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.

What Makes Girls Different

Meeting TogetherDaughters.  When they’re born, you can’t imagine loving anything more than the sweet, beautiful, bundle of joy in your arms.  From tea parties to soccer games, you realize at once that little girls are something special.

Then they become teens.

One day you’re tucking your little girl into bed with stories of princesses and heroes, and the next minute there’s a young woman coming down the stairs, and you don’t even recognize her.  Maybe it’s a change in attitude.  Or perhaps it’s a complete shift in personality. To help your little girl become a responsible and happy woman, you’ll need to understand what’s happening in the life of your adolescent daughter.

The Importance of Peers

Teen girls need meaningful relationships.  It’s why you’ll see gaggles of teen girls hanging out in malls, or at school, or in your house!  Girls are looking for real friends in a friendless world.  Let’s face it; our society is a harsh place, especially for teenagers.  In teen culture, performance, appearance, and popularity are precious commodities.  And when the odd girl stands out, teens can be cruel and vicious towards that person.  So to avoid being the lone sheep among wolves, many teen girls spend hours texting, posting messages on Facebook, or spending large amounts of time with friends.  And when they find a person that fills that need for connection in their life, girls invest a lot of time and energy into those relationships.

Mom and dad, if your daughter has found a good buddy, affirm that friendship.  Invite this person over for dinner, or occasionally have them come along on family outings.  In that way, you can speak into both your daughter’s life, and into the life of any friend she brings along.

While a girl so consumed with her phone or Facebook might rub you the wrong way, I caution you not to categorically forbid these social outlets.  You can restrict them, put boundaries around them, or take them away for a time as a punishment.  But if you cut them out entirely, you’re also cutting off your daughter’s access to current methods of communication, and you may drive her to find alternative ways to connect with people.  Your teen daughter is a social being, so affirm and direct her towards meaningful relationships with others.

The Appearance of Hormones

Girls are hitting puberty at a younger and younger age.  Since the 1700’s girls have started their periods six months earlier every ten years.  That means, eventually, our nine and ten-year-old daughters will hit puberty in a culture that pushes girls to grow up fast.  While as parents we’d like to shelter our pre-teens from issues like sex and dating relationships, the world is forcing our hand.  Combine blossoming young girls with a society saturated with sexual images and messages, and you have a confused teen.  So start talking early and often with your daughter about sexuality, modesty, cultural expectations, and romantic feelings.  Help her understand the many mixed messages your daughter will come in contact with as she matures.  She will be tempted to be bold, brash, and flaunt her body to receive attention.  Mom and dad, you cannot shy away from discussions about sex, modesty and cultural influences if you want to raise a strong and secure daughter.

Other effects of teenager hormones are personality changes and mood shifts.  One day your daughter is bright, cheery, and pleasant to be around.  But the next minute, she’s moody, irritable, and the rest of the family longs to escape!  Now, if you’re thinking, “this will never happen to my kid,” prepare yourself—because it will.  Teen boys, as well as teen girls, can change moods and personalities in a heartbeat.  But realize that just as quickly as the changes come, the changes can go.  And when temperaments swing wildly from extreme to extreme, don’t run away from the relationship.  Give grace.  I don’t want you to tolerate disrespect from your daughter, but give her lots of reinforcements.  Even if she responds by rolling her eyes, trust me, she’s listening to what you tell her.  Say “Hi, beautiful,” when she staggers into the kitchen every morning.  Praise her creativity or her excellence in the classroom.  Cheer for her when she’s on the basketball or volleyball team.  And Dads, you especially need to tell your daughter that you not only love her, but you like her, as well.  With grace, affirm the person she is and can be, while still correcting the disrespectful attitudes when they show up.

The Presence of Independence

Moms and daughters often butt heads over one issue the most, and that’s independence.  Sure, that’s not the surface topic that is being debated.  It may be over the clothes that she is wearing, the party she wants to attend, or the boy she wants to hang out with.  But boil those issues down, and what you’re left with is a bottom-line fight for independence.  The problem that parents must face is that these battles are actually a good thing!  It means your daughter is trying to separate herself from you.  She is getting ready to make a life for herself apart from mom and dad.  But that comes with some growing pains.

Here’s my advice … pick your battles.  There should be clear and firm boundaries concerning dating, or drinking, or modesty that parents should not back down from.  But while you still hold authority, let your daughter find her own voice.  If she wants to practice being a vegan, let her.  Is there any real danger in having her cut her hair short?  Or painting her bathroom black?

One mom told her how she and her daughter used to enjoy shopping together and her daughter always loved what clothes her mom picked out.  But as a teen, this young lady got into a fad of wearing only what her parents called, “drapery grey things.”  But instead of fighting over the weirdness of her fashion, this wise mom realized that while the clothes may not be appealing, they were modest and functional, so she let her daughter wear “drapery grey things.”  They even had a laugh or two when shopping, when the mom would hold up some hideous, charcoal dress and say “Hey, Katherine, isn’t this your style?

Here’s the key.  Don’t smother your daughter.  Allow her to breathe and make choices in her life.  She wants to learn how do things apart from mom and dad, so encourage her and guide her through this stage of her life.

Now, you might think, “Well, what does this guy know about raising girls?”  Well, as a father to a daughter, and counselor to many daughters at the Heartlight residential center over three decades, I’ve picked up a few pointers here and there.  Girls are a wonderful blessing to a family.  But raising them takes special consideration and grace.  So take the time to develop the skills to help your little girl become a mature young woman.


Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, located in Hallsville, Texas.  For more information and helpful resources for moms and dads, check out our website.  It’s filled with ideas and tools to help you become a more effective parent.  Go to www.heartlightministries.org.  Or read other helpful articles by Mark, at www.markgregston.com.  You can also call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173.  Hear the Parenting Today’s Teens broadcast on a radio station near you, or download the podcast at www.parentingtodaysteens.org.

Teaching Teens to Struggle Well

Teaching Teens to Struggle WellThink back for a moment.  When in your life, have you gained the most experience and wisdom?  Was it when things were easy?  Or was it when times were tough?  If you’re anything like me, you grow and mature the most during periods of struggle.  The circumstances are usually anything but fun, but the lessons I gain from the storms of life are invaluable.  It’s what author Napoleon Hill meant when he wrote, “Strength and growth come only through continuous effort and struggle.”

Now, if this is true, and growth comes through struggle, the question on the table becomes this: are we teaching our teenagers how to struggle well?  Can your son or daughter look to you as an example of someone who handles trials with endurance, patience, and grace?  Because your teen will face his or her own share of difficult situations.  There will be times where their faith, hope, and strength are tested.  Can they look to mom and dad to give them the tools to handle the tough times and come out better people?  Let me share with you some specific “do’s” and “don’ts” for teaching your teenagers how to struggle well.

DON’T Hold Back

I’ll be honest; some trials that come our way make me wonder, “Why would God allow this to happen?”  Whether it’s the death of a child, a tragic accident, or a devastating disaster, some circumstances simply do not make sense.  In such moments, it’s okay to express your frustration to God.  Let Him know the extent of your grief.  Let Him know what you’re feeling.  Open your heart to Him.  He can handle it all.  Don’t hold back or suppress your emotions.  But don’t let those emotions lead you down the wrong road.  You know your anger has taken you down a dark path when you turn your back on the Lord, stop turning to Him for comfort, or accuse Him of trying to hurt or harm you.

Romans 8:38 says, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”  When circumstances are frustrating, and you’re fed up with the way things are going, ask God for patience.  If you’re at the end of your rope and you don’t know what to do, ask God for wisdom, and seek godly counsel from mentors, elders and wise peers.  And if you’re in the midst of one of life’s storms, ask God for peace, and the Bible says that, “the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7).  We can trust God to take care of us, and we can also trust God with our emotions, anger, and sadness.  Show your kids that even when the going gets tough, and life doesn’t make sense, they can trust the Lord and have faith in His goodness.

DO Surround Yourself With People

Maybe I’m starting to sound like a broken record, but you need people in your life that can support you during the dark days.  When you’re dealing with difficult circumstances, don’t hide away and bury the problems where no one can see them.  Uncover the issues and look for help.  You don’t have to wrestle with life all by yourself.  Letting others help you will make your stronger.  “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another,” says Proverbs 27:17.

What I saw from my parents was the exact opposite.  I never saw my mom or dad struggle with money issues, with their marriage, or with other people because they hid it behind a façade of silence and smiles.  Perhaps they thought it would help me avoid the problems they encountered, but instead I learned to hide my problems so people couldn’t help me.  Because I never saw how my parents made it through the storms, I had to learn how to navigate my way through life on my own.  For many years it was much more difficult than it would have been if my parents had been able to share their own struggles with me.

But my wife and I don’t want our kids to experience what I did.  My goal is to let my children know that everyone struggles; moms and dads included.  And when those tough times come, they can lean on God and turn to others for help.

DON’T Run Away

We don’t like to experience pain.  That’s why God gave us aspirin right?  Whenever we feel a headache coming on, we can run to the medicine cabinet for relief.  However, most hurts in life aren’t so easily remedied.  So when problems head in our direction, we’re tempted to avoid the pain entirely by running the opposite way.  Don’t do that!  Pain hurts, no doubt.  But the right kind of pain is actually good for us.  It can help identify a problem in our life.  Or it can push us to discover a wealth of strength and faith that we never knew we had.  That’s why James tells us, “consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors.” (James 1:2)

When the fire is on, our faith in God can truly ignite.  So don’t run from the pain.  Face it and deal with it head on.  Accept the difficulty, knowing that it’s refining your character and maturing your faith.  When you face pain with confidence, you model for your teenager how to struggle honestly and with faith.

DO Look Past the Hardship

In the moment, a painful circumstance can feel like it lasts for an eternity.  But in the scope of life, trials and troubles are momentary.  So look beyond the circumstance to see what God is trying to teach you through it.  Sometimes it’s all you can do to simply grab and hold on for dear life.  But focus your gaze, and look not only to survive the storm, but learn the lessons that you can from it.  Set an example for your kids by showing them how to see past the temporary hurts to gain the wisdom that lies on the other side.

DON’T Rush to a Coping Mechanism

We all have our own coping mechanisms, ways of dealing with stress, pressure, and emotions.  And often, when life is the hardest, we run to these crutches to help us deal with our problems.  A dad might throw himself into playing more golf, or spending all his free time in the garage.  Mom may look for relief in working more hours, or spending more time with friends.  These coping mechanisms are not necessarily bad things.  But if they become hindrances that prevent us from ever dealing with the struggles at hand, then it’s time to back away from them.  You’ll never struggle well, or teach your teenager how to weather trials, if all your time is spent avoiding the issues.  Deal with the problems head on, and your kids will learn to do so as well.

DO Take Regular Breaks

Before you say, “Wait Mark, didn’t you just say don’t look to escape the problem?”  Let me explain the difference.  When you try to ignore, avoid, or distract yourself from the troubles you’re facing, that’s running away from the issues.  But taking a break every once-in-a-while is a healthy and necessary tool for struggling well.  When you’re dealing with an out-of-control teenager, sometimes it’s appropriate to put yourself in timeout to cool off for a minute before re-engaging.  When you’re working through grief or disappointment, it’s helpful to get away for the weekend and gain a fresh perspective.  If you’re struggling with financial issues, and money is tight, I’d encourage you to clear away the piles of bills and budgets in front of you, and enjoy a relaxing picnic with the family.

Taking a break from the struggles to recharge your batteries gives you fresh energy for the fight.  Show your teens that in the midst of the storm, we can create moments of peace.

We’ll all face hard times in life.  This includes your son or daughter.  So give them the tools they’ll need to stand tall and struggle well by modeling it for them.  When it comes to getting through trials, actions always speak louder than words.



Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, located in Hallsville, Texas.  For more information and helpful resources for moms and dads, check out our website.  It’s filled with ideas and tools to help you become a more effective parent.  Go to www.heartlightministries.org.  Or read other helpful articles by Mark, at www.markgregston.com.  You can also call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173.  Hear the Parenting Today’s Teens broadcast on a radio station near you, or download the podcast at www.parentingtodaysteens.org.