Recently, Dan Barnes contributed an article regarding how Christians ought to address the matter of sex. Namely, he asked how Christians are protecting their families from a culture that is increasingly blasé about sexual matters.
I looked forward to the discussion because sexuality and purity are quite important to Stacy and I. We came of age in a time when our parents were unaware of the degree to which adult magazines, bootleg porn films, and crude sexual jokes were making the rounds. The Talk was, if it happened those days at all, a short awkward discussion in which parents spent most of their time stammering. After we married and began comparing notes, Stacy and I realized how much we didn’t know and how many mistakes we stood to make as a result.
Therefore, sexuality in our children is a huge issue for us.
Dan closed his article with: “We are in a downward tailspin, so I would like to know, how are you fighting it? What are your tools and resources? Is True Love Waits enough, is it working? How do we champion and protect the innocence and purity of our kids?”
Dan, here’s my answer.
Some basic philosophies…
1. Mommy and Daddy rule.
From the earliest days of our children’s lives we have impressed on them that we make the rules. Period. It was not an easy process, to be sure. We had to be consistent and persistent. It took time and energy. We started at birth, literally, and continue to this day. It is a godly approach, one that is more concerned with establishing guidelines and boundaries, than lists of rules and commands.
2. Mommy and Daddy know.
An observable pattern on American television seems to suggest that parents are as clueless as their teenaged children, if not more so. While Stacy and I do not attempt to convince the kids of our infallibility, neither do we stagger from crisis to crisis without hope for solutions. Besides, if we were clueless, how could we apply Rule #1? Our kids understand that we know more than they do and will act accordingly. As society tell kids to trust no one but themselves, we teach our kids to trust us and our motives.
3. Mommy and Daddy talk.
When our oldest was 8 months old, my maternal grandfather died. My mom mentioned to me her surprise at how many things she learned about her dad after his death; the list went on and on. I promised myself that I would never allow my kids to feel that way. I talk – constantly sometimes. Stacy, who already spends plenty of time talking with our brood, specifically goes out of her way to chat with the kids one-on-one. The kids talk, too, mainly in response to our example.
4. Mommy and Daddy have reasons.
I’ve said it so much that I suspect my kids are forever programmed to repeat it to their kids: we have reasons for the rules and boundaries that we’ve established. We point out to our children that while rules do limit, they also protect. To the degree that our kids can understand, we lay out reasons and rationales for our decisions and limits. Our limits are rarely arbitrary, and as such are more easily accepted.
5. We are part of a whole.
The family does not exist for our kids, nor the kids for the family. Instead, the family simply is. It exists and our kids are part of that existence. This means that what sickens one will damage the whole. It also means that while each individual is unique, the notion of privacy is quite different than it is within society at large.
6. We have Bible-based standards.
As best as we can tell, at least. These standards are inflexible yet have reasons behind them.
Have I lost you so far? Good.
Here’s how we handle sexual-social pressures in their lives, applying the previous rules.
Mommy and Daddy have every right to know the details of your life.
We talk with our kids frequently, as I’ve already mentioned (Rule #3). In the midst of these chats, we ask every possible question. Who is your best friend? Is he nice? What is your favorite color? Will you get married? What do you want to do if I let you grow up? As our kids age, the details change. Who is this person? Why did she email you that picture? What song is that? What movie are you watching? Because we started this with the kids when they were very small, they don’t know anything different. They don’t realize how many parents are unaware of the details of their children’s lives.
It hasn’t been without problems. When Offspring #1 got a Facebook account, Stacy required him to write down his password in her little green password and account number notebook. “Outrage” is the kindest word I can use to describe his initial response. He accepted it, though (see Rule #1) because he understood that we truly had good reasons for it (see Rule #4). He eventually admitted that we made a wise choice (see Rule #2). Now? We know his email password. His iPod is open to us when we choose. We are Facebook friends and, if we want, we can access his account.
We are completely and utterly unapologetic about our need to have oversight in our children’s lives. We’ve proven we won’t embarrass them or critique every word, every nuance, every concept. In a word, we can be trusted to use carefully and wisely the information we glean from their lives. We are wiser than they, and we show them that what hurts them will ultimately hurt us as a family.
As for sex? I know when someone is emailing inappropriate photos. We find out which kids have seen that movie. We know which parents we can trust to monitor our kids when families get together. We’ve also found out the hard way which families allow their kids to watch adult fare (we talk, remember?). Our older two (who have had the Talk and have been through the Family Life course at school) get clear explanations for the sexual innuendo and sensuality that they see in the world.
As for those who say, “Well, I try to respect my kid’s privacy,” I would respond with, “Privacy within a family is not the same as the societal definition of privacy.”
When I demand that the community respects my privacy, it is with the understanding that I am a capable adult who knows what I am doing. Kids cannot – they cannot – make that claim. They are not adults, and do not know what they are doing. Privacy in our family means, “You feelings are yours. Your thoughts are yours. Everything else exists in the familial context. We will respect your sensitive information, and will keep it within the family. We will never shame you or embarrass you. You will have access to a wealth of private information about your family members just as they have access to data about you, but it stays here. That’s privacy.”
We have the right to control what our kids watch and hear.
This is hard one. Most parents walk around the house and listen passively to their kids’ TV programs, movies, and music. Our kids have to turn on the closed captioning for Stacy and I to understand; deafness has its limitations. We have to look up singers and lyrics for the songs our kids want to load onto their MP3 players. We review movies (mainly at www.pluggedin.com). If a particular television program or movie is not closed captioned, then they can’t watch it. I freely admit that it is unfair; why should our kids get saddled with the deaf parents who can’t just check off a program? Even so, we tell our kids that failing to protect them is a greater failure than forbidding access to a harmless TV show.
The standard that most forbidden movies violate is that of sexuality. As well, television programs have teen actors portraying childish themes while making adult jokes.
Recently, one of our kids wanted to see a movie that contained a fair amount of sensuality. He wanted to know what the big deal was. My response:
“Hey – remember that girl we knew, Lily? Remember when she went down the slide at the park in an awkward pose and shrieked, “Look at me! I’m _(insert sexual comment)_____!!! Remember how she dresses, how she talks? How she was the only 8-year old who could not enjoy the 8-year old games at the party? Trust me, son – no 8-year old behaves the way she does unless she’s been exposed to sexual things she’s not ready to know. Physically, Lily is 8, but on the inside she’s no longer 8 years old. She’s something else, and I believe a lot of it can be traced to the influences in her life. We set up controls around you and your siblings because we want you to be the age that you actually are.”
He dropped the issue after that. He still gets frustrated, but now his focus is on the creators of movies who opt to add in a sensual scene that does nothing for the storyline.
We will listen to the kids without lectures.
I can illustrate this point best by summarizing a fairly recent exchange with one of our brood:
“Dad, I understand the basics of what we jokingly call ‘Family Life’ and it is pretty clear. I realize there are morals attached to these things, and that’s all well and good. What confuses me, though, is when our counselors start talking about the morality of the stuff they haven’t defined. I mean, today we discussed whether this is a sin or not – and I have no idea what this means. How, exactly, does one do this?”
I know I’ve never mentioned that particular pastime, and I wasn’t fully prepared to give an clear answer. Well, I could have, but it would have seriously peeled someone’s scalp off. At any rate, we had a bit of a discussion, and eventually wandered into the kitchen to continue. Stacy, being blissfully unaware of the topic, said, “What are we discussing now?” The kid looked at her and said, “Well, I was asking Dad about this, but I’m also confused about that as well. I mean – how does that work, exactly?”
To her credit, Stacy managed to keep her eyeballs in her head.
Our child knew it was a safe place to talk; we talk all the time, don’t you know. Besides, he trusts that we know how to answer, and that we will give him a response that helps him understand the facts (Rules #2 and #4). We’re not going to lie to him, nor brush him off angrily or in embarrassment. We’re going to explain the awkward parts to him because we always do that, and we’ll do it from a position of informed authority.
And that’s it. Simple, I think, yet it took tons of work starting way back when we first brought a kid into the world. God has graciously guided us as we’ve matured and grown as parents. The fruit of all of this can be seen in our kids.
Dan? Does this help?