In their heart of hearts, preadolescents and teenagers want to be trusted, and they long for more responsibility and freedom. But trust must be earned.

We have made a statement repeatedly to our children: “You’re about to move into a period of your life where you want more responsibility and freedom. As your parents we want to give that to you, but we will not give you more than you are mature enough to handle.

“If you want more responsibility, you must be trustworthy. Likewise, if you want more freedom, you must be responsible. To be trustworthy means you need to do what’s right when no one is looking.”

Shaping your child’s convictions about deceit begins as you teach him to fear God. Proverbs 14:27 encourages us, “The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life, that one may avoid the snares of death.” And Proverbs 16:6 tells us, “And by the fear of the Lord one keeps away from evil.”

Teach your child to fear God by teaching him who He really is. He is truth. Love. Holy. Sovereign. Omnipotent. Omnipresent. And more. As our children see us practicing the presence of God in our lives, they too will grow in the understanding that God sees all and that He is to be feared.

In addition, teach your child about his own tendency to deceive and to lie. We are all just one step away from being ensnared by this trap. You can do this by sharing situations from your life where you stepped into a deceitful snare. Talk about the consequences of those choices.

One of our teens wasn’t being 100 percent truthful, and I took him out and talked about a lie that I had told as an adult early in my ministry. I talked about how I rationalized and how I justified my deception. And I talked about its impact on my life. I warned him that I saw a pattern in his life that could, if not unchecked, cost him for a lifetime. I appealed to this particular teenager to firm up his convictions and become a person of integrity.

Teach your child the truth in two ways

First, teach him about Jesus Christ. Jesus said, “I am the truth.” You expose your child to the truth as you teach about Jesus Christ’s life, His mission, and His teachings. He is the incarnation of the truth. And as your child understands what a straight line looks like, he’ll be able to spot the deceitful line.

Second, teach him the Scripture. Diligently teach the truth of God’s Word through Scripture-memory programs, family Bible study, and Bible verse reminders of what it looks like to obey God when life and truth collide.

Help your child develop his convictions by contrasting the results of being deceitful with the result of telling the truth. There’s no better book in the Bible for doing this than Proverbs. For example:

“My son, give attention to my words; incline your ear to my sayings. Do not let them depart from your sight; keep them in the midst of your heart. For they are life to those who find them, and health to all their whole body. Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life. Put away from you a deceitful mouth, and put devious lips far from you. Let your eyes look directly ahead, and let your gaze be fixed straight in front of you. Watch the path of your feet, and all your ways will be established. Do not turn to the right nor to the left; turn your foot from evil” (Proverbs 4:20-27).

When we train our children to know and ponder the truth of God’s Word, that Scripture will help him guard his heart from deceit, evil, and destruction.

Why do people lie and deceive? In many cases, they may be attempting to avoid responsibility for their mistakes or misjudgments. Or they may be attempting to manipulate others to do what they want them to. Or they may be desperately trying to stay in control of their lives. Are any of these familiar?

  • The man who misrepresents his income when he fills out his tax forms is selfishly trying to keep his money.
  • The woman who lies to her friends about her alcohol problem is trying to maintain a favorable impression.
  • The child who steals money and then lies about it to his parents is trying to avoid punishment.
  • The child who cheats on a test is trying to avoid the consequences of not studying properly.

One reason lying is an affront to God is that it displays a lack of trust in Him. Your child must be taught that it’s better to tell the truth and trust in God’s control of his life.

As we all know too well, it’s often not easy to live lives unmarred by deceit. Our children feel the same way. So when they do make the right choices—like admitting a mistake or telling the truth when it might get them in trouble—make sure you let them know what a great thing they have done.

Parents often reward their children for good things that are not eternal things—like good grades on a report card. But how about rewards for progress in living honestly?

Adapted from Parenting Today’s Adolescent: Helping Your Child Avoid the Traps of the Preteen and Teen Years. Copyright 1998 by Dennis and Barbara Rainey. Used by permission of Thomas Nelson, Inc., Publishers.