26 Nov 2015
Ryan and Jen’s kids have always been active in church and school, involved in extracurricular activities, and have great friends. Their parents have modeled godly living to their children from a very early age. Like most parents, they hope to see their kids finish school, start a career, and raise a family. They don’t expect anything out of the ordinary since the children have never given them cause for worry.
Their son, Bobby, just finished his junior year of high school. He has always been a quiet kid but performed well academically and is naturally obedient. One day, when Jen asked to use her son’s phone, she discovered that Bobby was visiting gay porn sites. When Jen asked Bobby about the porn, Bobby became very withdrawn. After more questions, he finally confessed, “Mom, I’m gay . . .” Jen was in disbelief.
Jen wondered how her son could possibly be sure that he was gay. She thought he must simply be a confused teenager. The truth is that Bobby has wrestled with these feelings since middle school. He tried to ignore these desires but always found himself longing to be in a relationship with another guy. Ryan and Jen hadn’t the slightest clue that their son struggled in this way.
Living in the middle is place filled with tension. Parents want to help their child, but often the message they hear is that they must affirm their child’s decision.
Many Christian parents share Ryan and Jen’s experience of a child self-identifying as gay. Cultural messages about sexuality are influencing young people to define their sense of self and identity with their feelings and emotions. When a child embraces the identity as a life direction, in contrast to Scripture’s view of sexuality designed by God, parents and family members are thrown into crisis. They feel caught in the middle between their love for their child and their convictions to stand firm in what God says. Living in the middle is a place filled with tension. Parents want to help their child, but often the message they hear is that they must affirm their child’s decision. Anything short of that feels like a crushing rejection to their child.
It’s a difficult path for parents to walk, and they will need understanding and support, especially from their church community, to help them. Here are some ways pastors, church leaders, and friends can do so.
Where to begin?
Parents in this situation struggle to know how to make sense of what they are feeling, much less what to do. Helping them to identify some common initial reactions and know how to guide them will help them move forward.
Many parent’s first reaction is shock, which is often followed by anger. Why is this happening? Why are you doing this to us? Questions and strong emotions like these are understandable. Helping them to channel them well is critical.
The first thing is to encourage them not to direct anger at their child. It took a lot of courage to say what he or she said, and while it hurts, it’s still better to know than to be kept in the dark. Healthy relationships require honesty. Help them to acknowledge their child’s courage. If they have already expressed anger at their child, encourage them to go to their child and ask forgiveness, modeling humility and repentance. The relationship will need this healing.
Then help them deal with what might be anger toward God. Why are you letting this happen to us, God? Haven’t we been faithful in raising our children? Encourage them to express such troubling questions to God, as their own relationship with him requires honesty also. Suggest that they read the Psalms, which can provide them with a God-given language to voice their powerful and tumultuous emotions in a way that still directs faith back to him. This will be a safeguard against bitterness taking root. God is strong and loving enough to hear our words of pain, and even to identify with them.
Parents will grieve over the fear they have of losing the life they anticipated for their child. They will grieve the loss of the son they thought they knew, along with the hopes and dreams they attached to him. Because the child’s revelation feels like a deathblow to the family’s future, give them space to grieve unreservedly and without judgment. Weep with them (Romans 12:15). Validate the pain and loss they feel. Having the support of friends in their moments of grief will help them to move toward their child, learning to love him as he is, in this new reality, but with new eyes of faith. Adjusting to this new reality will be difficult to do. Help them to see that continuing to love their child, just as always, will be an important connection to God that can give hope for the future.
Guilt and Shame
Almost every parent will think that they have failed in some way, asking where they went wrong. Ryan and Jen began to believe that maybe they could have done something, if only they had known how Bobby felt when all of this began – but they didn’t realize what was going on, and now they feel like terrible parents for missing it. The feeling of guilt may be consuming. It will be helpful here to listen to their anguished questions, and point out that such questions, though legitimate, may have no answer, nor could they have known what was kept secret. To get stuck here will only hurt them further. What counts now is to live in the present and release these questions to the One who does know all the answers.
Because parents fear others’ opinions and judgement of their parenting, shame will often accompany guilt. There is a feature to sin and suffering where shame attaches not only to the individual, but also to those who are associated with him. It is not uncommon that parents will feel marked by their child’s decision or actions. Invite them to speak their emotions and not feel ashamed for wrestling with such thoughts and feelings. Shame pushes us to hide in the shadows and stay away from others. But isolating from others is spiritually dangerous, so help them to remain connected to their church community. Sadly, families that keep silent and isolate themselves over this situation are more likely to resolve the tension they live in by changing their view of Scripture and affirming their child’s gay identity. Staying in the middle is very hard to do, and faithful friends are critical in helping them find a measure of peace in the midst of that tension.
Fear and Despair
A child’s coming out takes parents’ normal fears to another level. Ryan and Jen fear what their son’s declaration means for his future and how people will treat him. They fear that their son has fallen away from God, or never truly knew God. Fear loses sight of God’s sovereignty, and can give way to despair. Parents of gay children struggle to see a sovereign and righteous God on the throne when the “wisdom” of the world’s view of sexuality infiltrates their homes. They need an anchor, so keep pointing them to images that describe God the way David saw him, as one whose “way is perfect,” whose “word…proves true,” and who is “a shield for all those who take refuge in him” (Psalm 18:30). God remains on the throne even when everything in life feels out of control. God is still at work in this situation. Their child is not beyond the reach of God’s arm, as Isaiah proclaimed to rebellious Israel (Isaiah 59:1). Remind them that the timing of God’s work is perfect. So, encourage them to acknowledge to God all that they fear, and to patiently hear God speak to them through his word and his people.
In all these ways, patiently listening to how they process this experience will give them a lifeboat in a tossing sea. Their responses may not be pretty. Especially in the early stages, remain unruffled at the parents’ raw, emotional responses, leaving gracious room for what they are experiencing. Consider the Psalms as you ponder your response to them. God does not rebuke his children for expressing the breadth of their suffering to him, so neither should we chastise parents in their anger, grief, guilt, shame, fear, and despair. Rather, it is much wiser and more profitable to help them explore what they are feeling, and learn to see how God is cultivating their faith in the midst of their turmoil.
Once the initial storm subsides, parents need help navigating questions about how to love to their child while standing true to biblical convictions.
It will be difficult for parents to know how to have conversations with their son or daughter. Typically, parents will either want to make this the primary topic of conversation with them, or they may ignore the issue altogether, hoping their child’s struggle will quietly disappear. Parents in the first category can unknowingly slip into relating to their child solely on the basis of this issue. Parents panic and want to change their child because they realize the seriousness of sinful sexual behavior. Just as parents mistakenly fear that they caused their child to become gay, they can also erroneously believe they can somehow change their child, which becomes their chief focus. But they need to be reminded that the work of sanctification belongs to the Lord. We do influence our children’s lives, and we want them to live faithfully before God, but our faith must acknowledge that God is the one who is sovereign over our child’s life. God is not just after a child’s behavior; he is after his or her heart.
Those who fall into the second category believe that “keeping the peace” and not talking about it is better than speaking the truth in love. This may be out of fear to keep a close relationship with their child at all costs. Speaking into their child’s life, or keeping quiet, will be a tough balancing act. Help the parents to move beyond their fears to seek wisdom and wait for opportunities to speak, even if it may be upsetting. But remind them that to make this issue the primary focus will seriously hurt the relationship. Let God lead the way in this.
Most importantly, remind parents of their child’s greatest need: the gospel. A child’s sexual orientation/behavior can consume a parent’s vision, but parents need to remember that their child’s fundamental need is to see their need of God’s love and redemption in Christ. The goal for our children is not heterosexual happiness, but grasping an identity in Christ that becomes their chief focus in life. Looking at the situation from this perspective helps the parents see that what their child needs is no different than what everyone needs: to live by faith in Christ and learn how to follow him in obedience, glorifying him even in the brokenness of life (see Philippians 2:12).
Finally, we can remind them to continue in the assurance and hope of Romans 8:28, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” This may not be the best passage to give when parents are really hurting at the beginning of all this, but over time this glorious truth will resonate with them. In the midst of our confusion, God is faithful to draw us closer to himself, make us more dependent on him, humble us in our need for grace, and strengthen us in our faith that he does care for our families. When we embrace this reality we have eyes to see that God works his redemptive purposes most powerfully in the midst of brokenness and suffering. Waiting on God and praying for a child is no guarantee that God will cause him to turn away from a gay identity, but it does guarantee the cultivation and deepening of patience, faith, and love in the parents’ hearts and lives—and isn’t that how God reaches the world, displaying his love through the transformed lives of his people?
If you want to connect with Chris, you can reach him at email@example.com. Or you can make a comment at the end of this post.
For a deeper examination of these issues, a few of our popular mini books give further insightful and practical help for parents, pastors, church leaders, and friends. Go to www.harvest-usa-store.com for these resources:
Can You Change if You’re Gay?
Your Gay Child Says, ‘I Gay’
Your Gay Child Says ‘I Do’
Homosexuality and the Bible: Outdated Advice or Words of Life?
In an earlier blog, Dave White talks about whether it is ever appropriate to tell you children about your own sexual struggles and sin from the past. To read the blog and see the accompanying video blog, click here. In this video blog, Dave talks about some strategies for talking with your kids about sex and sexuality.
05 Aug 2015
In an earlier post (below), Dave White talks about whether it is ever appropriate to tell you children about your own sexual struggles and sin from the past. In the video above, Dave gives a number of options on how to do this.
Do you have sexual skeletons in your closet? Many Christian parents do, and as their kids edge toward the teen years, they begin to dread the questions that may come and begin to ask their own: How can I expect my kids to hold the line sexually when I failed at their age? Isn’t disclosing my own failures giving them license to do whatever they want?
In light of these concerns, does it ever make sense to open the closet door and let your kids see your past?
It depends. There are some kids in a place of rebellion, looking for any excuse to act out. The parent/child relationship may be so contentious that any vulnerability will be exploited and used later to lash out and possibly wound when you seek to address your child’s behavior. Were you a Christian while you were sexually active? This could cause your Christian teen to think they can sin now and repent later. All of us should pause and seek the Spirit’s guidance in broaching these issues with our kids.
That said, in the vast majority of cases, I believe it can be wise and helpful to let your kids see into the closet. Here are three good reasons why.
First, your story can provide a cautionary tale. Even if you were spared the harsh consequences of STDs or an unplanned pregnancy, you can discuss the soul damage that can occur when we don’t follow God. Our “anything goes as long as it doesn’t hurt someone” culture tells us we can indulge sexually with impunity, but God says it is a sin against our very selves (1 Corinthians 6:18). Our kids need to hear that there are unseen consequences in carelessly squandering God’s great gift in this area of life. There can be some real losses later in life. Even if the sin was only with your spouse prior to marriage, you can share the challenges this may have caused early in marriage, the way it impacted the joy of your honeymoon, etc.
Listen: I’m not big on scare tactics. Graphic STD photos aren’t helpful to show to your teen. But there is a benefit to hearing that this is God’s world and following him is the only path to true blessing and joy.
Second, it gives glory to the God who redeems. My past is extremely messy, and my kids have known it for a long time, getting more details at age-appropriate stages. Why do they know this about me? I want them to know that my life is a testament of God’s grace! The Spirit of God has radically changed me from the inside out. They need to know that God forgives sinners and there is no one beyond his grasp. I praise God that the man I was 20 years ago would be unrecognizable to my kids (and not just because of the Afro!).
Real honesty removes you from any pedestal that would cause you to eclipse Jesus. He alone is the righteous one, and your kids should know that you’re as needy as they are for his grace—and that means today, not just in your distant past! One of the most crucial things we do in passing on the Christian faith to our kids is to model authentic faith, which revolves around confession and repentance.
During a season often marked by growing distance between parents and teens, this is a way for you to build a bridge relationally. Being vulnerable, inviting your kids to know the “real” you, invites a reciprocal response. True, they may not be willing to open up, but at the very least it lets them know you want a deeper relationship. The essence of relationship is to be “known,” so we should be striving to let our kids really know us in age-appropriate ways. And it is always huge for teens to be treated as the budding adults they are.
Finally, your kids need to know that the gospel speaks to their sexuality, affected by the Fall, as is everything. “Youthful lusts” are a powerful force at this age. All teens enter these turbulent years wrestling with physical desires they’ve never experienced before, and to make matters more difficult for them, parents generally are not asking them about this stage of development. So, kids are wrestling with strong physical and emotional feelings and desires, and the real-life guidance they need is sadly lacking from their own parents. If no one speaks about these struggles, then, to them, neither does the gospel. But it does!
This is a crucial time for them—and you, as their shepherding parents—to apply the gospel in deeper ways! Our sexual struggles (and failures) are often a significant place of learning our utter dependence on God’s Spirit and the body of Christ to grow and live in the way we are called to live in Christ. And the best way for your kids to learn these things is for you to be vulnerable about your own neediness, and encourage them with how Christ and his people have met you in your own struggles with sexual sin.
For further thoughts look for our mini book, Raising Sexually Healthy Kids, published by New Growth Press, available at https://newgrowthpress.com/harvest-usa/
The title of this article presupposes two things: First, your children are being exposed to pornography, and second, you are already responding even if you are doing nothing. Maybe you are tempted to toss aside this article with a shrug, “Well, my kids haven’t been exposed and I am careful to protect them. I don’t need to read this.” But watch an hour of prime time television and you have seen pornography. Drive past any number of billboards while on a trip and you have seen pornography. Look at the fashion posters in the clothing stores at the mall and you have seen it, in some form.
Don’t believe it? Here is one problem to begin with: We have a very limited definition of pornography. Most of us think of pornography as something found on the Internet, or in adult book stores or behind the counter in convenience stores. While dictionaries might define pornography as pictorial or literary renderings of obscene material related to nudity or the sex act, it is much broader than that. Pornography is anything the heart uses to find sexual expression outside of God’s intended design for relational intimacy. It is anything that tempts and corrupts the human heart into desiring sensual pleasure in sinful ways.
By this definition, we live in a pornographic culture. Think of everything you see on a given day, from driving to the office to watching TV at night. Beer and soap advertisements, as well as underwear ads, all use the human body in provocative ways to catch the attention of the audience. It is not so much that sex is used to sell products, but that products are being used to sell sex. A woman groaning erotically while having her hair washed in a TV ad is not encouraging us to think about clean hair, but about having a sexual encounter.
What is happening here? The culture is attempting to feed our hearts. It tells us our lives are incomplete without the product it is trying to sell us. And when sex is used to sell it, it implies that the product will give us something even more enticing: it will make us into a beautiful woman or man, or draw one toward us, or possibly lead to a sexual encounter.
The sensuality of our culture has laid the groundwork, in some sense, for why overt pornography (like what is common on the Internet) has such power over us. The endless stream of sensual and sexual images touches upon the inner hunger for more, which is a result of living in a fallen world. The need for human relationship, a good creation but itself broken by sin, is something the culture teaches can be filled, not by long-term friendships or marriage, but by sexual and sensual pleasure whenever you can get it. This is why a definition of pornography must be broader in scope. The messages and images we are bombarded with today entice our hearts into desiring sexual and sensual pleasures in ways that are far outside of God’s boundaries.
These are the messages your children are inundated with beyond measure. When thinking about the critical issue of protecting your children from viewing or engaging in much more damaging pornography, you need to know that, daily, your children are being brainwashed into thinking that they need to be sexually active to be happy and fulfilled. You need to address the overarching problem of how our culture sexualizes everything before your children become addicted to pornography. There are two major things you can do.
1. Create a nurturing environment to talk about sex with your children
The first thing parents need to do is just begin talking about sex. This is easier said than done, as the issue of sexuality is so closely connected to matters of one’s past behavior, shame, sin, present behavior, and all the brokenness that the Fall has brought down on sex. But if you don’t begin bringing this subject into the open in your home, you will leave your children defenseless against a culture that is quite willing to talk about sex (and show it) to your children.
Start by working to create a safe environment in your home to talk about emotionally difficult things. Many parents think they are protecting their children by not talking about sex, but in reality they are creating an environment where the children will learn that sex is a taboo subject. As kids grow older, if you have not been talking regularly about sex with your children, then how will they deal with the normal sexual urges and desires they will have growing up? If there is no clear message coming from you, then you can pretty much know where it will be coming from. What’s worse is, if the only time they hear you talking about sex is when you are critical of it (judging other’s behavior), or if your only message is to not have sex before marriage, then they will grow up helpless against the onslaught of unbiblical messages coming their way.
Start by examining God’s view of sex
To teach your children about healthy sexuality, and to begin creating a nurturing environment to talk about it, first examine your own view of sexuality. Is your understanding of sex grounded in Scripture, or is it more based on your own parental upbringing or experiences? There is no way to avoid the impact of your own upbringing here, but it is critical to make what God’s Word says about it paramount. The Bible is very free in discussing sexuality. In Genesis 2:25 we read that Adam and Eve were naked and not ashamed. The Bible says there is nothing wrong with the human body and sexuality; it was the sin of Adam and Eve in disobeying God that caused sexuality to be distorted. It is only after they rebelled against God by eating the forbidden fruit that suddenly they were ashamed by their nakedness. In Proverbs 5:15-19 husbands are encouraged to rejoice in their wives—to enjoy their wives’ breasts and to be drunk with her loving-making. In the Song of Solomon we have vivid descriptions of the joys of sexuality in the context of marriage.
So, what message are you giving your children? Do they see sex as a beautiful gift from God to be enjoyed within the context of marriage, or do they see it as something embarrassing that cannot be discussed? Are they being taught, by your words and your actions, that sex in the context of marriage is something that is right, good, exciting, and life-affirming?
Set the stage on this topic early on with your children. Even if you are late in the game, don’t hesitate to start it now! Learn what the Bible says about sex and let your own misunderstandings and distortions be shaped by God’s Word. Let God’s view of sexuality become yours. If your children are young, talk to them openly and in age-appropriate ways about sex: what it is for; why it is reserved for marriage between a man and a woman; how they should think and feel about sex and their own bodies. If your kids are older, do the same thing, but with teens you may only get an audience by coming at the topic “sideways.” Engage them in conversation over movies, television, news stories, etc. Ask them what their peers are saying about sex and relationships. This can be a good way to get them to open up about their own concerns and struggles about sex, which can then lead into a more “direct” talk on the subject.
Address the deeper longings of their hearts
Talking about the physical or aspects of sex with our children is not enough. There is more to sexuality than Biology 101. But even talking about the emotional aspects of sex is still not enough. Sex begins not with the biology of our bodies, but with the longing for relationship in our hearts.
The beginning of this article focused on the fact that our culture uses a “porn is norm” approach to entice our hearts to want something that will fill our hearts with what we lack. Advertisers clearly understand the human heart, that we have deep inner longings that never seem to be adequately met. That is why pornography is so powerful. Until our children understand why they can feel lonely in a crowded room… until our children understand why they wish life had a happy ending like the movies… until our children understand why they can be sad for no apparent reason… until they understand the longing and emptiness that is always there inside of them, they will never know how to defend themselves against the strong, enticing pull of pornography.
We need to consistently communicate to our children that everyone has these inner longings that cannot be completely fulfilled in this life. This is not to create despair but to give hope. This is Christianity 101: sin has shattered everything in the world, and our longing for something more in life is a sign that points us toward the One who alone can ultimately fulfill us. We were created to be completely fulfilled in an eternal relationship with God, and from that all human relationships would flourish. But now, because of our broken hearts, even the best relationship we might have with God and others will leave us, in this life, longing for more.
Knowing this, about what we are made for and how sin has broken and impaired this relationship with God and others, can help our children identify their longings and resist the inevitable pull to meet them in false and sinful ways. Knowing why we have these longings is one of the best pieces of wisdom a parent can impart to a child. It will give the child a way to process all sorts of emotions and temptations.
Ask the right kinds of questions
How do you address these inner longings with your child? First, do what Jesus did: ask questions all over the place! Parents who only want to make sure their children don’t do anything wrong will generally engage them with commands and lectures. But parents who are wiser, knowing that their children are sinners like themselves and will do wrong things, will engage their behavior and their hearts with probing questions. The first recorded words from Jesus in the book of John is a question: “What do you seek?” When addressing the disabled man at the pool of Bethesda, who obviously wanted nothing more than to walk again, he asked him a question, “Do you want to be healed?” Jesus always engaged a person at the level of the heart. We must do the same with our children. Do not just settle for what you see on the surface, their behavior. Dig deeper, for the sake of their souls!
When seeking to engage your child’s heart, watch your own heart! It is easy to ask questions that can be asked in a way that seeks to expose someone for judgment. Are you seeking information just so you can lower the ax? Are you trying to uncover behavior so that you can punish or “ground” your child? The wrong kind of questions, coming from the wrong kind of motive, will drive a child deeper into seclusion and secrecy—the very place sin, especially sexual sin, thrives.
Instead, ask questions that invite your child’s heart to show itself. Ask questions that help him talk about his feelings (positive and negative) and not just get him to explain his behavior. For example: “You’ve been spending a long time on your computer. What is it that you enjoy doing on it?” If you, instead, acted on your fears and directly asked, “Are you looking at porn?” you would close the discussion down immediately. Use an open-ended question to start off the conversation and then follow it with similar questions. You may (or may not) in that conversation get much detail, but a lifetime of engaging your child with questions that help them to be real is what you want to do.
The right kind of questions will affirm the child as being a person of value (created in the image of God) and someone you love and care about. The right kind of questions will allow the child to express his or her hurts and pains. The right kind of questions will uncover the deeper longings that they wrestle with and allow you the opportunity to share truths about God and how to live life by his grace. Ask yourself when talking with your child, “Is this question going after behavior or is it trying to reveal the heart? Am I seeking to expose for judgment, or am I seeking to know their soul?”
Listen with the right way of hearing
Second, as you ask your questions, be careful to genuinely listen and not overreact. Often our children will share something they have done, or a fantasy they may have, and we will react in a knee-jerk way. This is understandable, because we as parents are very protective of our children, but overreacting when they have risked being vulnerable with us will communicate to them that you will not love or understand them on that level. Staying calm and connected with him or her tells your child that your love for them is real, especially when they are being real and honest with you. When you do this, you are in a position to speak into their lives and have them listen to you. By really listening to them, you will find that they will be more willing to allow you to share with them your own concerns, listen to any alternate ways of thinking or behavior you might share with them, and, more importantly, help them wrestle with what God’s Word says as you look to the Scriptures for answers.
Understand their world with the right kind of knowledge
Third, take the time to learn what your child is up against. Enter his or her world. This may mean that you have to do some research. You may have to educate yourself about what his or her peers believe. For example: Did you know that many teens think that they can have oral sex with numerous partners and still be a virgin? Are you aware of how many ways your child can be bombarded with sexual images (the Internet, message apps, text messages, photo sharing sites, etc)?
Every generation has faced sexual temptation and has been pulled to behave in ways that are outside of God’s design. But this generation, with its proliferation of ways to gather information and communicate, is clearly up against the most formidable temptations that have ever existed. As their parent, you must stay on top of what your child faces every day.
Part of taking the time to learn about their world is also determining the extent of the problem your child might be facing. You need to know the dangers out there and also what your child has gotten into. So if you discover your son is visiting adult sites on the Internet, find out, in a non-threatening manner, how often he does this. What kinds of sites (heterosexual, homosexual, streaming videos, etc.) is he visiting? Such a string of questions might sound like you are grilling him, so how you ask will be critical to “invite” him to be honest with you. It is critical that you seek to discern the extent of your child’s behavior, constantly affirming to him that you are not doing this so that you can punish, but to figure out how best to help. Do not let a witch-hunt mentality develop. Instead, hold onto the idea that you are like a surgeon trying to determine the extent of the cancer so that you can treat the patient. Look for patterns in the behaviors that might reveal the deeper heart issues.
Remember that your goal in all of this is to look for the motives of the heart that might be leading your son or daughter into dangerous territory. Keep circling back in your mind to the fact that everyone’s sinful behaviors come out of sinful decisions made to address the core issues of the heart. Your goal is to help your child see, as much as possible, what is happening beneath the surface of his or her behavior.
2. Lead by example
It should be obvious that the course of action described above cannot occur in one conversation. It is a life-long process. Start doing it now. Carefully build that environment in which you and your children can take steps to be real and open with one another. Asking good questions directed at your child’s heart, listening well, and understanding the world in which he or she lives will go a long way toward creating such a nurturing environment.
But lead now. Don’t wait for tomorrow. Technology is rapidly advancing, and the culture is rapidly moving away from traditional (read: much less Christian) values. You cannot shield your children from problems and sin in this world. You can only shepherd them and give to them the lifelong tools of thinking and behaving that will better help them resist the pressures they will inevitably face once they are grown-up and on their own.
If your children are young, start talking to them now about God’s design for sex (see “Take Courage! Parents and the Dreaded Conversation,” another article on this website).
If you have found that your children have been looking at porn—and again, the odds are overwhelming that they have—go to our bookstore to order a copy of our mini book, iSnooping on Your Kids: Parenting in an Internet World. This mini book will give you further tools on how to talk to your kids about healthy sexuality and the destructive effects of pornography, along with many practical, technological, preventative steps to take.
To help teach your child what are the subtle ways porn impacts and twists one’s mind and heart in ways that destroy relationships, read our mini book, What’s Wrong with a Little Porn When You’re Single.
You might be thinking right now, with the direction the culture is going, that your children are doomed to make it through their childhood, much less their whole life, without escaping this scourge. Remember this, though: The good news is that the first followers of Jesus Christ found themselves in a culture just as deeply broken and sexualized as our own. The Greek and Roman pantheons thrived on unlimited and outrageous sexual debauchery. The early church was filled with people who were coming out of lifestyles of immorality (I Corinthians 6:9-11). Yet the truth of the gospel overcame the pressures to conform to that culture. The gospel then is the gospel now: It is God’s grace that trains us “to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives” (Titus 2:11-12, ESV).
God’s Word still speaks powerfully to these issues. You can have the faith that as you share this same gospel with your children, they will experience hope and change. Our hope as parents does not falter, because Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever.
An anti-drug commercial opens with a middle school student innocently walking in the door from school, only to discover the dining room table covered with sex education materials—including scale models! The father casually suggests they could talk about drugs instead of sex.
Though humorous, the commercial poignantly illustrates a sad reality: Sex is the last topic kids and parents want to discuss. Research demonstrates that fewer than 15% of parents discuss sexuality with their children. It is tragic that this crucial area of life and obedience is sorely neglected in most Christian homes. We are woefully neglecting God’s calling as parents if we fail to address this issue from a biblical perspective. The most important aspect of our calling is to pass on the faith to our children, providing a biblical worldview and helping our kids see their lives as caught up in the story of God’s redemption.
Just as in the 1st-century Greco-Roman world, the 21st-century American church has the opportunity to be radically counter-cultural: We can honor Christ with our sexuality in a sexually insane culture. But our children need to be trained, and that begins by stepping out of our comfort zones and risking the “dreaded conversation…”
1. Start with yourself
How do you speak to your kids about sex? Begin by looking inward. You cannot instill a healthy understanding of sexuality in your child if your own perspective is warped by past (or current!) sinful experience, sexual abuse, or unbiblical thinking about sex. First, many Christians approach the blessed sexuality of Christian marriage with a shame-based prudishness that is as unbiblical as wanton promiscuity. We need to see that, from Genesis to Revelation, the Bible is unashamedly positive about sexuality. The ecstasy of sex is by design! God concentrated the nerve endings in our genitals and crafted the glorious intensity of an orgasm. Sex is a good gift he invites us to delight in.
Song of Songs is a “God-breathed” celebration of human sexuality. Historically, the church allegorized this book, limiting it to a description of the relationship between Christ and the church. Even modern interpreters can be a little gun-shy. For example, our English translations make accurate, but very “safe,” decisions in rendering the original Hebrew—which would make most of us blush. So, educating our children begins with bringing perspective on sexuality into conformity with the wonder of God’s design.
Secondly, all of us are born with a fallen sexuality that needs redemption in Christ. Living in a fallen world, we are impacted by our own lust and the “full-court press” of a sexually insane culture. “Good” sex is ripped out of its covenantal design of deep relational and spiritual intimacy and diminished to outward, physical appeal. We believe the lies of porn and romance novels. Sex becomes centered on self. Personal gratification eclipses God’s design of selfless service. And the shame of our past sexual sin doesn’t magically disappear when we enter marriage. Apart from intentionally working through those issues, many couples remain crippled in this area of their relationship. Further, many of us live with the deep scars of sin and exploitation against us. The gospel speaks to all these things, but you must be willing to expose them to the light.
Starting with personal examination assumes married couples will discuss these things together, prior to engaging their children. Make sure that you have a mutually agreed upon strategy. Be prepared to respond when the questions start coming.
2. Start positive
It is very sad that most conversations about sex with our children (especially teens) focus on the negative. Begin by offering a biblical perspective on the blessing of sexuality. After all, the issue initially arises because children want to know where babies come from. Thus, in their eyes, it is naturally the glorious blessing God created it to be. Rather than a dreaded, one-time ordeal, sexual conversations should begin early and continue throughout the child’s life.
3. Do it together
Further, it is essential for both parents to be engaged. Candid conversation demonstrates that in God’s design, shame does not have to accompany sexuality. When sexual conversation is restricted to the same-gender, parent it fosters misunderstanding because every other subject is readily discussed as a family. Treating sexuality as a natural, healthy aspect of Christian living is the beginning of the best sex education you can offer your child.
This provides an additional challenge for single parents. They should prayerfully consider the assistance of other family members or close friends. Since my wife’s passing, I have been blessed to have other women come alongside my daughters and help them in areas I can’t speak into as a man. This underscores the importance of living the Christian life as a “body.”
4. Start small
If you wait until your child is 10-12 years old to talk about sex, you missed the boat! Statistics reflect the average age of exposure to pornography is 9. Many men I work with began masturbating prior to puberty. Kids today have instant access on their cell phones to material that was unavailable in adult bookstores 20 years ago.
When do you start? As soon as your child begins to ask questions, they are ready for accurate, age-appropriate answers. At 4, my twin girls asked questions about pregnancy, and my wife explained that God made a “special hug” for mommies and daddies to enjoy and that sometimes this makes a baby. That was enough. As they became aware of physical gender differences, we began to discuss the mechanics more specifically and use “technical” terms for body parts. Take advantage of natural inroads—I remember drawing sperm and an ovum on a napkin at the dinner table. Be careful to not go overboard in detail, but allow their questions to dictate the depth of the discussion. Starting young is easier on everyone. A child with no shameful associations regarding sex or their genitals makes the conversation less embarrassing for the parent as well.
As your child moves through elementary school, it is important to start explaining ways in which sexuality is affected by the curse. Sober warnings about pornography and the dangers of inappropriate touching are crucial (I began the latter even before my children could talk). Explaining, from a biblical perspective, issues of same-sex attraction is often necessary because this issue is becoming more prevalent in extended family, neighbors, or schoolmates. Even in the midst of these discussions, be sure to keep Christ and his redemption of broken things at the center.
5. Expand and ramp up
Although beginning with “family-wide” conversations as children approach puberty, it is appropriate to allow for gender-specific instruction about bodily changes, masturbation, etc. Again, single parents must recruit the help of other godly adults to participate in this crucial season of a child’s life.
The teen years provide a wondrous opportunity for parents to begin conversations that are more vulnerable. Proverbs 5-7 presents a great blueprint. Beginning repeatedly with “my son…”, these passages poignantly depict the lure of sexual sin: “For the lips of a forbidden woman drip honey, and her speech is smoother than oil” (5:3, ESV). Proverbs 7 describes in great detail sexual sin’s promise as the adulteress expresses her ability to satisfy every craving of the young fool. The father is essentially telling his son, “This looks good. It looks foolish to pass this up!” However, biblical wisdom is seeing the end from the beginning, so the father warns, “But in the end she is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword. Her feet go down to death; her steps follow the path to Sheol” (5:4-5).
Although these passages speak directly to fathers and sons, the same principles apply to mothers and daughters. Are you honest with your teen about your own struggle with temptation or do you present yourself as one who is past all that? These passages urge gut-level honesty and transparency, walking alongside our maturing children, teaching them as individuals that sexual integrity depends upon God’s grace and the community of faith to remain pure.
As your child ventures out to college and adult life, the conversations should continue. Be willing to ask frank, uncomfortable questions about the pressures they face—outwardly and inwardly. Your sober warnings focus on safeguarding the treasure God has given to them in their sexuality.
Does it seem overwhelming? As in all of parenting, God promises to give us more grace and wants us to grow in our relationship with him as we face these challenges by faith.
14 Jan 2014
It was halftime during the 2011 Super Bowl. We were with extended family at our home. During the second quarter, my brother-in-law logged onto our family computer to catch up on business emails. When logging out, it’s his custom to clear the history from the computer so his company’s passwords are not saved. In doing so, he brought up the recent history and found some websites that troubled him.
He alerted my wife (his sister), and they both viewed several extremely graphic pornographic websites that had been saved in the computer’s history. They discussed it for a few moments and decided to pull me away from the game to confront me about what they had found.
I am in my mid-forties, a father of four children. Based on the ages of our kids and the graphic nature of the websites, they assumed the websites were connected to me. After we settled that it was not me, I proceeded to view the websites and knew we had a big problem. These sites were not just topless women or partially nude couples, but included images with violent sex, orgies, and graphic sexual positions. Although I was shaken up by the content, I was determined to find out who in our family was drowning in this stuff. I don’t really know why, but I suspected that it was my youngest, my ten-year-old son.
During the rest of the game, I was in and out of the family-filled TV room, pacing, praying and thinking of words to say—words that would both confront and also leave the door open for honesty. Near the end of the game, families began to pack up and head out. It was a school night, and our family was starting to fade. My ten-year-old son poked his head into the office where we keep our computer. He said, “Goodnight,” and I said the same back. Before he hit the stairs, I got up and said to him, “Hey, have you been looking at anything you shouldn’t be looking at on the computer?” He quickly, and with confidence, replied, “Me? No, I haven’t at all.” I said, “Okay, good.” He then started upstairs, but I gently stopped him and asked him to come back down into the office. He did. I said to him, “I’m going to ask you one more time; think before you answer. Have you looked at anything you shouldn’t have looked at on that (pointing to the desktop computer)?” He paused, looked away from me, then to the floor and said, “Yes.”
When I tell you I have never seen a look of shame and guilt so clearly, I am being totally honest. I did not feel anger or disappointment. I reached out and embraced my boy, whom I later learned had been sucked in by the power of Internet pornography for a long time. I embraced him; he wept, I wept, and we rocked as we had done so often when he was an infant. During the next several hours, he confessed his daily habit of viewing pornography at certain “safe” hours (when our daily family pattern would allow him time on the computer while others were out of sight). Other times were with friends at sleepovers, where they would use their iPod Touches, Internet-capable game consoles, or smart phones to surf pornography websites. Through his tears, he described how bad he felt about himself and how powerless he felt in trying to stop.
The hour was now 2 am. We were both beat, and we were still embracing. Instead of disappointment and anger, I felt relief and a deeper love for my son who was almost asleep in my arms. As I carried him to bed, I thought about God’s yearning to have us in the same place every night: After a day of messing up, if we only felt the “ease” to relax in his arms, tell it all as it really is, and then find the peace to collapse in his arms…that’s exactly where he wants us. He does not want us living a lie, running up the stairs, brushing our teeth, burying our secrets, and going it alone.
Once I placed my son in his bed, he fell asleep and subsequently woke several times during the next hour calling out my name to discuss and confess some more. Eventually he got everything off his chest and finally fell asleep.
I did not sleep that night, nor did my wife. We talked. We cried. We prayed. We argued. The weight on us was heavy. The next day was long. I was desperate to help my son, and I felt incompetent to do it myself. I reached out to several close friends, one of whom was John Freeman from Harvest USA. I told him everything. There were long pauses, as I could not speak through the tears. John was patient. When I was done, all I could do was ask him, “Will my son be all right?”
John didn’t take the role of an expert, but rather a deep and close friend. He did not at this time encourage me to seek outside help, as he thought we had everything we needed within our family. He did not blithely point to Bible verses or books but instead reminded me of my close relationship with a God who loves me and would never turn his back on me. John comforted me and gave me the courage to be a loving father to a hurting and scared son who was full of shame. He encouraged me to be a safe place for my son, someone to talk to and help interpret what he had seen and what he was feeling. He suggested that a remedy would not come instantly, but would come over a long period of time as I grew into being a safe and loving place for my son to come and rest.
John’s words, along with those of other men who know me well, helped me rise up to become the place where my son could find grace, forgiveness, and “ease” so he could move beyond the trap he found himself in.
Now that my son had felt the healing and cleansing power of confession and forgiveness, the days ahead became darker for me.
The subsequent days were filled with despair and discouragement in thinking about what my child had been exposed to for a long time. Conversations between my wife and I were nonstop about what to do now and how this could have happened. For one of the first times in our 24-year marriage, the conversations were starting to dramatically break down and anger crept in. I did not know it at first, but I was slowly coming to terms with my guilt of removing our home Internet filter years ago (because it was a nuisance). I started to admit to myself that we had been lax in forming our daily schedule, which allowed for consistent unsupervised time after school, and our naïveté of allowing him full access to Internet-capable devices for his personal use at a very young age. I have been through dark seasons in my life, and I rank this as one of the most difficult.
The weight that was on our hearts that Super Bowl Sunday lightened as time passed. In the weeks that, followed the opportunities to speak to my son, my wife, and my girls about these topics and about God’s unwavering love for us no matter what we do, think, feel, or see were many.
We now have a top-rated content filter on our computer, are clear with our kids about the dangers of web-enabled devices, have set up “house rules” for our family and friends regarding those devices, and have kept this topic in the forefront of family discussion. This was a wake-up call, but instead of being a start to an ugly, downward cycle, it has opened our family to a better way of dealing with the ever-present world of pornography and, more than that, the relentless and never-ending love that God has for each of us. Through this I am reminded that there is nothing we can do that will cause God to withhold his love and affection for us. All he wants is for us to collapse in his arms; give him all of our troubles, shame, guilt, and secrets; and then to find rest in him.
The title of this article presupposes two things: First, your children are being exposed to pornography, and second, you are already responding—even if you are doing nothing. Maybe you are tempted to toss aside this article with a shrug, “Well, my kids haven’t been exposed,