Loida,* a mother in Mexico, says: “Condoms are given out at school, so teenagers think having sex is all right—as long as it’s ‘safe’ sex.”
Nobuko, a mother in Japan, says: “I asked my son what he would do if he and his girlfriend were alone. His reply was, ‘I don’t know.’”
WHEN your son or daughter was a toddler, did you childproof your home? Perhaps you covered electrical outlets, hid sharp objects, and barricaded stairways—all in an effort to keep your child safe.
If only it were that easy to keep your teenager safe! Now you have greater worries, such as: ‘Is my son accessing pornography?’ ‘Is my daughter ‘sexting’—sending lewd photos of herself via cell phone?’ And the dreaded question, ‘Is my teenager sexually active?’
The Illusion of Control
Some parents try to maintain 24-hour surveillance over their teens by hovering over them and monitoring their every move. Later, many of them discover that such ‘helicopter parenting’ only drove their teen underground. Their son or daughter became adept at hiding the very conduct the parents were trying to prevent.
Clearly, control is not the answer. Jehovah God himself does not use that method to elicit obedience from his creatures, and neither should you as a parent. (Deuteronomy 30:19) So how can you help your teens make wise moral decisions?—Proverbs 27:11.
A basic measure is to have ongoing discussions with your children and to start when they are young.* (Proverbs 22:6) Then, when they enter adolescence, keep talking. As a parent, you should be your teenager’s primary source of reliable information. “A lot of people think that we’d rather talk to our friends about sex,” says Alicia, a girl from Britain, “but that’s not true. We appreciate this information when it comes from our parents. We trust what they have to say.”
The Need for Good Values
As they grow, children need to know more about sex than just the facts of life. They should also have “their perceptive powers trained to distinguish both right and wrong.” (Hebrews 5:14) In short, they need values—a moral code made up of strongly held beliefs about sex—along with conduct that conforms to those beliefs. How can you inculcate good values in your teenager?
Start by considering your own values. For example, you may strongly believe that fornication—sex between unmarried individuals—is wrong. (1 Thessalonians 4:3) Likely, your children know your position on the matter; they may even be able to quote Bible passages that back up your beliefs. When questioned, they may readily answer that premarital sex is wrong.
But more is needed. The book Sex Smart observes that some youths may outwardly agree with their parents’ beliefs about sex. The book states: “They feel too uncertain to form their own opinions. When they stumble into an unexpected situation and face an immediate dilemma about ‘how far to go,’ they find themselves mixed up and in real trouble.” This is precisely why values are essential. How can you help your teen acquire them?
Make your values clear.
Do you believe that sex should be reserved for marriage? Then tell your teen, clearly and often. According to the book Beyond the Big Talk, research reveals that “in homes where parents have given their teen children clear messages that indicate that they disapprove of teens having intercourse, these teens are more likely to delay becoming involved in sexual intercourse.”
Of course, as mentioned earlier, simply stating your values does not guarantee that your son or daughter will choose to live by them. However, solid family values will provide a foundation upon which children can build their own. And studies have found that many youths do eventually adopt their parents’ values even if during the teen years the children seem to have put them in storage.
TRY THIS: Use a news event to initiate a discussion and communicate your values. For example, if a sex crime is reported, you might say: “I’m appalled at the way some men try to take advantage of women. Where do you think they get such ideas?”
Teach the whole truth about sex.
Warnings are necessary. (1 Corinthians 6:18; James 1:14, 15) However, the Bible primarily portrays sex as a gift of God, not as a trap of Satan. (Proverbs 5:18, 19; Song of Solomon 1:2) Telling your teens only about the dangers may leave them with a distorted, unscriptural view of the topic. “My parents put a lot of emphasis on sexual immorality,” says a young woman in France named Corrina, “and that gave me a negative attitude toward sex relations.”
Make sure that your children get the whole truth about sex. “What I have always tried to get across to my teens,” says a mother in Mexico named Nadia, “is that sex is beautiful and natural and that Jehovah God gave it to humans for them to enjoy. But it has its proper place within marriage. It can give us happiness or suffering, depending on how we use it.”
TRY THIS: The next time you talk to your teen about sex, end the discussion on a positive note. Do not be afraid to portray sex as a wonderful gift from God that he or she can enjoy in the future as a married person. Convey confidence that until that time your teen can adhere to God’s standards.
Help your teen to evaluate the consequences.
To make good decisions in any aspect of life, teenagers need to know how to identify options and then weigh the pros and cons of each option. Do not think that their simply knowing what is right and what is wrong is enough. “Reflecting on the mistakes of my youth,” says a Christian woman in Australia named Emma, “I can say that just knowing God’s standards doesn’t mean you agree with them. Understanding the benefits of those standards—and the consequences of violating them—is vital.”
The Bible can help, for many of its commands are reinforced by phrases that set forth the consequences of wrongdoing. For example, Proverbs 5:8, 9 urges young men to shun fornication “that you may not give to others your dignity.” As those verses indicate, those who engage in premarital sex sacrifice a degree of their character, integrity, and self-respect. And that makes them far less attractive to any potential mate who has those qualities. Reflecting on the physical, emotional, and spiritual dangers of disregarding God’s laws can bolster your teen’s resolve to live by them.*
TRY THIS: Use illustrations to help your teen see the wisdom of God’s standards. For example, you might say: “A campfire is good; a forest fire is bad. What is the difference between the two, and how does your answer apply to the boundaries God has set regarding sex?” Use the account at Proverbs 5:3-14 to help your teen understand the harmful consequences of fornication.
Takao, an 18-year-old in Japan, states, “I know that I should do what is right, but there is this ongoing struggle against the desires of the flesh.” Youths who feel that way can be comforted by the fact that they are not alone. Even the apostle Paul—a stalwart Christian—admitted: “When I wish to do what is right, what is bad is present with me.”—Romans 7:21.
Teenagers would do well to realize that such a struggle is not always bad. It can prompt them to contemplate just what sort of person they want to become. It can help them to come to grips with the question, ‘Do I want to take charge of my life and be known as someone who has character and integrity, or do I want to be known as a follower—a person who weakly caves in to his desires?’ Having good moral values will help your teen answer that question wisely.
Some names in this article have been changed.
For suggestions on how to initiate a discussion with your children about sex and how to share age-appropriate information, see The Watchtower, November 1, 2010, pages 12-14.
For more information, see the article “Young People Ask . . . Will Sex Improve Our Relationship?” in the April 2010 issue of Awake! published by Jehovah’s Witnesses.
ASK YOURSELF . . .
What indications do I have that my teenager has strong moral values?
When talking to my teenager about sex, do I portray it primarily as a gift of God or as a trap of Satan?