Creative director's note:
Since God actually designed the rage inside our hormones, they’re not a mistake. (Yep, this magazine holds a strict God-never-goofs policy.) Most adults either adopt a "Don't Ask So I Don't Have To Tell" attitude toward sex and dating – releasing teens unequipped for relationships and praying the inevitable mistakes don’t cause permanent damage – or take the “nunnery” approach of locking them away (which always works oh so well).
The feelings and desires of teens aren’t bad (just dangerous). It’s our responsibility to guide them on a path through the dating minefield while challenging them to discover God’s heart beneath their emotions and desires while remaining devoted to God. That’s exactly why Andy Braner wrote his new book "Exposé on Teen Sex and Dating."
Remember when dating was a hamburger and a movie?
Homecoming games where girls wore letter jackets to show the world they were thinking about a relationship a bit more serious than just friends?
Well, to put it bluntly, those days are over.
I sat across the table from a group of 15 year olds at a restaurant in a small U.S. town. Most of them were attending the private Christian school in the area, and most of them were old friends of mine.
I was enjoying the company, thoroughly enjoying the food, laughing and catching up when all of a sudden the topic turned to dating.
I couldn’t believe all the things they knew about their friends. They were up to speed on just how far each one of them had gone physically. They knew who would compromise their sexuality and who was going to save themselves. They even knew which boys were the predators.
Out of nowhere I asked, “So how many students do you think are sexually active in your school?”
The conversation stopped. They looked at me like I was some alien from the planet Voltron and had just invaded their planet.
“Andy, you just don’t get it, do you?”
“I guess not. What don’t I get?” I asked innocently enough.
“Oral sex at our school is just not that big of a deal.”
I was shocked. Here was the high school popular crowd trying to convince me that oral sex was something considered more the norm than the exception to the rule.
Later that year, I was speaking at a local youth event and had the chance to interview a group of 20 high school seniors.
“OK, tell me the real deal,” I said. “What’s going on in the hallways of your high school?”
I spent the next hour in utter shock as they revealed incidents of sex in the bathrooms, sex under the bleachers, sex at the dances.
Then they walk the hallways the next day as if nothing ever happened.
They’re not mindless animals that can’t control themselves, as my Darwinist friends would claim. With a little training, a little modeling and a lot less pressure, teenagers can start being friends with a boy or a girl and discover the nuances of the opposite sex.
Unfortunately, our culture injects so much pressure for kids to “prove” their love to one another; it’s almost impossible to stand up for something you believe in so strongly without being weird, strange or totally out.
My son Hays is in fifth grade. He came home a few weeks ago and told me some kids were “going together,” and the other kids on the playground wanted them to prove their relationship. They put the two kids in a closet and told them they had to French kiss so everyone would know their true devotion to one another.
My first reaction? I laughed out loud. Then after I composed myself, I looked at him and said, “What?”
Hays said the little boy came out of the closet (no pun intended there) crying his eyes out. The girl was so embarrassed that she skipped the rest of recess and went straight back in to her class.
What kind of culture do we live in? Why are 10-year-olds trying to prove their love to one another?
But the facts are clear:
Unless we start talking about dating & sexuality with our kids at a younger and younger age, we're leaving them to navigate these turbid waters on their own.
Let’s be honest with ourselves: Boys were made for girls, girls were made for boys, and it’s time we help the two understand the vast impact they can have on each other – before it’s too late.
Recently I was sitting with a teenage friend. We’ve talked of dating, marriage, commitment and purity for the last five years. She knows what I think about dating and saving yourself for marriage.
We were eating at a local restaurant with several others and in the middle of the meal she announced, “I’m having a baby!” You can imagine my shock in the moment. I had no idea. I was totally caught off guard. My mind went into hyperdrive.
How in the world could this happen? Here is a girl with all the tools to keep her dating relationship pure, yet she has become another statistic. She is now another teenage pregnancy. How? Why? And what can I do to help future generations from having to face the same issues?
I had only a few seconds to compose myself because I wanted to make sure she knew I loved her and supported her for who she was. I didn’t want to be that guy who teenagers are afraid to tell their problems to, so I just started asking questions.
As she answered, some things started becoming even clearer. My friend, who was now pregnant, was treating this pregnancy like a speed bump on the road of life. She was going to continue school, get a job after the baby was born and just pick right up from where she left off.
I sat amazed at the disconnect. “This is going to change your whole life,” I said.
“I know, but I have a lot of help. I think I can keep going.”
It felt like she hadn’t even considered the reality of her decision. Obviously, my response was one of great concern and care. I told her I was going to support her any way she needed. But the fact remained: here was a close friend I’d taught for a long time, but somehow I hadn’t been speaking her language.
If you are going to speak into a teenager's life concerning dating, you must recognize that they are on a journey from childhood into a place of adulthood.
Every day is a day closer to a place where they can make their own decisions.
It’s a common technique in coaching to fill the hearts of your players so that when you need to correct them, they’ll actually listen.
My high school coach was a genius when it came to motivating. He didn’t just turn it on at game time. He didn’t just ride us hard in practice. He spent Monday nights opening up his home for us to do a Bible study. He had open office hours when the players could come and talk about whatever they wanted to talk about. He took his job seriously. It was more than just the game.
Parents and leaders, we need to see kids growing up as more than a game. We can’t expect to speak into their dating lives only when it’s time for them to walk out the door on a date. We have to build a rapport with our kids so that when dating becomes the issue, they’ll listen. (And as an added bonus, if we’re modeling healthy relationships, they’ll know that we know what we’re talking about.)
It takes a lot of time and investment.
We can’t exercise our ability to develop deep relationships if we’re hiding things in the corners of our lives. For years, Christians have thought, “If I only show them a good face, they might believe in the God we worship.” But what kind of life is that? Frankly, it’s a lie.
This is probably where I see the biggest failure of parenting or mentoring, and it’s an honest mistake. We don’t want our kids to know the “old” us. We all have stories we’d rather not share in detail, probably because we don’t want to give our kids any ideas. Or maybe we see the failure in our own lives, and we don’t want our kids to go down the same road. But just because you failed in a certain situation doesn’t mean you can’t tell them and show them where you’re coming from.
If you see a teenager going through a situation you know is going to be harmful, pull them aside and help them to see how that same situation shaped your life. Be transparent about your past. It doesn’t mean you have to go into the gory details, but a teen hearing about a personal experience from someone they trust can help them gain a glimpse into the possible future consequences.
I believe, if given the right tools, our teenagers can rise up to be the next great generation.
Together, we can welcome them into this wonderful relational dance between a man and a woman. We will see marriages restored, sexual issues begin to fade away, and young men and women committing the whole of their sexuality to the one who created them.
ANDY BRANER is an ordained youth minister and president of Ahava ministries, a camp ministry that teaches a Christian worldview to teens and college students. This article was adapted from his new book "An Exposé on Teen Sex and Dating."