If there were something you could do to reduce the risk of your child’s heart being broken by future sexual pain, would you do it? Frankly, protecting my children was a strong motivator for me when I began pursuing sexual theology and healing as a vocational ministry. When I was just releasing And the Bride Wore White: Seven Secrets To Sexual Purity, I discovered the Medical Institute for Sexual Health (MISH). The wonderful organization, founded by a Christian OB/GYN Dr. Joseph McIlhaney, seeks to reduce sexually transmitted disease and teen pregnancy through medical and educational intervention. At a critical time in our parenting journey, MISH released a list of the top five factors that increase the risk of an early sexual debut in teens, which Bob and I took to heart as we raised our children. We informally developed five important parental goals out of the risk list. Here they are.
Talk to them early and frequently about sex.
The role of a parent’s impact on sexual development is often underestimated, but one of the top five risks that place teens at risk of an early sexual debut is parents who fail to discuss sex. This motivated Bob and I to talk to our children at the right time. The appropriate age to begin a conversation, if it hasn’t already naturally commenced, is nine or ten. Many parents—especially Christian parents—feel that’s too soon, but why are they afraid of the conversation? Is it because they have misused sex or seen it misused, and so have a broken paradigm that makes them believe sex is a bad or taboo topic? Do they have healing yet to do, so that they can approach the conversation comfortably? George Barna once said, “What you believe by the time you are thirteen, is what you die believing.” Don’t miss the critical value forming years of your child’s tween years to introduce the topic of sex, and then, don’t just teach them to say no to sex, be prepared to have an on-going conversation.
Tell them your family’s and God’s expectations in terms of sexual behavior.
So often the conversation between parents and their children ends with The Talk, which explains the basic mechanics of sex. It then becomes the elephant in the room as kids explore the topic more thoroughly with peers, through the Internet, and secular education that lacks biblical foundation. But over and over again I’ve read surveys pointing to the fact that kids want their parents to talk about it more often! And they need us to do just that. Your child may have heard you say that sex is for marriage, and you may be teaching your kid about abstinence, but what exactly does that mean? Issues like masturbation, porn, oral sex, “how far is too far”, and many more, are critical conversations as your child develops his or her sexual ethics. Don’t let the world’s untruthful messages about sex become a megaphone for their value system simply because you are so very silent on the matter. Check out my blog on The Two Most Important Things You Can Tell Your Kids About Sex, and be sure you are thorough in expressing your expectations and Gods on the matter.
Teach them to dress age-appropriately.
The way MISH stated this risk was by saying that a child was more likely to debut sexually if they “appeared older” than they actually are. Previously, I believed that modesty was a battle that was not worth fighting with so many other seemingly more important things on the conversation table. But this risk moved the topics of modesty, make-up, and age-appropriate fashion to the priority list. (This was also the catalyst behind my first book on the topic of modesty, Secret Keeper, which remains a best-seller for teens. After 13 years, I’ve finally gotten around to writing an age-appropriate version of it for tween girls entitled Secret Keeper Girl!) Bottom line: it’s not only OK to tell your daughter “that skirt is too short” but it is a loving and necessary part of protecting her body and her heart. In a night of inspiration from God, Bob once wrote this: “We believe that modesty is a matter of a girl’s heart and a guy’s mind, and we’re committed to protecting them both.”
Delay long-term relationships until they are mature enough to handle that responsibility.
Teenagers are more likely to engage in sex if they have been in a relationship six months or longer. Middle school and high school students really don’t need to be in, nor can they really handle, serious relationships. In his book, Hooked: New Science on How Casual Sex Is Affecting Our Children, Dr. McIlhaney revealed that the pre-frontal cortex of the brain—which manages self-control—is not fully formed until the early twenties. He also argues that individuals generally can’t handle the level of sexual temptation long-term relationships create much before this. Bob and I developed a family standard that helped our children delay their first long-term relationship, in an effort to protect their bodies, hearts, and minds.
Intentionally pursue connection opportunities.
Of all the things your heart fears for your children— early sexual debut, academic failure, violent relationships, substance abuse, porn addiction—social science states that parent-child connection is the number one risk reducer. God’s word asserted that thought long before we started doing social surveys. The task of moral development is never assigned to anyone but mom and dad. Not the schools. Not our churches. Not authors and speakers. But parents. When Bob and I saw this research, we not only made radical goals in terms of how we connected with our kids—from eating dinner together 3-5 times a week to creating family hobbies that glued us together like playing laser tag or boating—but we also reorganized our ministry entirely. We stopped doing events for teens only, and began creating parent-child connecting events so that mom and dad get to be in the driver’s seat of value forming conversation. True Girl, which connects the hearts of mothers and daughters to discuss topics like purity, modesty, and true beauty, has been the most blessed of our events constructed under this model. It gives you and your daughter a great night out, and provides mother-daughter activities you can do when you get home!
We’re also introducing a father/tween son event entitled Born to Be Brave in order to create an environment to talk about biblical “man stuff” that is “100% cool and 0% awkward.” With articles like “Where Have All the Good Men Gone” popping up in the media and emasculation a societal norm, we believe that it’s time to walk with fathers as they teach their sons to be brave. What does it mean to be brave? “…the righteous are bold as a lion.” —Proverbs 28:1B There it is. God’s definition of bravery. Do you see it? Bravery is synonymous with being righteous. It’s doing the next right thing. In a world that pulls at our sons with porn, mind-numbing hours of gaming, and other evils, we want to set the stage for a lifetime of conversation that makes dads the best examples of bravery their sons will ever know. Our biggest goal, as always, is to create a connection experience for fathers and sons.
You can’t change their world, but you can prepare them for it!