Modesty in a Seductive Teen Culture

Written by Mark Gregston. Posted in boundaries, fitting in, household rules, teen seduction

Modesty in a Seductive Teen CultureI live with 35 high school girls who fully understand the need for modesty, but are challenged to “fit in” to a culture that doesn’t exactly affirm the values they know to be true.  I, as all our staff at Heartlight, face this issue on a daily basis.

Remember the crazy fads in the late 60′s and 70′s?  The tie-dyed shirts, the beads, headbands, and the peace symbols? When I was in high school my dad hated my bushy sideburns and long hair, my purple bell bottoms and boots that came up over my knees.  It was a fad to look like the rock idols of the day and that look was in. My appearance made no sense to my parents, but it made a lot of sense to me at the time.

I bet there are things your parents didn’t like about the way you dressed as a teenager. Chances are, you don’t still dress that way, and when you look at those old pictures you may giggle, as I do, about how foolish you looked back then.

Today, I mostly hear from concerned parents of teenage girls who want to dress too seductively. They wonder how to deal with the issue of seduction when it has become so pervasive in our culture.

Teens today live in a world of sexual innuendo, where outward packaging and presentation is all important. The definition of modesty has changed for them, not so much because of the lack of values taught by parents, but because of the overwhelming exposure given to seductive lifestyles.

For the most part, dressing seductively is just a fad, and all fads pass soon enough. If your teen wants to be in on the fad of the moment, it doesn’t mean much of anything about her character, other than that she is playing out a role on the stage of adolescence. Generally speaking, she hasn’t gone off the deep end just because she wants to wear current fashions.

This fad can be a challenge for parents to manage, since the Internet, coupled with books, television, music videos and movies, have all inundated our kids with seductive images and inappropriate suggestions. Highly sexualized lifestyles are touted as normal, so girls face extreme social pressure to look and act seductively as well.

Girls from good Christian homes often tell me they are torn between doing what is acceptable by their peer group to “fit in,” and doing what is taught them by their families and church. More times than not, the social pressures for the teen to look and act like their peers will win out when they are in school or out with their friends.  But they will soon realize that the end result of their seductive presentation — when guys do pay attention — is not always what they expected, or what they really wanted in the first place.

My advice for parents is to not flip out when your daughter is just trying to fit in.  Using harsh words that defame her character such as, “you look like a …” will only push her deeper into the negative behavior. Rather, calmly and regularly address the more important issue of modesty.  Focusing on modesty, versus putting down the current fashion as our own parents did with us, will eliminate the perceived generation gap. And that way, when the next fad comes along she’ll understand her boundaries within that fad as well.

KEY POINT:  Make sure she understands that modesty is an important part of your family’s values and that’s not an area you’ll allow to be compromised, no matter what the current culture or fad says.

Is maintaining modesty going to be easy? No. But by being diligent and also showing that you understand her need to fit in with the culture she lives in, you’ll be able to maintain a great relationship with your little princess as you navigate and struggle through these tough waters. In the long run, a strong and open relationship with your child, coupled with uncompromising values of modesty, will best insure that she maintains appropriate dress, even when you aren’t looking.

“…have(ing) righteous principles in the first place…they will not fail to perform virtuous actions.”  – Martin Luther

Dressing seductively is a fad today for teenage girls…you think? Like any other fad, it will pass soon enough. Parenting teenage girls to be modest in their appearance in the midst of this fad is a tough place to be, and every concerned parent I know hopes it will pass a little quicker. But then again, who knows what the next fad will bring?

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 39 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 2,500 teens, has prepared Mark to share his insights and wisdom about parenting pre-teens and adolescents.

Visit www.HeartlightMinistries.org to find out more about the residential counseling center for teens, or call Heartlight directly at 903. 668.2173.  For more information and helpful other resources for moms and dads, visit www.ParentingTodaysTeens.org, It’s filled with ideas and tools to help you become a more effective parent. Here you will also find a station near you where you can listen to the Parenting Today’s Teens radio broadcast, or download the podcast of the most recent programs.

It’s More Than the Birds and the Bees: Talking to Your Teen About Sex

Written by Mark Gregston. Posted in counseling, parenting communications, Sexual promiscuity, teen seduction, troubled teens

Teen RomanceIt’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.

Coach or Bodyguard? Understanding the Role of Parents in Dating

Written by Mark Gregston. Posted in consequences, parenting, Sexual promiscuity, struggling teens, teen seduction, troubled teens

I told my daughter that she could start dating when her age was not a number on the clock.  Then I set all our clocks to military time.”  ~ Concerned Father

You know it when you see it.  It could be the way your daughter talks about the boy at school.  Maybe it’s the spark in your son’s eye when he spots a particular lady from youth group.  For many of us, when we begin to notice the signs of attraction in our teens, we start to feel nervous and queasy.  “Oh no, my teenager wants to start dating!”  We realize that in today’s culture, concerned parents approach the subject of their children dating with caution.  When it comes to that stage in your children’s life, what do you do?  What is the role of mom and dad in a teen’s romantic life?

To Date or to Court

One of the questions plaguing parents of dating-age children is whether their kids should practice dating or courtship.  In the last few years, there have been many books, lectures, and debates on both sides of the argument, each clamoring for our attention.  It runs the gamut from I Kissed Dating Goodbye to I Gave Dating a Chance.  So what’s the best option for your teen?

First, we have to understand what the basic tenets of each side.  Boiled down to fundamentals, courtship and dating can be defined by the amount of parental control.  The traditional sense of “dating” does not call for a rigorous parental role.  However, “courtship” does allow for more involvement from mom and dad in teen relationships.  While this is an extremely broad stroke of each approach, it is one of the primary aspects of both.  Now, regardless where you fall on the dating and courtship debate, we also have to understand some of fallacies that accompany each view.

The vehement proponents of courtship, who oppose dating in any form, tend to see the strength of courtship lying in its reversion to more traditional ways of getting acquainted.  In days of yore, courting kids would sit out on the porch swing while parents kept a careful eye on the proceedings.  Or prospective partners were invited over for dinner and all conversation and actions were observed by the entire family.  These courtship guidelines were thought to develop friendship before intimacy, and make for stronger marriages.  However, those who push for courtship as the only correct method of interaction for teenagers may have a romanticized view tradition.  Perhaps courtship dampened teenage sexual mistakes, but there were still many troubled marriages back then.  Abuse, infidelity, and divorce were still part of the fabric of society.  And courtship was not, and is still not, the solution to these problem areas.

Our modern methods of dating also have pitfalls.  With the freedom that dating brings, parents may be left in the dark about who their child is with, or what is going on.  Teenagers need guidance when it comes to navigating the perilous world of dating.  It’s not just keeping our boys away from pornography or making sure our girls keep their virginity.  It’s teaching them how to love and appreciate someone else.  To sacrifice for someone else and have self-control.  Dating should be the time we are teaching our young men how to properly love and care for a young woman.  And it should allow for guiding a young woman in loving and caring for a young man.  However, if we throw our kids into the modern dating world according to our culture’s rules, they’ll never have chance to develop those qualities.

To Coach or to Bodyguard

Above our decisions to allow courting or dating, the role we play as parents in our teens lives is most important.  We can either be a bodyguard who shadows and controls our kids to zealously protect them from any perceived harm.  Or we can be a coach, training and instructing our kids as they learn how to have relationships with the opposite sex.

If you realize you’re more of a bodyguard, how can you switch to being a coach?  It begins by letting go of the anxiety and giving up some of the control.  If you do everything for your teen—from making their lunch, to cleaning their room, to deciding who they date or like—then you know that you wield to much control, and it’s not healthy for you or your teen.  I realize that taking a step back can be scary, especially when it comes to dating.  But if like helicopter parents we hover over every aspect of our teen’s life and dating scene, they will either rebel to prove we don’t control them, or they’ll be emotional handicapped, and they won’t know how to take care of themselves.

Secondly, remain involved in your child’s life.  Ask questions about the person they like or the person they’re dating.  Invite your daughter’s boyfriend on the family picnic or camping trip (just make sure he has a separate tent!).  Invite girlfriends over to the house for dinner and a movie.  When it comes to your role in your kid’s dating relationship, be involved, but don’t control.

Thirdly, be supportive.  When your daughter brings home the guy with pink hair and tight jeans, don’t immediately seek to throw the guy out.  Interact, talk, and encourage your daughter to evaluate her date to see if he is spouse material.  When we hold our tongues, often kids will come directly to us and ask, “Mom what do you think about him?”  But when we jump the gun and blast away with our opinions, we may write-off any influence we may have had to speak into our kid’s lives.  I know this happened with my own mom.  She didn’t like Jan, my wife, ever since we first start dating.  She’d tell me, “Mark, you can do so much better!” which couldn’t be further from the truth.  Jan was out of my league when we first got together, and she’s still out of my league today.  But the hurtful or harmful words my mom spoke all these years ago left their mark, and it took awhile for all of us to be move past those tensions.  Don’t allow your comments about who your daughter or son dates to influence your future relationship with them.

Lastly, picture yourself as a coach, rather than the bodyguard.  Coaches encourage, inspire, and train their students.  They offer advice when needed, and allow the athletes to learn and grow through experience.  Arranging your teenager’s dates so that they are never alone together won’t teach them to avoid temptation or have self-control.  Instructing them on the benefits of staying pure before marriage and letting them know that they can achieve something good by holding to their values goes a lot farther.  Criticizing their boyfriend of girlfriend won’t force them to break up with an undesirable character.  But coaching and teaching them not to make love happen, but to let love happen, can be much more effective.

So what is your role in your teen’s dating life?  Is it coach rather than bodyguard?  If you force yourself into your teen’s life, your impact lessens.  But if you act as a guide and supporter, your influence will actually grow!  We don’t need to be frightened of our teens dating.  With the right perspective on our role in the process, we can help our teens develop qualities that make for lasting relationships.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, located in Hallsville, Texas.  For more information and helpful resources for moms and dads, check out our website.  It’s filled with ideas and tools to help you become a more effective parent.  Go to www.heartlightministries.org.  Or read other helpful articles by Mark, at www.markgregston.com.  You can also call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173.  Hear the Parenting Today’s Teens broadcast on a radio station near you, or download the podcast at www.parentingtodaysteens.org.

Teaching Purity in a Seductive Culture

Written by Mark Gregston. Posted in boundaries, consequences, counseling, family conflict, Finding purpose, fitting in, parenting, parenting communications, Sexual promiscuity, teen conflict, teen culture, teen pregnancy, teen seduction

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.

Over the many years at Heartlight, we have worked with hundreds of girls who struggle to maintain their integrity and personal purity.  Along the way, I’ve learned a couple things worthy of passing along to you.

When everyone around a teen assumes they’re going to be sexually active, or makes fun of them if they aren’t, it creates the perfect storm for failure.  In any case, our teens are set up for a private battle of choices.  Many of the kids I talk to are confused about their own convictions on the issue.  Over and over again they say how they wish they were still a virgin, but then admit that if they were still a virgin, they would be moving in a direction to try not to be.

Sexual Normalization

Sexuality is something that teens talk about all the time.  Their banter is almost shocking.  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 they often resort to other ways to get noticed, such as their appearance and performance.  They think they can get the connection they long for through their sexuality.  And it makes sense that they think this way – television, music, and advertising all give kids the strong message that experimenting with sex is perfectly normal.  It’s no longer just an invitation to sexually express themselves, but an out-right expectation.  In fact, the media makes fun of virginity.  But when it turns out that reality shows aren’t reality, teens become disappointed and confused.

Continuing the Conversation

Parents have a natural opportunity to connect at this point.  When teens discover that a lifestyle of “appearance & performance” don’t deliver the results they want, they’ll start asking:  now what?  This is where having a strong relationship and ongoing conversation with your kids is helpful and many parent struggle with how to get to this place with their kids.  Teens are young men and young women, not just young kids anymore, and we can’t control what they’re thinking, yet we need to have input along the way.  This is a perfect opportunity to sit down with your teen and openly talk about what’s acceptable and what’s not.  So, if you have been building your relationship with your teen along the way, your child may be more receptive to what you’re hoping to accomplish.

Even with good relationship-building, kids don’t always listen or follow our standard.  Parents, if you see your teen acting slightly outside of the standard, it’s okay to choose your battle and say:  I don’t like it, but I’ll let it go.  But it’s important to clarify the standards for modesty and your expectations.

Expectations aren’t a list of rules.  They’re taught in conversations, and caught with an example of your lifestyle.  The parent’s role is to help prepare the child – and instead of showing our kids how to live in a zoo, we have to be teaching them how to survive in a jungle.  Sometimes a child tells a parent:  I don’t believe in the things you do, I don’t behave the way you do, it’s my body, I’ll do what I want.  This becomes a different conversation.  Instead of talking about the expectations of the household, you might have a practical conversation about the Scriptures and show how a lack of modesty can hurt relationships.  Deviating from God’s plan always ends with pain and failure.  We need our kids to know that God doesn’t merely say Don’t!  God says, Don’t get hurt!  The Scriptures are a great place to start because they show our teens their value.

Refining the Message

Kids don’t think of 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 husband want in you?  What would your future wife want in you?  As your teen begins to define this for him or herself, stay engaged with them.  Model the life you want for them and help them sort through their confusion.  In the context of relationship, teens will see this instruction, not as judgment but as love and connection; just what they’re looking for.

You can hear us talk on this subject by listening to our radio program.  It’s called, Parenting Today’s Teens.  Next time, we talk with Family Coach Tim Smith.  Tim will share his perspective on how important it is to approach this issue with your teen in the context of relationship.

You can hear Parenting Today’s Teens online, as a podcast, or find a radio station near you.  All the information is found at www.ParentingTodaysTeens.org.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, a therapeutic boarding school located in East Texas.  Call 903-668-2173.  Visit http://www.heartlightministries.org, or to read other articles by Mark, visit http://www.markgregston.com.

Teen Survival in a Sex-Crazed Culture

Written by Mark Gregston. Posted in at-risk teens, parenting, Sexual promiscuity, substance abuse, teen communications, teen culture, teen seduction

Today’s sexually-charged culture not only invites kids to inappropriate sexual activity and experimentation, it sets up an expectation of it. Those who are abstaining, even at a very young age, are now the exception rather than the rule.

The constant bombardment of sexual images and suggestive innuendo in our culture takes a toll on our kids, but it also takes a toll on parents. We want the best for our children, but it’s getting harder and harder to keep them within boundaries that will lead to a safe, happy and well-adjusted future marriage and adulthood. So, short of keeping them locked in their room until they are 18, maybe it is time we begin talking about it.