One of a trapper’s tricks is to place his trap not far from where the animal lives, on the paths where the animal regularly moves to find food and water. In other words, he places the trap fairly close to the animal’s home.

We fool ourselves if we think the traps set for our children are only set along the paths teenagers take in our increasingly dangerous culture. In reality, the worst traps of all may be those set close to home—very close—in their own hearts and minds.

The Bible dashes any foolish notions about our inherent integrity. The prophet Jeremiah paints an ugly picture of a man’s heart: “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately wicked; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9).

That truth applies to our preteens and teens, too. A tendency toward lying and other types of deception—cheating in school, breaking promises, fudging on the truth—usually resurfaces during adolescence. The child who is developing more complex thinking abilities now has a better set of tools to use in being deceitful. Also, teenagers have more freedom and independence than they enjoyed before, which means more opportunity to make choices he might want to hide. Peers also have more direct, unobstructed influence and say things like, “Nobody will ever know” or “You don’t have to tell your parents.”

As we train our children, sometimes we forget what we are up against: a child’s heart is deceitful.

It’s intriguing that God identified seven things He really hates (Proverbs 6:16-19) and that two of the seven concern outright deceit: “a lying tongue” and “a false witness who utters lies.” If God took the time to make this list, we parents had better do a good job of training and disciplining our children away from His hated seven.

Deceit seems to fall into two major types. The first is lying. A child is tempted to misrepresent the truth, but gets caught in the lie. This is serious, but relatively easy to deal with. The guilt is obvious; the guilty party can do little but admit wrong and seek mercy.

The second type of deceit is a subtle pattern of habitual craftiness. This murky, constant shading of the truth can create exhaustion plus a sense of hopelessness in the parent. A parent may feel that the teaching and training of his child is ineffective and that he is raising a cheating riverboat gambler.

But wherever the deception falls on the deceit scale really doesn’t matter. It’s all deceit. And God will have none of it: “He who practices deceit shall not dwell within my house; he who speaks falsehoods shall not maintain his position before me” (Psalm 101:7). As we shape our children’s convictions about deceit we need to be careful to give them God’s perspective of lies, false appearances, and misrepresentations of the truth.

The case of the missing money

Deceit has crept inside the walls of the Rainey home and led to great discouragement for us as parents. But we’ve had major spiritual and character breakthroughs primarily because we prayed. One such incident is particularly memorable.

I keep my money in a money clip. One day on my way home from work I stopped at an ATM for some cash. I knew exactly the amount of money in my possession—12 five-dollar bills.

I came home and put the clip on my desk where one of our children (who was about 14 at the time) was studying. For some reason (there are these divinely inspired moments in parenting), before I went to bed that night, I decided I would check my money clip. I had not set it next to this child as a temptation. I just left it where I always did.

I found 11 five-dollar bills. One of them had mysteriously evaporated. I went to the child who had been studying at my desk and who was now in bed and said, “You know, I had my money clip on the desk. The Lord just prompted me to go down and look at my money clip to see if all the money was there. I had 12 five-dollar bills in there, and now I only have 11. Did you take that money?”

“Oh no, Dad. I would never do that.”

I paused. Looking the child deeply in the eyes, I said, “Well, if I am wrong and somebody else did it, then I want to pray to God that He enables me to catch that particular child. But you are the only one I know who has been near that money clip since I left it there. You know what I am going to do? I am going to pray that if you took that money that the Lord would go to work on you. And if you didn’t take it, then you’ll be okay.”

I got down on my knees next to the child’s bed and put my hands on the child. I said, “Lord, you know all things, and we do not pull anything over on you. If I am wrong on this, Lord, I pray that you will help me find out and apologize to this child later. But if this child stole that five-dollar bill, Father, I pray that you would make this child miserable.”

Two nights later the child walked in to our bedroom, and it was grim. With a shame-filled, guilt-ridden face, the child admitted, “I took that money. And furthermore, I have been stealing money out of your pants pocket for some time.”

As a consequence, we got some serious hard labor out of this child—painting the ceiling of a large screened-in porch that required many hours’ work.

We also had some long, hard conversations. We look back now and see that event as a turning point in the spiritual development of that child.

God wants to help us with our children more than we can imagine. He loves to respond to the prayers of helpless parents. He will orchestrate circumstances to enable you to catch your child in deceit, as you continually seek to train your child away from this dreadful trap.

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.