It’s a clever fluff piece on the MSN website. “12 Things Every Parent Does But Won’t Tell Their Kids.” You may have seen it. It’s being reposted on social media and a number of parents have posted their “scores” on their homepages.
Some of the twelve seem innocent enough and I’ll plead guilty. Yes, I have “skipped” a page or four in the bedtime book to speed things along. Might we have conveniently lost an annoying toy? Well, something like that. But at some point some items on the list seem to cross the line from innocent enough to a breach of the parental responsibility to nurture human decency, integrity, and honesty. Why lie about the ice cream store being closed when you can tell the truth? We’re not going to the ice cream store today.
I think the dirtiest of the dozen things all parents apparently do is “lie about our kids’ ages to get free or reduced admission.” I guess the scenario would go something like taking Johnny, who proudly knows that he is six years old and will gladly say so to anyone who asks, to the amusement park. But under six is half-price, so Dad tells the person in the ticket booth that Johnny is five. And five or ten or twenty dollars are saved. But what if Johnny has overheard the transaction? What if Johnny has been told to keep his mouth quiet and go along with what Daddy is saying? Or what if he knows nothing about Dad’s corner-cutting ways? He’ll know soon enough.
The quote is variously attributed to George Bernard Shaw, Winston Churchill, and others. Apocryphal or not, it makes its point. The wealthy man asks the young starlet if she would be willing to spend the night with him in return for some exorbitant amount of money. She pauses and thinks and then replies in the affirmative. The wealthy man then asks again but this time the money offered is a paltry amount. “Sir, what kind of woman do you think I am,” the starlet replies indignantly. The man replies, “We have already established what kind of woman you are. Now we’re just negotiating the price.”
In lying about Johnny’s age, Dad has established what kind of man he is. Johnny will know soon enough.
We pay a price for lying and cheating. All of us do. Liars and cheaters and non-liars and non-cheaters alike. From Deflategate to FIFA, from political scandals left, right, and center to parents who lie about their kid’s age in order to save a few bucks, all of us suffer from the epidemic of lying and cheating. And yes, epidemic is an appropriate word. ETS, the Education Testing Service, reports that “while about 20% of college students admitted to cheating in high school during the 1940’s, today between 75 and 98 percent of college students surveyed each year report having cheated in high school.”
What price do we pay for deflated footballs, FIFA bribery, and political corruption? A lost of trust. Kids pay the highest price because, as both social science and Scripture point out, trustworthy adults are essential to a child’s thriving and his or her becoming the person God intends him or her to be. We all pay a price because trust and truth-telling, as common grace, keeps chaos at bay, and, as an expression of the particular grace of God’s love, they bind God’s people together in perfect harmony (Colossians 3:14).
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.”
“Let your ‘yes’ be yes and your ‘no’ be no,” James writes.
Telling the truth to ticket takers and everyone else is something every parent should do and tell their kids about it. Even if it costs you five dollars.