Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Random thoughts...Training children about love and marriage -- Part II.

Children (and adults) often have trouble distinguishing between temptation and sin. Reading James 1:13-16, Colossians 3:5, and Hebrews 2:17-18; Hebrews 4:14-16 are some verses that can help us with this issue.

Why is this important? There are several reasons. If we recognize temptation for what it is, we can flee or resist the temptation before it leads to sin. Also, if we understand that temptation is not yet sin, we can keep ourselves from falling into discouragement simply because we were tempted.

It's very important to help our growing children understand this in the area of sexual temptation. By God's wonderful design, children's bodies mature into young adulthood in preparation for love and marriage. For several generations, the natural changes of puberty have been occurring earlier and earlier, especially in girls. There are several theories about this. Two interesting ones are that the hormones used in our foods may affect this and the constant exposure of children in our culture to sexualized images also may somehow trigger early hormonal changes.

While our children are trying to sort out the changes in their bodies, they will have to deal with cultural pressures, as well. Also, while puberty is occurring earlier and earlier, the average age when young people marry is being delayed longer and longer.

So, our children need our love and our teaching to help them deal with their physical natures and cultural pressures. It's important that they understand a few important facts about temptation and sin in order to stay strong in their purity:

1) A boy's emerging masculinity and a girl's emerging femininity are wonderful gifts from God. A boy should learn how to appreciate his masculine nature and how to respect a girl's feminine nature, and vice versa. Of course, children do need to wait for marriage to express their masculinity or femininity through sexual activity. But, sexual activity is not the only expression of a masculine character or a womanly character. While waiting for marriage, a boy can use his manly character for good and a girl can use her womanly character for good. When marriage does come, the child will be ready to step into a joyful and healthy sexual relationship.
2) Merely realizing that someone of the opposite sex is attractive is not sin. It's normal for a girl to notice that a particular boy is handsome or for a boy to realize that a particular girl is beautiful. In fact, a boy's palms may sweat when he is introduced to a cute girl, and that girl may feel a little flutter in her heart when the boy says hello to her. Adolescents with overly sensitive consciences can become overly alarmed simply because they experience an instinctual reaction to some one's physical attractiveness. They may overwhelm themselves with guilt or frustration in the impossible quest to avoid any attraction whatsoever to the opposite sex.
3) If, on the other hand, a child dwells on some one's physical presence, it can lead to the sin of lust. A classic example is the progression that King David followed from seeing Bathsheba to lusting after her to sinning with her to committing murder. If King David had disciplined himself to look away when he first saw Bathsheba, he would not have sinned. At every point, he kept making decisions that took him further and further down a tragic path.
Children who have weak convictions about lust may dance around the line where temptation crosses into sin, not realizing that they are placing themselves in spiritual, emotional, and physical danger.
Lust occurs when a child the does a double take and continues to look at a person for the purpose of engaging in sexual desire or fantasy. It also happens when a child continues to look at something sexually explicit, rather than averting the eyes or leaving the scene. Likewise, it occurs when the child engages in fantasies involving sexual images or sexual activity.
If a girl stumbles in this area, her daydreams are not likely to be as sexually detailed as a boy's might be, though this is not necessarily so. More often, a girl will get caught up in romanticized fantasies, similar to those found in romance novels. Whether or not a girl's fantasies are spun of stardust or if they are more graphic in nature, this is still a danger area. At the very least, fantasies like these can develop unrealistic expectations about marriage, and she may expect that her future husband will shower her with romance every day of their lives. At the very worst, dreams like this can be the pathway through which girls do begin to entertain lust and impurity.
Girls, as well as boys, need to be taught how to have a healthy thought life. Too much daydreaming, even about innocent things, can make it hard for a person to enjoy real life. It can also interfere with a person's productiveness. And, if someone is always running a tape in their minds in which they are the hero, they may develop an unhealthy sort of pride. Having said that, imagination can be a healthy part of childhood and adolescence. Rehearsing life via a few daydreams now and again is one way that children work out what their adult aspirations and values will be. Just help your children to keep their daydreams focused on things that are pure and wholesome, and help them to harness their dreams for good.
4) The first sexually enticing thought that comes into a child's head is generally temptation, rather than sin. If something comes before a child's eyes that invites the urge to lust, but they quickly look away, they stopped the process at temptation and have not sinned. Likewise, if a sexual thought passes randomly through their minds, that is not sin, unless they hold onto the thought and nourish it. If they struggle with the urge to look when a friend or acquaintance wants to show them something pornographic, but they say "no", they have not sinned.
5) While we need to reassure kids who deal victoriously with temptation, we still need to teach all of our children a healthy and sober conviction to flee from sexual lust and sexual sin. Proverbs 4:23, Proverbs 4:25, and proverbs 5:8 tell us to guard our hearts, our eyes, and where we go. Build the kind of relationship with your child so that if they do fall, they will tell you quickly! Also, pray for wisdom to know what is going on in your child's life. Help the child to repent quickly so that the sin does not begin to rule over them.
6) Children with active imaginations may develop embarrassing or even, weird, questions about their own sexual nature or about sexuality in general. If they do not feel that they can discuss these things with you, they will hold them inside, and the questions may loom larger than they really are. It's important to listen without over-reacting, to answer their questions and problems, and to guide the child toward more wholesome thoughts.
7) Much of the world's view of sexuality today has a "mean" streak to it. Sex and sexual terms are used as weapons, as ways of expressing defiance towards authority, as mean-spirited and coarse jokes, as a means of exploiting people to make money, as cursing, and in connection with violence -- especially towards women. Also, many people today have been abused sexually, and they may have trouble seeing sex as the blessing it was meant to be. Teach your children that God's design for sex is beautiful; it is sin that distorts God's beautiful plan into something ugly. Show them that, in Christ, our sexuality can be what it was meant to be. Teach them that in a godly marriage, sex is a gift. Instill in them a healthy respect for God, for their own bodies, and for other people. Teach them God's standard of love. Show them a healthy and happy view of family life. Give them lots of love and affection. Children who grow up in an atmosphere of love and respect generally will not choose a mate who will mistreat them. Neither, will they be as likely to let someone talk them out of their convictions about purity. In every way, fill your children's minds with the good so that they won't be attracted to the world's cheap imitation.



LisaM said...

well thought out and expressed. I hope this will be shared - it is so important, and I like the style you use while writing about it.

Elizabeth said...

Thanks, Lisa.

I hope the information is useful. I put the article together from my dh's and my experiences in parenting our children, advice we've been given, and a chapter in the very good book, "Raising Awesome Kids in Troubled Times."

Lilith said...

I don't totally agree with you when you say that puberty occurs earlier and earlier probably because of hormones in our food. Among scientists the most shared opinion is more the nutrition improvement during the past centuries. As children have better food, and more balanced meals, the puberty age tends to stabilize around 13 years (for girls) nowadays, as it was the case in the Middle Age (then it has been older). Obesity and bad nutrition may now lower a little puberty age, but in fact, the hormones contained in the environment (mostly oestrogens) are more likely to lead to older puberty, even if their action is not proven.
In conclusion, this lowering of puberty age of the past decades is rather "natural"...
I just wanted to add these precisions, in order to avoid people to conclude too quickly that modern way of life is modifying Nature (well it certainly is, but not necessarily concerning puberty age, lol).
Thank you for this very interesting post !

Elizabeth said...

Hi Lilith:

Thanks for sharing that theory with us. I had heard something about the nutritional aspect, as well. I understand that there are a wide number of theories about the apparent changes in puberty, as well as about changes on the other end -- perimenopause/menopause, as well. Perhaps, one day, we will identify the definitive cause.

No matter what the cause, the point is that children of today spend a long time in a period between the times their bodies are ready for marriage and the actual time that our culture expects them to marry. Of course, the age when people typically marry goes up and down, too, depending on cultural happenings. But, at this moment, we are in a particularly long cycle from the development of adult bodies to the average age when people marry.