“A lot of times I feel lonely.” “I often feel left out of things.” “I often wish I had more good friends.”
These statements by teenagers were recorded in a recent article found in the September issue of The Atlantic magazine, highlighting a study on the effects of smart phones on our current teen culture. No, this blog entry is not about the effects of smart phones on current teen culture, but we cannot have a parenting conversation about teen sexuality and dating without understanding the seismic shift in this generation caused by smart phones.
This generation of teenagers has been labeled digitals, the Z-generation, screenagers, iGen, or my favorite…screenies! They are the post-Millennials, and most don’t remember a world without smart phones. According to statistics from the article, social media and easy access to the internet have had a dramatic effect on this generation:
- They’re not hanging out with friends.
- They’re in no rush to drive.
- They’re not getting enough sleep.
- They’re more likely to feel lonely.
- They’re dating less…and having less sex.
Initially, you might be tempted to think this is a good thing, but it is still dangerous. Dating less and having sex less does not mean they are not knowledgeable or engaged in sex and sexual content. Parenting requires us to put on our big boy pants and understand that while parents have always struggled to find the right approach to discussing sexuality with their teenagers, our teens’ minds are already full of information and misinformation. From the time of Adam & Eve and the fig leaves, things have been awkward…and speaking of awkward, you probably remember your parents’ approach to the topic with you. Let’s face it, talking with your teenager about sex and dating is going to be awkward, but nevertheless, we know it’s important and necessary. So, as parents, how can we create an atmosphere where our teenagers can come to us and feel the freedom to discuss their concerns about sexuality and dating? Additionally, how can we provide guidance in a rapidly shifting world where smart phone technology has changed everything?
Timeless Truth—First, we know from Scripture that sex is a good gift from a great God. We want our kids to understand as they grow up that sex is not a bad thing. It’s a very good thing. It’s a precious and sacred gift given by God to married couples. Life is created and intimacy is enjoyed in the marriage bed. From that perspective, teenagers can look forward to a satisfying sex life in marriage that will hopefully counteract the lies they’ll encounter about satisfying sex in the world.
Somewhere along the way, they may hear that all sexual activity is okay for Christians before marriage except for intercourse. That’s a popular idea among young people growing up in church. They need to know that God has a better plan. Furthermore, they’ll need to know that digital images and videos are a counterfeit and poor substitute for a real and intimate sexual relationship in marriage. They need to understand that waiting is worth it! But more importantly, and this is tougher, they need to understand that the love of God is better than life itself. Convincing a teenager of that timeless truth is where a lot of prayer comes in… That’s something only the Holy Spirit can accomplish in each of us.
Open Conversations—Second, you can’t let your face go weird when your teenager asks you an unusual sex question. Thanks to the “Information Age,” there are a lot of misconceptions and weird ideas reverberating inside the teenage echo chamber. Don’t overreact. Understand the question they are actually asking. Teenagers love it when their parents take their questions seriously, and they especially love it when they think they have asked a really tough question. If you don’t know the answer, don’t make it up. It’s okay to say you don’t know, ask more questions, and say you’ll get back to them. Don’t forget to affirm the conversation. Say something like, “thanks for coming to me.”
Wise Boundaries—Third, you’ll need to decide in advance and communicate well whatever your dating policies are going to be. For example, “no dating until you’re thirty-five,” or as the Millennials would have said, “no becoming Facebook Official until you’re sixteen.” Keep in mind, however, that dating is on the decline. You may want to consider the value of appropriate dating. Relating to the opposite sex in a healthy, encouraging way while in a relationship is a skill that needs to be learned. Consider how teenagers can express their attraction to one another and spend time with one another both in person and through their phones without crossing the line into sin. The isolation in this generation of homebodies is real! A lot of teenagers are poorly equipped and terrified of having a conversation with the opposite sex, much less dating one of them. A good first step would be a number of blind dates for your teenager…just kidding. Boundaries are important. Take learning to drive on the highway for example: Teens need to know where the boundaries are, but they also need to know where the on-ramp is located and how to get up to an appropriate speed.
First tangible step is to start the conversation. I recommend going out to breakfast and ask your teenager some questions about their hopes, dreams, fears when it comes to dating and sex.
- What kind of person do you want to marry someday?
- Are you interested in dating anyone?
- Do you ever wonder how you’re going to meet the right person?
- Is there anything you’ve ever heard about sex that confuses you or concerns you?
But seriously… There are a lot of great resources on this subject both online and at Christian bookstores. One book I find helpful is Boundaries in Dating by Henry Cloud and John Townsend.
Your Friend and Fellow-Traveler in the Parenting Journey,
Associate Pastor of Student Ministries
Stonebriar Community Church
Emerging from the depths of the late 1970s, Nathan spent his formative years under the influence of Hall & Oates, Duran Duran, and other notables while listening to KRBE in Houston on the clock radio beside his bed. Nathan was influenced to love Jesus by the example of his young single mom, and he grew up with a love for God but an incomplete understanding of discipleship. As a result, as a teenager, he indulged in a relentless and at times reckless pursuit of social and athletic achievements, seeking to assuage an innermost feeling of emptiness that he could not escape. Finally, by God’s grace, the Spirit of the Lord made it clear to him that none but Jesus could satisfy what he was lacking. The answer had been there all along. Later, Nathan married the girl of his dreams and they ran off to California, had two sons, and returned to Texas where they adopted their sweet daughter. Having served as a Student Minister at two previous churches over the past 18 years, Nathan and his wife, Marie, are now thrilled to follow the calling of Christ at Stonebriar Community Church.