What to do about lying

Posted on August 20, 2008 · Posted in Lying, Parenting

Even from birth the wicked go astray;
  from the womb they are wayward and speak lies.
Psalm 58:3

And you were dead in the
trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this
world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at
work in the sons of disobedience —among whom we all once lived in the passions
of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by
nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind
. Ephesians 2:1-3

Don Fields’ comment and questions about lying have been on
my heart during these posts on lying. Children’s lies are a harsh reminder of
the nature of sin. To fully appreciate the immense power and value of the cross
in our lives, we must have a profound sense of the ugliness of sin. This awareness
must extend to your children as well. My children and your children come into
this world as natural enemies of God. They would rather lie than tell the
truth. They seek first and foremost to gratify their own passions and desires,
even if it means that others will be harmed. They are by nature children of
wrath. That is where you must start.

The reality of sin must dominate your parenting. Your
children are accountable to God. This thought does not sit well with the world,
particularly the world as it pertains to the nature of children. John Dewey,
arguably the most influential voice in American education, had this to say
about accountability to God:

Faith in the prayer-hearing God is
an unproved and outmoded faith. There is no God and there is no soul. Hence,
there are no needs for the props of traditional religion. With dogma and creed
excluded, the immutable truth is also dead and buried. There is no room
for fixed, natural law or moral absolutes.” [John Dewey, “Soul-Searching,” Teacher
Magazine
, Sept. 1933, p. 33. emphasis added]

No, you will not find support from the world around you for the
idea that children are objects of wrath. But that doesn’t change reality.
Recognizing the true nature of a baby is one of the great tests of faith. I
have never been so blown away as I was when seeing each of my five children for
the first time. Babies outwardly evoke hope and joy at the promise of a new
life. But the reality is that these precious children are in fact children of
wrath. Their hope, even though they don’t recognize it at the moment of birth,
is that faithful parents will proclaim to them the glorious gospel of God’s
grace which alone can transform them into children of the King.

So, in a sense you should not be shocked when children lie. You
must not be falsely romantic and think that somehow your child is immune to the
ugliness of sin. In reality, your child was born to lie, as Psalm 58 says. So,
what do you do to confront the lies that your children will tell?

First, understand that your child is not made happy by his
lie. As we have seen in the previous posts, there are particular reasons for
lies that children tell. Sin, at its core, is deceptive. Lying builds distrust
of others. A child who lies is a child that is hurting. He is a child who will
become self-focused and insecure about his relationship with others, especially
his parents. He is a child who is not able to trust others. Parent, your first
step in dealing with lies is to have compassion for your child. The most
profound way to demonstrate that compassion is to lovingly bring the word of
God to bear upon those lies.

Following the model in Shepherding
a Child’s Heart
about the way to engage children at various age levels is
important. With young children you want to firmly establish the authority of
God and his directives not to lie. This is the time to establish that lying is
wrong because God says it is. Lying is not serving God, and  life will not go well for the liar. This is
not a time for extensive reasoning and deep introspection. God hates lying, and
it must be rejected. Swift, direct and loving discipline is appropriate. Lying
is not a stage that will be naturally left behind. If not biblically addressed,
lying will become a way of life.

With children in the second age category (ages 5-12), you must
begin to appeal to the conscience. Don Fields’ child would fit in this
category. Tedd Tripp points out that Nathan the prophet appealed to the
conscience of David with the story of the man who had had his lamb taken from
him. David responded in anger at this outrage. But his outrage was turned to
broken repentance as Nathan told him that he was the man. This sort of appeal
takes wisdom and understanding of your children. Nathan carefully selected an
illustration that would have the greatest impact upon King David. You must choose
your illustrations with understanding of what will impact your own children. Help
them to see that their lie will not bring true peace. If a child in this age
range lies, something is troubling him. Find out what that is. Do not focus
only on the actual lie. What is it that drives this child to believe that a lie
will best serve him? Perhaps he is afraid that he will be treated harshly. Perhaps
he will say he doesn’t care what his parents think, when in reality he cares so
deeply what they think that he is afraid for them to know that. Whatever the
issue is, take the time to work this out with your child. The lie is often a symptom
of a deeper underlying problem, possibly a broken relationship that you have
overlooked.

For teenagers, lying is often about keeping parents out of
their lives. Consequences may be feared. There may be embarrassment or fear
that parents will find out secret sins such as pornography. There may be the
fear that parents will not allow teenagers to do what they want if they tell
the truth. For teenagers, the gospel must be internalized. If a teenager who is
a Christian lies, he has lost sight of the power of the gospel to bring
healing. If the teenager is not a Christian, then whatever it takes to make the
gospel central must be embraced. Again, take the time to know your teenager. I
know that it is possible that your teenager may not appear to be interested in
being known. However, you must make this a priority. Your child needs to know
Christ.

For all ages, prayer with and for your children about lying is
essential. Direct your prayers to the mercy of God to change hearts to love
truth. For all ages, the gospel is the answer, but it is presented according to
the child’s growing awareness of himself in relationship to God. Pray for
understanding regarding your children and how you can bring wise counsel to them.

These answers are but brief outlines. If you have specific
comments or questions please share them with us. Lying is something that we
cannot run from and we must see it for the sin that it is. However, we must
also rejoice in the power of Christ to conquer sin and bring truth to the liar.

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