Today’s sexually-charged culture not only invites kids to inappropriate sexual activity and experimentation, it sets up an expectation of it. Those who are abstaining, even at a very young age, are now the exception rather than the rule.
The constant bombardment of sexual images and suggestive innuendo in our culture takes a toll on our kids, but it also takes a toll on parents. We want the best for our children, but it’s getting harder and harder to keep them within boundaries that will lead to a safe, happy and well-adjusted future marriage and adulthood. So, short of keeping them locked in their room until they are 18, maybe it is time we begin talking about it.
I understand that most of us would rather not discuss this topic; it can be uncomfortable for both parent and child. But the culture is shouting inappropriate messages to them all day long, everyday, so they need to hear the other side of the story, again and again. That’s why I’d like to encourage you to have frank, candid and meaningful discussions (yes, that’s plural) with your teen about what is right and wrong when it comes to their body and sexuality.
We have more than fifty teenagers living with us at Heartlight at any time. As we talk in group sessions I’m amazed by the pressure they have been feeling to give in to promiscuity among their peers. The pleasure, lure of relationship, need to fit in, or the false promise of a badge of maturity have been traditional lures. But for the most part, promiscuity has become less sinister or emotional than that. Kids today think of sex as something as natural to do — even at their age and out of wedlock — as breathing, exercising or eating ice cream. The kids I’m talking about are not the “bad crowd”; they are great teens, mostly from good Christian homes who were raised in the Church. Yet they seem to compartmentalize morality between what’s appropriate at home or church and what’s okay to do with their friends. So let me give you some practical steps to help protect your teen from promiscuity.
Start early. By the time the problem presents itself to you, it’s almost too late to solve it. You may think you still have a few years left before you need to bring up the subject with your child, but you don’t. As young as seven or eight they have friends or classmates who are thinking and talking about sex—or even experimenting with it. So it isn’t too early to start this process when they enter middle school; in fact if you wait until they are in junior high or high school, it’s almost too late.
Start by talking about what is appropriate and what isn’t. Make it clear to them where they should draw the line. Help them to understand that they are in control of their own body and should never be pressured to give up any of that control. And give them license to report to you or other authorities anyone pressuring them to inappropriate behavior, without being shamed for it. Most of all, make it very clear that you will never condemn them for discussing it with you. It is crucial that they not fear talking with you about the changes in their body, their desires, and what their friends are saying or asking them to do.
Repeat the message, over and over. Back in our day, our parents gave us “The Talk” once. I told my daughter not too long ago (she was planning “The Talk” with my granddaughter) that our culture requires far more than just one talk. I told her to plan on having that talk every week for the next ten years! Equipping your child to swim against the tide of sexual permissiveness is going to require ongoing interaction and instruction. Of course it would be easier to do it once and be done with it, but that approach won’t cut it today. Talk regularly about the appropriate boundaries when it comes to their body.
Look for opportunities to engage. When your daughter wants to wear something that’s not quite appropriate or your son wants to watch a movie or television program with an unhealthy message, don’t just shut them down and tell them “No” or “That’s wrong.” Set everything else aside and have a candid conversation (without lecturing or being patronizing) about why certain things are right and others aren’t. “Let’s talk” sends a very different message–one that this issue is very important. Start by asking questions to lead them to think through the issue and arrive at the right conclusion—this form of question asking is far more effective than simply telling them.
Hold the line. Boundaries like curfews and ensuring that your girl is not left alone with a hormone-raging boy are crucial, but you need to plan for the day when they will be challenged. It’s possible that sometime in the history of the world there was one teenager who accepted his parents’ boundaries without question or challenge, but I’ve never met him or her yet! They’re going to push against the restrictions due to their innate desire to connect and fit in with their peers or to be close to someone of the opposite sex. And as difficult as it is, you must hold the line. Maintain those boundaries. Don’t give in. Yes, this means there will probably be some rather heated discussions and consequences for times when they step over the line. You may even have the dreaded “I hate you” line thrown in your face. But don’t give in…keep the rules in place anyhow. You’ll likely learn later on that your teen was actually relieved to have such boundaries.
Eliminate overnighters and unsupervised times at a friend’s house. It used to be that slumber parties and visiting a friend’s house after school was mostly innocent and fun. Today, it is where kids experiment. I can’t tell you how many kids I’ve talked to who said they first started down the path of promiscuity, same-sex relationships, addiction to pornography, or substance abuse at a friend’s house either after school or overnight. And this includes friends from good Christian homes. As individual curiosity increases with the cultural exposure, and with some parents supervising their kids less, experimentation becomes prevalent, especially in the middle school years. So, a word to the wise.
Communicate your expectations. Sometimes parents ask, “Is it reasonable to expect my child to remain pure in this culture?” My answer is, “Yes…but it takes a lot of work to realize.” Expectations alone aren’t enough to help your teen do right, you need to communicate those expectations to them and explain why and how they can and should be different from the culture. The time you spend talking to your teen about these expectations is a wonderful investment in their purity and future happiness.
There is no question that your teen will struggle with the allure of sex. Just plan on it. You simply cannot keep them away from the drumbeat of a hyper-sexualized culture. If they do go too far (and you actually learn about it, which is rare), the important thing is to not explode and turn your back on them. Rather, help them return to doing right without condemning them. Reinforce boundaries and eliminate the possibilities for it to happen again. Make sure they know you will continue to love them no matter what. Nothing can keep a kid from doing wrong more than not wanting to disappoint his or her parents; but if it does happen, never use disappointment or withdrawal of relationship as your disciplinary tactic. If anything, your relationship needs to be strengthened at this time.
We talked about this issue in-depth on our radio program last weekend called “Boundaries and Sexuality.” To listen online look for the program dated July 23, 2011 at http://www.parentingtodaysteens.org.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, a therapeutic boarding school located in East Texas. Call 903-668-2173. Visit http://www.heartlightministries.org, or to read other articles by Mark, visit http://www.markgregston.com.