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This week, we’re focusing on raising teenagers, with a new post each day. We’ve looked at communication, and what happens if our teens go off track, and today we’re looking at – well, we couldn’t really ignore it, could we? – Christian puberty education: how we teach our teens about sex, relationships and what the Bible has to say about it all.
Hopefully, if your teen is part of a good church and/or youth group, they will be getting some teaching on this important area.
But, like any theology that our children are learning, it’s really best to be having these discussions in the home as well, in order to tease out the issues, have the Q&As, discuss things frankly and openly, and – probably the most important when it comes to this topic – allow your teenage son or daughter to know that you are not fazed or shocked by talking about these things.
Here are a few thoughts I’ve had on this whole area of Christian puberty education, and what we can be doing as parents to help our teens navigate this area.
I’m really hoping you don’t need me to say this, but kids should know the basics of sex before they hit their teens.
Because they will be talking about it in the playground anyway from this age (and, to some extent, in health education at primary school, depending on your school’s curriculum), and accurate information is crucial. Do you really want your child absorbing weird myths about their bodies or any aspect of sex?
More importantly, do you want your child’s view of sex to be more heavily influenced by the world, or by the Bible? Because I’m pretty sure that most of what they hear outside the home about sex won’t be coming from a Biblical viewpoint. We need to get in there early with a Christian puberty education – one which promotes a healthy and positive view of sex as the joining of two people who are committed to each other for life.
(Now, don’t get me wrong, I know that the church has got a lot of things wrong in the past when it comes to sex and relationships – particularly in the area of female submissions, gender roles, and abuse. But just because some of us have got it wrong doesn’t mean we should throw out all the Bible’s teachings on this area altogether. I truly believe that looking directly at the Biblical teaching on puberty and sex – untainted by bad interpretation through the centuries – will radically alter our marriages and family relationships!)
Another reason to start early with this stuff – from our point of view as parents – is that it’s just easier to always talk about these things from birth, rather than get to a point where you know you have to ‘have the talk’, and it’s incredibly awkward for both of you.
Last year, I wrote about how you can start this culture of openness right from when your kids are really little. In some ways it feels a little strange – especially if you weren’t brought up this way – but just think how much easier it will be to have these conversations later on, if you’ve done the groundwork!
If you’re reading this as a parent of older kids, and thinking to yourself, Shoot! I didn’t do that! then please don’t worry. It’s never too late to start the conversation. It may be a little harder now, but please don’t leave it any longer. (And keep reading for a resource – and special offer – that will help you loads!)
Know what you believe
Does this sound a bit intense?
It’s just because I don’t think we do a great job of talking about the theology of sex, either in our churches or in our homes – so, as a result, many of us as parents won’t really know what we think. And how can we help our children to understand what the Bible says on this matter if we’re not very clear ourselves?
Recently, a mum was asking on a forum how to talk with her 15 year old son about God’s view of sex, because he didn’t agree that God wanted it saved for marriage. One commenter, a fellow mum, replied that she wasn’t sure that this was what God wanted, because so much marital sex was hard work (or downright terrible), whilst it was perfectly possible to have extra-marital sex which didn’t screw you up in the way your youth leader had warned you.
This is a perfectly valid view, with one big flaw: this lady was assuming that the primary reason God wanted sex saved for marriage was because it was always going to be better that way.
Overall, I do believe that sex is best saved for marriage. But does that mean it’s always going to be better? Or that it won’t need work? Or that people will always keep their marriage vows and stay faithful to one another? Or that there won’t be rape in marriage? Or that there won’t be long-term issues to work through?
No, of course not – sin has entered the world, and it’s entered our sex lives too. But perhaps it’s the process of working at a great sex life which draws a husband and wife together.
And, most importantly, it’s what God has commanded – we need to trust Him that, even if we can’t see the full reason why something is so, His way is best.
The blog post ‘Why you should wait for marriage to have sex’ by Sheila Wray Gregoire explains the Biblical teaching on sex and marriage so well – and, in fact, I recommend her whole blog as it’s fantastic! So if you don’t know what you think in this area, do some research.
I’m not suggesting that we should have everything sorted before we attempt to offer kids a Christian puberty education – of course not, that would be insane! We are definitely flawed and muddling through in so many areas of life.
And I do think it’s OK to have a few ‘grey’ areas where we genuinely say to our kids, ‘Some people think this, some people think that, and to be honest, I’m still working out what I think’.
However, sex can be such a confusing topic that it does help if we’ve established a basic theology of what the Bible says, even if there are lots of details which still feel a little fluid. At foundation level, we need to know what we believe and what we’re teaching.
Be honest – but keep it age-appropriate
I’m a great believer in being honest when kids ask us stuff (like on this occasion, when my 4 year old daughter asked me how babies were made), but this doesn’t mean you have to tell them the whole truth in one sitting. Often kids just want a very direct answer to what they’ve asked, and that satisfies their curiosity. They’ll come back later if they want more.
For example, often, as Christians, we start talking about ‘purity’ as we teach about sex – but we’re doing this before our kids have ever thought about the opposite sex in that way! It would make more sense to teach the basics of sex first, with the emotional stuff a bit later. (There’s no space here to go into the finer details of this argument, but as many of you will be aware, the idea of ‘purity’ and ‘purity culture’ has come under fire a lot recently, and may not even be the best way to teach sex and relationships to our kids.)
It’s just not relevant or sensible to introduce complex ideas which may be misunderstood and therefore need unpicking later.
Don’t fear a different opinion
It may be that, as you’re chatting to your teen about this stuff, they start to express an opinion that is different to what you’re teaching them from the Bible, like the 15 year old I mentioned above.
There are several reasons not to fear this. Firstly, making a big deal about the difference in opinion could put a distance between you and your child – and the one thing you always want to maintain is a close relationship based on open communication. If your child is clearly going to become sexually active, it is right to help them do this safely and sensibly – as much as you’re able – even if you’d rather they wait until marriage.
But the second reason not to fear this difference in opinion is because we all move through different phases in our faith and in our worldview. Your child’s views are not set in stone for life – so allow them the opportunity to fluctuate and change their mind.
Actually, the more serious question is, ‘Where is my child with God?’ NOT ‘What are they doing sexually?’ One should often inform the other, but it may not always do so, because teenagers are teenagers and humans are humans, and our discipleship will always be a battle in a world full of temptation.
And the third reason not to blow this difference out of proportion is because we’re in relationship with a God whose love and forgiveness are unconditional.
It’s quite possible that your child will do a few things they regret in their teens. It’s quite possible that they will move away from faith. But our God is a God of infinite love and grace. He will always forgive, and they need to know that He will do that – and that you will forgive too – because it can be more damaging to carry around the guilt of an earlier sexual experience than to have the sexual experience in the first place.
When we misuse the gift of sex, this is not a sin which is too big for God to forgive. So, as we teach our children, and watch them make their own decisions, we need to continue to pray for them, let them know where we stand and continue to welcome them with arms open wide – much like Gail said yesterday in her excellent post on when our teenagers make poor decisions.
Get some good resources
If you’ve been around here a while, you could probably predict I was going to say this. I do like my resources! After all, teaching puberty from a Biblical perspective is no small order, particularly if we didn’t receive this teaching from our own parents.
There are loads of Christian books on the topics of puberty, sex and relationships which you can buy for your child if they’re interested – or books you can buy to help YOU navigate this tricky area of parenting.
But I favour a more interactive approach – something I can use with my kids, which prompts discussion and opens up conversation.
As I hinted above, I’ve started using The Whole Story with Mister (10) and Missy (8) and I’ve been very impressed. It’s been produced by Sheila Wray Gregoire’s team, who I mentioned above, and is an in-depth Christian puberty video course, which not only gives up-to-date, medically accurate information about puberty and adolescence, but an age-appropriate explanation of the Bible’s teaching on sex.
The course is very thorough, yet each video is bite-sized, just a few minutes long, presented by young adults who are down-to-earth and relatable.
While The Whole Story is aimed at 10s-16s, you could really start using it whenever you feel your child is starting to ask a lot of questions. Interestingly, at this stage, Missy has been more interested than Mister, although she’s only 8.
I really like the optimistic feel of it all. The whole course is incredibly positive, with real affirmation of who God has created us to be, how amazingly He’s made our bodies, and what a fabulous gift He has given us in sex.
My kids are definitely the YouTube generation – they’re much more likely to want to watch a video than read a book with me, and so these videos have been perfect for watching together, then answering questions/having a chat. They’re also great for ensuring that we don’t miss anything out as we teach them what’s going to happen to their bodies – there’s so much going on, that we’d be pretty likely to forget something otherwise!
There’s a Boys’ Version and a Girls’ Version – or you can buy the two together if you have sons and daughters. There are also options to buy the different aged resources separately. The 10s-12s package would be a good one to test out the approach with your daughter (or son), whilst if your child is already 13+, you’ll only need the older version (click here for girls or boys).
(And if you can find nine friends who also want to purchase the course, you can get a super-discounted 10 Enrolment Package too. There are even cheaper options for 25 or 50 enrolments!)
(Additional disclaimer: I bought this resource myself to use with my children. I didn’t receive a free copy and my opinions are my own, and honest! I receive a commission if you make a purchase, which helps me to finance this blog. Many thanks for your support!)
If you’re looking for a Christian based puberty/sex video course, I couldn’t recommend this more highly.
Above all, as you pray for your children through adolescence, don’t forget to pray over all the changes that are happening in their bodies and minds.
These are good changes, planned by God, and are exciting (if not a bit scary), as they mean your dinky child is turning into an adult. Just think: if you get your kids through this season, one day you may have grandchildren, and that will be totally awesome, because you can enjoy All.The.Cuddles and still get an unbroken night’s sleep…
But the changes can also be confusing and overwhelming when you’re going through them, so along with supporting our kids through this, let’s pray them through as well. We could pray for the impact of these changes to be minimal, for our kids to cope well with the transition (especially if we have children who struggle with change), for our children and their peers to respect each other and their bodies, and for a healthy attitude towards sex.
Above all, we can pray that our children would learn to honour their bodies as God’s living temple:
Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honour God with your bodies.1 Corinthians 6:19-20
Check out the other posts in this mini-series: