Adopted Children and Sexual Promiscuity

Already feeling confusion about their identity and validity, adopted teens are doubly impacted by growing feelings of abandonment by their birth parents.  It can lead them to inappropriately attach themselves to another person sexually.

There are several catalysts for sexual promiscuity among adopted kids, above and beyond the normal temptations of the hyper-sexualized teen culture.  Sex can temporarily satisfy an adopted teen’s craving for relationship, “belonging” and a connectedness to another person.  Or, it can be an attempt to emulate and identify with their birth parents if they were also promiscuous.  Or, they can view themselves as “damaged goods” and seek acceptance at any cost through giving themselves to someone else sexually.

Over the last few years we have seen a major shift… an increase in “disconnectedness” among the kids we work with, and especially among the adopted kids.  The normal and powerful desire by all teens to fit in and “belong” comes to adopted young people at the same time they are dealing with a growing sense abandonment by their birth parents.  Even kids who have been doing well may start having major issues as a result.

They start asking questions like “Where is my mom?” “Why would she abandon me?” “Where do I belong?”  The result is confusion and a heightened sense of needing to belong and be connected to another person.  The thought “Maybe there’s something wrong with me,” is common; and it can radiate out to impact their behavior, attitude, and every part of their lives — including their sexual activities.

Let me share with you this story of one of the young ladies now at Heartlight.  She says, “It wasn’t a big deal when I was little.  I was adopted as an infant, so the family I grew up in is the only family I had ever known.  The trouble started when some kids at school asked, ‘Why are you different from your parents?’”

“That’s when I started struggling with my identity and questions about my birth parents like ‘What did they look like?’ and ‘Why did they give me up?’  It really bothered me.  It started to eat away at me as I got older and especially when I found out that my birth mother gave me up because she wasn’t married. So, I became promiscuous myself, just like she had been.”

Her story is not unique.  It’s not that adopted kids are guaranteed to spin out of control, but their need for identity is a major issue for them.  It’s usually a temporary confusion, but it can have lasting consequences if they turn to sexuality as a way to belong.  Parents of adopted kids need to have their radar tuned to this issue and address any signs of sexual promiscuity as soon as they appear.

My good friend, a licensed clinical social worker, Dee Dee Mayer said, “It’s important to be overtly open and honest about the truth.  Being afraid to talk about sexual issues can lead to the opposite of what you want to create, which is safety and acceptance.”  Her point is so important.  Instead of a negative approach, with teens we need to approach sex from a positive standpoint as a great thing that’s worth waiting for.

What we have to make them understand is that such relationships are only a temporary substitute for the real thing.  Yet at the same time, we have to be careful not to give them a wrong view of sex as something dirty or depraved. And it’s important to be proactive rather than reactive.

Don’t wait for things to start going wrong.  Your adopted child will receive massive amounts of input and encouragement to display sexuality and participate in sex from their friends, media and their culture.  So, you need to start early to give them a healthy view of sexuality, both as it relates to God’s design for their future and to their identity.

God doesn’t make mistakes.  Sex is His design.  It isn’t a wrong thing in and of itself; it is just something that has been taken outside His boundaries by our culture.  Encourage your children to wait for the fullness of His plan and save sex for marriage.  Encourage them to find their identity in the love the unfailing Heavenly Father has for them, as well as your love.  You can help steer them through this difficult transition.  And we’re here to help.



Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, a residential counseling center for struggling teens located in Longview, Texas.  He has been married to his wife, Jan, for 40 years, has two kids, and four grandkids.  He lives in Longview, Texas, with the Heartlight staff, 60 high school kids, 25 horses, his dog, Stitch, two llamas, and a prized donkey named Toy.

His past involvement as a youth pastor, Young Life area director, and living with more than 2,800 teens has prepared Mark to share his insights and wisdom about parenting pre-teens and adolescents. You can find out more about Heartlight at HeartlightMinistries.orgYou can also call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173.

Mark is also the host of the radio program Parenting Today’s Teen; heard on over 1,600 radio outlets nationwide. Visit ParentingTodaysTeens.org where you’ll find more parenting resources and find a station near you that carries the daily 60-second features or the 30-minute weekend program.   Here you can download the Parenting Today’s Teens App, a great way to listen on your schedule.



When Your Teen is in the Wrong Crowd

Wrong CrowdIf you swim with the sharks, you’re bound to get bitOne bad apple spoils the whole bushel.  Bad company corrupts good character.  Many parents have added these phrases to their lexicon, because they illustrate the dangers of running with the “wrong crowd”. As moms and dads, we know how susceptible kids are to peer influence.  You’ve likely spent many sleepless nights worrying about the people your child is hanging around.  What are they teaching my son?  What are they pressuring my daughter to do?  Are these friends that will give needed support and encouragement to my teen, or are they the type of people who will bring my child down?

These are valid concerns if you suspect your child is hanging out with the wrong crowd.  But let’s pause for a moment and ask just who is the “wrong crowd?”  Here’s a simple definition we can use:  The “wrong crowd” includes anyone who influences your child in ways that are contradictory to your values, systems, and beliefs as parents.

When parents observe changes in their teen and note the actions and attitudes of their friends, they may arrive at the conclusion, “my teen is in league with some bad seeds.”  When this happens, how do we gently guide our teens away from negative influences?  My advice may not be what you might expect.

Teach Your Kids 

As parents, part of our job is to protect our kids.  We try to shield them from negative influences as much as possible.  We’re not going to let our 12-year-old daughter hang around 18-year-old girls who smoke pot and sleep with their boyfriends.  We have to shield our child’s innocence until they are mature enough to make wise decisions on their own.  It would be foolish to let young children spend time with people who have serious hang-ups.  But at some point, we must stop protecting our kids and start preparing them to make wise choices when choosing friends.  If all we are doing is holding our kids back from this or that person, we are not equipping them to make smart decisions once they are free of our control.

While every child is different, here is a basic guideline for starting that relational training:

  • 0–13 years old:  Get to know and closely monitor your child’s friends.  If your son or daughter is running with the wrong crowd this early, change schools, move houses, or pull your child from certain activities.  At this age, they still need to have their innocence protected.
  • 14–17 years old:  Continue to monitor your child’s friends, but begin to slowly back off from controlling their relationships.  If you have concerns about the people they are spending time with, talk with your kids about the problems you see.  Also, set personal and family boundaries regarding the kind of behavior that is acceptable among friends and the kind that is not.
  • 18+ years old:  At this age, young people must be responsible for their own choices, including their choices in friends.  If they are living with you, they must follow the rules of the house.  But if they are on their own, all you can do is let them know you are available to talk and give advice if they ever feel they need it.

As you train your teen to use discernment when choosing friends, you can help them along by asking good questions.  For instance, you can ask, “I’m curious; would you ever drink and drive?  Do you know someone who has?  Did they think it was a good idea?  Do you?”  Or you can ask, “Has anyone offered you drugs?  What crossed your mind in that moment?”  These types of questions are effective because they help your child articulate their values, beliefs, and convictions.  And if they ever get into a situation similar to the one you have discussed, chances are they will remember, “Hey, I remember telling my mom (or dad) that I don’t believe in drinking and driving.  I’m going to pass.”  By asking good questions, you are helping your child build up those decision-making muscles that will serve them well, whether they have good friends or not.

Embrace the “Bad” Kids

We have welcomed more than 2,500 teens to the Heartlight campus over the years.  All of the teens that walk through our doors would generally be included in what most people consider, the “wrong crowd.”  But I love them all to death.  Despite the numerous kids who have come through our program, I have yet to meet a “bad kid.”  Now, I have met some strong-willed kids.  I have helped teens with deep-seated problems and issues.  But there isn’t one child who is beyond help.  As moms and dads, we may spend a lot of time avoiding the “bad kids” and encouraging our children to do the same.  But as Christians, we are called to minister to people in need.  And who needs a helping hand more than a teen who is hurtling off the tracks at 90 miles an hour?

I remember taking a group of my Heartlight kids to church one Sunday.  As our large group walked through the doors, I could feel the eyes turning in our direction and I could sense the shuffling in the seats.  The congregants knew I was coming with teens who carried a lot of baggage.  We sat in the back, and tried not to disrupt the service.  But my heart broke when the pastor starting talking about a mission trip to Africa and their upcoming service to an orphanage in that part of the world.  I felt like standing up and saying, “But there are kids RIGHT HERE who you need your compassion!”  I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with mission trips to Africa.  What I am saying is that there are kids who need to be the focus of our “mission” right here in all of our back yards.

Instead of running from the wrong crowd, let’s run towards them!  Turn your home into a safe, loving, and fun place where teens can hang out and interact.  Provide alternatives for your kids and their friends.  Invite them to watch a ball game.  Pack up enough supplies, and take a group fishing.  Let them set up their band in your garage.  Set aside a weekend, and go camping with your kids and their friends.  In this way, not only will you be providing a healthy outlet for teens to have fun, but they will be under your watch and protection.  Rather than cautioning your teen to side step the problem kids, take initiative and be the mentor, leader, or life coach they need.

Maybe your son or daughter has some friends with emotional, physical, or spiritual issues.  To pull away from these kids may mean we are running from the mission field God has for us!  The Proverbs 31 woman is a role model for all us.  God’s Word says that “she opens her hand to the poor and reaches out her hands to the needy” (Proverbs 31:20).  Are there hurting and needy kids in your teen’s circle of friends?  Open up your arms, and embrace that “wrong crowd.”

Be The Change 

When you began to read this article, you probably thought that I would offer some suggestions about how to avoid the wrong crowd.  Maybe you are a bit surprised at my approach to this topic.  But please hear me out; no matter where you go, where you live, or who you know—there will always be a “wrong crowd” to worry about.  So rather than spend all your time playing defense trying to block the bad kids from your teens, start playing the offense.  Start influencing the “bad kids” yourself.  And teach your teen to do the same.  In that way, you won’t avoid the wrong crowd, you will change them!


Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, a counseling facility for struggling teens located in Longview, Texas. Check out our website, www.ParentingTodaysTeens.org. It’s filled with effective parenting ideas, helpful articles, and practical tools and resources for moms and dads. On this site, you can also download the Parenting Today’s Teens podcast, or find a radio station near you to listen to our broadcasts. You can also call us directly at 1-866-700-3264 to find out about any upcoming events.

It’s More Than the Birds and the Bees: Talking to Your Teen About Sex

Teen RomanceIt’s never a conversation a mom or dad wants to have with their child.  Talking about sex with your teen or pre-teen is uncomfortable for both you and your kid.  There’s a level of embarrassment, a fumbling for the right words, perhaps a hesitancy to share or to ask questions.  I’ll be honest; I’ve been talking to teens about sex for close to three decades, and it never gets any easier.

But here’s the deal; even if you aren’t talking to your kids about sex, you can guarantee someone else is.  That fact alone should prompt you to action.  Your teen is bombarded every day with a mixed bag of information about love, relationships, and intimacy.  She has a sex education class in school.  He has friends who offer their own “wisdom” and advice.  And of course, popular TV shows, movies, and magazines encourage teenagers to express their sexuality early and often.  It’s within this sex-saturated environment that your son or daughter desperately needs mom and dad to step into the gap and deliver the truth about this tantalizing subject.

Let’s take an example from another area of life.  When your teens start itching to get behind the wheel, you don’t put off teaching them about the mechanics or the responsibilities of driving in hopes that they’ll pick up the basics on their own.  Driving a car is a wonderful experience that can provide great freedom and joy in life, but done recklessly, or taken out of bounds, driving can bring unfortunate consequences.  You can’t put an uninformed teen in the driver’s seat and just expect them to know and safely follow all the rules of the road.  Similarly, we can’t expect our teens to navigate this sexualized world without causing damage to themselves and others unless mom and dad sit down with them and share some needed guidelines.  If we avoid these conversations and let peers or the media do the talking for us, we’re setting our teens up for failure.

So what should we be saying to our kids about sex?  It goes beyond the simple biology of the physical act.  Any textbook can teach that.  What teens need to hear from parents are the values and consequences inherent in a sexual relationship.  Unfortunately, many parents inadvertently send the wrong messages to their kids.

Wrong Message #1:  You’re Shameful

A teen once told me about a youth group meeting he attended, where the youth pastor took out a single rose, gave it to the first kid in the group, and asked that teen to pass along the flower to each person there.  After about forty hands and noses had battered the flower, the rose got back to the youth pastor—dirty, broken, and with it’s beautiful scent nearly gone.  Taking the flower in his hand, the pastor said, “This flower is like your body, kids.  See what happens when it gets passed around?  Who would want this flower now?

What this says to kids is that if they lose their virginity, they’re shameful and unlovable.  And that’s the wrong message to be promoting.  The gospel teaches that all of us are equally in need of forgiveness, and Christ accepts us in spite of our flaws!  No amount of sexual experimentation will ever change that.

Make no mistake—engaging in sexual activity before marriage is wrong, and will likely create some difficulties later in life.  But if your teen has made mistakes, or is in an inappropriate relationship, your job is not to shame them.  God offers unconditional love, and we should too.

Wrong Message #2: You’re Useless

Along the same lines as the erroneous rose analogy, I’ve heard some parents compare sex before marriage to chewing gum.  The punch line is, “Who would want a piece of gum that’s already been chewed?”  What that says to teens is that if you’ve engaged in sex before marriage, you’re gross and unwanted, useless and good for nothing.

But this is simply not true.  Just because your teen gave up his or her virginity doesn’t mean they’ve lost God’s purpose for their life.  Parents, it’s crushing to find out that your teen is sexually active.  It can feel like a massive defeat and a failure on your part.  But moms and dads, it is not the end of the world.  Your child’s life has not been destroyed.  God still has a plan and purpose for it.

I had one student who, as a result of a rebellious party lifestyle, got pregnant when she was sixteen.  Caught in her mistakes, she was forced to have a difficult conversation with her parents and evaluate the consequences of her decisions.  With the support of her family, this young lady did the right thing, gave up her beautiful child for adoption, got serious counseling, and is now a wise and productive adult.  Some years later I asked her thoughts on that tough time in her life, and she said, “Mark – getting pregnant was a wake-up call, and for the first time in my life I had to deal with my mistakes and learn responsibility.  And giving up that baby was one of the hardest things I ever had to do.  So now I want my next baby to be the result of a happy marriage.”

Obviously, teen pregnancy is not something we’d wish on any family.  But God can use even a painful mistake like that to grow and mature your teen.  So don’t convey the message that a loss of virginity means a loss of purpose.

Wrong Message #3:  Love is Conditional

Now, we might not come out and directly say to our teens, “Hey, I’ll love ya only when you’re good.”  Yet, we often convey this message with our actions, especially when it comes to our kid’s sexual mistakes.  The underlying message that a parent’s love is conditional can be delivered through the silent treatment, explosive outbursts, walking away, or avoiding our children altogether.  When kids mess up (and they will mess up), it’s time for us moms and dads to invest even more time into our relationships with them.  That doesn’t necessarily mean forgoing punishment or alleviating the consequences of their actions for them.  Loving your child under these circumstances means showing love even in spite of their mistakes.  It’s saying, “I’m disappointed that you’re sleeping with your girlfriend, and this means that there will be restrictions on that relationship, but I DO love you and we can get past this.”  The moment your daughter tearfully confesses her pregnancy is not the best time to blow up and storm out.  Show her that you love her despite her error in judgment, and that you will do what it takes to help her deal with the consequences of her decisions.

When your son or daughter is sorry for their mistakes, don’t keep rehashing the past after it’s been dealt with.  Instead, think of how God deals with us.  In Jeremiah 31:34, God says, “I will forgive their iniquity, and will remember their sin no more.”  Even though we fail quite often, God doesn’t see us as damaged goods.  He sees us as brand-new creations every moment of every day.  And we should treat our kids that way, as well.

Love, Truth, and the Grace of God

Talking about sex with your teen may feel uncomfortable, and addressing your teen’s sexual mistakes can be painful, but in a world where sexual activity outside of marriage is not only permissible, but also praised, your child needs a mom and a dad who are available to answer any questions they have, and who will listen to them and guide them as they struggle through their difficult and hormonal teenage years.  Talking about sex is more than just explaining the birds and the bees.  It’s living out and explaining the love, grace, and truth of God.


Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, a counseling facility for struggling teens located in Longview, Texas. Check out our website, www.ParentingTodaysTeens.org. It’s filled with effective parenting ideas, helpful articles, and practical tools and resources for moms and dads. Visit our website, where you can download the Parenting Today’s Teens podcast, or find a radio station near you to listen to our broadcasts. You can also call us directly at 1-866-700-3264 to find out about any upcoming events.