I talk to thousands of teens and parents a year about sexual purity and I have seen some amazing parents who have strengthened my hope in humanity. However, I have noticed several common mistakes parents make when talking to their kids about chastity and sexual purity. Please spread the word to every parent, because you might save them from a lot of heartache. Here are 5 common mistakes parents make when talking to their kids about sexual purity:
1) Avoiding “The Talk” altogether.
I hear a lot of parents who think that their kids will never listen to them, so what’s the point of even trying to talk to them about sexual purity. Well, I hate to burst their bubble, but those parents are mistaken. Your kids are listening to you! In fact, the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy asked over 1,000 teenagers what the most important factor was in shaping their decisions about sex. “My Parents” blew all of the other answers out of the water!1 So, no pressure parents, but you may be the number one influence on your kids’ sexual decisions whether you like it or not.
Kids cannot listen to silent parents and if parents fail to open the conversation of purity inside the home, kids will open the conversation outside of the home. Who are they going to ask? Their friends? Social media? The internet? The library?
These sources are often littered with misinformation. If our kids are not getting a sense of morality from their parents, then they will often turn to the internet. Google’s job is to provide fast information without discretion. I’m sure no one would argue that the internet has the potential to provide startling information. If you need proof, just do a search for “what is sex” and see what pops up.
Even our school libraries may contain books that provide pornographic “how-to” guides disguised as sexual education material. One teacher showed me a book recommended for elementary age kids that encouraged and showed gratuitous cartoon images of masturbation. Kids deserve to directly communicate with a loving, informed, and physically present parent. The in-person “sex talk” is a must have.
2) The single conversation “inoculation method”. Some parents think their child is going to get a full college athletic scholarship and then go on to make millions as a professional athlete. So, they enroll their kids in multiple select travel teams and sink hundreds of dollars into training camps. But when it comes to the topic of sexuality, the parents believe they can inoculate their child from sexual impurity by having only one conversation with their kid. Sure, sports are a part of many teens’ lives, but they often leave that behind after college and may never return to play organized sports. Sexuality is and will be a relevant part of the person’s entire life. How much more guidance should they need with all the intricacies of their sexual health? Certainly more than one talk. Distorted adolescent views of sexuality, love, and beauty often bloom into serious obstacles later in life.
In reality, “the talk” should encompass thousands of talks. Some parents believe they have to pack all the information about sexuality into one condensed talk. Instead, I propose that the first “talk” should aim to establish a constant line of communication between parents and child. The parents should then regularly use this line of communication that has been set in place to address sexual issues relative to the child’s age.
3) The “Wagging the Shame-Finger” approach (intentional or inadvertent).
The “sex is bad” ideology led to the sexual revolution, which has claimed many victims. Parents may inadvertently be paving the way for a mini sexual revolution in their child’s life with this approach. Hugh Hefner said himself that he started Playboy magazine as “a personal response to the hurt and hypocrisy of our puritan heritage.” It is very important for parents to pay attention to the way they approach the topic of sexuality, because some children may unintentionally interpret their parents’ intensity or tone to indicate that body, sexual desire, and sexual intercourse are bad. This type of mind frame may lead the child to believe that their own body is bad. We cover our bodies not because they are bad, but because they are so good and not everyone is worthy of seeing them. Focus on the fact that their bodies are a treasure to be kept safe for their future spouse.
Sex is an amazing gift from God that foreshadows the heavenly union with Christ, but it can be distorted. Dr. Gregory Popcak equates sex to a ripening fruit. Eating it before it is ripe can be harsh on our stomachs and alter the affliction for the fruit forever. Sex before marriage may bring about temporary pleasure, but it can distort the beauty and meaning of sex forever. Sex before marriage can never be a truly loving act where one is protecting the best interests of the beloved.
Sometimes religious people are labeled as anti-sex, but a study conducted by the University of Chicago, considered to be one of the most statistically accurate studies on sexuality, showed that Christian married couples were among the most sexually satisfied people in America!2 It is important to communicate that waiting for marriage to have sex is not about extinguishing love, but rather to set it ablaze.
4) Being too vague .
Be specific! In their book Raising Pure Teens, Jason Evert and Chris Stefanick stress the importance of the risk avoidance method as opposed to the risk reduction method when talking to kids about sex. Surely no parent would tell their teen, “Don’t drink and drive, but if you do…drive slowly.” This method doesn’t work in other areas of their lives and it certainly doesn’t work when talking to kids about chastity. Kids want specific answers. It is very easy for the parent to think that their child understands what they mean when they say something like “Be respectful.” But I have found that kids would rather have clear and specific instruction. If parents are clear and specific with their expectations for sexual purity, then their teen can never utter the words, “But you never said don’t do that”. Seven in ten teens agree it would be much easier for them to postpone sexual activity if they were able to have more open, honest conversations about these topics with their parents.3
So have courage and be specific because, even though they may not act like it, kids want the specifics of how to live a virtuous life. St. John Paul II said “Men must be taught to love, and to love in a noble way; they must be educated in depth in this truth, that is, in the fact that a woman is a person and not simply an object.” 4
5) Feeling like a hypocrite.
One extremely common action I see parents take is to subconsciously slap a label on their foreheads that says, “Hypocrite”. They deem themselves as unworthy to speak to their kids about sexual purity because of their own past mistakes. So, if you are one of the many parents who thinks “My spouse and I failed to save ourselves for marriage, so I feel like a hypocrite holding a higher standard for my kids.” Don’t stress. I understand your concerns, but this way of thinking is fundamentally flawed. What if Jared the Subway™ guy felt too guilty to encourage others to have healthy diets because of his previously poor eating habits? Subway™ would probably have gone out of business. (I can’t back that up.) But seriously, this way of thinking is a logical fallacy. The merit of the sexual purity message cannot be rejected based upon on its messenger.
Parents might be fearful to engage the conversation because they know the dreaded “Did you save sex for marriage?” question could fly out of their child’s mouth at any time. That sounds terrifying, however, there are a couple techniques you could use to ease the anxiety. You can bring up your past heartaches and share them with your teen. Using this approach often clears the air of curiosity and allows the parent to be in control of how much of their past they reveal. A great way to respond to this question is to emphasize forgiveness by focusing the attention on the present. You may say something like, “I have made mistakes in my life and I’m sure you have as well. We have a 0% chance of changing the past, but a 100% chance of changing the future.” This is a great time to bring up the healing power of God’s forgiveness through the sacrament of reconciliation. Have your child set specific goals for the future and talk about how chastity can help them obtain those goals. Chastity should be more about the rewards, not about the consequences.
So there you have it. I hope you can learn from these common mistakes. Please let me know if I can provide you or any parents with further information or resources. You can contact me at www.PracticalPurity.com by clicking the “contact” tab.
1 Bill Albert, “With Once Voice 2007: America’s Adults and Teens Sound Off About Teen Pregnancy,” The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, February 2007, pp. 7–8, at http://www.thenationalcampaign.org/resources/pdf/pubs/WOV2007
2 William Mattox, Jr., “Aha! Call It the Revenge of the Church Ladies,” USA Today, February 11, 1999 (usatoday.com).
4 Karol Wojtyla, The Way to Christ (New York: Harper & Row Publishers Inc., 1984), 38