On the second page of our six-weeks report card, we have four sections that give updates on the child’s progress in the key areas of child development—wisdom, stature, favor with God, and favor with man. These sections are divided up into categories that one might describe as intangibles—not measured with letter grades. One of the categories in the last section assesses trustworthiness.
Trustworthiness is one’s deservedness of being trusted. Trust must be earned, and it is earned as a result of consistent faithfulness to truth and duties. We want to develop trustworthiness in our children, so that what they say is consistent with what happened. Trustworthiness is dev eloped by our setting a right pattern of truthfulness in our own lives, by preaching and teaching principles from Scripture about telling the truth (“Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor”—Exodus 20:16), and by giving appropriate punishment when a child lies.
Even though we want our children to tell the truth, no child is immune from lying. Whether they want to look good (or not look bad) to someone, or whether they don’t want to get in trouble or don’t want someone else to get in trouble, children will cover up a situation to put themselves in what they think is a better situation. At the same time children can tell the truth. So the question is this: how far does one take the word of a child?
There are several parts to this answer. Reputation is a factor. The more a child tells the truth, the more he can be trusted. Proverbs 20:11 says, “Even a child is known by his doings, whether his work be pure, and whether it be right.” At the same time, six or eight years of life are not enough to vet a child’s character: he simply has not proven himself in enough difficult situations. Full knowledge is a factor. We can only judge based on what we know, and we may not know everything. The details of an event may be sketchy, or they may be hidden. So we suspend our judgment until we have learned sufficient facts. Sometimes the facts don’t come out for a while. I have had many students over the years tell me convincingly that they were innocent in a given situation only to find out later that they were guilty. A third factor is what adult witnesses say. If the adult in the room says one thing and the child says another, the best way to go is with the word of the adult. There are horrific situations in which children are abused, but that is not what we are talking about here.
If children learn that whatever they say will be believed carte blanche, they will take advantage of it, and that mindset will blind us to wrong behavior that they might be doing and fan the flames of their deceitfulness. We would all like to think that our children would tell the truth when called upon, but because of the sin nature, they don’t always do that. So we verify in objective ways whether or not they are telling the truth.