(This post is the first installment of a series I introduced here: Guiding Teens Through Five Major Dating Dynamics)
Talking with our kids and teens about sex and issues related to sexuality can be an uncomfortable and daunting challenge. Uncomfortable for parents. Uncomfortable for teens and preteens. Fine. It can be uncomfortable. But it is far too important an issue to avoid because of discomfort. And our teens are so much more likely to struggle and make big mistakes in the realm of sexual conduct if we don’t lead them in very direct conversations about it. So, take a breath. Say a prayer. And let’s face this…
Before you proceed with my specific recommendations about discussing sexuality in the context of dating with your teen, you may want to read this previous post about Beginning the Sex Conversation. I don’t recommend offering sexual guidelines for dating until you have had clear direct conversations about the mechanics, implications, and morality of sex. Ideally, this should be an ongoing series of conversations, rather than one big uncomfortable seminar.
For the purpose of this blog series, we are going to look specifically at how to discuss sexuality and guidelines for sexual behavior in the context of dating:
- Be sure you discuss the significance of sexual activity and the relational/moral meaning and considerations. Don’t just focus on rules, limits, etc. As much as possible, we want to help our teens understand WHY we are giving them rules, guidelines, and suggestions about their sexual conduct. Talk directly with them about why it matters. Not just where to draw the line. This may mean answering their tough questions or handling delicate or philosophical issues they raise. If so, take a breath, say a prayer, and do it – even though it may be uncomfortable or hard. It may mean taking time together to read and wrestle with Biblical or other religious/spiritual/moral texts. This not only offers them a greater understanding of the origins and significance of your view of sexual morality and conduct, but it also provides some great examples, stories, and guidelines for discussion together.
- Be sure you give them specific guidelines and boundaries, with reasons for why each are important. Don’t just assume that if your teen really seems to understand sexual morals and consequences, he or she will know what to do in the real world moments of dating. Be specific. The clearer the guidelines you offer, the greater the chances your son or daughter will remember them when it matters most. Be practical. Set your teen up for success! Discuss how to practice the boundaries you have set forth, and directly address the variables they are most likely to face. Be realistic. Give guidelines your daughter or son can actually follow. If you are so idealistic and “prudish” that you can’t consider and account for the realities of your teen’s experiences, thoughts, and desires, then you won’t be helpful. Be vulnerable. This one may scare the bajeebers out of you, but (tastefully) sharing some of your own experiences with sexuality in dating can help to give much greater weight to your message and your position of authority. Specifically, consider sharing what kind of guidelines you were or were not offered as a teen, what kind of guidelines (if any) you actually followed, and how that worked for you. Maybe even offer what likely would have helped you navigate adolescent sexuality more successfully.
- Make it a discussion – not a lecture. Invite questions, and answer them genuinely without avoiding. Yes, some teens may ask for certain personal details from you that you decide are not appropriate to share. Use good judgment. But don’t avoid uncomfortable questions just because they are uncomfortable. Do your best to listen for where your teen is and what sexual issues he/she is actively wrestling with (or sounds like they will be soon), rather than just sticking with your agenda.
- Emphasize the wonderful purpose and place of sex, rather than sending an overall message that sex is bad, taboo, shameful, etc. Some of you may not even understand why I would mention this. If that’s you – terrific! Sadly, many folks have grown up in a family, church, and/or community culture that basically puts a catch-all negative stamp to teens and preteens regarding sex as a strategy to keep them away from it until marriage. This sets kids up to have an unhealthy view of sex and sexuality, and may even increase the appeal of the “forbidden fruit” in ways that set them up for terrible consequences. I’m not saying we shouldn’t do our very best to impress on our teens the best boundaries for sex. Not at all. They DO need that from us. But let’s be sure we don’t lean toward scare or shame tactics regarding sex to try to keep them within those boundaries. We want them to limit healthy sex to the right relationship context BECAUSE they appreciate how valuable and wonderful and special it can and should be, as well as how risky and harmful it can be in the wrong relationship context.
And, finally, here are some specific guidelines we have in our household regarding sex in dating, because they are practical reflections of our spiritual/moral values that come largely from our belief in The Bible as God’s inspired guidebook for our lives:
- Sex is intended for, and best saved for, marriage.
- The more you “make out,” the harder it is to save sex for marriage.
- Cars are for driving, not Parking.
- Ask yourself if you would do whatever you are considering doing if your parents were with you.
- Treat your body and your date’s body with modesty and respect. Insist on dating someone who will do the same. Do this, and your dating relationship will have far more value and peace.
- Following these guidelines to marriage with the right person will serve to increase your passion for one another, not diminish it.