How do you prepare your kids to have healthy marriages and make good decisions while dating?
Let’s face it: that’s probably one of the biggest questions parents of teens face. And it’s one that my daughter Rebecca was looking at when she wrote her book Why I Didn’t Rebel, that launches next week. She interviewed dozens of millennials to find out why they did–or didn’t–rebel, and what helps people make good choices.
And what she found was that a lot of the advice we’ve been hearing isn’t right.
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Rebecca talks about what Keith and I did right–and what we did wrong. But more importantly she talks about how authenticity and relationship, in the end, matter more than rules. And she talks about how we should expect our teens to make good decisions, rather than coddling them and expecting them not to be capable of it.
When you order the book now, you’ll also get three FREE bonuses: a Q&A chapter written by both Rebecca and me; a discussion guide; and an action plan to put it into practice in your own home.
I think we, as adults, need to start listening to millennials, because they have a lot to tell us. And they’re wiser than we often give them credit for. So when Justin Megna wrote to me with an idea for a blog post, I got so excited, because he was summing up Rebecca’s book beautifully! So I thought it would be a great introduction to what she has to say.
So here’s Justin, talking about what parents really need to do about teenage dating:
My mother wanted something better for us.
When she was a teenager, the only instruction her parents gave her about romantic relationships was “don’t get pregnant.” Other than that, she was left on her own to figure out how to navigate the complex terrain of romantic relationships and sexuality. So by the time my siblings and I were approaching our teenage years, she knew she wanted to give us better instruction that was in keeping with Christian principles.
The problem was she didn’t know how. It’s a common human struggle to figure out how to give your children the good parenting that your parents didn’t give you. So my mother looked to Christian instructors to help cover what lacked in her own experience. In the late 90s and early 00s, my mother purchased several books by Christian authors aimed at teaching young Christians how to navigate the realms of romance and sexuality in godly ways, adding them to our home bookshelves.
My siblings and I were avid readers. It was natural for us to casually scan the bookshelves in our home, looking for a new title to enjoy. That was how at age thirteen I began reading books that introduced me to the ideology of Courtship. Throughout the 90s and 00s, the Courtship Movement drew many adherents throughout the Christian world. Courtship ideology claimed it was right to reject the secular dating system altogether and pursue romantic relationships through the allegedly more godly system of Courtship. Courtship teaches young people to reject worldly patterns of dating and instead seek God, trusting Him to unite them with a divinely chosen spouse. The effect of reading several pro-Courtship books as a teenager was that, by the time I finished high school, I was committed to refusing to date while I waited for God to bring my future wife to me and planned to pursue her through Courtship. What neither my mother nor I could have known was that the effect would not be a good one.
To make a very long story short, an exceedingly painful college experience woke me up to the fact that the Courtship and “let God bring you to your spouse” ideologies are both biblically and conceptually flawed.
But that’s another blog post. It would take me years to recover from the fallout of those false doctrines. I would go on to learn that my experience wasn’t uncommon. Many Christian young people were harmed by the flawed doctrines of the Courtship Movement and its sister movement, the Purity Movement.
The sobering realization is that these ideologies were taught to them by well-meaning Christian parents, clergy, and teachers. If these ideologies, which first seemed to be so godly and sound, actually fall short of the mark of guiding young Christians in godliness, what can we teach our children that will be successful in guiding them in godly ways of romance and sexuality?
The Heart Of Godly Relationships
I could speak for hours on the details of how the Courtship and Purity Movements went wrong, but all the errors trace back to a common root. A subconscious assumption in the Courtship and Purity Movements was that if parents and clergy implemented systems that reinforced godly behavior in young Christians, then godly behavior would be produced within young Christians. The error was in not realizing that godly behavior is produced within the heart, not from external influences. External influences can create a semblance of godly behavior within the life of a young person, but if his or her heart hasn’t truly been formed in godliness, the facade will fall once he or she grows up and makes independent choices apart from the external influences. In various stories, I’ve observed this pattern repeatedly occurring.
So how does a person become one who is formed in godliness from the heart? There is only one answer: by being a disciple of Jesus Christ.
Discipleship is the daily practice of becoming and being like Jesus. It is the practice of living holistically as a follower of Jesus. Through this process, God sanctifies and purifies our hearts, conforming us into the image of Christ. The effect is that our hearts are formed more and more in godliness in every arena of life, including romance and sexuality. There’s no system that can be implemented that can create the same effect as a decision from the heart to follow Jesus holistically. This is why if Christian parents want their kids to practice godliness in romance and sexuality, parents must actually address the deeper determining factor: the discipleship of their children in Christ. This is why the most important way Christian parents can prepare their kids to have godly romantic relationships is by teaching their kids to be disciples of Jesus Christ.
How To Raise Disciples
However, there’s one significant reality of being a disciple of Jesus: a person must choose to pursue a life of discipleship. Whether you’re a staunch Calvinist, a staunch Arminianist, or anywhere in between, you have no guarantee that your kids will choose to follow Jesus even if you teach them to do so. But what can we do that will most incline our kids to choose for themselves to follow Jesus?
In my college ministry studies, I did a presentation on the works of one children’s pastor who researched what most predicts whether Christian children will retain the faith of their parents. Please forgive me for not being able to cite this pastor or his book since I haven’t been able to remember that information or recover the presentation document. What has remained in my memory is the conclusion the pastor came to in his research: the greatest predictor of whether a Christian child will retain his or her childhood faith into adulthood is whether or not the child had the opportunity to live out the Christian faith with his or her parents. In other words, kids don’t tend to retain the Christian faith they are TAUGHT but the faith they are SHOWN.
The most lasting impact isn’t made when Christian parents tell their kids to be generous. It’s when parents live out that generosity by taking their children to help the elderly neighbor down the street. It’s not when parents tell their children to be forgiving. It’s when kids see their parents forgive when wronged by others. It’s not when parents say practicing godliness in romance is important. It’s when kids see their parents practicing godliness in their own marriages. It’s not when parents tell their kids to follow Jesus. It’s when parents live as holistic followers of Jesus and invite their kids to join them in that way of life.
Teaching your kids to be disciples of Jesus starts with you being a disciple of Jesus who models the life of the disciple for them.
This is something that can begin even before your kids are born since it begins with you. Laying the foundation of modeling the life of a disciple throughout childhood is the best way to prepare your children to choose to be disciples themselves once they’re old enough to do so. Laying that foundation of holistic discipleship throughout childhood also makes it natural to carry the conversation of what it means to follow Jesus into the arenas of romance and sexuality when the time comes.
So if you want to prepare your kids for godly romance and sexuality, I believe the best you can do for your kids is the following:
- Be a disciple of Jesus who holistically follows Him in every dimension of life. (You don’t have to be perfect. No disciple is. Model how to follow Jesus even after messing up.)
- Invite your children to accompany you as you live out the realities of following Jesus. In the teachable moments, explain to them why you do what you do as a follower of Jesus.
- At an appropriate age, talk with your kids about what it means for them to choose to follow Jesus and encourage them to choose and live out that way of life.
- When the time comes, have a continuing conversation about what it looks like to follow Jesus in romance and sexuality.
I admit that what these four points outline isn’t easy to do. It’s not a system but a way of life that spans years and requires deep dedication. But that’s what the Christian life is. And for us and our kids, the effort is worth it.
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He completed a BA in Pastoral Ministry at University of Valley Forge. People say he’s tall.
Thanks so much, Justin! This was a great post, and such a great introduction to the book Why I Didn’t Rebel. Authenticity and true faith matters. And that means that we have to have the faith ourselves to step back and let our kids practice their faith, rather than trying to micromanage it for them. It’s hard. It’s scary. But that’s what being a Christian parent is.
And if this resonated with you, check out Why I Didn’t Rebel and get those pre-order bonuses! The book starts shipping October 3, and you can get your bonuses now!
What do you think? What’s the key to raising kids to make good decisions? Let’s talk in the comments!