Talking to Your Teens About the Grey Area
The Grey Area. It’s not black and white. It’s blurry. It’s the place in dating relationships that nobody talks about. While they may not act like it, our teenagers find safety in boundaries, and they want direction in defining them. As you know, it’s all too common that a variety of media platforms inform and shape our teenagers’ perspectives of what dating and marriage should look like. How do we step into this?
Teenagers Want to Talk About the Grey Areas
This past fall, a good friend of mine and I asked a group of high school girls if they would be interested in discussing these tricky topics. The group of girls consisted of about 12 high school juniors and seniors. We were delighted and a little surprised at how eager the girls were to be a part of this.
Unlike other studies we’ve led, most of the girls were there on time, every week, and had their “homework” completed. They wanted to talk about topics that are seemingly never talked about in Christian circles: dating, purity, and how far is too far. They were filled with questions that they feel like are never clearly answered. We decided to call the study “Grey Areas.”
During our eight weeks together, I was amazed and encouraged by how open the girls were with each other and us. They asked hard, uncomfortable questions and they were very vulnerable. They asked us for hard lines and truths on dating expectations and how far is too far? We used the books Single, Dating, Married, Engaged by Ben Stuart and Outdated: Find Love That Lasts When Dating Has Changed by Johnathon Poludka to guide our discussion. It tackles tough topics and sparked rich and raw conversations. It opened my eyes to see that teenagers are dying for someone to ask them the hard questions and to care about them.
While this may seem intimidating to you, don’t let it be. The girls did most of the talking. We provided an intentional space for hard topics and then were available to listen. I find so many parents are afraid to talk to their kids about these things, so they don’t say anything. I’m here to say you don’t need the right words, you just need to be intentional and available. Even if they don’t ask for it, they want someone to guide them.
Tips on Talking to Your Teens About Sex
I am currently parenting a freshman girl, sophomore boy, senior boy, and college sophomore. I am not in any way an expert, but I have learned some things over the years, and my time with these girls only reinforced some of my thoughts on discussing these topics with your kids.
First, it’s never too late to talk to your kid about sex. They are eager to talk about it, and they want someone to care. Whether your child is barely an adolescent or already having sex, you’re not late. So don’t let that be your barrier.
Second, most teenagers carry a lot of shame regarding this topic whether it’s based on what they’ve done or what they’ve seen. It’s important that as their parents, or adults, we help them navigate this topic by reminding them that God’s grace is bigger than anything they’ve done or seen.
Many teenagers have already had sex or stepped into “Grey Areas” that they aren’t proud of. I would encourage you not to react negatively to what they are saying. Try not to change your facial expressions or look shocked or disappointed. They aren’t proud of what they have done, and it is so important that our response showers them with grace. When difficult things we have done are brought into The Light, it is painful and hard, but it leads to beautiful freedom.
Third, don’t be afraid to bring up these topics with your kids. Remember, it’s more nerve-racking and embarrassing for them than for you! I bring up uncomfortable topics during low-key casual times, and often quite bluntly. What starts as a causal question usually becomes a deeper conversation.
Four, emphasize purity. Pursuing purity is not a place where we arrive, it’s a journey. God’s Word tells us to fill our minds, hearts, and bodies with pure things, because He made us, and He knows what’s best for us. He knows that there is safety in boundaries. There’s a reason why we put a fence around our yard for our pets and outlet protectors over our outlets when our kids are toddlers. There are some things that aren’t good for us yet. He knows what He is doing.
What Four High School Girls Said About Sex
The time I spent with our group of high school girls only reinforced my belief in the tips I shared above, and our time together was a complete delight. I learned that high school kids are dying for someone to ask them the hard questions. And they want someone to say the hard truths.
Teenagers want to be real and open, and they are full of questions about what is right, what is wrong, and how to navigate it all. They want higher standards. Even if they have compromised in the past, they want to reach towards something pure in the future. They are hungry, willing, and ready. The girls were sad when our study ended, and they encouraged us to do this with more teen girls.
They reflected on their learnings and takeaways from our time together and felt comfortable sharing their experiences below. Their wisdom, passion, and desire for purity amazes me. Hopefully this encourages you to talk to your kids or lead a group of young women yourself.
Elle: “I learned that the whole purpose of dating is not for fun. The purpose of dating is to date for evaluation. This means that we as girls are supposed to be dating Godly men who would fit our standards for a Godly husband. And if while dating and/or ‘talking’ to a guy, we learn he doesn’t fit that mold, we shouldn’t stick around.
Also, I learned that being too physical is not worth the aftermath. Like they said in the study, a controlled physical relationship is like fire inside of a fireplace whereas an uncontrolled physical relationship is a fire burning outside of a fireplace. Sexual relationships are meant for marriage. They are not meant for dating relationships. When they are formed in the wrong setting (aka dating) they will more than likely end up blowing up. It’s not worth it.
What I would say to a younger girl about purity is it is so so so worth it to stay pure. It is a gift given from Jesus that we are supposed to stay pure for our husband. Sex is a bond that is so strong and so intimate. It is so special for a marriage and so worth it to save.”
Hailey: “I learned that sex is a bonding of two souls, it is meant for a husband and wife. There are more consequences than you can know in the moment, it will affect you in ways that will affect your future and other relationships. Grey areas are not grey, if it makes you aroused then it is too far. There is a difference between showing someone you love them and being sexual with them.
If you are not running the same race as the guy you are dating, and at the same speed in the same direction, things will be difficult and often times do not work out. You do not need “experience” before you get married, you are meant to learn and grow with your husband. Sex is a gift given by God, outside of the boundaries that God gave us it is dangerous, but inside the boundaries it is beautiful.”
Casey: “Sex is more than just a fun way to show you love someone. It’s a commitment that will live with you forever. When you have sex with someone you give them some of you and they give you some of them. Sex is a special thing that God created for a woman and her husband. I learned that sex isn’t just bad, but it was meant for marriages. That’s one of the biggest things I learned… it helped me not just be told to not have sex but know why.”
Olivia: “I learned that dating is for evaluating. I also learned that we have to be content in our singleness to have a thriving relationship later. I learned that through purity blooms a beautiful representation of what God wants marriage to look like.”
This Is How I Have Chosen to Talk to My Kids About Sex
These sweet girls caused me to reflect on the ways me and my husband have talked to our own kids about these topics. I’m not an expert, as I have four current teenagers, and I am still doing the work. But I think it’s a topic that we don’t talk about enough amongst parents. Maybe it’s because we carry our own shame? For some reason it’s a taboo topic, but it’s quite possibly one of the most important ones to talk with our kids about.
We told our kids about sex at a very young age. Maybe second grade? Of course there is not an exact time to tell them as every child is different. However, some friends of ours gave us advice to talk to them about the “mechanics” of sex before they were too old to be embarrassed by it.
So, we did, and they were right, the kids weren’t really embarrassed, they just thought through what we were telling them, and asked logical questions. This way, when they heard the word “sex” at school from their peers, or heard about it on TV, they had a framework for what that word meant, which came from their parents, and not from what the world says it is.
We decided that there were a few points about sex that we wanted to make clear to our children.
First, sex is a beautiful gift that God gave to a man and his wife. In our home, we were careful to never say that it’s for “two people who are in love.” Rather, we described it as a beautiful gift from God that is worth waiting for in marriage.
Second, we have been clear, that having sex is not wrong, but it’s private. We’ve said this, because sex has become such a public display on TV and other media platforms, that it can really skew a child or teen’s view of what it is.
As the kids have grown up, we have continued to bring up the different layers of sex with them and talk deeper about it. We’ve talked about different depths according to their age and what they can handle. We’ve tried to make it an open and not embarrassing conversation in our home.
With my boys, I’ve brought it up during very casual times. Like when I am washing dishes and they’re eating a snack, or in the car when we’re driving somewhere, or having a casual chat outside while playing sports. For me, I learned that my boys do best when it’s not an intense, deep atmosphere type of talk, but more of a quick casual pass-by conversation. With our 14-year-old daughter, we’ve had longer more serious conversations.
There is no “right way” to talk about these things with our kids. It is different for every family and every parent-child relationship. The important part is that we start talking. Whether they are acting like it or not, our kids need guidance and truth about this beautiful God-given topic.
While we’re on the topic of, well, somewhat uncomfortable topics, don’t forget to make sure your teen is educated on her feminine health: OB-GYN Questions You Might Be Embarrassed to Ask with Dr. Holly Miller- 195
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