If we can’t talk about “it” in the church and in our families then guess where they will talk about it? One doesn’t have to look far to see who is talking about the act of sex and sexuality. Turn on the TV; it only takes about 30 minutes to be inundated with images, advertisements, innuendoes, and just outright clear messages about sex. The good news is that research shows that as influential as media can be, it ranks significantly far behind parental influence in the lives of children. In fact, “More than half of teens (53%) say parents or their own morals, values, and religious beliefs influence their decisions about sex the most–far more than such other influences as friends, the media, teachers and sex educators.” Parents, on the other hand, when asked, ranked peers and media higher then themselves and other influential adults when it comes to the influence of sexual matters.1
The research shows over and over again that parents are valuable resources when it comes to influencing their children. The irony, however, is that parents often do not believe this to be true. Parents need to be affirmed in their roles and empowered to be involved with their kids. A study conducted by the Center for Adolescent Health and Development, University of Minnesota Minneapolis, MN, found that the “overall closeness between parents and their children, shared activities, parental presence in the home, and parental caring, support, and concern are all associated with a reduced risk of early sex and teen pregnancy. Teens who feel a close connection to their parents are more likely to abstain from sex, wait until they are older to begin having sex, have fewer sexual partners, and use contraception more consistently”.2
God has a special place for parents in the lives of their children. God’s word is fairly clear about the influence parents have and that He chooses to use them. “Honor your father and mother”–which is the first commandment with a promise–“that it may go will with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth” (Eph. 6:1-3). Parents are a gift to children that God uses to mold, shape, and encourage them in the faith and their upbringing. Parents should have little to fear as God assures parents of their place in the life of the child and that God will work through them to bring their children to Himself.
Teenagers truly desire that their parents be involved in their lives. Now, to be fair to parents, over two thirds of teens have talked to their parents at least once about a sexual topic; perhaps it was “the talk”.3But when this number is unpackaged, we see that the talk alone is not cutting it, at least not just one conversation. The basic understanding of sexual intercourse and the fact that puberty brings changes to one’s body is hardly shaping values, teaching what it means to be a healthy mature sexual child of God, and empowering teens to make good decisions about relationships. A study conducted by Stanton & Burns (2003) indicated that parents who clearly communicate their values and expectations to their children, express their concerns and love for them early and often, and exercise supervision–including their child’s selection of friends and role models–raise children who are more likely to avoid early sexual activity, pregnancy, and parenthood than those parents who do not. Research supports the conclusion that the overall strength and closeness of parent/child relationships seems to be the best protection of all.”4
Simply said, talking with kids just about the birds and bees is not cutting the mustard. Sexuality is a dynamic part of our whole being. “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him, male and female he created them. God, blessed them and said to them, Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it” (Gen. 1:27). Right from the start God created us as sexual beings with a desire for the opposite sex. He created us male and female with the desires and abilities to procreate in the context of a covenant relationship with each other. Our words and actions speak much about who we are as sexual beings, and the content and context of one conversation is hardly the only message we communicate. Sharing about our sexuality involves complex conversations about the pieces and parts of our physical functioning, the honoring of others, God, and our selves. It involves discussion and awareness of the risks and consequences of sex both within and outside of a covenant relationship, not to mention the emotional and spiritual effects of becoming one with another individual. When there is so much pressure to make sure all the right information is shared it is no wonder parents find it so difficult to have “the talk”.
We literally invest so much in this one conversation that it often becomes bigger then life. “The Talk,” as it often is referred to, many times only addresses the physical functionality of the act of intercourse. Our sexuality is part of our whole being and not just a function of our bodies. Maybe, just maybe, we shouldn’t encourage parents to have the “talk”. Instead, we should be equipping them for talking with their children throughout their lives about who they are as a child of God and how they are created to share the gift of sex with a partner within the context of a covenant relationship. The conversation is best when it starts as children have their first curiosity about their bodies, all the way past the time they are married. Yes, even married folks have questions!
When the talk becomes an on going conversation and contains a consistent message over time, it serves to be a more relevant and effective message for the child. This process takes time, but time well spent, especially when as teens your children come to you asking questions rather then turning to MTV and the internet for answers.
Both parents and teens strongly indicate that parents should be talking with their children about love, sex, and relationships. Even with this fact known, parents often struggle, indicating that they don’t know what to say, how to say it, and even when to start conversations. This is where we can come in. By encouraging parents to be active in their children’s lives and providing them age appropriate resources we can empower them to be more effective in shaping their children and impacting the world. We need not shy away from the issue of sexuality. God made us as sexual beings and even said it was good. While we live in the post fallen world we need not be ashamed of one of the greatest gifts God has given us, our sexuality. Christ has come that we may be free, free to embrace that we are children of God and children who are called to have children. The church should not be a place that is silent about the issues surrounding sexuality. It should be a place that proclaims the God given gift of sex boldly as it teaches and encourages the people of God about His glorious creation. It should be free to offer the grace and forgiveness that comes through Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection, yes even for sexual sins.
Parents need not be timid as they teach and admonish their children in the word of God and what it means to embrace their sexuality. I challenge you to join me in empowering parents to be bold in helping their teens in making responsible choices about sex. Help me encourage parents to be clear about their own personal values and attitudes about sex and to talk with their children early and often about sex and relationships. Help them to know that their children really do want to know what they think and feel about their sexuality and the choices they make. Share with parents that research indicates that it is healthy to monitor and supervise adolescents’ activities but to not smother them. Affirm parents in knowing that the most important factor in reducing risky behavior among teens is to have a close parent-child relationship.5 But most of all, parents need to know that the church is there to support them as they walk with their children, offering them resources, guidance, and most of all God’s redeeming Word.
If the church wants to be effective in helping our teens to make healthy choices in their sexuality, then we must start talking about sex in the church and embracing the fact that parents are asking for help in talking with their children about this issue. I leave you with some tips to encourage parents drawn from experts both secular and Christian.
Tips and suggestions for parents
- Remember that our role as parents is simply a privilege to walk with God in bringing up His children.
- Don’t be afraid to use scripture when discussing the issue of sexuality. Talk to your children about God’s design for us as sexual beings.
- Keep conversations age appropriate but don’t be afraid to use proper names.
- Talk early and often about sex and be specific.
- Use current events and everyday life to approach the subject. Teachable moments make it easier to approach sensitive topics and allow for easier approachability when issues get tough.
- Be careful with joking and addressing natural development–these can evoke shame and make it even harder to discuss sensitive issues.
- Be clear with your children with expectations and with your own attitudes and values about sexuality; they want to know what you are thinking.
- Help them understand what healthy relationships look like by pointing them out when you see them.
- Share with children what the Bible says about sexuality, marriage, and the choices they make.
- Walk with preteens and teens through puberty, being a resource and an advocate. Be sure and help them with details about their changing bodies and talk about the emotional and physical side of the change.
- Supervise and monitor your children & adolescents; know your children’s friends.
- Illustrate through conversations of sexuality that we are all chosen children of God redeemed through Christ.
- Talk about healthy boundaries in dating relationships.
- Don’t skirt the issues. Speak with them candidly about issues like masturbation and oral sex.
- Talk with them about teen pregnancy and STD’s.
- Discuss the use of contraceptives.
- Point to Jesus in our conversations about sexuality and how through His death and resurrection we are able to live in the freedom of the gospel and not in the shame of our human nature.
- Help teens set boundaries in dating.
- Let them share about their feelings and the pressures they are experiencing.
- Use the conversations about the issues of sexuality to speak the words of forgiveness and reconciliation.
- Pray with your children about choices of dating and choosing a future spouse.
- Nurture the parent child relationship as it makes difference.
Books to consider
- The Learning About Sex Series from Concordia Publishing House (A seven book series)
- Sharon Maxwell, (2008). The Talk; What Your kids Need to hear About Sex, a breakthrough Guide to raising healthy Kids in an Oversexualized, Online, In-Your-face World. Penguin Group
- Kevin Leman & Kathy Flores Bell ( 2004). A chicken’s Guide to talking Turkey with Your Kids about Sex. Zondervan
- Pepper Schwartz & Dominic Capello, (2000). Ten Talks Parents Must Have With Their Children about Sex and Character. Hyperion
- Mark Laaser, (1999) Talking to Your Kids About Sex: How to Have a Lifetime of Age-Appropriate Conversations with Your Children About Healthy Sexuality. Waterbrook Press
1Albert, B (2004). With one voice 2004: America’s Adults and Teens Sound Off about Teen Pregnancy. Washington, DC: national Campaign to prevent Teen Pregnancy.
2Blum, R.W. & Rinehard, P.M. (1998). Reducing the Risk: Connections that make a difference in the lives of youth. Center for Adolescent Health and Development, University of Minnesota. Minneapolis, MN.
3Albert, B (2004). With one voice 2004: America’s Adults and Teens Sound Off about Teen Pregnancy. Washington, DC: national Campaign to prevent Teen Pregnancy.
4Stanton, B.F., & Burns, J. (2003). Sustaining and Broadening Intervention Effects. Social norms, core values, and parents. In D., Romer (Ed.), Reducing adolescent risk: Toward an integrated approach (pp. 193299).Thousand Oaks, CA. Sage Publications, Inc.
5Blum, R.W., Rinehart, P.M. (1998). Reducing the risk: Connections that make a difference in the lives of youth. Center for Adolescent Health and Development, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN.