More often than not, we parents are caught off guard when our children come to us with questions about sex. And if we’re unprepared, chances are we’ll give awkward, embarrassed, incomplete answers. Too often we don’t know how to talk to our kids about sex or when we should do it.
It doesn’t have to be that way. As Christian parents we can do much more than merely pass on information about reproduction. We have the opportunity of shaping the sexual character of our children. Our children are inundated with messages and information about sex. Everywhere they turn- in our neighborhoods, in their schools, in the media- they are bombarded with discussions, stories, jokes, mixed messages, and debate about sexuality.
How can parents have a significant input amid such a din, much of which seems beyond their control? Stan and Brenna Jones outline twelve principles of Christian sex education in How and When to Tell Your Kids About Sex. It’s not about one conversation, but a lifelong approach to shaping your child’s sexual character. It’s not a matter of relaying information as it is a matter of deliberate character formation. How our children act in this critical area will not be affected by what they know about sex. It will be determined by their character and who they are at that particular time.
With that in mind, let’s look at the twelve principles of Christian sex education:
- Sex education is the shaping of character. Above the task of providing biological information is the shaping of our children’s character. They need accurate information, but they also must be given emotional strength and the skills to implement good decisions throughout their lives.
- Parents are the principal sex educators. No one will have an influence on your children like you do. Don’t avoid dealing with this topic, because your children will learn about sex regardless. If you take it on directly, you have the opportunity to have a powerful, clear, healthy, and positive influence on your child. It’s not about “sex-proofing” children through the teenage years. It is about preparing them to handle God’s gift of sexuality rightly throughout their life.
- First messages are the most potent. Think about it this way: You wouldn’t want your child to learn the wrong teachings about God for years and years, and then try to correct those erroneous lessons after the fact. So why do we let our kids learn about sexuality from everyone except us for years?
- We should seize those teachable moments and become askable parents. Many of the most precious opportunities to shape your children’s characters come at unexpected moments. The pregnant mom at church, the foul word in a movie preview, the news item about sexual abuse, the mating animals in the zoo- there are many events that will arise that should be treated as opportunities for conversation.
- Stories and powerful teaching tools. What do Jesus and the media have in common? They understand the power of stories in teaching. You can teach your children a dry concept like “immoral sex can have bad consequences,” or you can have a powerful impact on your children by sharing with them real stories of the difficulties faced by a real person who had a child out of wedlock.
- Accurate and explicit messages are best. Accurate messages tell children that you care about them, respect their questions, and that you are a trustworthy source of truth. Explicit does not mean graphic or crude. It means you give direct, truthful answers in an age-appropriate way.
- Positive messages are more powerful than negative messages. We rob the Christian faith of its power when we shrink the Christian teaching about sexuality to a list of don’ts. The Bible is very positive in its first messages of sexuality in Genesis; it shares the joy of man and woman coming together. We are physical and sexual beings and this is integral to the union of two becoming “one flesh”. Yes, the Bible has to warn us that God hates sexual immorality, but this negative message is grounded in a profoundly positive reality.
- We must inoculate our children against destructive moral messages. Try as we might to teach our kids the truth and nothing but the truth, the distorted beliefs of a world that has lost its balance will seep into the heart and minds of our children. Sheltering and overprotecting a child from all negative messages is unrealistic and does not empower him/her to make good decisions. Parents can help take the surprise out of destructive moral messages and teach children how to counteract them.
- Repetition is critical; repetition is really, really important. Sex education is never done. You will think that you have already covered something but if your child was not ready to hear it, it is as if you never said it. Kids need to hear the most important lessons over and over again.
- Close, positive parent-child relationships are crucial. Why would we let our kids go out on dates or into the confusing world of teen relationships starving for affection and affirmation? Close relationships with a parent helps children remember that what they do sexually is ultimately about whom they love- do they love and show that love by honoring what you have taught them?
- Sexuality is not the most important thing in life. Do not make the mistake of focusing so much on sexuality that it gets out of proportion with life. It is very important and bad decisions do have significant consequences, however…
- Our God can forgive, heal, and redeem anything. We worship a God who brings good out of evil, life out of death, sweetness out of bitterness. We cannot make every decision for our children. Live as a parent in the confidence and freedom of knowing that God is in control, and He is a loving and merciful Father.
So the big picture is of parents and children in ever-expanding and deepening conversations about our sexuality. These conversations help to draw you together and help to deepen your children’s faith in the goodness and love of God.
Dive deeper on these twelve principles with Stan and Brenna in How and When to Tell Your Kids About Sex. It is the fifth book of their best-selling series God’s Design for Sex. The other four books are age-appropriate resources for having safe and healthy dialogue about sex for children from ages 3 to 14.