Don’t have sex. It’s a message teens have heard over and over again — especially teens who have grown up in church. And not without good reason. But teenagers need — and deserve — more than a command that can seem impossible to them. They need real, honest conversations with adults about purity in relationships.
Approximately one-half of all high school students have had sex, and 15 percent of high school students have had sex with four or more partners. However, of those teens who delay sex, the primary reason they give is religion or morals. So if you are teaching biblical principles in your home, you are on the right track. Sometimes, though, it can feel like an overwhelming topic to broach. Remembering the unique needs of teenagers in this area can help.
1. Teenagers need — and respect — honesty from adults about sex.
According to the National Campaign to Prevent Teenage Pregnancy, nine out of 10 teens say that they would be more likely to delay sex if their parents would talk to them about it. Research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also confirms that there is a relationship between parent/teen communication and decreased and delayed sexual activity. While it can certainly be awkward to talk about sex with your teen, they will get their information somehow — from their friends, or worse, the Internet. Push through the awkwardness and have those talks.
Use popular culture references such as viral videos or entertainment headlines (such as Miley Cyrus last fall at the VMA awards) as opportunities to discuss issues about sexuality, modesty, and body image.
2. Teenagers need to hear that sex is good.
Teens hear a lot about sex, but they don’t often hear that it is holy and beautiful, and that God made us to desire and enjoy it. God has, out of His love for us, given us the command of reserving sex for marriage in order to protect us, not stifle us. Contrary to cultural belief, the purpose of sex is for the companionship, intimacy, and oneness that marriage provides. Guarding the sacredness of sex is for our highest good. Any sexual activity before marriage pales in comparison to the joy that comes from the unity of sex in marriage.
3. Teenagers need to understand what it means to live in obedience to God in their bodies.
What is sexual purity, exactly? Sexual purity is a collection of tiny decisions made every day, such as what to wear, what to read, how to love and respect our neighbor, that are born out of a daily walk with Christ. Purity goes right along with other spiritual disciplines, such as prayer and Bible study. These are practices that aren’t always easy to implement, but result in profound peace and real growth in our faith.
4. Teenagers — especially girls — need to hear that their bodies are good and beautiful.
Teens are given two messages about their bodies: 1. They aren’t “enough”: pretty enough, skinny enough, muscular enough, or sexy enough; and 2. They need to avoid sex at all costs. This leaves many teens with a distorted view of their bodies as either inadequate or somehow dirty. Girls experimenting with beauty are enjoying their femininity, and guys who want to work out are pursuing a worthy goal. Teens shouldn’t hate their bodies … rather, they should seek to honor God with their bodies (1 Cor. 6:19-20).
5. Teenagers — both girls and boys — need parents to understand their world.
So you don’t have a Tumblr account. That’s OK, but do you know what it is and how it works? Your teen is an expert on what’s out there online, so let her teach you. Do you know how your teen portrays herself on social media sites? Have you met her online friends in real life? With the heavy amounts of time teens spend online, whether by computer, tablet, or phone, being part of your teenager’s world can help you know when to challenge her about her decisions, and guide her in a good direction.
6. Teenagers need to be involved in extracurricular activities.
One practical tool for encouraging your teen toward a life of sexual purity is simple: a full calendar. Team sports, arts involvement, and part-time jobs offer ways for teens to socialize, develop their gifts and talents, and use their youthful energy to benefit others.
Involvement in after-school activities means less time to hook up, and more time for positive social and emotional development. Not only are they practicing discipline, responsibility, and community service, but they are removing themselves from the troubles that too much isolation or exclusive dating can create.
7. Teenagers want to be guided, not controlled.
Despite popular belief, teenagers actually do want to hear what adults have to say. But they certainly don’t like to be told what to do. Coming up with possible situations they may face ahead of time can help them make the right choice in the moment. For example, help your son list scenarios he might encounter while with his girlfriend that could lead to sexual temptation, such as spending too much time together alone, drinking alcohol, or being out too late at night. Ask what he thinks the consequences of his particular actions would be, or potential exit strategies. If he owns the decision and has planned it out ahead of time, he is more likely to do the right thing.
Of course parents can differ on the boundaries they set for their teens. Some ambiguity is inevitable: at what age is your teen ready to date? What is appropriate when it comes to spending time with someone of the opposite sex?
And the ubiquitous question, “How far is too far?” Rather than offering a quip answer to these questions, discuss them. Ask your teens what they think. Pray. Wrestle with these issues together. And remember that all the while the Holy Spirit is working in your teen’s life to lead them to repentance, faith, and purity. Step by step.