“How Far Is Too Far?” Is the Wrong Question
Four convictions parents must develop as they teach their kids about sexual purity.
SOURCE: Adapted from an article by Dennis and Barbara Rainey
Centuries ago, a popular queen was interviewing applicants to serve on a six-man team to transport her on a portable throne on long journeys. As she interviewed each man the queen asked, “If you were bearing me along a mountain path, how close would you go to the edge of a cliff with me seated on my throne?”
Some men answered, “Your Royal Highness, I am so strong I could go within a foot of the edge of the cliff.”
Others boasted, “Not only do I have superior strength, but I also have almost perfect balance. I could go within six inches of the edge.”
But others answered, “Your Highness, I would go nowhere near the edge of a cliff. Why would I want to endanger your valuable life by leading you close to danger?”
Guess who earned the job? The wise queen chose men who would keep her far away from the edge of disaster.
We parents should heed that story as we guide our children through the adolescent years. Will we allow our children to walk near the edge of the cliff as they pursue relationships with the opposite sex? Or will we guide them so far away from the edge that we help protect them from potential disaster?
Our friend and coworker Josh McDowell makes the point well: “I would rather build a rail at the top of a mountain than have an ambulance service at the bottom of the valley.” The choice between sexual purity and sexual experimentation is an important battleground for the souls of Christian youth today. This deadly trap snares millions of teens, scars their lives, and leads them away from a vital relationship with Christ.
What do you believe?
The first step to protecting your child in this area is to determine what you believe. Most of us grew up in a permissive culture strongly influenced by the sexual revolution that began in the 1960s. The goal of that movement was to challenge moral standards and boundaries. Guilt and shame were to be thrown off as repressive, and the experience of unfettered pleasure became the god of our culture.
To determine your own convictions in this area of sex is a formidable task. We would advise a lot of thinking and communicating as a couple, but above all, that you do a lot of praying and reading of the Scripture.
The first step to take in determining your convictions is to make an honest appraisal of your own history (including your mistakes and regrets) and learn how this has affected your views. Is guilt about your own compromises (past or perhaps present) keeping you from developing conclusions about right and wrong in this area? Are you afraid your child will ask about your own sexual experiences prior to marriage? Are you afraid of looking like a hypocrite if you challenge your child to uphold standards that you did not keep?
Past failures must not prevent us from calling our child to the standard of God’s Word. We’ve all lied, yet we still teach our children to tell the truth. We have all stolen something, but that doesn’t stop us from teaching that stealing is wrong. We believe the ultimate enemy of our souls is behind this conspiracy of silence in our homes.
Once you have evaluated how you have been influenced in this area, it’s time to develop a strong set of convictions as a foundation for teaching your children about sex. Here are four convictions we believe all parents should uphold:
Parent’s Conviction #1: Our children need to learn a godly perspective about sex primarily from us.
Where is the best place for your child to truly hear a godly perspective of sex? It had better be at home. Why would we want our children to learn about this sacred aspect of marital love from anyone else?
Talking about sex may be the single most powerful way parents have of entering into the lives of their children. It also can be the most difficult. Talking about reproduction and the most intimate nature of what it means to be a man and a woman is not like discussing tomorrow’s math test or last night’s ball game. When you dare to broach the subject with your child, you communicate, “You are important enough to me that I will risk talking about this uncomfortable topic.”
And because you’ve had this conversation, your child may feel it’s safe to talk about other intimate issues with you. It has to be a relief for your child to be able to discuss this part of his life with someone he can trust, namely his parents.
Even if your child does not want to talk about sex, press through your fears, inhibitions, memories, and embarrassment. A few minutes of blushing, stammering, and clammy hands will deepen your relationship and could literally save your child’s life.
If you have been faithful in appropriately teaching your son or daughter from an early age about sex, you will be tempted to relax when your child hits preadolescence. But teenagers need moms and dads who stay involved in their lives all the way through their teen years by breaking the silence and discussing matters of human sexuality and sexual response.
King Solomon had these talks with his son. Huge chunks of the book of Proverbs are dedicated to gritty talks about the snare of sex. For example, read Proverbs 5–7, where the king implores his son to be wise about a seductive young lady.
Men in particular may back off from talking about sex with their teenagers because they just don’t know what to say. Or maybe they haven’t done a good job in other areas of parenting and they feel defeated. Regardless, dads need to pursue their children.
Parent’s Conviction #2: Sex education consists of more than an explanation of human reproduction.
Of course, your children need to know the biological basics. If you’ve never had a good, explicit discussion of human reproduction with your child, do it now.
But even if you’ve done a great job of instructing your children about the biological facts of sex, you need to finish the process with moral training. Of all the discussions we’ve had in our family about sex, probably 95 percent of them have concerned character issues. We’ve had discussions about God’s purposes for sex, the importance of sex and marriage, why you should wait for marriage before you have sex, how to avoid situations in which you are tempted, how different types of media shape our thoughts in this area, the types of movies to see and avoid and why, how to respond when someone challenges your convictions, and many other topics.
We’ve found that the issues surrounding human sexuality, such as self-control and obedience to God, are the foundational character qualities every parent wants to build into his teenager.
Parent’s Conviction #3: We must teach and model true biblical standards of purity and innocence.
If you were asked “What are you teaching your child about sex and morality?” my guess is that you might say something like, “We are teaching him that he should wait until he is married to begin having sex.”
Okay, what does that mean? How will your teenager interpret and apply the exhortation to “Wait until marriage before having sex?”
In this culture, challenging your child to remain a virgin until marriage is not enough. Nor is virginity the ultimate biblical goal. The problem is that too many Christian teenagers are engaging in sexual activities reserved for marriage, yet are maintaining technical virginity.
This point was underscored during a television news report on churches that are teaching abstinence to their teens. One teenage girl who was interviewed was adamant about maintaining her virginity until she was married. Yet in the next breath she mentioned that heavy kissing and petting were okay as long as she didn’t engage in sexual intercourse!
Kids today are going to push the boundaries—they’ll ask “How far is too far?” when it comes to sex. But Scripture does not command us to preserve a technical virginity. The Bible presents a number of pointed principles to ensure that our relationships with the opposite sex are appropriate and rewarding. The key words underlying all of them are purity and holiness. Here are several basic passages:
- “For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God.…For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness” (1 Thessalonians 4:3-5, 7).
- “Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:18-20).
- “So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart” (2 Timothy 2:22).
Ask yourself a couple of questions (these helped us clarify our convictions): Just how much of sex do you want your child to experience before his marriage bed? How much of sex do you think God wants your child to participate in outside of marriage?
We must set our sights high and challenge our children to the highest standard—God’s standard. As parents, don’t we want them to arrive at marriage innocent of evil, pure in their sexuality, and with a healthy view of marriage—not encumbered by a lot of emotional baggage from sexual mistakes during the teenage years?
No matter what you teach your child, your model of purity will go farthest in protecting your child. He needs to see a commitment to purity in your life.
If there is anything that can disqualify a parent from being able to talk to a son or daughter about sex, it is being presently involved in sexual sin, sexual addiction, an affair, or an affair of the heart.
Parent’s Conviction #4: We need to create a home environment that provides love, security, and physical affection for our children.
The teenage years are filled with self-doubt. This is your chance to teach your child that how he feels about himself is not based on his relationships with the opposite sex; it is based on a growing relationship with God.
Your home needs to be your child’s emotional watering hole. An oasis where he learns about trusting Christ. A place of refreshment for his soul, where he goes for love and affection (even when he doesn’t seem to want it from you).
As a child grows up and develops physically into a young woman or man, a concern may grow in the parent about how much physical affection should be given if the child is of the opposite sex. The tendency is to think he is grown and doesn’t need the affection. Don’t stop lavishing your child with physical affection; he needs those hugs and kisses more than ever! A mom hugging her son and a dad hugging his daughter will send the message to both—you are a young man or a young woman who is worthy of attention and affection from someone of the opposite sex.
The years between 10 and 12 are a crucial time to teach your child about purity. By the time he reaches age 10, he should already have learned from you about the basics of sex, along with lessons on modest dress, manners, language, and the need to keep his mind away from sexual content on television or the internet. Now, in the last year or two before he reaches puberty, you have a great opportunity to prepare him for what is coming up.