Talking abstractly about sex to young kids might be a little daunting, but there’s a certain level of ease that comes with keeping things vague. Talking to teens about sex, though, that’s a whole different ball game.
A few years ago, we released a podcast with Laura Gallier all about talking to teenagers about sex. Laura shares a lot of wisdom, but one of the things that stood out to me was the fact that without first building relational bridges, it’s going to be difficult to talk to a teenager in a way they will receive. Talking about sex starts with building your relationship.
While you may have found it easy to connect with your child when they were young, there are unique challenges with teenagers who can be hormonal, withdrawn, or just unpleasant to be around. Don’t be put off. You can build a relationship with your teen, but it’s going to take a little work. Here are some tips to help you get started:
#1 Create an environment of unconditional love.
Begin with listening. This is the foundation of connecting with your teen. One of the most important truths your son or daughter needs to know is that you love them. This love translates into care and concern for their well being on a holistic level: emotional, physical, and spiritual. This is your motivation in speaking to them about sex–equipping them to make God-informed decisions when it comes to their sexuality.
Unconditional love is not the same as unconditional approval. Like all aspects of parenting, talking to your teen about sexuality will likely result in times for correction and confrontation, but the soil of your relationship has to be love. You want your teenager to know that nothing they do, ask, think, or experience can ever change your love.
#2 Lean in, even when you feel like they’re pulling away.
It has almost come to be expected that it’s normal for kids and parents to experience distance in their relationship during their teenage years. The teen years are a time of what developmental psychologists call differentiation. This means that teenagers are trying to figure out who they are apart from their parents, but this doesn’t have to result in a strained relationship. Your relationship with your teen is changing from dependence to interdependence, and while it is normal for teens to face challenges with emotions and hormones as they move through adolescence, it doesn’t have to mean that you stop being close to them. You spend the toddler and pre-teen years showing your kids you’re available to them and you’re in their corner. Even though adolescence is a time where they develop more independence, that doesn’t equate to them being left all alone to figure things out.
Initiate. Ask good questions, and go deep with them. “How are you feeling about school?” “How can I best support you right now?” “How are friendships going?” Be a friend in the ways that you can.
If your teen comes home from school, slams a door, and isolates in their room, let them know you’re available. It doesn’t have to be a conversation. It could just be a note slipped under the door or a hug. It could be saying something like, “Hey, I know you’re having a rough day and you might not be ready to talk about it, but I’m here if you just want someone to listen to you.” It could be a loving gesture like making their favorite meal, filling up their car with gas, or helping put their laundry away. Put your phone down, take a day off, let the dishes and to-do list wait–physically make space to show your teen that you are available to them. Your teen is growing up, but they’re still your kid, so show them that you are still there to parent.
Teenagers need to be heard, and they need to be validated and understood. While you don’t need to agree with everything they say (and you won’t!), listening with full attention and being able to empathize will go a long way in making them know you are a person they can trust. This is likely going to mean hearing some stories or language that makes you feel uncomfortable, but you’re going to be the one setting the temperature of the conversation, so practice not looking shocked!
#3 Don’t underestimate the influence you have in your teen’s life.
You may think your teen doesn’t want to talk to you about sex (or anything else for that matter). In reality, most teens say they would like to be able to have honest dialogue with their parents about these issues. Even though the teen years means growing input from friends and media, you, Mom and Dad, still have a very important voice in your teen’s life.
When you’ve taken time to establish trust with your teen, they value what you have to say, and what you think of them really does matter (even if they say it doesn’t).
Share your stories. Give them a context for you beyond being an authoritarian and lawgiver. You’ve lived longer than they have. You’ve had a lot more experiences. You have meaningful and impactful lessons to share with them. Share those stories in the light of God’s goodness and with recognition of His sovereignty, mercy, and forgiveness. This helps your teen learn to find God in the story of their own sexuality, to see where they’ve fallen short or misunderstood, and to move toward Him.
#4 Address your own issues.
If you’re going to create a space for your teen to feel they can say what they feel and ask questions without judgment, there may be one clear obstacle for you to overcome first: your own fear or shame.
Ask yourself what kinds of questions and discussions make you uncomfortable. Why? Is it because you feel you don’t know the answers, or because you are afraid of how you will be implicated as you begin to name and call out sinful behavior?
“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:23-24). While it is easy to feel like your sin disqualifies you, acknowledge your past choices and missteps in the light of God’s forgiveness, grace, mercy, and redemption. Rather than something to be embarrassed about, your past failure may actually be a chance for you to be authentic with your teen.Your teenager may trust you even more knowing that you aren’t perfect, have made mistakes, and still have a lot to learn. It’s also an opportunity to show your teen that even when we sin, God’s grace abounds to cover our sin and help us walk in righteousness.
Don’t take on your teen’s sin as your own. The choices your kids make are not necessarily a reflection on your parenting. While it’s true that your parenting style and decisions influence your kids, ultimately what your teen chooses to do is just that: what they choose to do. Refuse to accept the lie that because of actions or decisions your teen has taken, you have failed as a parent. Shame silences us. Grace emboldens us to speak up in spite of our sin.
#5 Be the guide, not the expert.
Know and pull from your resources. Use God’s Word. God created sexuality. God created gender. God created all of creation. This is the foundation of everything you teach your teen. Tell them who created sex, about the fall, and about Satan’s tactics. Use the Bible to help them see where sexual narratives centered on purity and culture fall short of the biblical narrative. Sex is all throughout scripture, so ask God to reveal truths to you as you read His Word so that you can pass on the truth about Godly sexuality to your teen. If you’re struggling to find the words, pull from trusted books and resources on Godly sexuality. Use those books and resources to inform the language you use when speaking about sex. Check out another blog post Juli wrote on talking to kids about sex for some helpful resources.
Understand that you might not be your teenager’s first choice when it comes to talking about sensitive aspects of sex. Do your best to create a trusted network for your teen, people you know love Jesus and your teen and who your teen feels comfortable hanging out with and talking to. Your church is your built-in network, a place full of people who share the same values and ethics and are a great resource for your teen.
Don’t be afraid to talk to your teen about sex. They are already talking and thinking about it, and the enemy loves to tell the lie that you’re going to do more harm than good. This isn’t the case! Start small, be faithful, and stay in prayer. God’s grace abounds to you as you embark on the journey of sharing God’s design for sexuality. You are not alone.
Java with Juli: #229: Sex, Teens & Parenting
Java with Juli: #335: Teaching Our Kids a Biblical Worldview of Sexuality