Do you remember being a teenager? What about your homecoming, prom and grad night?
I do. And that was 20 years ago!
As youth leaders, it is important to reflect on our experiences so we are in a better position to share and empathize with the students we mentor. And it helps us come alongside our students as opposed to coming across judgmental and condemning.
My grad-night experience was nothing but fun! As a 17-year-old guy, hanging out with friends and a girl I liked at Disneyland all night was pretty much one of the coolest experiences my senior year.
My prom was another fun-filled experience with friends and a girl I was dating. We took a limousine, ate tortellini at the Ritz Carlton (I didn’t even know what the Ritz Carlton or tortellini were). We danced and then went back to a friend’s house for pancakes, compliments of a couple moms.
What was your teen-dating experience like? What can you share with your students? What pitfalls or warning signs can you impart upon your students? When you’ve earned the right, you can share your stories in an appropriate manner.
As I briefly reflect on my senior year, I remember that at that time I had a bracelet on my wrist that was a physical reminder of a commitment I made three years earlier to remain sexually faithful. And in both cases, we were surrounded by friends and, at times, parents.
Maybe your teen-dating experience was different. Maybe it ended in heartbreak or loneliness. Everyone has a different story. The important part is that we share our story. Now, we do so with wisdom and discernment, but our stories transcend the “lecture” feeling.
Take a moment to reflect on your teen-dating experience. What feelings are brought up? What regret is there? How did you come to a place of redemption if it was needed? After you reflect on your experiences, ask God to use you to share your story to encourage your students.
As you might know, dances and grad night are known to be the nights where a couple has sex. And so, there is a lot of pressure put on students to have sex. Allow me to share with you three powerful concepts that will—in addition to sharing your story—empower your students to be sexually faithful.
1. Understand you’re a child of God.
Understanding our identity is vital to a healthy life and gives us freedom in making difficult decisions. If we know who we belong to, other opinions will not matter as much. So, what does the Bible say about who we are?
We discover in the opening chapters of Scripture that we are created in the image of God. Everything else in creation is created “according to their kinds,” but you and I are created in God’s image. There is something we have that nothing else in creation has—and I think it is connected to the fact that we can have a deep, intimate relationship with the Creator.
Just as God’s very nature is relational, we are invited into a relationship with not only the Creator but also with humanity.
Jesus invites us into this relationship with God. He uses the analogy in John 15 of us being branches connected to God who is the sustainer and giver of life. When we stay connected to the life-giver, we can have a fulfilled life.
We are also promised in the gospel of John, “Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God” (John 1:13).
Being created in God’s image, we have the freedom to become adopted into God’s family. That means in God’s family there are no unwanted babies. You are invited to come into God’s welcoming arms. You are loved, cherished, valued, honored, respected and redeemed in God.
Realizing this will help your students understand that no matter what pressure may come their way, they are loved by God.
If we as youth leaders can somehow communicate the fulfillment and freedom that comes with honoring God, students will be more equipped to be sexually faithful and have freedom in making wise decisions. After all, the only relationship that is ultimately refreshing and fulfilling comes from our Creator.
When students understand their value as sons and daughters of God, it will empower them to stand strong when it comes to the second concept.
2. You do not need to give in to the pressure to do something you know is wrong.
If students do not know their sexual boundaries before they date, chances are they will give in to sexual advances—or make sexual advances.
As youth leaders, what kinds of conversations are we having with our students about sexual boundaries? If you were to ask one of your key student leaders, “What are your sexual limits?” what would they say? And why would they say that?
I remember my youth pastor telling a group of us to remember that whatever we do sexually, we will one day end up sharing that with our future spouse. That really hit me, not only because it is true, but because it is such a powerful reality—that we would have to share the sexual things we did. Wow! And in pretty much every relationship, this conversation comes up.
To be clear, the reason we are sexually faithfully is much more than because we will have to share our experiences. We are sexually faithful because we want to honor God, others and our future spouse. So, let’s ask our student’s what are they believe is acceptable sexually, and why.
Often at this juncture, it is easy to point out exactly what is too far sexually and when it becomes sin. However, if we want to have a robust conversation with our students, the wisest action we can take is to facilitate discussion. Provide more questions than answers. The reason being, as we get students to process what they believe about going “too far,” it is like a lightbulb goes off in their heads and they are more committed to their newly found commitment than if we simply told them what is “too far.”
The good news for those working with high school students—what sociologists are now calling Generation Z—is that this generation on the tails of the millennials appear to be nothing like millennials.
Jason Dorsey, of the market research firm Center for Generational Kinetics, said in an interview, “We’re calling them ‘the throwback generation.’” They have been dubbed the throwback generation because there are trends that show this generation is more conservative in values, dress and attitudes about dating.
However, this does not mean sexual pressure and advances will go away. It simply means that sociologists predict this new generation will not quickly continue with the hookup mindset that is prevalent among millennials.
Additionally, it is vitally important that we communicate multiple times that “no” means “no.” If your student is on a date and their partner wants to go further sexually, the answer is, “No.” Teacher your students that phrases like, “If you really loved me you would …” only communicates disrespect, not real love. Sayings like this dehumanize a person and can cause emotional scarring.
3. God is good.
The story of the Garden in Genesis 3 is one of harmony and goodness, of relationship and trust. But then something goes horribly wrong. Humanity doubts the goodness of God. Does God really have our best in mind?
Believing that God is in fact holding out of them, Adam and Eve eat from the tree—and everything changes. But rather than this being merely a story about what happened, what if the story is also about what is still happening? In other words, why do we, like Adam and Eve, doubt that God has our best in mind?
The reality is this: We serve a good God who wants what is best for us. And even when we turn from him, he is still waiting patiently for us to return.
The Bible is clear that God is good. With that premise, it follows that God wants what is best for us. He wants us to thrive and live how we were designed to live. He is not holding back on us. He is not ashamed of us. In fact, he wants us to thrive!
But whether consciously or subconsciously, we often use our freedom to live how we want. Going against our design, we set ourselves up for mediocrity, selfishness and bondage. When students are sexually unfaithful, there is a misuse of our God-given freedom, and they consequently drift further from what their lives could really be.
Youth worker, please continue to pray for your students and continue to build healthy relationships. And always encourage them that God is good and that they are loved so much.
Bryan A. Sands is the director of campus ministries at Hope International University in Fullerton, California, and the author of Everyone Loves Sex: So Why Wait? (A Discussion in Sexual Faithfulness). He also blogs regularly at EveryoneLovesSex.org.