Are you considering polygraphing a child for something? There could be multiple reasons for doing so. From cases involving child abuse by partners or caregivers to “no-tolerance” schools that wish the child to prove their innocence in a case breaching school policy.

This post unpacks everything you need to know regarding the legality and ethics of polygraphing children. We’ll look into the reasons to order a lie detector case and the outcomes involved with the process.


Is It Legal to Polygraph Children?

The first issue to unpack is the legality of polygraphing a child. It’s important to note that no law in the United States prevents the polygraphing of children. Since the child is a minor and must adhere to the wishes of their guardian, they may have to undergo a polygraph if their parents or court-appointed caregiver requires them to do so.

The child might not want to be polygraphed. For instance, they could be involved in something at school, with the educating authority requiring them to take a polygraph. For example, the child might be complicit in selling drugs on school grounds.

A school with a “zero-tolerance” policy on this behavior might require the child to undergo a polygraph if they wish to remain in the school’s educational program. While the child might not want to comply with this request, their parents might approve it and tell their child to comply with their request. In this case, the child might refuse to take the test.


Is there a Minimum Age for Polygraph Testing?

No law in the United States provides a minimum age requirement for child polygraphs. However, the test examiner might have specific requirements for polygraphing a child. For instance, the polygraph exam requires the child to have a certain level of abstract concept comprehension and language skills to complete the lie detector successfully.

As a result of these requirements, most polygraph examiners will only work with children over 12 in lie detector tests. There are some instances where the polygraph examiner might waive these requirements, but it depends on the case merits.

For instance, if an eight-year-old child is involved in a case of sexual abuse by an authority or caregiver, they might choose to polygraph the child even though they don’t meet the specific standard requirements for polygraphing children.


What are the Reasons for Polygraphing Children?

It might seem callous to polygraph a child, especially if they don’t want to undergo the process. However, there are plenty of reasons to do so. Here are some reasons a child might have to undergo a polygraph exam.

School Violations

Actions like skipping school, selling, or using drugs at school, or breaking school policies like fighting, sexual abuse, or cheating on exams.

Sexual or Physical Abuse

Actions involving sexual or physical abuse by siblings, relatives, parents, or caregivers. The polygraph could pertain to the culprit involved, such as an older sibling, or to verify a young sibling’s claims.

Shoplifting, Addiction Suspicions, or Behavioral Denial

Actions involving stealing merchandise from retailers, suspicion around potential substance abuse, or behavior denying accusations of anything mentioned in the reasons for taking a polygraph.

Use or Sale of Illegal Drugs

Actions involving using or selling illegal drugs at school or outside of school premises. The parents or the school might require the child to take a polygraph for readmission or to prove innocence.

Prescription Drug Abuse

Actions that involve stealing or selling medication or misuse or abuse of prescription drugs at home or school.

Issues Involving Alcohol Use or Abuse and Smoking

Actions involving the use or abuse of alcohol at home or at school, smoking on campus or at home.

Accusations of Verbal Abuse

Accusations made against the child for verbal abuse at school or in social gatherings.

Damage to Property

Accusations towards the child made by neighbors or extended family involving destruction of property.

Missing Property or Money

Accusations of theft of money or assets made towards the child made by parents, guardians, neighbors, or extended family.

Accusations By or To Babysitters

Referring to theft, sexual or physical abuse by babysitters employed to look after a child.

Accusations to Housekeepers

Referring to theft, sexual or physical abuse by housekeepers employed to look after a child.

Parental Child Neglect

Confirmation of accusations of parental or caregiver neglect made by the child.


Why Do Kids Lie?

Why do children lie in the first place? What pushes them into this behavior? Most adults establish lying behavior as children, so what are the contributing factors to building this habit? Let’s unpack the influences causing children to lie.

#1 to cover up bad behavior or actions, so they don’t get into trouble with their parents or adults.

#2 To see how adults respond to their acts of deception.

#3 To make the details of the stories they tell seem more exciting to friends or adults.

#4 To experiment with making what they say more compelling, such as embellishing a story.

#5 To make themselves sound important or get attention from friends or adults.

#6 To make an adult cave into something they want in life.

#7 To avoid hurting another person’s feelings.


At what Age Do Children Start Lying?

In most instances, children start to tell lies when they reach three years old. At this age, they become more self-aware of their actions and their impact on others. They realize that their parents are just people, not infallible, all-seeing gods, and they start to lie for the reasons mentioned earlier.

Typically, children get good at lying at around four years old. By this time, they have more experience with the behavior and know how to do it better. They’ve experienced success with telling lies in the past, and they begin to lie more frequently to their caregivers and parents.

They improve at telling lies, matching their vocal tone and facial expressions to their voice when they tell lies. If adults press them for more information, they usually admit to their lying behavior.

As kids get older, they become more adept at lying, and there’s less likelihood of people catching them in a lie, making them more prone to the behavior. Their lies also get more technical and complex, and this behavior carries on into their adolescence.

By the time they’re teenagers, kids learn the importance of telling white lies to avoid hurting people’s feelings.


How Can I Tell If My Child Is Lying to Me?

While kids learn to tell lies from a young age, getting better at the behavior takes them some time. During the early years of establishing the ability to tell lies, kids often give away their lies through the body language they present when telling them. Here are some common body language cues to look for in lying children.

  • They pause for a while before answering a question, giving them time to come up with a lie.
  • They provide too much detail in their responses when lying.
  • They become distracted when adults ask them to explain their statements and try to focus on something else.
  • They avoid making contact with the person they’re lying to.
  • They cover their mouth when talking.


The Downsides of Polygraphing Minors

There are some downsides to polygraphing children. As mentioned, most polygraph examiners refuse to polygraph children under 12. This is due to the child’s inability to comply with the exam.

They might shift around too much during the test, look at different areas of the room or present poor language and abstract skills. In some cases, the child might not have the mental capacity to understand the questions asked by the examiner or the structure of the lie detector test.

These issues cause a skewing of the polygraph results and the chances for a false positive on the lie detector test. In cases of incidents causing the child severe mental distress, such as child abuse, the child may refuse to respond due to trauma.

The polygraph test is lengthy, and many children don’t have the patience to sit still for the entire test duration. Their movements may cause different stress responses in the body. Since the polygraph relies on the stress response to indicate deception, there is a higher degree of false positives in child polygraph exams.

Since the polygraph measures stress concerning questions, changes in physiological stress during questioning could cause false positives, false negatives, or inconclusive results. Children with conditions like ADHD cannot focus during the exam, affecting its outcome.

In many cases of child polygraph exams, the examiner’s inability to adapt their processes from interviewing adults to children results in problematic situations in the exam room. A 2003 study into child polygraph exams shows that most examiners conducting lie detector tests on children don’t modify how they present the exam questions and environment to children.

In cases involving severe outcomes, such as child sexual abuse, it’s important for the examiner to have experience in polygraphing kids. Some firms have examiners specializing in testing children, and these individuals have better results in the exam room.

They have a better understanding of how to structure questions on a lie detector test and how to execute the test, so they keep the child’s attention throughout the duration of the exam.


How to Handle Lying in Children

If parents or caregivers catch a child telling a deliberate lie, they must take actionable steps to ensure the child understands that this behavior is unacceptable. The child needs to understand their mistake, and they need to know why it is socially inappropriate behavior.

Families should make rules about lying in and outside the home and create a structure conducive to telling the truth in all circumstances in life. The parents or caregiver should also ensure that they adhere to this rule. If a child discovers that their parent or caregiver is lying to them, they see it as acceptable behavior, following their example.

Parents and caregivers must ensure that the child understands there are consequences for lying. The parents should ensure that there is an appropriate response to dealing with lies. It’s important for the parent to deal separately with the issues surrounding the behavior causing the child to lie and the lie itself.

For instance, if your child leaves handprints on the wall after their painting session and then lies to you when confronted, there should be clear consequences differentiating between the act of lying about the wall prints and the behavior causing them to take actions responsible for the problem. Were they feeling frustrated, or were they just doing it on a whim?

It’s different if your child spills something and lies about it to cover up their mistake. In this case, you would reprimand them for lying and just clean up the spill, showing them it’s not a big deal to make mistakes in life.

Follow these three ideas to prevent your kids from learning that lying behavior is permissible and a way to get what they want in life.

Talk to Your Child about How Their Lying Makes You Feel

Tell your kids about how lying affects the relationship you have with them. Make them understand what will happen to them if their family and friends stop trusting them because they don’t believe what they say. This action emphasizes the difference between your child being honest or dishonest with their behavior toward others.

Create an Environment Where the Child Doesn’t Have to Lie

It’s important for parents to consider why their child is telling lies. For instance, if your kid is telling a lie to get something they want, plan a rewards system that lets them earn it honestly.

Always Tell Your Child when You Know They’re Lying

Avoid asking your child if they’re telling the truth or lying. It’s important to study the body language and visual and vocal cues children use when lying. Avoid calling your child a liar unless you’re certain of the behavior. This gives your kids the impression that you always think they’re lying, and they should just keep with the behavior because it doesn’t make a difference if they act honestly.