As parents, it can be easy to fall into the trap of advising our children to “do as I say, not as I do”. I find that the parents of many of the teens I work with are telling their kids to stay “pure” sexually without modeling a pure sexual ethic to their children. We live in a world where divorces, swinging and affairs are becoming the norm, and our kids feel as if their parents are in some ways following society’s trends. This trend-following can happen many ways, from big to small, so I thought I would share a few snapshots from conversations that I’ve had with kids lately to both help remind us all that our kids are watching what we do and also to help us remember that we have an important role to play in defining what our kids understand as a healthy sexual ethic.
1. My dad had an affair: Obviously, this is a big, and unfortunately common, struggle for many marriages. A fifteen-year-old that I work with was told about 8 months ago, by his father and mother, that his father had an affair. His father was seeking counseling, and his parents decided to stay together. His father confessed his actions and asked forgiveness of his son. He told his son that he regretted his actions, that his actions were foolish, and that his son should never, ever have an affair. Meanwhile, his son felt hurt, upset, betrayed and angry. The family has since never discussed the affair. His son is left with a lot of questions and worries about both his parents and his own life.
He viewed his father as an amazing Christian before the affair, and now he has doubts about whether it’s possible or even worth it to stay pure. He doesn’t understand how the affairs could have happened, and now, he doesn’t feel like he has a role model to look up to. I share this story because I believe, in matters of deep sin and broken trust, a family unit as a whole must be allowed to grieve and process. To simplify matters, this was a huge load for the dad to drop on his son, and he’s left him alone to sort out what this means for his walk with the Lord and his understanding of purity. If something this hurtful becomes public in a family, then it’s my belief that the family needs to continue to deal with it. Yes, as Christians, we are called to forgive, but we still must deal with the consequences of our sin.
2. My mom watches HBO: I was recently talking with a thirteen-year-old whose mom watches the HBO show “Girls”, along with other TV sensations like the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills/OC/NJ/ATL, etc. Her mom has told her in the past that she shouldn’t watch certain shows (like CW’s Gossip Girl when it was on or ABC Family’s Pretty Little Liars) because the content is “unhelpful”. This thirteen-year-old has overheard what sounded like explicit sex and has even seen some nudity in the shows that her mom watches on TV, and she regularly hears her mom laugh at the crass jokes and content on the Real Housewives shows. She has told me before that she thinks her mom is a hypocrite and that she has no right to tell her what to watch and what not to watch on TV.
I share this story, because I want to remind us all that our children are watching what we are doing. It is helpful to us and to them if we are watching content that is filled with sexual scenes, nudity and crass content? Are the things that we take in edifying? I think we should ask these questions of the content we see online, of the magazines we purchase and of the shows and movies that we watch. My husband and I have a no rated R movie policy. We have just found that the sexual content and crass nature of some rated R movies isn’t worth it to our purity. Additionally, certain cable stations (like E Entertainment television, MTV, HBO, Bravo, Style, BET, VHI, etc.) are blocked from both my husband and I. The cost is just greater than the temporary entertainment value.
3. My dad checks out girls. One of the 16-year-olds I work with told me that it bothers her that her dad checks out women and girls. She has become very sensitive and passionate about the issue of purity (her ex-boyfriend had a pornography addiction), and as a result, she started noticing that her father’s eyes always seemed to roam. They looked at the Victoria’s Secret ads on TV, at the lingerie billboards in the mall, at pretty women walking down the street, and even at girls in her class. Understandably, this has made her pretty uncomfortable.
Sometimes, I’ve heard married couples adopt a “look but don’t touch” policy, or a belief that “boys, or men, will be boys”. If left unchecked, I know that some guys start realizing they are even doing it to some extent, but these wandering eyes send a powerful message to our daughters and sons. Christ tells us that if we look at a woman with lust, it’s as if we’ve committed adultery. When our sons and daughters see us constantly scanning and checking out the opposite sex, it’s telling them that we’re not satisfied with what we have, and it’s also communicating a sort of consumption mentality—that attractive men and women are ours to visually consume.
It can also lead to a lot of insecurity—a son or daughter may begin to worry that if their father (or mother) is checking out the opposite sex all the time in their presence, that they may be doing something worse in their private life. As Christian parents, it’s important that we communicate a full-bodied purity, not only by not committing physical adultery, but by also keeping our heart, minds, eyes, and spirit pure and directed on our spouse alone.