Keeping lines of communication open with teens vital for difficult topics

Keeping lines of communication open with teens vital for difficult topics

As the homeschooled daughter of a pastor, LeeAnn was taught from an early age that Christianity involved rules — lots of them. Sexual purity was an important one.

“I never heard my mom say the word ‘sex,’ but I was always told to ‘stay pure until I was married.’ I wasn’t even sure what that meant for a long time,” she said.

When LeeAnn married, she struggled with changing her perspective on sex.

“Suddenly this shameful, dirty thing I was told to avoid at all costs was supposed to be the best thing ever. My whole life’s way of thinking was supposed to change immediately with the words, ‘I do.’ It wasn’t easy,” she said.

LeeAnn is taking a different approach with her own children. She talks openly with them about sins of all kind, not just sexual ones, and how sin affects a person’s life. They talk about repentance and how God is working in their lives. And yes, they talk about sexual purity in light of God’s plan for intimacy within a marriage.

Awkward conversations

Some conversations are awkward, but LeeAnn knows she and her husband are preparing their children for the decisions they will someday have to make by teaching them to seek God’s wisdom first.

“I want my husband and me to be the place they hear truth first. I want to be the safest place for them to talk, explore, learn, question, make mistakes and grow,” LeeAnn said.

It is never too early to talk to children about contemporary issues and what the Bible says about our response to them, especially in a world where news headlines are often dominated by the consequences of sinful choices.

Discussions about abortion, gay rights, pornography, drug abuse, violence and coarse language are common in the places kids spend time, including on social media, and we cannot insulate our children from them, said Kristin Lowrey, a social worker with Pathways Professional Counseling.

Finding a Christian voice

Like LeeAnn, Lowrey grew up in a conservative Christian home where she did not feel comfortable asking questions. Lowrey said she got a lot of information from her peers, not all of which was accurate. Today technology also offers a tremendous amount of information on topics like sex, pornography and self-expression. Even if kids are looking for a biblical perspective, finding an authentic Christian voice can be difficult if not impossible.

Though not always easy, keeping the lines of communication open is critical for parents, especially when awkward issues are concerned, Lowrey said.

“When children have questions, they are going to seek answers. It’s important for the information to come from a reliable source and to be given in a way that the child can handle it,” Lowrey said.

Take the mass killing at a gay nightclub in Orlando or ordinances about transgender rights to use public restrooms. It can be easy to assume that children do not know about these news events. That assumption is often wrong and even hurtful, Lowrey said.

“Kids always know more than we think they do. If we assume they don’t know things, we are skipping over a lot of questions they probably have and hurting them by not providing our perspective,” she said.

Another benefit of keeping the lines of communication open is that the more willing parents are to have difficult conversations, the more likely children will be to come to them when they have hard questions.

That was the experience of Payton LeFoy, a member of Union No. 3 Baptist Church, Gadsden, in Etowah Baptist Association. Her mom’s openness allowed her the freedom to ask questions, even if they were uncomfortable ones.

“Her honesty made me not scared to talk to her about things. Whether I made good decisions or not, I knew I could go to her and not feel judged or belittled. In hindsight, I feel it helped me make better decisions as a teenager,” LeFoy said of her mom.

For some Christian parents, discussions about spiritual matters such as salvation can be as difficult as discussions about contemporary issues. Parents sometimes fear giving kids the wrong information or creating a false assurance of salvation. While parents should not rush children to commit to Christ, answering their questions with care and understanding are important, said Mark Bethea, pastor of Argo Baptist Church, Trussville. Asking questions is one way to discern their readiness to accept Jesus. Allowing the child to pray in his or her own words is another (see story, page 7).

Being cautious

“There is no biblical sinner’s prayer or formula to do to be saved,” Bethea said. “Leading a child through a formula prayer when they don’t understand what they are saying may be easier short term, but leading a child to confess before God has worked in their heart is why we must be cautious and patient.”

When conversations take a turn toward the uncomfortable, parents may feel less than qualified to engage in the conversation, especially if they still feel guilty about past sins or struggle in their personal relationship with Christ, but such conversations can be empowering to children and teenagers.

Lowrey said, “We can talk about difficult issues without just focusing on the wrong choices. We all sin, but our goal is to help our kids understand that Jesus’ love is bigger than that. If we insulate children, they don’t learn how to handle the world. Our job is to prepare them to be Christians who can live in this world and stand up for their values in a respectful, kind and loving way.”

Pathways Professional Counseling specializes in parenting support, play therapy, family counseling and more. For more information, visit