…Pants On Fire


The earliest people observed that our planet goes through seasonal changes because they noticed that the weather varied as they stayed rooted in the same geographic region.  Spending repeated time in a certain locations allows you to recognize repeatable patterns.

My wife and I fell in love at Disneyland, and since that day we’ve spent a lot of time at Disney theme parks.  It’s a place where spending constant time allows us to recognize and identify repetition.

I’ve discovered repeated patterns of dishonesty within the walls of the happiest place on earth. The most obvious are the lies told by the children who visit the park:

I’ve watched the same kid tell several different Disney characters that they were their “favorite-est ever.”

Whenever a kid wants something from inside one of the Disney shops they usually say something like, “But I’ve wanted this my whole life!”  …especially the first time time they see a hat that makes it look like the back of their head is being eaten by Goofy.

Kids are also notoriously bad at estimating the speed of the ride that they just got off of.  Evidently the Autopia cars can travel about 200 miles per hour, which is a tame speed when compared with the mach 2 capability of a flying Dumbo.

I don’t think the kids know that they are lying because they sincerely believe that everything they are saying is true.  As fun as the lies told by the children are, they pale in comparison to the whoppers unleashed by the parents in the park.

Sometimes the adult lies are told in an effort to quickly communicate something that a child will have a hard time understanding: “The parade is over because Mickey Mouse has to go to bed now.”

Sometimes these lies are supplemented with additional “lesson teaching” material: “The parade is over because Mickey Mouse has to go to bed so that he isn’t crabby and bossy tomorrow.”

Occasionally this supplemental material contains words of parental retribution: “The parade is over because Mickey Mouse has to go to bed so that he isn’t crabby and bossy tomorrow; like you were today- even though we spent $49 for a Goofy hat.”

In some instances the parental retribution also contains what I call a “spousal dig”: “The parade is over because Mickey Mouse has to go to bed so that he isn’t crabby and bossy tomorrow; like you were today- even though we spent $49 for a Goofy hat that daddy didn’t want mommy to buy.”

These are the kind of repeatable patterns that a man and his wife will overhear while rekindling their love in the line for Peter Pan.

From what I’ve observed, the Disney lies that adults seem to tell most often are the ones that involve coercing children into compliance.  Mom and Dad appear to be implementing a good cop/bad cop scenario on their kids.

In their little scheme they are the compassionate and understanding detective while Mickey Mouse is a ruthless Inspector Javert:

  • “Little kids who cry can’t get into Disneyland.  I’d let you in but it’s against their rules here.”
  • “No honey we can’t go on It’s A Small World again today, it’s broken down…  They can’t fix it.”
  • “If you don’t go to the bathroom now, you’ll have to go while we’re waiting in line and they won’t let you get out and back in.”
  • “The Disney Princesses will probably start crying when we have to tell them that you didn’t eat your carrot sticks.”
  • “It says right here that all kids 5 and under have to go back to the hotel for lunch and a nap until 2 P.M. (Pointing at Park Hours sign)
  • “They won’t let little kids who haven’t had breakfast onto the Disney shuttle.”

The absolute best Disney lie I’ve ever heard?

Bathroom Dad: “Little boys who don’t wash their hands with soap and hot water aren’t allowed in the park.”

Bathroom Son: “That’s not true.”

Bathroom Dad: “That’s what the man with the purple light is checking for at the front gate.”

The boy’s hand-washing was immediate and very soapy.

Appealing to a higher power for increased authority isn’t rare, you see it every year at Christmas and Easter.  Santa and the Easter Bunny seem to get better behavior out of kids than parents can get on their own.

I suspect that if the Tooth Fairy gave out twenty-dollar bills she could also be factored into the behavior equation.

I understand that no one wants to play “bad cop” all of the time, but isn’t it true that appealing to Santa or Mickey to get good behavior means that you don’t have as much credibility, authority, or respectability as a fictional character?

Doesn’t it also demonstrate the lack of courage and commitment that it takes to actually earn the esteem and admiration of your child?

That’s the real rub isn’t it?

We don’t realize that respect and admiration are actually earned, even by parents.  Authority and credibility are only earned and maintained through responsible behavior.

Deferring to Mickey as the master of the park may work for a time, but the time spent cultivating the appearance of benevolence ultimately comes at a very steep price:  Appealing to Mickey’s omnipotence and omniscience undercuts your own ability to build a personal relationship based on trust and obedience.

Remember that lies don’t truly buy obedience, they produce a cheap and transient compliance that fades as the charade is ultimately revealed.  This is true inside or outside of Fantasyland.

Kids eventually learn to reason and read, and they ultimately begin reacting accordingly.

Using these special moments as growth opportunities may mean a longer waits for obedience, but it produces some very long-term benefits.

Not only do you earn your child’s respect, but they also learn the desire to please you instead of others.  In addition, you personally grow in courage and confidence.

So what do I, the Disney naturalist,  get from all of this?

Well I get to stand in line at “Snow White’s Scary Adventure” and watch your kid make their own informed decision about whether or not they will go on the ride… because you were honest to tell them that the ride is pretty scary, but that you’ll be right there with them and won’t let anything bad happen to them.

Earning their trust through honesty gives you the authority to lead and guide your child through growth situations, and when your kid trusts you they can make it through just about anything.

When they only trust Mickey Mouse, and you appeal to him to get them to go on a ride you want to go on, the Indiana Jones ride becomes as horrifying as watching the terrifying little kids who get off the ride.

How could he betray us by putting such a terrifying ride in his park?

Why did mom and dad tell me to go on it?

Spending repeated time in a certain location allows you to recognize repeatable patterns and I’ve discovered repeated patterns of honesty within the walls of the happiest place on earth.

The best thing that I see at the parks are families where the kids believe everything that their parents tell them,

not because they are naive,

but because they know that their parents wouldn’t lie to them.


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