By Jordan Valentine
Not a care in the world in the California moonlight, cruising down the road with my oldest. Just a dad and his son, nothing better. Then it happened. Out of the peaceful silence my son asked me, “Dad, what’s sex?”
I did what any sane parent would do. I panicked, opened my car door, and jumped out. Okay, I made the last part up, but maybe you have wished you could make a quick escape from your kids’ questions. It can seem like a better alternative than actually having this conversation. I mean, most people might presume I am a mature adult, but I feel inappropriate even typing words like “sex” and “pornography.” You may even be asking, “Why is this rapscallion using such a wild tongue? He is simply uncouth!” (In this scenario, you are a prim and proper person from the 1600s).
If our kids don’t learn about sex from us, they will learn about it from the world. They will learn it from their friends, their schools, the culture around them, or from screens when no one else is watching. The thought of talking to your children about sex can make you feel awkward. As a youth pastor I dealt with parents who struggled with this conversation because of their past sexual mistakes. Some parents felt like hypocrites for teaching their kids to do something they didn’t even do themselves. So instead, they just left their children without guidance in a world full of sexual landmines. Other parents would try to keep their kids from making the same mistakes they did by dressing them in a chastity belt of rules. These students would be ashamed or angry with their parents and then explore an accessible sexual world when their parents weren’t looking. Either scenario leads to the children finding important answers somewhere else.
This growing communication problem leads Gen Z to pornography. For them it is natural to experience life through the screen. The average Gen Z-er spends as much time on a screen as many people do at their full-time jobs. According to Barna,* over 25 percent are on a screen over 56 hours a week. Unlike previous generations, they don’t use social media just to keep friendships; they are looking for new friendships and new experiences, not in person, but through screens. Without healthy direction they all too easily fall in lust with digital sex. This can lead to shame and fear, and ultimately it will rob our children of God’s best for them.
I am not a professional psychologist, just a dad trying to get better every day at my craft. Nonetheless, I am going to give you a few tips on how to have open and honest conversations about sex and pornography with your children. These conversations will help your kids have a healthier view of sex and help them safeguard themselves from the lies of pornography.
Just a few notes to review before we get started. First, God made us sexual beings. It is part of who we are, but not our main identity. God did this on purpose. (Your kids are not freaks if they desire sex.) God’s design is perfect. He declared sex good, meaning when God designed it and when we exercise it according to His design, it is good. Adam and Eve felt no shame in the way God created them and united them together. Second, Satan is a liar. He used his lies to deceive Adam and Eve. He attempted and failed to deceive Jesus. His attacks on us and on our children will come at us from his lying lips. He will attempt to lie to them about sex and pornography. You can see this in our culture. Although God made us sexual beings as part of our identity, now sexuality is seemingly synonymous with our identity.
Now on to three tips to help you to have open conversations about sex with your kids.
- Just answer what they ask.
- My parents gave me this great advice that they stole from one of their teachers. It simplifies the harder to answer questions we get from our kids. Sometimes when our child asks about sex, we think we must unleash the entirety of our knowledge upon their child-sized brains. (I’m guilty of this.) Instead, just answer the question they ask. If they ask another, answer that. Let them determine how much information they can handle and don’t assume they need more than they are asking for. You can be cautious, using words appropriate for their age. (We don’t want to push them into mature topics they haven’t thought or heard of yet.) We also don’t want them to view these conversations with us as inappropriate or embarrassing. Within our culture today, our kids will more than likely be exposed to pornography. In times past you would have to go to a sleazy store to access porn; now it is available in every pocket. If our kids feel free to come to us, we can help them avoid the secrecy and shame.
- Check in with them.
- Sometimes they may not ask questions. This is when you need to be proactive and open up the conversation. They may not be ready to talk at that moment. (Let’s be real; kids usually ask when it is the most inconvenient – pretty sure they do it on purpose.) Your checking in lets them know that they have open access to any information they are curious about. It will take away the secrecy and fear the enemy can use.
- Point to the blessing of God’s design.
- Every conversation becomes an opportunity to lead our kids to the immense love and goodness of God. Deuteronomy 6 gives us a great reminder as parents to be diligent in teaching our kids to love God, and from that love, to follow His commandments. In an area that can harm our child so greatly, we should diligently point them to God and the happiness they can experience through His design. Each potentially awkward and cringy conversation becomes an opportunity for your kids to see the beauty of how God made sex a special part of their lives. This approach will not just grow an excitement for doing things God’s way but will also grow their love of God the more they see His faithfulness. Remember, we are not teaching our kids that all their wildest dreams will come true when they find their spouse. That would set unrealistic expectations that would lead to frustration. What we are doing is saying that God’s way is always better. In good seasons and bad ones, God’s way is filled with peace. That is true in all areas of life, whether relationships, finances (a shout-out to Dave Ramsey), parenting, or sex.
There is no exhaustive, foolproof list for how to raise a child that will never look at pornography, but your faithful voice can lead them toward freedom. In a world that will constantly twist and pervert sex as long as they live, it is important to be that steady voice that points to the beauty and joy of God’s design for sex.
*Gen Z: The Culture, Beliefs and Motivations Shaping the Next Generation. The Barna Group and Impact 360 Institute. January 22, 2018
About the Author
Jordan Valentine is married to an amazing woman, Mia, who can tolerate all his sarcasm! He is the father of three wild boys: John, Jedidiah, and Thaddeus. He has been a youth pastor for more than ten years and now has the honor of being lead pastor at Journey Church of Open Bible in Antioch, California.