We live in a world with such distorted sexuality that teaching kids about sex in a healthy way becomes challenging.
First there’s our culture which tells us that sexiness is all that matters–that sexual experimentation is part of figuring out who you are and being true to yourself.
But then there’s our Christian culture which too often makes sex itself seem shameful.
When I wrote an article after the Ashley Madison scandal broke, one of the points I made is that often in the church we inadvertently create someone with “split sexuality”, where sexual desire and spicing things up is seen as unChristian, and something which would defile the marriage bed. And so people are extremely uptight and chaste with their spouse, but then they have this reckless life with online porn or chats or even real life affairs outside of marriage. It’s just heartbreaking.
We had a great discussion on the blog last Friday when Lucy Rycroft shared her ideas for communicating about sex in healthy (and age appropriate) ways to preschoolers. Today I’m going to continue that conversation with my own thoughts, looking at teenagers!
Here we go–teaching kids about sex, so they grow up with healthy sexuality.
I’m going to present these in age order–what you focus on when they’re younger, leading to what’s important when they’re older. But really–it’s all about relationship, openness, and honesty!
1. Use the real words for body parts
When we don’t use real words for things, we give the impression that “This is something bad.”
But if, when they’re young and they’re learning words, you use the right ones (even if you also have short forms for them), then you teach them, “there’s nothing weird about this body part.”
That’s hard to do if saying the word “vagina” out loud sounds WRONG. You may have to train yourself to do it. Practice in front of a mirror! Seriously, when I started doing the sex talk with my husband at marriage conferences, I had to learn to say the word “orgasm” in front of an audience. It was odd. But I did it! And you can learn to say the word “penis”, too.
Right up there with being open about the words is being okay with nudity–in context. Until kids are about 3 they really don’t understand nudity and it’s no big deal to see parents naked. After that, you really should cover up with the opposite sex. But I’ve known girls who were mortified to get changed in front of their sisters or their mother, and grown women who were mortified to get changed in front of their daughters. We need to get over that. Modesty is healthy and good in context, but if we’re ashamed of our bodies when there’s no reason to be, that’s a problem, too.
2. Recognize that people express masculinity and femininity differently
Don’t be hard on your boys if they don’t want to play sports, and don’t be hard on your girls if they do.
When we set up rigid rules for what “being a girl” is or what “being a boy” is, we may give kids the impression that we think there’s something wrong with them if they don’t fit. Your child was created in God’s image; don’t make them fit a mold. That’s a recipe for sexual confusion and shame.
3. Monitor their Media Use
There is no reason that elementary school aged kids or junior high kids should be seeing media with sex in it or with confusing sexual messages. And high school kids should be careful, too. A movie like The Notebook, for instance, which has little nudity in it, is still highly erotic in the scene where the couple first makes love.
Now, you can’t control everything your teenager sees, as I wrote in in a previous post about my daughter admitting that she watched Vampire Diaries before God convicted her. But we can be super vigilant with our younger kids.
And setting up filters on the computer to make sure that they don’t see porn inadvertently is really important, too! Covenant Eyes is a great way to do that; you get 30 days free to try it using the code TLHV (for To Love, Honor and Vacuum)!
4. Don’t Avoid Questions About Sex
Kids are going to naturally want to ask questions. But if we give the impression that we really don’t want to talk about that, they may stop asking. And you want them to learn from you! So when they ask, just treat it like you would any other question. You don’t have to drop what you’re doing and sit down on the couch for a heart to heart. You can just keep on unloading the groceries and chatting, or keep on doing whatever you were doing when the conversation started. Keep it natural!
And then just answer what they’ve asked. You don’t have to answer more than they want to know. Be age appropriate (kids should know the mechanics of sex at about 8-10; girls should know all about puberty and menstruation by 10 for sure; boys should know by 11). But they can know things earlier than that. Kids will naturally ask what that tampon is, for instance, and you can give a quick answer when they’re five, and a longer one when they’re 9.
One thing: have a back-up plan if they never ask. My youngest daughter asked like crazy from the time she was young; my older daughter didn’t ask at all. I had to sit her down at 10 and tell her everything. I was waiting for questions that never came.
If you’re looking for how to have those conversations more naturally, please think about picking up The Whole Story, our puberty course that moms can share with daughters or dads can share with sons (or we have help for single moms in the boy’s version as well!). It’s a series of videos done by my daughters Rebecca and Katie for the girls, and Sheldon Neil and my sons-in-law for the boys, which tells them about sex, puberty, and everything in between! It’s not a replacement for you; it’s a resource to help get those conversations started.
Are you terrified to give your kids “the talk?”
Last year we created The Whole Story for Girls–an online video-based course that helped moms tell their daughters about sex, puberty, and growing up.
And now the boys’ version is live!
Your kids need to talk about this. And they need to talk about it WITH YOU.
Let us start those conversations, so you can finish them!
5. Don’t Be Afraid of Your Kids Knowing You Have Sex
Your kids, especially when they’re teens, will figure out that you still have sex. That’s okay. They don’t need to hear it in detail, but if you say, “everyone in their rooms by 10 because parents need our time alone”, they’ll figure out why.
Don’t be so paranoid about your kids knowing anything that you avoid sex altogether. Kids will sense that you’re uptight about it, and you’ll give the impression, “this is something to be uptight about.”
6. Gross Out Your Kids
I created this graphic years ago, and it went viral on Facebook then.
Now over 10,000,000 people have seen it.
I think it speaks for itself.
Kids need to see you expressing affection. Sure, they’ll say, “ewwwwww” and “that’s gross!”, but you’ll teach them: “marriage is fun! Sex in marriage is fun!” If they never see you being affectionate at all, you’ll give the impression, “marriage is where sex goes to die.” And then why in the world will they want to wait until marriage for sex, when marriage has lousy sex?
7. Keep Talking–about Everything
Just keep up a conversation with your kids all the time. Be vulnerable to them (while still being appropriate), and they’re more likely to be vulnerable with you. Share with them the things that you worry about. Apologize when you’re wrong.
A teen won’t just talk to his or her parents about sex if they don’t feel like they have a safe, close relationship. So keep talking. Don’t overschedule your life. Go for walks with your kids. And then, when they do have questions, they’ll talk to you!
8. Be disappointed FOR your child, not disappointed IN your child
When your child messes up, you’ll likely be angry. But we should raise our kids so that our main priority is their well-being, not how their behavior reflects on us.
If your child lies, yes, you’re disappointed in them, but you’re primarily disappointed for them. You wanted more for them: a rich life where they don’t have to worry about guilt and where they can be a blessing for those around them. Once they start lying, they become smaller people, and it causes stress. It builds a wall between them and God. And you don’t want that for them.
When they understand that you want them to do the right thing because you love them and want the best for them, that’s a different feel than “I don’t want to be disappointed in you.” That’s important an important distinction, because as they become teenagers and they start to have relationships with the opposite sex, if you want them to keep talking to you, they have to know it’s safe to do so. And they’ll know that if you teach them, “I want the best for you because I love you.”
9. Don’t talk about purity like it’s something that you lose
Never, ever say “stay pure until you’re married.”
That gives the impression that once you’re married, you lose your purity.
We need to start telling our kids, “seek after Jesus! Pursue purity by pursuing Jesus.” And you know what? People who had premarital sex can be pure because they know Jesus, and people who are single and virgins can be impure because of their thought life.
Let’s not tell kids that once they’re married, they lose their purity, as if they’ve lost something precious. Our purity is in Jesus, not in our virginity. Getting married doesn’t rob you of purity, and being a virgin doesn’t guarantee your purity. We’ve gotten into some really sloppy habits regarding “purity rings” which stress virginity rather than a love of Christ.
10. Rules matter less than relationship
What about having rules like, “no dating until you’re 16”, or “no texting a girl until you’re 15”, or “no kissing until you’re married.” Is that useful?
I do believe in kids not dating too young, and I do think that having rules like “no alone time with someone of the opposite sex when you’re under 16” is a good rule of thumb. Kids who date early tend to also get involved sexually much earlier, and there really is no good reason to have a boyfriend or girlfriend at 14.
My girls couldn’t date until they were 16, but they also decided on their own not to date in high school at all (here’s Katie’s video on Why I’m Not Dating in High School).
At a certain age (I’d say 16 in general), I think kids need to make decisions on their own. In my daughter Rebecca’s book Why I Didn’t Rebel, she pointed out that one of the problems with having a set of rules that kids follow is that they can take the all-or-nothing approach: If you say, “no kissing until you’re married”, and then they kiss someone at 17, they may think, “I’ve lost my purity”, so there’s no point in trying anymore. That’s one reason that kids with strict rules often end up engaging in more risky sexual behaviour.
It can’t be about rules; it has to be about your relationship with them and their relationship with God. It has to be a decision they make on their own because of their desire to follow God. And there’s nothing wrong with standards, by the way–if God’s the one who told you to follow them. But setting up strict rules, in and of themselves, doesn’t protect kids sexually. It’s only “walking by the Spirit” that works. Instruct your kids on how to make good choices; don’t just forbid them from making bad ones.
To sum up: teaching your kids about sex is all about having an open and honest relationship with your kids, and modeling yourself that you’re not ashamed of sex in its proper context.
That takes some work–you need to get used to being comfortable talking about it. You need to get used to your kids knowing things about you. But it’s really worth it! We don’t want to raise kdis who are ashamed of their bodies, ashamed of sex, or scared to ask questions.
So remember–The Whole Story is a great way to have these conversations with your teens and preteens! It starts those conversations, so that you can continue them. And it makes it much less awkward to talk to your kids about difficult things because it’s younger people in the videos mentoring your kids.
Let me know in the comments: What do YOU think is the best method of teaching kids about sex so they have a healthy view of sexuality? Which one is hardest for you?