. "You still look like a little girl, but as soon as you came into this world, you started turning into a lioness." Emma replies, "You're full of it."
In The Science of Discworld series, Lies-To-Children are not only explained in the non-fiction portions, but also used in-character (Ponder's Lies-To-Wizards and Hex's Lies-To-People) in the fiction segments.
The Lies-to-Darwin, since telling him the actual truth would be far to much of a Mind Screw.
In the Judy Blume book Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself, Sally asks her mother how babies are made. Her mother mumbles something about how the husband plants a seed in the wife; ten-year-old Sally wants more details, so Mrs. Freedman buys her a book about it. Later on, her unmarried teenage neighbour gets pregnant and Sally asks how that's possible, since the book told her sex was something only married people did.
Merlin Athrawes in David Weber's Safehold series possesses enhanced abilities far beyond the human norm because he is a machine known as a PICA. However, the residents of the planet Safehold are trapped in anti-technology Medieval Stasis and lack the foundation to understand this. Merlin explains his capabilities by comparing them to those attributed to legendary heroes called seijin (Japanese for "holy men"). In particular, his access to high tech surveillance allowing Merlin to spy on just about anyone, anywhere, are explained as visions that allow him to see the present, but neither past nor future.
Great Lies To Tell Small Kids by Andy Riley is partly this, and partly just trolling your children or younger relations: "Wine makes Mummy clever!" "Slugs are snails that couldn't pay the mortgage".
In Poul Anderson's "Time Patrol", an instructor tells the recruits that they can get it because they come from industrialized eras; a Roman could not handle the idea of machines, and as for Babylonians, they have to be fed a line about a war between gods. When one recruit asks what they are being told, they are being the truth, as much as they can handle.
In Letters To His Son by British statesman Lord Chesterfield: "The good Protestant conviction, that The Pope is both Antichrist and the Whore of Babylon, is a more effectual preservative in this country against popery, than all the solid and unanswerable arguments of Chillingworth. [...] And that silly, sanguine notion, which is firmly entertained here, that one Englishman can beat three Frenchmen, encourages, and has sometimes enabled, one Englishman in reality to beat two." (letter 64)
Live Action TV
Occasionally used in Doctor Who as ways to reassure companions. For instance, in "The Eleventh Hour":
The Doctor: You know when grown-ups tell you "everything's gonna be fine" you know they're probably lying to make you feel better?
On Community, Troy finds out on his 20th birthday that he's actually turning 21 because his mother told him that everyone's ten for two years, because fifth grade is hard for everybody.
Troy: MOM, HOW MANY LIES HAVE I BEEN LIVING?!
This is a running gag with Calvin's Dad from Calvin And Hobbes, as the page quote illustrates, but always taking it so far from reality it can hardly count as helpful. He also explains the workings of a lightbulb and vacuum cleaner as "magic".
Calvin (turns lamp on and off): "Look, mom, magic!"
Calvin's mom: "That's not magic!"
Lampshaded in the strip the page quote comes from, when Calvin gets fed up and asks for the real answer. His Dad responds by asking if he'd like to hear the much more complicated truth. After a Beat Panel we get Calvin commenting to Hobbes about how "The trees are really sneezing today".
And inverted once. Calvin's dad uses a vinyl record to show that a point on its circumference moves faster than a point near the center, even though they both make the same revolutions per minute. The punchline panel is Calvin, tormented by insomnia, trying to wrap his head around it.
Many branches of theology or religious philosophy, Christian or otherwise, would say that it is impossible to speak of the divine or transcendental in any other way than through analogies that will always be imperfect. Others would say even that is impossible and that it can only be "described" through negations, stating what the transcendental is not but never what it is. A common criticism is that this idea doesn't actually mean anything since none of the terms can be defined.
Metro 2033: A very sad example is shown in the first station, where you see a boy and a father talking with each other. The boy asks when his mother will return from some journey, and his father only replies, "Soon," and mentions if only she could see how much he has grown up. Given the nature of the setting, it's safe to say his mother is probably lying dead in a tunnel somewhere.
Dark Seed 2 uses one as an odd plot point. Years ago, when Mike had nightmares of monsters coming out of his closet, his mother pretended to lock it. It's not locked. It contains a portal to the Dark World. Yet Mike is incapable of opening it until someone reveals the deception to him. When confronted, his mother barely remembers it and can't believe he never figured it out.
The very common analogy that gravity is like objects "pressing down" on a sheet, shown very well in strip 895.
Max and Zoey's dad from Paranatural. "You'd better be ready by eight o-clock, Zoey. In mayview, they send tardy kids to the mines." She does call him out on it, though.
In Homestuck, Jake English's grandmother tells him that she chose that last name because it was the name of her Evil Stepmother's ex-husband, on the basis that Jake was too young to understand that it was actually the name of a powerful demon that said Evil Stepmother feared and obeyed.
The main focus behind Butters in Sarcastaball. Butters is lead to believe that his sperm is the product of his most inner and pure emotions; leading him to spread it to others. To drink. The episode ends with Butters having an erection, being Butters he summons his dad for answers; his father tells him that it's a friend compass, it points towards his friends. Right now it points towards upwards, towards Jesus. ...Damn.
The Kablam series of shorts "Life With Loopy" often had plots revolving around the lies Loopy was told. For instance, she confronted Mother Nature after being told thunder is just her bowling.
Moral Orel Most of the stuff Orel is told could fall under this category (Children's Crusades being successful due to their innocence, etc.).
Talking to minors about sex is an awkward issue, because you don't really want them trying to do it at a young age, but you don't want to ignore the issue and wait for the wrong person to tell them, or worse, show them. Peoples' views and methods on telling minors about sex varies.
J.K. Rowling was asked exactly what Aberforth had done with goats at a Harry Potter Q&A session:
Fan: In the Goblet of Fire, Dumbledore said his brother was prosecuted for practicing inappropriate charms [JKR buries her head, to laughter] on a goat; what were the inappropriate charms he was practicing on that goat?
JKR: How old are you?
JKR: I think that he was trying to make a goat that was easy to keep clean [laughter], curly horns. That's a joke that works on a couple of levels. I really like Aberforth and his goats. But you know, Aberforth having this strange fondness for goats, if you've read book seven, came in really useful to Harry, later on, because a goat, a stag, you know. If you're a stupid Death Eater, what's the difference. So, that is my answer to YOU.
Talking to minors about drugs; If you tell them the facts that drugs make you feel really good and that some are okay in moderation, they'd likely run off and do them instead of doing their schoolwork, but telling them that all drugs are evil and the same runs the risk of them sneakily trying one drug, surviving and enjoying it, then thinking that all drugs are fine and then doing a harder drug that ruins their lives/kills them. Peoples' views on telling minors about drugs varies a lot, but most choose to exaggerate the dangers for the sake of having a sober child, which to some is a Necessary Weasel. Not that this is an exaggeration to everyone; the view that all illegal drugs are ridiculously more dangerous than the legal ones (like alcohol) is still strongly present in culture, even though it's at best a lie-to-children.
In moments of crisis (for example when someone dies or a natural disaster) adults tend to try to spare their kids from information that they perceive as potentially hurtful and tries to distract from or sugarcoat information. This of course usually serves to make the kid more anxious and less capable to cope with the situation. For this reason, local authorities maintain teams of Councillors and special advisers who are sent into primary schools where a traumatic event has recently taken place- part of their job being telling the teachers how to tell the kids what has happened. (They also deal with parents who try to insist that the teachers enforce this trope when it's impossible...)
The sun is white, although it falls into the classification that used to be called "yellow dwarf", and it can seem yellow due to the effects of the atmosphere (especially at sunrise and sunset, which are the times of day you're most likely to look at the sun anyway).
Or rather, the sun emits a broad spectrum of electromagntic radiation closely corresponding to the theoretical black-body radiation of an object the temperature of the sun, and our eyes have evolved to be able to see a particular subset of that spectrum that happens to correspond to a single octave of light centered around the sun's peak energetic output and to which the atmosphere of Earth is almost entirely transparent.
There are various examples of this in education:
Early math classes. Expect sentences like "You can't take the square root of a negative," or "You can't subtract 5 from 3," or even that division comes after multiplication in order of operations, while in reality it is done with multiplication in the order they appear.*
It's only a convention for writing down expressions, and has nothing to do with math. Heaven help you if you try to explain that distinction to young children. On the other hand, there's been a math equation that's caused controversy for its different outcomes depending on what method you decide to use.
History classes. Children are taught things like "The Roman Empire was destroyed in 476 A.D. by the barbarian invasion". In fact, the Roman Empire in its classic form perished almost two centuries before that date, and was in the process of collapse even longer for various economical and demographic reasons much more complex than a single invasion.
In fact, the eastern half of the empire continued on for another thousand years, only ending with the fall of Constantinople in 1453.
Physics classes. Despite the fact that Einstein's theory of relatively disproves Newtonian mechanics, the latter are still taught in high schools and lower-division college classes because they produce practically identical results as long as you're dealing with things that aren't as small as atoms or as large as planetoids. Not to mention many high school teachers either don't understand Einstein's mechanics themselves, or if they do, feel that their students won't.
More accurately, Newtonian mechanics only apply within a specific range or spectrum of scale. It's only when you extrapolate to extremes (size, mass, velocity, etc) that Newtonian physics start to break down and you start to observe Einsteinian rules.
Like physics above, students learn several different models on how chemical reactions work, all inaccurate to various degrees but getting closer to the truth each time. Also like physics above, these models generally produce identical results as long as you're not getting too deep into the inner workings of a reaction.
The "Solar System-like atom" is still a common image and is generally presented to children when discussing atoms. And another thing about atoms—everyone is taught early on that atoms are the smallest things there are. Well, actually, protons, neutrons and electrons are the smallest things there are. Then they tell you about quarks.