Monday, February 9, 2015

Help! My Teen Is "Experimenting"!

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Last week I got a call from a colleague regarding a situation which had some Christian parents highly concerned. Their daughters had been texting mildly sexual content to each other. It was unclear if anything beyond texting had gone on between the girls. Today I'd like to share some tips for parents on how to address situations like this one.

Before getting into how to address the problem of your teen "experimenting", we need to clarify what we mean by that term. Experimentation, as I'll be discussing today, refers to talking about or acting on sexual behaviors with someone of the same sex while not actually claiming to be homosexual. While it's more commonly recognized among females, experimentation can be done among males or females. In media, it's particularly common among college girls, but in reality, it can be done by anyone of any age or gender.

Experimentation has become more popular in recent decades. I believe that one of the contributing factors was the 1948 development of the "Kinsey Scale", which claims that people are not strictly "heterosexual", or "homosexual", but rather they are on a scale of heterosexuality/homosexuality. Other contributing factors may have been the "free love" and "gay rights" movements.

Regardless of the origin of the prevalence of experimentation, though, many parents will have to deal with the issue at some point in their child's life. The following are some ways that parents can do so in a loving manner while upholding the biblical standard for marriage and sexuality.

Make your position clear. Not reacting to this situation would be a mistake. Oftentimes parents will say, "it's just a phase," or "they'll grow out of it" and ignore the situation altogether. If parents don't give their children guidelines for proper behavior, though, the children will never have a reason to change their behavior, or, as some would say, "grow out of it".* Teens need to know that according to Scripture, any sexual relationship beyond one man married to one woman is sinful. For information on how to guide discussions on this with your teen, you can see my previous post on Talking to Your Teen about Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity.

Find a happy medium. While not reacting is dangerous, overreacting can be equally so. If the parents I received the call regarding were to cut off all contact between their daughters, the girls would most likely rebel by expressing even more deviant behaviors. The parents could, however, respond by setting in place rules to govern the girls' behavior, such as allowing the girls to spend time together with parental supervision, not allowing sleepovers, and monitoring phone contact.

Involve your teen. The best way to prevent the teens from rebelling against these rules is to have them involved in making them. Ask them what would best help them to not be tempted. As the parent, you have the final say in what the rules and consequences are, but if your teen was involved in the process, they will be more likely to follow the rules even when you are not there to enforce them.

Partner with the other parents. If your teen is experimenting with another teen, the parents of the other teen need to be made aware as well. Talk to those parents about setting guidelines for contact between your children and ask them to enforce them as well. If appropriate for your situation, get together with your teen, the other parents, and the other teen to discuss what is happening and what the proper response is.

Be firm. If your child will not work with you to set guidelines for their behavior, you are the parent and have a right--a responsibility, even--to set rules for them that they must follow. Make consequences clear and consistent. Regarding the other child's parents, if they disagree about the dangers of experimentation or refuse to enforce the rules you have set in place, you may have to refuse to allow your teen to spend time with the other teen without your supervision.

Remember the Gospel. No sin is too great to be forgiven. When repentance comes, don't withhold grace from your child. Consequences do not have to be removed when you forgive them, but make it clear that they are still loved and accepted. Their identity is found not in what they have done, but what has been done for them--the atonement for sins by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, given to them through the Word and Sacraments.

Is there anything you would add to this list? As always, feedback is welcome!

*It should be clarified that while people may "grow out of" experimentation, sexual orientation is not generally something that one "grows" into or out of. Anecdotal evidence may indicate otherwise, but scientific studies seem to indicate that sexual orientation is innate. (Read this article on a study by Professors Richard Pillard and Michael Bailey for more information.) My intention in this post was not to address the issue of parenting homosexual/bisexual children, but to discuss the issue of heterosexual teenagers that are experimenting with same-sex sexual behaviors. In future I hope to write on parenting homosexual/bisexual children, but nothing is in the works as of yet.

If you have questions on the official LCMS policy on homosexuality, you can read this pamphlet by President A.L. Barry or see the LCMS Frequently Asked Questions section on sexuality.

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