Educating Children on the Topics of Marriage, Sex and Intimacy
Our children are born into perilous times. Though the threats to their physical health and lives have vastly decreased over the last seventy-five years, there are now urgent threats to their sexual purity and to their emotional and spiritual wellbeing. So, for Christian parents to educate their children on the important topics of marriage, sex and intimacy is an essential part of the Biblical teaching to “bring children up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4); especially as they see their children growing up in a world of differing and, in some cases, very extreme opinions. Since sex and sexuality appear to be mentioned everywhere, these are important subjects for parents to deal with as they try to help their children learn to connect every aspect of life with God’s truth on a particular subject.
Most parents ask, “How do I start? When do I start?” Children often give the cue. Most children begin to ask questions at least about marriage and about babies at a very young age. Answer these questions in an honest and age appropriate way. Deuteronomy 6:6-9 encourages us to talk to our children as they meet different situations in life. As these questions and situations cross our paths, we need time, or we need to make time, to do this.
The onset of the body changes of puberty will be likely to provoke further conversation between the parent and the child provided the right kind of family communication has already been established. Talking about how and why our bodies change during puberty not only brings an anxious teenager some helpful reassurance that all these changes are under God’s control, but also offers parents the opportunity to explain their purpose. You might say, ”During puberty, our bodies change so we can have children, we become more mature in the way we think, and we develop new feelings and emotions that may draw us to a husband or wife so together we can offer loving security to our children”. Dialogues like this are precious and should be respected, never trivialized, and confidentiality maintained. They also give parents the opportunity to encourage their children to think ahead responsibly, not just about what kind of job they might want in life, but also about preparing for family life as a husband or wife and a father or mother.
It is important that we educate our children about the two states that are pleasing to God: singleness and marriage. As Christian parents we understand that marriage, as God gave it to us, is an earthly picture of Christ’s relationship with his church in which he demonstrates his faithful, passionate and fruitful love. Sexual intimacy is God’s gift for this most intimate and lifelong human relationship. Sex before or outside marriage is therefore a very intimate relationship without the security that God intended. We can show our children that we are likely to hurt ourselves and others if we experience this intimate physical bonding in a context other than the one that God has designed. Of course this means that our own lives and example must match our words, if not all our words become meaningless or worse.
But educating children about sex and intimacy does not end with talking about the changes of puberty. They need to be helped to understand that the choices they make in relationships during and beyond puberty may affect the rest of their lives. By the early teens there will be few children who have not been confronted with a whole range of related issues that their grandparents may never have encountered. So, uncomfortable and embarrassing though it may be, your children will need your help and counsel as they hear about unwanted pregnancies, sexually transmitted infections, contraception, abuse, same sex relationships, masturbation, pornography, oral sex, cohabitation, gender transitioning and other issues. They will find the meaning of the word ‘love’ confusing. The word is used in so many different ways, such as describing the powerful feelings of romantic love which are very enjoyable, but may pass, or describing the sacrificial and committed love of a husband for his wife which stands the test of time.
Peer influences are likely to become more powerful as children move into the teenage years. As they hear reasons for other people’s points of view, it is important that they have a clear understanding that following God’s ways is right and leads to happier marriages, better health and better outcomes for children. It is also important to help our children develop a healthy self confidence so they can stick to and at times have the strength to stand up for the Godly principles they have come to believe in.
Finally, and above all, as we seek to guide and help our children, we must also let them know that they are deeply loved and whatever happens that will not change. Mistakes will be made both by parents and by children and however deep the disappointment and desperation, we must respond to each other with love, compassion and forgiveness.
Dr. Liz Jones is a retired Community Pediatrician and the co-author of Growing up God's Way for both boys and girls. She is married with three married daughters and seven grandchildren. With her husband, she attends Welbeck Road Evangelical Church, Newcastle upon Tyne.
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