American culture is more sexually charged than at any other time in history. Sex is no longer valued by the general population as an intimate expression of love and commitment to be shared in a committed marriage. It is viewed instead as a normal part of growing up. Adolescents often consider themselves “ready” for it whenever the juices first start to flow. What a tragedy!
Many kids have been and will be drawn in. For them, tremendous grace is needed as a safety net for their healing (we’ll write about this soon). But let’s not just assume it will happen. Let’s start young and do our part to raise kids prepared to stand strong against the temptation.
For children to stand strong they need parents who model joy-filled sexuality in a marriage, and communicate more clearly and passionately than the culture that surrounds them. This is no small task! It requires constant attentiveness to how our kids are being influenced and constant engagement to teach the value of rich intimacy.
Why awkward silence doesn’t cut it
Only a generation or two ago, parents felt no need to talk about the private parts of their lives (pun intended). But the power of today’s trends no longer allows a parent’s silent example to have the impact it once did. If parents don’t answer the question “what is sex?” Google will. So it is time to learn to break the silence — before the opportunity for influence is gone.
But many parents find it awkward or shameful to be affectionate in front of their children or to talk appropriately and openly about sexuality with them. They may be embarrassed or just don’t know what to say. Some are ashamed of personal experience with the negative consequences of sexual sin. Many parents experience tension about sex in their marriage relationship, even to the point of marital breakdown. These all contribute to the difficulties parents have about talking with their children.
If it’s hard to talk about sex with your kids, it’s time to start thinking, praying, and talking about why this is difficult. It may be helpful to think through and better understand (on your own or with professional help) your own sexual history. What did you learn from parents? From your peers? From other experiences? How did these shape your opinions and practices? Where did/does God fit into your sexual attitudes? Whatever helps you understand your own journey will prepare you to better communicate with your kids in the here and now. Not matter what your struggles have been, your confidence in the goodness of God’s plan, and His grace, is foundational.
What are you communicating without words?
Children first begin learning about interaction with the opposite gender by watching their parents. Whether they see parents hugging, kissing, offering “silent treatment,” or fighting passionately, children are soaking up messages about what an intimate relationship looks like. The way parents respond in these interactions teaches their children about boundaries – whether healthy or unhealthy.
For children to have a healthy view of marriage and sexuality, it is essential to protect and nurture your own marriage relationship. (Note: We address single parents specifically below.) Children ought to see parents talking and connecting regularly. You can let kids know that there are times when you are going to enjoy conversation together and cannot be interrupted. Regular “connection time,” date nights, and getting away for longer periods alone without kids all communicate that marriage is an enjoyable, fulfilling relationship.
Most younger teenagers believe that sex between married people is not only boring, but gross. To counteract this false belief, even though it may be awkward for some parents, it is healthy to model appropriate romantic affection. Statements like, “Someday, if you get married, you’ll have someone to snuggle with like this,” communicate to even young children that intimacy is a blessing reserved for marriage.
One might think we were inappropriately transparent, but the funny thing is, they’d have little grins on their faces as they protested, and Daniel in particular began to encourage our “playfulness.” We even heard them brag to their friends about how open and affectionate we are. The true fruit of this approach is evident as we watch them hold strong convictions and encourage their friends to do so: they value sexual intimacy in marriage and understand what the consequences of premature sexual experiences would be. In our home we made a priority of giving kids little hints about the fact that mom and dad actually do make love. We would occasionally make light-hearted references to “power-snuggling,” or “late night fun.” During such references at mealtime, Daniel would respond, “You guys are gross.” Bethany would often join his protest, “I didn’t need to know that.” Noah generally pretended he didn’t hear us.
A note for single parents…
If you are a single parent, there are practical things you can do to encourage healthy sexuality in your children. Pursue faithfulness to God’s principles in your sexuality in whatever is your current situation. We have known several single moms who, although their children were too young to understand sexuality, made unwavering commitments to turn things around and waited until marriage for any further sexual intimacy. These moms and their mates will have strong credibility with their kids as they grow.
Especially in such a challenging area, the discipling of children is definitely a job for the body of Christ. So find ways to stay connected to a community of grace-filled people that will both accept and minister to your family, and model healthy marriage and family values for your children.
Apply It Now:
- What are my feelings about this topic of sexual intimacy?
- What am I modeling about sexuality in my relationships? What changes might I want to make in that modeling?
- How could I more comfortably talk about sexuality with my child (in short bursts, as my child is interested?)
- For more information about this topic, check out the chapter on sex in our book, How to Grow a Connected Family.
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