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Beyond "The Talk"

Give your kids a healthy perspective of sex.

I vividly remember when my mom had "the talk" with me. She took me out for a special lunch at a fancy restaurant. Although the food was delicious, I probably didn't eat much of it. My stomach was churning as my mom explained all about sex, periods, and boys. I sat there dumbfounded with questions running through my mind. Questions like, You put what . . . where?! And, My mom and dad have actually done this six times?! (I had five siblings.) To make matters worse, it seemed like she was shouting. In my 12-year-old brain, I imagined that everyone in the quiet restaurant could hear what we were talking about.

I am thankful for my mom's courage to teach me about sex. However, in this generation, her approach would be far too little, far too late. Our kids are growing up in a sex-saturated world. By the time they are in middle school, most of them have will have seen pornography, know all about gay marriage, and be curious about oral sex. There is a time for us to lament the culture in which our kids live and then there's a time to equip them to live well within it. What I'm learning in the midst of raising three boys could fill a large volume, but here are some of the highlights.

Ditch "the talk" for discipleship.

"Mom, what does a condom do?" my 14-year-old asked me out of the blue while I was cooking dinner. I'm actually getting used to these questions from my teenage sons. Why? Because my husband and I have made it a point to have many conversations with our kids about sex, pornography, masturbation, how far is too far, abortion, and homosexuality. Don't get me wrong. I've had some of these talks while trembling with anxiety. These aren't easy topics to tackle, but I really want my kids to hear about them from us.

There is a time for us to lament the culture in which our kids live and then there's a time to equip them to live well within it.

Our willingness to dive into the deep end with our boys means they can ask anything about sex and we won't laugh, turn five shades of red (at least not that they can see), or shame them for asking.

Our kids need to be discipled in sexuality. This begins with talking to them, but also means living life with them as they start to date and as they interact on social media. Discipleship means that we are training them to handle these issues on their own. Let me give you an example: Recently, one of my kids had his first "girlfriend." While he was too young to actually date, he and a girl from school were "officially an item." I was monitoring their social media and had some concerns about some of the things they were sharing. I asked my son if he and I could have lunch with her and her mom. So we set a date. After getting to know each other over lunch, I broached the conversation of this relationship, asking the mom what her family's boundaries and philosophies of guy-girl relationships were. I made it clear what our expectations and concerns were, given how young these two were. I also reminded my son and his friend that nothing on social media or texting would be private.

It would have been much easier to simply tell my son he was too young to be in a relationship, but I knew they would like each other whether we let them or not. So Mike and I took the opportunity to teach him through the puppy-love drama.

I'm not suggesting that you need to do exactly what we did. Each situation and each kid is different. But the principle is this: If you really want to teach your children about healthy sexuality, you have to walk with them through all of the questions, temptations, and heartaches.

Broaden the picture beyond "wait for marriage."

It's easy to say, "Just wait for marriage." However, the research is showing that few Christian kids actually do. That's like saying to a Cleveland Brown's fan, "Just wait until your team wins the Super Bowl. (I'm from Cleveland so I know the pain of that statement!) For kids and teens, a future marriage is somewhere out there, vague and in the distance. It may or may not happen. And truthfully, I've talked to many women who got married only to say, "You mean I waited for this?" when marriage and intimacy were unfulfilling.

The sexual longings we have when we are single, the ecstasy and vulnerability of sexual intimacy, the promise of covenant—these are all supposed to teach us something about God's love for us.

There are many scientific and psychological reasons why waiting for marriage is best for your kids. To name a few: eliminating the risks of STDs and unplanned pregnancy, reducing the risks of depression and teen suicide, and increasing the probability of a strong marriage in the future. However, this information seems to have little effect on the raging hormones of adolescents.

The most complete form of sex education is for kids to grasp the power of sexuality for both good and evil. According to the Bible, one of the reasons God created sex within marriage is that it is a metaphor for his covenant love for us. Ephesians 5:32 says that sex is a picture of the union between Christ and the church. The sexual longings we have when we are single, the ecstasy and vulnerability of sexual intimacy, the promise of covenant—these are all supposed to teach us something about God's love for us. This is why God takes sexual immorality so seriously. By flippantly using sex the way we want, we are tarnishing a masterpiece.

This concept is difficult for many adults to understand, so few teens are going to grasp it. However, when you as a parent talk about sex in an honoring way and display healthy affection in your marriage, you are painting a picture for your kids and showing them that sex has spiritual implications, both positive and negative.

Be prepared for mistakes.

Christian parents sometimes have a black and white view of their teens regarding sexuality. If a girl is a virgin on her wedding night or a boy never looks at porn, you've succeeded as a parent. If not, you've failed at one of your greatest responsibilities. I've sat with moms who were devastated and absolutely guilt-ridden to find that their 13-year-old daughter was on Internet sex sites or that their 15-year-old son was groping a girl at school. While this kind of thing is devastating and crushing news, it does not ultimately define your job as a parent or your child's future.

However, our ultimate job as parents is to model Christ's unconditional and unchanging love to our children.

God is in the business of redeeming, forgiving, and restoring broken people. Our kids may make big mistakes—mistakes that break our hearts. However, our ultimate job as parents is to model Christ's unconditional and unchanging love to our children. God gets disappointed with us, he disciplines us, he grieves with us, but he never leaves us.

We pray that our children make wise choices and that they do not fall victim to predators in person and online. We do all we can to equip them. Part of being equipped ourselves is remembering this: There is no sin that is too great for God to redeem.

Stay on your knees.

You can read all of the books and attend all of the seminars about how to teach your kids about sex, but ultimately this is a spiritual battle. Satan knows how powerful sexuality is. He knows what a wonderful gift it is within the context of committed love. For that reason, he does everything within his power to destroy it. Paul reminds us that "we are familiar with [Satan's] evil schemes" (2 Corinthians 2:11) and that "we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this world" (Ephesians 6:12). We have to fight a spiritual battle with spiritual weapons.

When was the last time you literally got on your knees and asked God to fight for your kids or to give you wisdom? Have you ever skipped a meal, fasting for the sake of your children? Do you have the faith to believe that the Lord hears a mother's prayer for her children's spiritual health?

According to the world's standards, I have everything a person needs to be equipped for the task of parenting. I am a clinical psychologist and I've spent my career studying and teaching about family issues. But let me admit that I am woefully inadequate. I don't have what it takes. I am desperately dependent upon God to give me wisdom and to equip our family to fight against the Enemy's agenda.

I appreciate this advice from Ron Taffel in The Reason Mothers Should Never Let Go: "Even as kids reach adolescence, they need more than ever for us to watch over them. Adolescence is not about letting go. It's about hanging on during a very bumpy ride."

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Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

Juli Slattery

Juli Slattery is a TCW regular contributor and blogger. A widely known clinical psychologist, author, speaker, and broadcast media professional, she co-founded Authentic Intimacy and is the co-author of Passion Pursuit: What Kind of Love Are You Making?

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