By Mark Gregston
Have you looked around lately? Our kids live in a dangerous generation. They are constantly bombarded by seductive imagery. Innocence is threatened at a young age. And our culture isn’t doing anything to stem the tide. In fact, it’s pulling our teens away from purity and pushing them toward promiscuity. Sexual images are not just in an occasional movie or magazine—they are everywhere! While many teens understand and welcome their parent’s “messages” about modesty and abstinence, the overwhelming influence of their peers and their culture easily dwarfs those positive messages.
There is a near constant pressure forced on teens to give in and “belong.” Add to that easy access to pornography, the display of sexual images and themes across all forms of media, the promotion of “alternative sexual lifestyles,” and messages of instant gratification and a “do-what-you-want” mindset, all set our kids up for a “fall.”
Of course, it’s easy to point out the flaws of our culture, and bemoan the temptations our teens face. And I suppose we could place our kids in a monastery located on some lonely mountain in Tibet in order to protect their innocence. But I’ve learned that its not about taking teens out of the culture, but giving them the tools to stand strong within the culture that offers the best protection. Over the many years at Heartlight, we have worked with hundreds of boys and girls who struggle to maintain their integrity and personal purity. We have more than fifty teenagers living with us at Heartlight at any time. As we talk in group sessions, I’m often amazed by the pressure they feel to give in to promiscuity among their peers. The physical pleasure, comfort of a relationship, need to fit in, or the false promise 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 as breathing, exercising or eating ice cream — even at their age and out of wedlock. 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 you and your kids navigate a seduction world.
A Need to Be Noticed
Sexuality is something that teens talk about all the time, and the banter among guys and girls alike can be shocking. But these conversations usually exemplify a teen’s craving for attention. Even though our kids are communicating like crazy over the Internet, texting, and through social media sites, they aren’t connecting. So teens will often resort to other ways to get noticed. A recent survey stated that 28% of kids high school will send an inappropriate picture through texts or the internet. They think they can get the connection they long for through their sexuality. And it makes sense that they think this way – the media often makes fun of virginity, and television, music, and advertising all send kids the strong message that sex is okay anytime and anywhere, as long as it’s consensual.
If you learn your teenager has been sending inappropriate pictures or has become sexually active, first try to understand those pressures and why they may be acting out this way. Then I encourage you to take a couple of steps back. Don’t respond with your first inclination. You will undoubtedly look at their sexual activity differently than they do. You’ll think of it as a loss of something, like their virginity, innocence, purity, or childhood. But your teen will feel that they’ve gained something, like experience, a stronger relationship, or coming into adulthood. The friction between your sense of loss and your teen’s sense of gain may cause so much heat that your relationship goes down in flames.
I’m not trying to justify your teen’s actions, nor am I buying into this seductive culture. But I do know that if handled wrong, you can make your teen feel as though they are unforgivable, forever unclean, and “out of the club” because of their poor choices. It’s where we lose so many teens from our families, churches and communities today. Shame on us, for shaming them. Do there need to be consequences for inappropriate behavior? You bet! Maybe stronger boundaries, or even a major change in the teen’s life to keep it from happening again? Absolutely! But a demeaning presentation of judgment and shame? Avoid this attitude at all costs. These approaches only destroys your relationship, and builds walls of resentment. This is no time to be burning bridges. Your teens need you to help them understand that there is a better way. You’ll have no way to do that if your relationship is destroyed.
Instead, think about how God would approach it. God assures each one of us of His constant presence. He doesn’t leave us when we make a mistake, nor does he turn His back on His children when they sin. He doesn’t disappear when the road gets dark, nor does He abandon us in times of need. He moves toward us, in hopes of change, restoration, forgiveness, and reconciliation. I would encourage you to follow God’s pattern when dealing with your teen who has fallen to sexual temptation.
Continuing the Conversation
Back in our day, our parents gave us “The Talk” once. I told my daughter, when she was planning “The Talk” with my granddaughter, that our culture requires far more than just one conversation. I told her to plan on having that talk every week for the next ten years! Equipping your teen to swim against the tide of sexual permissiveness is going to require ongoing interaction and instruction. Of course it would be easier to have the talk once and be done with it, but that approach won’t cut it today. Culture is normalizing sexual promiscuity; as a parent, it’s your job to normalize healthy, godly sexual boundaries.
Teenagers are not very good at recognizing long term consequences, so it’s helpful for you to point out the lifetime ramifications of promiscuity. Give them practical advice and direction, such as asking the question: What would your future wife or husband want in you? What would you tell your daughter or son to act in this situation? In the context of relationship, teens will see this instruction not as judgment, but as love and connection—just what they’re looking for. Moms and dads, you may think that your children are on the same page as you, or that they are mature enough to set and keep healthy sexual boundaries on their own. But that’s simply not true. Teens need heart-to-heart conversations from their parents, not just on sexuality, but about life in general. When you show your kids love, value and worth without expecting anything in return, you’re teaching them that they don’t need to be sexual to receive affirmation and attention. The more attention and kindness teens receive from both mom and dad, the less they will look for those things in unhealthy relationships with their peers of the opposite gender.
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!” 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 teenagers will struggle with the allure of sex. It’s biological—just plan on it. You simply cannot keep them away from the drumbeat of a hyper-sexualized culture. Rather than covering their eyes and ears to the world around them, give your teens the information and tools to do what is right. Reinforce boundaries and provide reasons for purity. And make sure they know you will continue to love them no matter what.
As parents, we don’t have to be scared of our sons and daughters living in such a seductive culture. With a good relationship, secure boundaries, and unconditional love, we can offer our teens the tools to stay pure in an impure world.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, a residential counseling center for struggling teens located in Longview, Texas. He has been married to his wife, Jan, for 40 years, has two kids, and 4 grandkids. He lives in Longview, Texas with the Heartlight staff, 60 high school kids, 25 horses, his dog, Stitch, 2 llamas, and a prized donkey named Toy. His past involvement as a youth pastor, Young Life area director, and living with over 2,700 teens, has prepared Mark to share his insights and wisdom about parenting pre-teens and adolescents.