We were sitting at a restaurant the other day when my 10-year-old son Jonathan excused himself to go to the “bathroom.” As I casually observed him leaving he pretended to walk in the direction of the restroom and then beelined straight to the tabletop shuffleboard game that was in my plain adult view. My wife, six year old daughter Elena and I were astonished he did this but we allowed Jonathan to play shuffleboard with the boy he was with all he wanted.
When he was done playing, Jonathan briefly went to the bathroom and then back to our table. Curious to see how far he would go on with this, we gave him room to continue lying to us.
“Papito, are you okay?”, I asked.
“Yeah,” he said rubbing his belly, “I just had a BIG stomach ache”
“But you took so long. Are you okay now?,” I said.
“Yes, a little better. I also washed my hands real good.”
I took his still moist hands and smelled them. “Yep, they’re real clean,” I said to him.
“You know,” I continued, “it’s funny that you were in the bathroom for so long because we just saw a boy who looked JUST LIKE YOU playing shuffleboard over there with another kid. Isn’t that weird?”
Jonathan’s eyes began to well up. He instantly knew that he was what we call “busted and disgusted.”
In our home, the deadliest of the deadly sins are not bringing bad grades, breaking something or fighting. We obviously have consequences for those things. No, the deadliest of the deadly sins is lying. From the time they first learned what lying meant, I’ve always told me kids that the most terrible thing they can do is to lie to us..
If you look at what Jonathan did he not only lied to us; he elaborately deceived us too. That’s scary stuff because lying and deception are the hallmark trait of thieves, terrible cheating spouses and even serial killers. Lying and deception are the polar opposite of integrity, the single most important characteristic I want to instill in my kids. (Yes, by a long shot integrity is more important than practically anything else including academic achievement, career or wealth).
The reason I think some us don’t come down stronger on our kids about lying is because many of us practice this. We’re aware that if we hold our children to this standard we risk having them call us out for being hypocritical. Living as truthful people is hard and we may occasionally stumble but our standard should be the highest one possible. This is important because what we say and what we do have to match in the eyes of children.
Even though I treat lying with an iron fist, I also let my children know that if they tell me the truth about something they could get in trouble about, sometimes they will get rewarded for speaking the truth. There have been many instances when my kids have owned up to disobeying a rule, starting a fight, etc… and I have specifically told them that the reason I wasn’t going to punish them “this time” is because they were honest with me. This is the other side of the iron fisted rule about deception: one must balance being a strict enforcer of being truthful with a willingness to forgive your children when they own up to something. If you don’t, you’re kids will choose to lie to you.
So you may be wondering what punishment we gave Jonathan for deceiving us. His transgression got him two full months of no friends or video games. He also got the strongest warning I know how to give that if he is ever caught lying to us again the wrath of God punishment would land upon him, 10 times more severe. He knows I’m not exaggerating. In our home, deceit brings severe consequences.
Let me know what you think. I would love to get your thoughts on what you consider your family’s deadliest sins.