Parenting Teens 5: Sex and Dating

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By now, this series has shown you that parents must question the predominant assumptions behind the issues in our teenager’s lives. We can’t assume a teen knows who he or she is. We can’t assume he or she will rebel, We can’t assume he or she will eat junk food, and today, we can’t assume he or she is just going to have sex. Each time we make these assumptions, we show disrespect to our teens by assuming that they are as foolish as the world in which they live. When a teen “goes with the flow” of the world, it is more of an indictment upon the parents cosmology than it is their kids behavior.

Parent’s who have no self-control, no boundaries, nor moral compass are only reflecting a world which lacks these things. Thus, teens who are not given an alternative way to live, will see the world’s foolishness as normal. Let me begin by reminding parents that the framework for dating and sex which is promoted by the world is not normal…it is blindness, selfish, and offers far too low a view of sex.

When I was a teen, the message was all about abstinence, not moral purity.Today it’s neither. The ideal given to me by my system of faith was to remain a virgin if I wanted to make God happy. This too is a pathology, because it actually diminishes sex by making it “wrong” or “bad” or “sinful.” Sex in an of itself is none of these things, and this is where wisdom shows us the road which exists between two ditches. On one side, sex is viewed as an unavoidable, biological act, and is “no big deal.” Here, the world devalues sex, commoditized it, and manipulates economic behavior by it. The other side makes sex “too big of a deal,” like when religion makes a taboo out of it, and causes people to repress or fear their sexuality, forcing it to form in the dark recesses of people’s toxic psychology.

From these polarities, a parent must provide wisdom will allow our teens to walk in freedom and discover a healthy sexuality.

“Say to wisdom, “You are my sister,”
    and call insight your intimate friend,
 to keep you from the forbidden woman,
    from the adulteress with her smooth words.”

(Proverbs 7:4-5)

The media, message, and propaganda of the world has the goal of removing sex from it’s proper context. The foolish assumption is that sexuality is reducible to biology and this comes from the predominance of the scientific world view. Yes, it’s true we have a biological interest, but we are not limited to our biology, nor are we constrained by it. Otherwise, civilization could not exist if all humanity simply acted on instinct. As C.S. Lewis says: “That thing which tells us to go against instinct, cannot itself be instinct.” There is more to us than our impulses, and if we just give into our appetites, we devolve into sickness, and forfeit our potential.

Do you see the theme here? The world celebrates our appetites, wisdom knows they are not good guides.

As parents we must show our teens the inconsistent and foolish messages of the world. Instead of sheltering kids from movies, TV shows, or media which has sexuality, I invite parents to engage with their teens in the midst of it and be the voice of wisdom that helps them recognize the foolishness. For example, on one hand, the world sells sex as a hobby to young people, saying: “You are free to be as sexually promiscuous as you wish, use and consume as many people as will let you.” Then on the other hand, it sells us this idea that eventually we will magically find that “someone special” who causes us to settle down and become monogamous and stable where we can raise families. These claims are incompatible. How do people who have compartmentalized sex, and never practiced self control, nor building love, magically become integrated and capable? They don’t, and that is why so many relationships fail.

For my teens, sexuality was a common topic of discussion, and I was always proving how their peers and the world offer terrible advice. I pointed them toward the designer of sex (God through scripture) so that they could develop a high view of sex. Sex was something sacred, something to wait for, a gift to open in the context of marriage. It goes against our cultural norms, but think about.

Consider this wisdom on the subject of pornography. The world defines porn is graphic nudity and images of sex acts…things you don’t want HR to find on your work computer. In a low view of sex, what’s the big deal? Why is it offensive? There can be no moral ground and to those who are immature moralists, they conclude that pornography equates to nudity and the blurry lines are drawn to keep teens from “seeing too much.”

By contrast, the wisdom of scripture tells us pornography is not a thing on the outside, but that part of our own curious, seeking heart, which is trying to get out.

“For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery…” (Mark 7:21).

Thus pornography doesn’t show us too much, it shows us too little. A person consuming pornography is dismembering a person by only taking the sexual part of that life. There is no consideration for the person’s whole life. Behind the display being offered in sexual content, is a person with financial realities, relationship dynamics, baggage, insecurities, struggles, fears, hopes, and aspirations. My message to my kids was simply, if you’re not willing to take on the whole life of the person, do not try and take just the sexual part. Pornography is not media, it’s the heart which separates sexuality from its context of the whole person.

A high view of sex is not the taking or plundering of another, it’s an act of giving.

The message to our teens is easy for them to grasp and understand. I like how Dr. Laura puts it on her radio program. “Never have sex with someone who will not lay his or her life down for you.” A high view of sex means that it is treasured, protected, and valued as an aspect of our whole self which is not limited to our biology. Withholding it for someone who will “forsake all others” for the whole person, ensures that sex honors each person, and it serves as an integrating, connecting bond, which strengthens marriages and it protects it from disease, and emotional baggage which are the reasons so many people resist marriage in the first place. These are the facts of healthy marriages, but our world truly hates this morality and our teens can see this if we show them.

To train a high view of sex then alters the assumptions behind dating. Here is another way to see the foolish messages of the world trying to govern dating. The world sees dating as a pastime or gateway for the sexual consumption of one another. I taught my teens that dating is essentially “Divorce Practice” when we adopt the world’s foolishness. The world says, “Go on dates, everyone is doing it. Have your fun. Don’t get serious. Play the field. Try out all the personalities and types. One day, you’ll meet someone special.” If our teens adopt this foolishness, we are consigning them to ultimately settle for a relationship where neither person developed the skill of love, or we are accelerating the FOMO which works diametrically opposed to their ability to learn how to make a commitment.

A quick side not here: Dating Apps multiply the FOMO process, so if your teens use them, I recommend they embrace a process of deleting the App as soon as they meet someone with whom they would like to date more than once.

I taught my teens that dating is a process of truly getting to know someone and if it’s done correctly, most people who a teen considers as a prospect for dating, will never actually go on a date. It’s so much easier to train our young people to see the emotional stupidity before they are engulfed in it. The world encourages us to follow our attraction and appetite right into bed, and then later discover all the stuff which becomes the deal breakers. Teens are able to see how stupid that is if we give them the line of sight.

The dating process I offered my teens goes like this: Dating is a worthiness interview.

  1. Are they worthy of my initial attraction? I’m not saying looks are the most important thing, but if you are not attracted to some aspect of this person, it is less likely that will come over time. This is usually the first aspect which gains our interest because it’s purely external and we don’t know the person yet.
  2. Are they worthy of conversation? I suggest this be via a text stream or DM. No phone time yet. Through text, you can learn a lot about a person and you can set the pace and depth of the conversation. You can take your time and ask very direct questions about the person’s pastimes, aspirations, faith, philosophies, passions, family, finances, etc… This is where you determine if there is enough overlap in trajectory to pick up the phone. (this can take weeks)
  3. Are they worthy of my time? Once you determine this person shares alignment with you (based on their claims), then it’s time allow for conversation. When the conversation becomes live, a new layer of discovery opens up. Can the person truly communicate. Are they in touch with their emotions, their intellect? Do they have valid reasons for their conclusions about the world? Do they accept criticism, or challenges to their worldview? Are their claims which they gave in texts the same as they are giving in voice? Are there inconsistencies? This is the time to pressure test “the person” behind all of this. Do they want a marriage or are they seeking to just have fun? Do they have any depth. (this process can also take weeks).
  4. Are they worthy of a date? If the person on the phone has passed this many checkmarks, it’s because the person interviewing has a high sense of self worth and a very high view of marriage and sex. Anyone unwilling to go through this process (which is most people) will simply drop out or prove themselves to be unworthy. Why would we wait to find this out after we’ve given our emotions and body away along with our self respect? This process allows only the “good ones” to get through. It’s a skill that is taught. Once you know they are worthy, there is alignment, and we already know there is attraction, then it’s time to meet. The physical encounter reveals so much that the phone call doesn’t. Here you can see the body language, the way a person carries themselves, and you can really get a sense of true connection. If it’s not there, if something is off, either the process went too fast, or those inconsistencies are telling you it’s not a fit.
  5. Are they worthy of investment? This is when a couple is truly dating, however, they are not dating for the sake of dating. They are dating with the purpose of growing in love with this person. If the goal is not to learn how to genuinely love and determine if this person is worthy of self-sacrifice, then you are wasting your time and devaluing your self. Why be with someone who “isn’t sure if this could really work“, or who is “just seeing how it goes?” This time is a pressure test to see if there is alignment spiritually, financially, socially, in family, friends, down time, work-life, holidays, etc… This is the practice of doing life together. Sex is still off the table here. If you discover a deal breaker, do you want to have given your body away to someone isn’t worthy of a life investment? That’s foolish. This the time to discover what a person is truly made of by both parties practicing self-sacrifice for the sake of the other, and sexuality proves this a real or false. A person who won’t commit without sex is in it for the sex. A person who values the person above the sex will know that sex in a selfless relationship will be the best sex a person can have and it’s worth waiting for.
  6. Are they worthy of my life? The last step is the laying down of one’s life for the sake of the other. This is true love. This is selfless self emptying commitment. It’s the most vulnerable a person can be. It’s putting our head in a guillotine and giving the rope to the other. A true, lasting love, is one of self-emptying practice. Instead of competing for our needs, we deny ourselves and seek to fulfill the needs of the other. Then our needs are met by the other and we meet the needs of the other. This is biblical model of the love of God and it is to be reflected in marriage. This is the point when the couple is engaged and working out the logistics of being married. Once married, the marriage can be celebrated and the couple can possess a sense of confidence and trust in the other that is not possible without this process. In this context, sex is an ongoing discovery which brings a tremendous amount of openness, not shame, not risk, not disease, not unwanted pregnancy, but whole connection in love.

I’ll close with this. If all of this seems so unrealistic and if you assume your teen is not capable of a high view of love and sex, then as a parent, you have possibly given them a false hope, or even the deception of the world. If you lack this in your own marriage, then you are likely superimposing your (lack of) values and assumptions on your teens which, and based on what we see in the world, is likely to bring them much pain and confusion. Our teens are capable of knowing wisdom and there are people out there who will value them, respect them and who truly want a relationship like this, but the world knows nothing about how to get it. Give your teens the gift and skill (wisdom) and to know true love, and their life will be move into conformity to happiness and fulfillment.