Telling your kids about love, marriage and sex
When your children see sex advertised everywhere, you might think it is the one subject to avoid. The problem with that conclusion is that if you, as a parent, avoid it, your children will still hear about it from others, many of whom will not share your perspective. Part of our purpose as Christian parents is to help our children connect every aspect of their lives with God’s truth on a particular subject. So why avoid something as important as their sexuality? This does not mean we will make all our children’s decisions for them, but that we will try to give them the truth base and skills necessary to make their own wise decisions in the future.
‘When do I start?’ you might ask. Rather than waiting for ‘the talk’, start as they begin to ask questions at a young age. Answer those questions in an honest, modest (remembering 1 Cor. 12:23) and age-appropriate way. Deuteronomy 6:6-9 encourages us to talk to our children about all the situations they meet in life as these situations cross their paths. To do this, it is important to be in a relationship with our children such that conversation is natural. We should not be so busy that we do not have the time for them when the questions and opportunities come up. Time spent playing games together or having fun keeps the relationship strong for when more serious issues need to be spoken about. Giving children time shows we value them and are interested in their world.
The early body changes of puberty may provoke conversation. Take questions seriously, but do not make it such a big deal or give such a long lecture that they never want to go near the subject again! Sometimes children just share their thoughts, perhaps on a car journey, and that may give you the opportunity for a brief response. Respect these dialogues; never trivialise and never repeat outside the family what has been said to you in trust. If the subject never comes up at all, sometime you will have to start the conversation.
Sex and relationships education occurs at school, both at secondary and primary level. It is not currently part of the National Curriculum and not compulsory, so parents have the right to withdraw their children from these lessons. It is the legal right of every parent to see any sex education material that will be shown to their children and to know when this teaching will take place. It is very important that Christian parents exercise these rights by finding out what is to be taught and where necessary by withdrawing their children or suggesting alternatives.
Apart from the important fact that sex education in primary school is often presented without a moral context, another anxiety is that it may disrupt natural sexual development. Children mature at different rates and what one child can accept in this very important and difficult area, another of the same age may not be able to accept. This is why parents, who know their children best, should be allowed to answer their children’s questions when they ask them, and not allow sexual knowledge to be forced on their children, who may not be ready.
With the barrage of information about sex and relationships that your child will meet from every angle in the early teens (and possibly not least from school), you will need to teach, not only what God’s ways are, but why God’s ways are best. Many children from Christian families have been told that sex should be saved for marriage without any real understanding of why this is so important. They should understand that sex is a gift from God. If they see sex portrayed in the media, the last person they are likely to connect it with is God. God designed sex to be the most powerful physical connector for the most intimate human relationship, marriage. Genesis 2:24, where marriage is defined, talks about a husband and wife becoming ‘one flesh’.
If children understand the nature of the publicly committed and unconditional love of marriage, it will help them to begin to understand why pre-marital sex is actually dishonest in terms of being physically ‘one flesh’ with someone with whom you have not made that public commitment for life. Pushed to its logical conclusion, sex before marriage then becomes a purely biological activity devoid of long term commitment and may lead to a lifestyle where people can be used and discarded. The answers to many questions that young people often ask like ‘how far can we go?’ depend on the understanding that physical intimacy is God’s gift for the committed relationship of marriage.
Though our children and young people are currently unlikely to learn about marriage from the media and society in general, most of us who are married have a lifetime to show them what a loving and stable relationship looks like. Teaching by example is always best. Let’s remember this when we are irritated by our spouse or tempted to act in selfish ways!
Handle with care
Keep talking as your child moves on through the teenage years, but be careful how you approach some of the subjects you will need to deal with (1 Cor. 12:23). Your children will need your support as they hear about pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections, contraception, abuse, same sex relationships, masturbation, pornography, singleness and cohabitation to name a few issues. These conversations may feel embarrassing, sometimes distasteful, but when the subjects come up take the opportunity to guide your children according to God’s word.
Peer influences are likely to become increasingly powerful as your children go on through the teenage years. As they hear the rationale for other people’s points of view, it is important they have a clear understanding that following God’s ways by keeping sex for marriage is right and in many cases leads to happier marriages, better health and better outcomes for children of that marriage. It is also important to try to help our children develop a healthy self confidence to be able to stick with and at times stand up for the principles they have come to believe in.
The word ‘love’ is often used, but often confused. We can find ourselves thinking it is all about feelings and all about me. The powerful feelings of romantic love may be very enjoyable, but may also cause pain and cloud good judgement. True love is a sacrificial commitment to another person.
Youth culture places massive weight on being ‘in a relationship’ and of course relationships are important to us all, God made us that way. But being in a relationship does not guarantee fulfilment and happiness – after all, relationships between even the ‘best’ of sinners will always be fraught with some difficulties. Real fulfilment will only be found when we have a right relationship with God. It is important that we help our young people understand this.
Finally and most important, as we seek to guide and help our children, we must let them know that they are deeply loved and whatever happens, that will not change. Mistakes will be made, both by parents and children and however deep the disappointment and desperation, we must respond with love and compassion and say with our Saviour ‘neither do I condemn you. Go now and leave your life of sin.’ (John 8:11).
Lovewise is a charity which produces resources for parents, churches, schools and youth groups in which the subjects of marriage, relationships and sex are presented from a Christian perspective. For more information visit www.lovewise.org.uk.