Teens, Sex, and “the talk”

If you have a teen, sex is on your radar. As I mentioned in last month’s article, we live in a sex-saturated culture, and try as we might to fight against it, cultural influences inevitably seep into our churches, our families, and ultimately, our teens’ hearts.

But the issue of teen promiscuity, I believe, goes much deeper than cultural influences, although the cultural tug is strong. It’s also an issue of biology, morality, and emotional health. As with any issue our youth face, we must approach our teen’s purity with honest analytical thinking and deep, authentic communication.

We must prayerfully initiate those tough conversations, always seeking to look past the surface to our kid’s hearts, fears, desires, struggles, and motivations.

Push for communication, even when it feels awkward

I’ll admit, sex is not a topic I like to approach with our daughter. Nor is it one she’s enthusiastic about. But it’s a conversation we must have, because if we don’t, she’s likely to adopt the ideas and beliefs of those around her and those ideas and beliefs may not always be godly, positive, or moral. 

Begin by identifying and addressing your own conversation blocks

Linda* was sexually abused as a child, so conversations regarding sex were always a struggle for her. Because of this, she shied away from open and indepth discussions with her teens. Instead, she talked about it in a vague sense, focusing more on a “don’t do it” approach. Unfortunately, this didn’t address the obstacles her teens would face nor why sex out of marriage was harmful. All of her children became sexually active during their teen and young adult years. Three of them developed live-in relationships that ended poorly.   

Don’t forget about biology

Many teens raised in church understand and agree with the dangers of premarital sex. Each year in youth groups across the country, girls participate in beautiful purity rituals, fully committed to following through. The problem is, many over-estimate their inner strength and underestimate their hormonal pull. Similarly, many parents focus more on the don’ts than the hows.

I liken sexual desire to food cravings. The more you’re around a plate of cookies, the more you’re going to want them. Sure, you may be able to resist the urge for a while, but in a moment of weakness, you give in. No big deal, right? So you shoved one—or twenty—in your mouth. Maybe you’ll gain a few pounds, or have to run a few extra miles. But with sex, the consequences are greater, and it only takes once.  So how do we train our teens to resist this pull? We don’t. Instead, we train them to put up safety railings, discussing often and fully the strong pull biology can have.

Parents, this is something we need to constantly remember as well. Regardless of how smart or mature our teens sound, their brains are still undeveloped. In fact, they are a bit out of whack. Research shows their pleasure centers are heightened while their rational centers are undeveloped. Add to that huge biological changes, peer pressure, and physical and emotional insecurities, it’s a wonder our kids make it through high school at all!

Here are some “protective barriers” we have put in place:

We limit our daughter’s alone time.

Because here’s the deal—considering her current brain development, I expect her to fall pray to temptation (to surf inappropriate sites on the Internet, to engage in risky behavior, to flick to harmful television programs, etc.). The more time she has to be tempted, the greater that temptation will be.

We reduce our daughter’s level of privacy.

If this raises your hackles, hear me out. Our daughter has a cell phone, her own bedroom, a laptop, and a driver’s license. Wow, that’s a lot of freedom! And with freedom, comes temptation. So, in an effort to subdue her natural risk-taking tendencies while raising her rational thinking level, we’ve let her know we can and will read her text, Facebook, and email messages at any time. We will also randomly glance at her Internet history. This isn’t because we don’t trust her intentions. It's because we understand human weakness, and we don't expect her to stand strong against temptation perfectly. By knowing we will likely find out if she ventures into an unsafe area, she is less likely to take that risk.

We ask open-ended, purposeful questions and take the time to truly listen

Our motivation isn’t about behavior modification. It’s about training, and training, in my opinion, must occur at the heart level. Because of this, our goal is always to get to our daughter’s heart. To do this, we encourage her to talk about her views and feelings on the issue, showing her through our words, body language, facial expressions, and actions that no topic or emotion is forbidden.

When you foster a relationship of honest and open communication, a beautiful thing happens. Teens begin to see you as for them, not against them. This turns your parenting goals from a you-against-them into more of a team effort.  

We continually communicate a love that never fails

Obviously, we hope our daughter makes wise decisions, but we also know she won’t always. So, we make a point to let her know, no matter what happens, no matter what she does, she can and should always come to us. We will always, always be on her side, and we will walk with her through whatever challenge or consequence she might face.  Training our kids to remain pure and openly talking about the challenges of doing so and the consequences of promiscuity won’t insulate them from making mistakes, but the increased tools and support will maximize their chances of success.

Join me next month to discuss sexual harrasment in our schools. It's happening, and it's destructive. But what can we do about it? 

*Name changed for privacy purposes

Jennifer A. Slattery

Author and speaker Jennifer Slattery lives in the midwest with her husband of 21 years. She loves helping women discover, embrace, and live out who they are in Christ and can be found speaking on related topics at various events throughout the year. When not writing, speaking, or serving, you'll likely find her at one of Omaha's independently owned coffeehouses. Visit JenniferSlatteryLivesOutLoud.com or WhollyLoved.com to connect with her online or book her or her team for your next for your next women's event.

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