It’s never a conversation a mom or dad wants to have with their child. Talking about sex with your teen or pre-teen is uncomfortable for both you and your kid. There’s a level of embarrassment, a fumbling for the right words, perhaps a hesitancy to share or to ask questions. I’ll be honest; I’ve been talking to teens about sex for close to three decades, and it never gets any easier.
But here’s the deal; even if you aren’t talking to your kids about sex, you can guarantee someone else is. That fact alone should prompt you to action. Your teen is bombarded every day with a mixed bag of information about love, relationships, and intimacy. She has a sex education class in school. He has friends who offer their own “wisdom” and advice. And of course, popular TV shows, movies, and magazines encourage teenagers to express their sexuality early and often. It’s within this sex-saturated environment that your son or daughter desperately needs mom and dad to step into the gap and deliver the truth about this tantalizing subject.
Let’s take an example from another area of life. When your teens start itching to get behind the wheel, you don’t put off teaching them about the mechanics or the responsibilities of driving in hopes that they’ll pick up the basics on their own. Driving a car is a wonderful experience that can provide great freedom and joy in life, but done recklessly, or taken out of bounds, driving can bring unfortunate consequences. You can’t put an uninformed teen in the driver’s seat and just expect them to know and safely follow all the rules of the road. Similarly, we can’t expect our teens to navigate this sexualized world without causing damage to themselves and others unless mom and dad sit down with them and share some needed guidelines. If we avoid these conversations and let peers or the media do the talking for us, we’re setting our teens up for failure.
So what should we be saying to our kids about sex? It goes beyond the simple biology of the physical act. Any textbook can teach that. What teens need to hear from parents are the values and consequences inherent in a sexual relationship. Unfortunately, many parents inadvertently send the wrong messages to their kids.
Wrong Message #1: You’re Shameful
A teen once told me about a youth group meeting he attended, where the youth pastor took out a single rose, gave it to the first kid in the group, and asked that teen to pass along the flower to each person there. After about forty hands and noses had battered the flower, the rose got back to the youth pastor—dirty, broken, and with it’s beautiful scent nearly gone. Taking the flower in his hand, the pastor said, “This flower is like your body, kids. See what happens when it gets passed around? Who would want this flower now?”
What this says to kids is that if they lose their virginity, they’re shameful and unlovable. And that’s the wrong message to be promoting. The gospel teaches that all of us are equally in need of forgiveness, and Christ accepts us in spite of our flaws! No amount of sexual experimentation will ever change that.
Make no mistake—engaging in sexual activity before marriage is wrong, and will likely create some difficulties later in life. But if your teen has made mistakes, or is in an inappropriate relationship, your job is not to shame them. God offers unconditional love, and we should too.
Wrong Message #2: You’re Useless
Along the same lines as the erroneous rose analogy, I’ve heard some parents compare sex before marriage to chewing gum. The punch line is, “Who would want a piece of gum that’s already been chewed?” What that says to teens is that if you’ve engaged in sex before marriage, you’re gross and unwanted, useless and good for nothing.
But this is simply not true. Just because your teen gave up his or her virginity doesn’t mean they’ve lost God’s purpose for their life. Parents, it’s crushing to find out that your teen is sexually active. It can feel like a massive defeat and a failure on your part. But moms and dads, it is not the end of the world. Your child’s life has not been destroyed. God still has a plan and purpose for it.
I had one student who, as a result of a rebellious party lifestyle, got pregnant when she was sixteen. Caught in her mistakes, she was forced to have a difficult conversation with her parents and evaluate the consequences of her decisions. With the support of her family, this young lady did the right thing, gave up her beautiful child for adoption, got serious counseling, and is now a wise and productive adult. Some years later I asked her thoughts on that tough time in her life, and she said, “Mark – getting pregnant was a wake-up call, and for the first time in my life I had to deal with my mistakes and learn responsibility. And giving up that baby was one of the hardest things I ever had to do. So now I want my next baby to be the result of a happy marriage.”
Obviously, teen pregnancy is not something we’d wish on any family. But God can use even a painful mistake like that to grow and mature your teen. So don’t convey the message that a loss of virginity means a loss of purpose.
Wrong Message #3: Love is Conditional
Now, we might not come out and directly say to our teens, “Hey, I’ll love ya only when you’re good.” Yet, we often convey this message with our actions, especially when it comes to our kid’s sexual mistakes. The underlying message that a parent’s love is conditional can be delivered through the silent treatment, explosive outbursts, walking away, or avoiding our children altogether. When kids mess up (and they will mess up), it’s time for us moms and dads to invest even more time into our relationships with them. That doesn’t necessarily mean forgoing punishment or alleviating the consequences of their actions for them. Loving your child under these circumstances means showing love even in spite of their mistakes. It’s saying, “I’m disappointed that you’re sleeping with your girlfriend, and this means that there will be restrictions on that relationship, but I DO love you and we can get past this.” The moment your daughter tearfully confesses her pregnancy is not the best time to blow up and storm out. Show her that you love her despite her error in judgment, and that you will do what it takes to help her deal with the consequences of her decisions.
When your son or daughter is sorry for their mistakes, don’t keep rehashing the past after it’s been dealt with. Instead, think of how God deals with us. In Jeremiah 31:34, God says, “I will forgive their iniquity, and will remember their sin no more.” Even though we fail quite often, God doesn’t see us as damaged goods. He sees us as brand-new creations every moment of every day. And we should treat our kids that way, as well.
Love, Truth, and the Grace of God
Talking about sex with your teen may feel uncomfortable, and addressing your teen’s sexual mistakes can be painful, but in a world where sexual activity outside of marriage is not only permissible, but also praised, your child needs a mom and a dad who are available to answer any questions they have, and who will listen to them and guide them as they struggle through their difficult and hormonal teenage years. Talking about sex is more than just explaining the birds and the bees. It’s living out and explaining the love, grace, and truth of God.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, a counseling facility for struggling teens located in Longview, Texas. Check out our website, www.ParentingTodaysTeens.org. It’s filled with effective parenting ideas, helpful articles, and practical tools and resources for moms and dads. Visit our website, where you can download the Parenting Today’s Teens podcast, or find a radio station near you to listen to our broadcasts. You can also call us directly at 1-866-700-3264 to find out about any upcoming events.