Focus on the Family

How Do I Help My Teen Avoid Unwanted Sexual Thoughts?

This can be one of the trickiest topics to handle with your teens. Addressing unwanted sexual thoughts begins with focusing on what’s happening, necessary boundaries, and providing help.

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

This is an important question. Is it really about overcoming and avoiding sexual thoughts or is it about helping your teen become a healthy adult that includes their sexuality? As kids enter adolescence, it’s common for them to experience an ongoing wrestling match with their sexual thoughts. They also tend to have a higher likelihood of being exposed to unwanted and unhealthy sexual conversations and/or content.

As a result, your teen needs to learn how to discern between healthy and unhealthy thoughts, friendships, and influences. Your child’s new curiosity in topics like dating and sex is a normal and important part of their development, so the goal would not be to eliminate their sexual thoughts. The goal is for them to develop a healthy, loving, and self-controlled sexual thought life. Sexuality is not a “bad” thing to never think about, but something to steward with purpose and with specific timing. It is the self-centered and consumeristic approach to sexuality that can turn sex into a potentially destructive and addictive thought and behavioral cycle.

Helping your teen effectively manage their unwanted sexual thoughts begins with setting a vision for the purpose and sacredness of sexuality. Here are some suggested ways you can begin intentionally discussing this topic with your child:

Have Ongoing and Open Conversations

There’s a good chance your child will try to understand and manage their sexual thoughts on their own by searching online or asking their friends, which is not the best source for solid and trustworthy information on this topic. As mom or dad, you get to be one the key influencers in your teen’s life and worldview on this foundational and important topic.

Here are some potential things to intentionally talk about:

  • The purpose of sexuality as a life-giving component in a trusting committed relationship.
  • How empathy, humility, and self-control are all a part of healthy sexuality.
  • Any triggers they may be aware of when it comes to their unwanted sexual thoughts.
  • The different worldviews on sexuality and what the worldview, beliefs, and values are on sexuality in your home and why.

Respond Instead of React

Make sure to listen first. As they share, see it as information about what may be going on deeper inside your child. There are desires, needs, wants, experiences, relationships, automatic thoughts, emotions, beliefs, confusions, and perceptions that may all be tangling up in their mind as they try to make sense of their sexual thoughts and desires.

If their sexual thoughts are growing obsessive, dark, and interfere with their functioning, it would be helpful to schedule an appointment with a doctor to help evaluate what may be going on behind the thoughts and behaviors.

What Does the Bible Say about Unwanted Sexual Thoughts?

In Christian culture, temptations for teens are often connected with sexual activity such as premarital sex, pornography, and sexting. However, temptation does not always have to be connected to physical or visual activity. Sometimes, the temptation to dwell on sexual thoughts can be detached from experience or actions and simply exist in the mind.

In 2 Timothy 2:22, Paul writes, “Flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace…” It’s clear that simply avoiding temptation and setting boundaries or limits is not enough. God shows us how the best defense against sin and fleeting pleasure is the pursuit of what lasts: righteousness, faith, love, and peace.

Teaching your teen how to pursue what lasts is difficult, especially in a culture defined by decreasing attention spans and the pace of social media. Yet, it’s important for you to model how to be righteous, faithful, loving, and peaceful through your actions, words, and thoughts.

Establish Goals

Most kids tend to do better in school, sports, relationships, and activities when they pursue realistic goals. Overcoming unwanted habitual sexual thoughts is no different. As a parent, what is your goal for your child’s overall sexual health and wholeness?

Is your child only learning about how to consume through their sexuality or are they getting to learn how to be contributors within a trusting, committed, and loving relationship through their sexuality? Why are there strong pushes in society not to wait? Is it because we deserve something, including our own happiness? Does it really lead to happiness? On the other hand, why is there such a big push to wait? Is it because there is something to steward as a gift for someone else? Does waiting truly lead to healthier and better outcomes?

Your teen needs to work through what their worldview is on sexuality. Above all, you get to walk alongside your teen as he or she wrestles through this important developmental task as they learn to love others well, including through their thoughts.

To learn more about how to support your teen with these developmental changes, explore our age and stage content here.

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