A THREE-FOLD PLAN FOR HELPING TEENS
Prevention: Responsibly Educating our Teens
It is important to place sexuality in the context of a larger Christian world and life view. These perspectives lend sense and order to the practical sexual agenda to which you will call teenagers. Without them the responsibilities and sacrifices of godly sexuality will seem hard and unnecessary. Some perspectives that I would include in talking with teenagers are:
1. An emphasis on God as Creator and the importance of understanding His original purpose for all things (Psalm 24).
2. That people are the creatures of God and, therefore, responsible to Him for all we are and do. The goal of life is to live for His pleasure and glory (Genesis 1, Colossians 3:17).
3. That people are unified beings. This means that sin is at once spiritual and physical; at once a matter of the heart and behavior
4. That life is worship. All that I do expresses worship to God or something else. The deepest questions of human life are not questions of my pain or pleasure but questions of worship. What I worship sets the agenda for how I deal with all the situations and relationships of life (Romans 1:18–32).
5. That God’s way, no matter how hard, is always best. As the Psalmist says, all the ways of the Lord are right and true, while the
way that seems right to man leads to death. I will not always understand how God's way is best. That is why I need a heart of humble submission to His commands and humble belief in His promises (Psalm 19:7–11).
6. Because the goal of life is to live in conformity to the will of God and to live to His glory, there is always a higher agenda in every situation and relationship than momentary personal pleasure. (Titus 2:9,10 uses the example of work, and I Corinthians 6:18–20 uses the example of one’s sexual life.)
7. That Jesus Christ came not only to protect us from external evil but to free us from slavery to the desires of our own sinful nature so that we may live under the control of the Spirit (Ephesians 2:1–5; 2 Peter 1:4).
There are practical implications from these perspectives for teen sexuality, including the following:
1. God does not single out teenagers for sacrifice and suffering. Rather, He calls them to experience the joys and blessings found by serving Him in the everyday relationships and situations of life.
2. Since God, as Creator, formed our bodies and created sexuality, we will never properly experience this aspect of our life until we understand His plan and purpose.
3. God’s plan is that we would, within His revealed boundaries, enjoy this area without ambivalence or shame.
4. We are unified beings, so our sexuality is never isolated from the other parts of us. Sex can never be defined as a physical act alone; it is always a matter of the heart. It is not enough to ask whether a couple or individual has had sex yet. We should also be asking about the desires, motives, thoughts, and treasures of the heart that shape the way this person approaches a relationship.
5. We must always examine the thoughts and motives of our hearts in the area of sex: “Have I accepted the sexual lies and the idols of the culture around me?” A person’s approach to sexuality must always be shaped by the Two Great Commands. That is, all that we do in this area must be an expression of love for God first and love for our neighbor as ourselves.
Restoration: CounselingTeens who have Misused Sex
For teens who have fallen into sexual sin, I suggest this step-bystep counseling plan.
1. Establish a commitment to honesty and accountability. The entire counseling process will fall apart without such a commitment from the teen.
2. Do not be embarrassed to do careful and specific data gathering. Make sure you know what you are dealing with; do not allow yourself to make unwarranted assumptions.
3. Always move toward issues of the heart. Don’t focus only on the shocking issues of behavior and their life-altering consequences. Deal with root issues as well.
4. Identify the voices in the teen’s life. Who is influencing this teenager? What are they saying? How much has this teenager embraced their perspectives?
5. Call the teenager to biblical repentance (Joel 2:12ff) that includes the “rending of the garments and the rending of the heart.” Where has the truth of God been exchanged for a lie? Where has worship and service of the Creator been exchanged for worship and service of the created thing? Lead the teenager through the following steps of repentance:
Consideration: A willingness to look at my sexual life in the light of Scripture.
Confession: Claiming responsibility for my sexual sin before God and resting in His forgiveness.
Commitment: A determination, in the strength God gives, to live a new life in the area of sex.
Change: An examination of my life that identifies changes that will conform my sexual life to God’s will, and that makes plans to bring about those changes.
6. Identify places where ongoing temptation will occur and develop plans to deal with that temptation.
7. Teach the teenager biblical friendship. Explain God's plan for relationships and encourage the teen to meet the demands of the Great Commands in each relationship.
8. When restoring a teenager who has been involved in sexual sin, avoid comfortable generalities. Be direct, concrete, and specific in the questions asked and statements made.
9. Make your agenda a balanced “put off and put on.” In the area of sex, we often emphasize the “put off” aspect without giving teens a positive “put on” agenda. What are practical, godly goals for their relationships with the opposite sex?
HELPING TEENS PLAN FOR GODLY RELATIONSHIPS
Many teens are confused by the cacophony of voices that give them discordant messages about relationships. We need to help them deal with this confusion by offering them a clear understanding of God’s will for their relationships. We need to show them how to apply those principles to their daily lives. Your efforts would include the following:
1. Give teens a biblical view of relationships, especially cross-gender relationships, that results in a positive, practical plan for friendships that are pleasing to God. Capitalize on the opportunities that present themselves as the teenager talks about or struggles with relationships, since the teen often won’t initiate this kind of conversation. Take the initiative and draw out the teen. Teach them not to be afraid of honest talking by being understanding, by honestly admitting your own failure, and by pointing to the beauty of God’s standard and forgiveness.
2. Encourage parents within your circle of influence to be committed to honest, ongoing communication with their teens about sexuality. Parents need to take responsibility to keep this communication going. Teach parents to be open and unembarrassed, to be willing to invest the time necessary for a robust and honest friendship with their teens. Teach them to examine themselves, asking what they are doing specifically to encourage or discourage such a friendship.
3. Always keep the issue of temptation on the table when working with teens in the area of sex. This side of heaven, temptation will always be an issue. Know where your teen is being tempted, know how he is dealing with temptation, and make plans that anticipate temptations to come.
4. Encourage teens to take the long view of relationships. Rather than focusing on the joys and pains of the moment, have the teenager start from the perspective of a God-glorifying marriage and work back. What steps need to be taken now, what habits need to be developed now, what things need to be forsaken to prepare me for God’s best? Teach teens to assess their relationships from the vantage point of the sowing and reaping principle in Scripture: The relational seeds that they are planting now will result in what kind of harvest? Now is the time to be investing in a God-honoring future.
What is our agenda as we deal with our teenagers and sexuality? We want to be realistic about who they are, realistic about the tempting world in which they are living, realistic about the contradictory voices they are hearing, and realistic about our own ambivalence about sex. But we especially want to be sure that our realism is in the context of the hope of the gospel. This hope is what motivates and shapes the work we do with teenagers. This hope is expressed well by the apostle Peter:
His divine power has given everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness. Through these He has given us His very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires (2 Peter 1:3,4).
To settle for anything less in the sexual lives of our teenagers is to deny the gospel and to fail in our calling as God’s instruments of change in their lives.
Paul Tripp is Academic Dean at Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation, 1803 East Willow Grove Avenue, Glenside, Pennsylvania 19038; telephone (215) 884-7676; fax (215) 884-9435; email firstname.lastname@example.org
This article is reprinted with permission from the Spring 1995 issue of The Journal of Biblical Counseling.