There’s an awful lot of noise over the results of a new study to be released in the next issue of the journal Reproductive Health. In it, the survey found that:
U.S. states whose residents have more conservative religious beliefs on average tend to have higher rates of teenagers giving birth, a new study suggests. (MSNBC story)
Looking at the top 10 states, according to the survey, it’s not all that difficult to argue with this conclusion. The top 10 states in teen pregnancy are, in order: Mississippi, New Mexico, Texas, Arkansas, Arizona, Oklahoma, Nevada, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Georgia. Of those states, only AZ, NM, and NV don’t register in the top 12 most religious states.
This should be sounding alarm bells in the heads of every church-goer who reads this. The simple fact is this…..
…..the Church’s current approach to discussing sex with teenagers is not working. Period.
What’s the common consensus church position on teens and sex? Simple.
1) Don’t do it.
2) Save it for marriage.
Now, as parents, what is the quickest way to get your kids to do something? Tell them not to do it. Trite as it sounds, I would be body parts that that’s at least part of what’s going on here. However, I believe there’s something deeper going on here, and we, as adults, parents, and leaders in the church, bear the responsibility for it.
I don’t know any parent that looks forward to having “the Talk” with their kids. I don’t. I’ve got 3, including a 14 year old daughter who just recently has her first boyfriend. The thought of having that talk with her frightens the crap out of me. I’m sooooo incredibly thankful that my wife has begun that conversation with my 14 year old.
I think that, in the church, that same attitude prevails. We’re so scared to have that conversation that our advice to the teens in the church body is simply “Don’t!” or some other equally empty platitude.
The Church needs to fundamentally rethink its approach to teens and sex. The behavior modification (Just Say NO) method is antiquated and ineffective. We must go beyond abstinence pledges and purity rings and begin to develop a well rounded approach….and, yes, this means we need to start talking about things like safe sex.
Now some will say “isn’t that just encouraging them to have sex?” No, it’s not. I once heard someone say “A condom is like a seatbelt….it may not be the hand of God that saves you, but it significantly improves your odds!”
Now, we teach our kids how to do everything else safely, even those things we don’t like them doing, so I question why sex is different? Part of it, I believe, is because we’re scared to talk to them about it. But we need to stop pretending that kids don’t have sex…. we all need to move out of the state of denial and back into the reality based community.
We also have to do a better job at explaining why. Going beyond scripture and diving deep into the “icky” issues, such as the emotional consequences not only for them, but for the other person as well. We need to do better in helping them to develop a strong sense of self-esteem and respect not only for themselves, but for others.
TV and movies portray sex as ‘no big deal’ and, for some, it may never be a big deal. But I truly believe that the Church fails the teens in their congregations when they ignore the deeper and more difficult issues surrounding sex and instead, stick their fingers in their years and shout “Just say NO!”
We also have to be better about counseling them when they DO have sex. We need to cast off the attitude that teens who have sex are not really “Christian” or they’re “dirty” or they’re a “bad influence”. Shaming them is not going to solve anything. In fact, it’s only going to drive them from the church, drive them from their parents, and make them less likely to talk about things or seek advice when they’re scared or in trouble. We need to remember the story of Jesus and the adulterous woman at the well…. “let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” One by one they all left until she had no more accusers. Jesus then told her he doesn’t condemn her, loved her, and sent her out with a “Go and sin no more.” We, as adults, should learn from this story.
As a parent, and as an adult leader in our Church’s youth ministry, the prospect of opening this can of worms is a little intimidating. Not because of what the students will think, but because of what the parents would think.
Teens today have access to more information than any previous generation. If we don’t open this dialogue with them, it’s almost guaranteed they’ll get bad information…particularly from friends and the internet. We all want them to wait until they’re physically, emotionally, and spiritually ready….but if we don’t talk to them, how will they know when they are?
It’s time for us, as adults in the Church, to stop being scared. The teenage years are tough enough, and it’s time for us to walk with them and guide them into adulthood and stop treating them exclusively like children.