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Moving beyond “The Talk”

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h52_09_13_final_issuu_16As my son and daughter enter puberty, I am urgently aware of the negative messages about sexuality they receive daily, so I polled a variety of pastors, parents, and counsellors for their wisdom on how to grow my children into sexually healthy followers of Jesus.

How do I talk to my children about sex?

The primary issue is to keep the lines of communication open. Kids want to talk. They have questions and concerns.

—Yvonne Snider-Nighswander, grandmother, Jubilee Mennonite, Winnipeg

“The talk” can’t be a checkmark on the list of things to do; it must be a regular conversation, and it can’t start too early. With teens, I don’t ask “why?”! “Why” implies judgment and leads to feelings of guilt and shame, or a defensive response. If I just listen – and reserve judgment – teens will express their fears, concerns, and frustrations.

—Jon Dyck, high school guidance counsellor, Fourth Avenue Bible, Niverville, Man.

We need to watch TV with our children to teach them to see the lies they’re being bombarded with daily. The question may be: do we as parents and the church see the lies?

—Ruth Schellenberg, pastor of children’s ministry, Fort Garry MB, Winnipeg

What’s the most important message kids need to hear from their parents about sexuality?

Children benefit from knowing that their parents enjoy each other. Only then can children contrast the insipid versions of sexuality hurled at them through popular media. Children need to know what’s real before they can spot the counterfeit. If we aren’t prepared to have this discussion with our children, there are many other willing participants who don’t have their best interests in mind.

—Peter White, counsellor, Highland Community, Abbotsford, B.C.

The most important thing my parents ever said was “You know the standards God and the church community uphold. But if you screw up, we’ll still love you and help you deal with the consequences as best we can.” That strengthened my resolve to make them proud.

—J Janzen, pastor, Highland Community, Abbotsford, B.C.

If our children experience God, they’ll understand the privilege of being his sons and daughters. We act according to who we are and who we want to be like. Of course, we need to communicate biblical teachings about sexuality, but biblical imperatives without a renewed identity fashioned through worship is nothing more than empty religion.

—Martin Lanthier, pastor, Sainte-Rose, Quebec

How do I know how much information they’re ready for?

If they’re secure in their identity and sense of belonging, I don’t think more information will “put ideas in their heads.” They live in a world with info from many sources at their fingertips, so our Christian perspective needs to be conversing without hesitation, but also without overloading them.

—Elsie Rempel, formation consultant, Mennonite Church Canada

How can I help my children commit to purity when the average age their peers are losing virginity is 15?

To say “I will withhold forging into this territory until we go together under a covenant” means there will be laughter, astonishment at awkwardness, as well as at pure joy. Purity is not a timid “I won’t” but an energetic “I will.” It is not only abstinence but whole-hearted commitment and engagement in a relationship and exploration of the territory that is yours. Not passive, not passé, not past tense. It is active, and engaged, and rewarding, while asking much of us.

—Darlene Klassen, internship director, Bethany College, Hepburn, Sask.

Let them know it’s okay to be radical about all the ways following Jesus conflicts with living like our non-Christian friends, including our rejection of sexual promiscuity. Talking openly about the emotional vulnerability that intercourse includes can help teens understand the importance of marriage as the best context for sexual intercourse.

—Elsie Rempel

I remember my parents talked about what my hopes and goals for the future were. The question then was, “How will having sex outside of marriage contribute to or get in the way of that?”

—J Janzen

I invited men in my boys’ life to write them a letter on their 13th birthday with these simple instructions: give a word of encouragement, a word of advice, a hope for their life, and a prayer. It was a simple countercultural gesture that affirmed them as men within a supportive Christian community.

—Lloyd Letkeman, MB Mission mobilizer

When my children start dating, how much should I pry into the details of their relationships?

When I started dating someone, I wasn’t only dating her, but her family and friends as well. Dating isn’t this private thing between two people; it’s a public act. I invited my parents and close friends to ask questions and make comments because I knew, in my lovey-dovey state, I could be blind to something unhealthy.

—J Janzen 

What messages should I give my children about self-stimulation?

Never shame a child at any stage in their development regarding their exploration of their bodies. Shame is a primary culprit in the development of sexual addiction. It’s important to acknowledge the strength of the urges they face and the goodness of their emergent feelings, and to promote that these feelings and functions are most suited for the marriage union.

—Peter White

How do I keep my kids from developing the shame complex many Mennonites my age grew up with when it comes to sexuality?

As women, it’s important we recognize that our bodies and souls bear the image of God…even if we don’t refer to God as mother.

—Elsie Rempel

Discuss sexuality in positive terms: precious, beautiful, mysterious, exhilarating. Discuss sexuality in realistic terms: vulnerability, insecurity, fearfulness. Discuss sexuality in physical, mental, and emotional terms: attraction, desire, urges, biology. Discuss sexuality in Christian terms: commitment, marriage, sacred, co-creators with God. Do all of this prior to the “do not’s” and “dangers” of sexuality.

—Lloyd Letkeman

Fathers need to notice their wives and daughters, particularly when they aren’t dressed up. And boys need to be affirmed in their giftedness, especially if they aren’t into cars or other stereotypical gender roles. Make your kids as comfortable in their own skin as possible.

—J Janzen

How can I prepare my children not to be drawn in the first time someone shows them an explicit image?

By honouring the image of God in the other gender. Then they will recognize how degrading pornography is.

—Elsie Rempel

Have monitoring software on all internet devices in the home.

—Dallas Kornelsen, healthy sexuality coordinator, Crisis Pregnancy Centre

Whether it’s an addiction to potato chips or video games, talk about the temptation and the struggle, and the habits of the heart, mind, and will that combat them. Then, when they approach their teen years, you have a shared vocabulary to discuss sex addiction. The most powerful coping strategies are peer accountability and significant connections with role models.

—Lloyd Letkeman

With what words can I arm my children to protect themselves from sexual abuse?

Not with words, but with attitudes: a strong self-concept, knowing they have the right to say “no,” knowing they can trust their core values and dignity, and that sexuality intimacy should never be linked with control and power issues.

—Elsie Rempel

How do I respond when my child says, “My friend told me, ‘I think I’m gay’”?

I suspect that our sexual identities may not be firm up until our late teens. Stay open to the conversation, so you can help your child process his or her questions, but also share your understanding.

—Elsie Rempel

Celebrate that they have trusted your son or daughter with their story. So many people with same-sex attractions live in fear without support, prayer, or understanding friendships. If your child is a bridge to God’s love and God’s community, help your child become a strong bridge.

—Lloyd Letkeman

How can I affirm my son’s masculinity and my daughter’s femininity without relying on stereotypes?

If we let our kids make mistakes and coach them to take responsibility and be creative in problem solving, they’ll have a sense of being men and women competent to face the world. Gender is only one of the many gifts God gave us. Each of our two boys and two girls are unique, so my wife and I put most of our focus on “What is this kid’s strength and how can I encourage it?”

—J Janzen

Regarding fathers and sons: by modelling grace and graciousness, role flexibility (e.g., cooking, housecleaning), and emotional expression – especially crying.

Andrew Dyck, professor, MBBS Winnipeg

Any advice for steering them through puberty?

I’ve never seen a parent steer a child through puberty; as parents, we are at most a “backseat driver” who gives helpful tips – usually to the driver’s disgust! Eat together, play together, pray together, and allow conversations to flow. Pick up on the teachable moments. A parent’s prayer life always spikes during puberty.

—Lloyd Letkeman

One of the messages we need to hear again and again is “No matter what you do, Jesus loves you.” Love (not shame or fear) always wins out.

—J Janzen

What’s the best book you’ve ever read on talking to kids about sexuality?

The Body and Soul curriculum, Nurturing Healthy Sexuality at Home, and Created by God: Tweens, Faith, and Human Sexuality from MennoMedia

—Elsie Rempel

Youth Culture 101 by Walt Mueller

—Dallas Kornelsen

The New Speaking of Sex: What Your Children Need to Know and When They Need to Know It by Meg Hickling

—Andrew Dyck

God’s Design for Sex series by Stan and Brenna Jones, and Sex Has A Price Tag by Pam Stenzel

—Sherryl Koop, Beautiful Unique Girl program facilitator and developer, Family Life Network

The Passport2Purity Getaway Kit from familylife.com. I did this with my daughter; we loved our night away together.

—Cindy Sue Peters, preschool coordinator, Ross Road, Abbotsford, B.

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