There's a spot in my bedroom at the foot of the bed, which has always been a favorite place for my daughters to grab some talk time with their mom. As they grew into preteens and teens, this time in my room often included conversations about sex.
I remember one day, when my girls were older, when I realized that all the talk had actually been sinking in. One of my daughters remarked that she was glad I had told her why she should wait until marriage to have sex. My second daughter joined the conversation and thanked me for teaching her that sex is beautiful and it's to be enjoyed with one special person. My third daughter chimed in and said that if she had only been told about disease and pregnancy, she may have thought I just didn't want her to have any fun.
When it comes to influencing teens, parents have an advantage over peers, schools, churches and even media. Because parents are with their children year after year, they have a unique relationship that can help in discussing difficult topics. Parents also understand their adolescent's particular personality, and they're sensitive to their teen's level of maturity — socially, emotionally, physically and morally. This long-term, understanding relationship earns parents the right to communicate values to their teens.
Unfortunately, discussions about sexual issues often do not take place until after the teen has already begun having sex — but you don't have to let that happen in your home. Take the initiative and make the conversation happen.
Communicate family standards
Family standards are important. Young people often do not know what parents expect of them regarding sexual purity and sometimes feel they are getting mixed messages. It's important that parents be clear about their expectations. If you presume your teen will be abstinent, you need to explain your expectation clearly.
The following are a few suggestions for discussion with your teen:
• Remaining a virgin until marriage is realistic, and it is the standard for our family.
• Sex is beautiful and it is to be shared with one special person within the marriage relationship.
• Sexually transmitted infections are a big deal.
• Pregnancy is a big deal — it will change your life forever.
• Others may not tell you the truth. Teachers, websites and books may assert that you can have sex without worry. We will always tell you the truth.
• You must choose wisely to protect yourself and ensure your best chance of achieving your potential.
• We expect appropriate modesty.
• Parties with alcohol are off-limits.
• Sex has a much deeper meaning than its mere physical act.
• We are here to support you, so you don't have to make these choices alone.
• It is never too late to abstain.
Having these discussions is a way to start helping your teen grow into a sexually healthy, mature adult.
Repeat … and relax
You can't just dump abstinence information on your teen and move on — this message must be repeated again and again. Authorities in parent-child communication emphasize the necessity of frequent repetition. They also emphasize, as I suggest above, that your messages contain valid information, delivered with clear expectations.
And one final word: Relax. Your responsibility is great, but so is your influence.
For more on teen sexuality and abstinence in a "friends with benefits" culture, check out the following resources:
Love, Sex, and God: for young men by Bill Ameiss and Jane Graver
Love, Sex, and God: for young women by Bill Ameiss and Jane Graver
The Purity Code: God's plan for sex and your body by Jim Burns
Guys Are Waffles, Girls Are Spaghetti by Chad Eastham, Bill Farrel and Pam Farrel
The Focus on the Family Guide to Talking With Your Kids About Sex by the Physicians Resource Council
Hooked: New science on how casual sex is affecting our children by Joe S. McIlhaney Jr., M.D., and Freda McKissic Bush, M.D.