The Struggle With Sexuality: Helping Your Teen
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Beth RobinsonBeth Robinson, Ed.D, is a licensed professional counselor and approved supervisor for licensed professional counselors. She is also a certified school counselor and has a teaching certificate; she is a frequent expert witness in legal proceedings involving sexual abuse. Dr. Robinson and her family live in Lubbock, Texas.
Latayne ScottLatayne C. Scott is an award-winning veteran of the Christian publishing industry and has written more than two dozen books. She has a PhD in biblical studies and lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
How should parents respond to teens’ struggle with sexuality? Drs. Beth Robinson & Latayne Scott tell how to be a safe source of truth and unwavering love.
The Struggle With Sexuality: Helping Your Teen
Dave: I remember asking my oldest son, when he was a middle-schooler—
Ann: —eighth grade—I think he was in the eighth grade.
Dave: —eighth grade—he was on the wrestling team. I said, “CJ, here’s a question: ‘How many of your teammates ever look at porn, like in the locker room?’”—just throwing this question out. I remember his answer was, “Every day; every guy in the locker room.”
Ann: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.
Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on our FamilyLife App.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today.
You came home and told me that; and I about hit the floor, like, “What?!”
Dave: I mean—
Ann: “Every single one?”
Dave: I mean, I was just interested; I did not expect that answer. Seventh- and eighth-graders—what?—13/14 years old—every day, every kid.
And then I’m like, “Okay; what about you?” You know, it opened up this question. You know, as they’re becoming 13, 14, and 15 years old, you know that your influence, sometimes, isn’t as strong as the peer influence. I’m like, “Wow; these are his buddies. What are they saying, based on what they’re doing and watching, about this area?”
Ann: And Dave, I think what happens with us, as parents, is—we hear those things or other stats of what’s happening on social media; how our kids are being influenced by peers—and we are petrified!
Ann: And then we get petrified; and a lot of times, we’ll hover and get so controlling; or we’ll pull away, being paralyzed, not even knowing what to do.
Dave: Obviously, we’re here today; because we need help. We all need help!
Ann: We need some coaches.
Dave: We need some coaches! [Laughter] We need some doctors in the studio.
Ann: Yes! [Laughter]
Dave: And we’ve got two doctors in the studio: Dr. Beth Robinson is with us and
Dr. Latayne Scott, who are great friends and co-authors of a book called Talking with Teens about Sexuality.
We’ve already talked a little bit to you guys; but I mean, you’re a counselor/you’re a college professor; you’ve got a PhD in Biblical Studies. You’ve got so much wisdom.
Ann: And I’m just going to say it—
Dave: I feel like I’m in the room with brainiacs. [Laughter]
Ann: Me, too! Isn’t it awesome?! I would just say: “Listeners, pull up your seat, because these women are going to coach us with questions that you have, like, ‘How do I help my teen in this area?’”
I guess we should say, “Welcome back to FamilyLife Today.” [Laughter] We’re really excited you’re here.
Beth: We’re excited to be here; this is a lot of fun.
Dave: So talk about the teenage brain. I know you talk a little bit in the book about it. I don’t think we always understand, as parents, what’s going on mentally and emotionally.
Ann: Parents of teenagers are like, “Yes! Talk about this.” [Laughter]
Dave: Yes; so talk about that, not just in the area of sexuality—obviously, it applies to that—but what’s going on in a teen’s brain?
Beth: Well, I think, first of all, you need to know that puberty is a time when dendrites grow in the brain. It only happens twice in your lifetime. It happens when you’re a very small child/infant.
Ann: What’s the word?
Beth: —which are connections in the brain. So you have all this growth in brain; literal, in the brain. And what’s happening, neurologically, is your teens are making connections they’ve never made before. They begin to expect you to be perfect, [Laughter] so you’re getting criticized as a parent; you know?
Dave: Oh, yes.
Beth: You’re wonderful when they’re in elementary school; they hit middle school and high school, and you don’t know anything. That doesn’t end until their brains quit growing about 25 or 30; so get ready for that; okay?
Beth: There are some things that we know now, pretty solidly, about teen brains. First of all, they think normal consequences don’t apply to them. We’ve seen this research now since like 1979, that part of that growth process is they don’t understand that normal consequences apply. The scare tactics that we have used for years to educate kids, and think that we’re going to scare them straight, aren’t effective; because the kid automatically processes it in such a way that, “It’s not me; my friends might get drunk and have a wreck, but that would never happen to me.” They process it that way, and they don’t even realize they’re processing it that way.
Dave: And that’s a brain function.
Beth: That is a brain function.
Dave: You’re saying that’s because of the way their brains are operating at that age. When does that change?—50 years old?—55? [Laughter]
Ann: She said 25.
Beth: Well, the frontal lobe—which controls emotions, problem-solving, and things like that—it finally finishes developing at about 25-30, depending on the kid.
Ann: Why is that? What has happened? You’re saying that kids are not developing as early as they used to; what’s happened in our society?
Beth: Well, we have welcomed in technology. What we now know—there was some research done; I believe it was in 2011—where they looked at college freshmen and looked at social and emotional development. What they discovered is their social/emotional development was about equivalent to a freshman in high school from ten years earlier.
Ann: I’m just thinking of COVID, too, what that’s done with so little socialization.
Beth: It has; and you know, I saw some research that said 56 percent of teens have had suicidal ideation; that’s the depression and anxiety, which is also related to technology. We know that, when you’re using technology—whether you’re viewing porn or just gaming—that it increases dopamine in the pleasure centers of your brain. When that goes us—when you’re not actually engaged in that activity—you experience depression and anxiety when you’re off that activity.
Ann: Have we depressed and scared you enough yet? [Laughter]
Dave: I mean, it makes you, as a parent, think, “I never want to give a screen to my child,” or “I want to delay that as long as I can”; because the social interaction, as you just said, is critical. And that sort of stunts it; right?
Beth: It does; amen! Don’t give them the screens.
Dave: Let’s say the average kid does have a screen—right or wrong—they have a screen. Let’s say they’re looking at sexually-explicit material—like my son says, every guy he knows, every day—what’s that doing to their brain?
Beth: It’s addictive; it’s increasing dopamine levels. Some of the research says that you have to fast off of pornography for 18 months for brain functioning to return to normal. It impacts the brain, and it is addictive.
I will tell you that my first time really dealing with this was with the first child placed in my home as a foster child. [He] was in third grade; and he came home very distraught from school, very, very distraught. The reason he was so upset—it took a couple of days to find out why he was so upset—was the third-grade boys were passing around, back then, it was a print magazine—I know I’m old—in the third grade and were making fun of him because he wouldn’t view porn.
Dave: Because he wouldn’t look at it?
Beth: He wouldn’t look at it.
Beth: And he didn’t know how to tell any of the teachers what was going on to get it to stop, so he’d quit being bullied; because he wouldn’t look at porn. And he was in third grade.
Beth: And so there’s a lot of pressure.
Ann: I think kids are feeling that, too: if they’re not interacting on social media, if they’re not on TikTok,—
Ann: —if they’re not on Instagram®. It feels like the whole world—all of their peers and all of their social life is online—“So how could I possibly exist or have any friends if I’m not on board with that?” or “…if I don’t have a device?”
Beth: The research shows, even being on social media, increases levels of depression significantly. As parents, we have to be willing to set some boundaries. The American Pediatric Association recommends one hour of screen time per day—total screen time: that’s tablet, phone, TV—together—one hour. There’s a reason for that, because it’s hurting the brains of our kids that we’re raising.
Ann: Let’s talk, too, about just our kids growing physically/emotionally. Latayne, you shared some pretty interesting ideas, too, about their sexuality.
Latayne: Well, this is an idea that I learned from Nancy Percy, who wrote Love Your Body. There’s a pervasive sense right now in our society that our brain and our body are separate things; and that our brain should control and modify, if it wants, the body. That’s so opposed to what the Bible says: that we are body, soul, and spirit. We’re a unity, you know, and we’re supposed to be a unity. And even though Paul says he buffeted his body; you know, you have to keep your body under subjection—
Ann: “Make it my slave.”
Latayne: —make it your slave—but the idea was that is something you’re doing/collaborating with God.
Our culture today says: “No, in spite of the fact that your DNA says that you’re one sex,”—that even though your DNA in your body says this—“your mind has such power that it cannot, only represent what you say about yourself; but actually now, according to our legal system, everyone else has to say the same thing that you say about your body, whether it’s true or not.”
God is completely taken out of the picture, of the unity of the body and spirit being something that is unified by God, into something that you can modify and control at your whim.
Ann: How do we—
Dave: So we’ve got a parent, sitting there—and they’ve got a daughter who says she’s a boy, or a boy who says he’s a female—“What do you say to a parent? How do they navigate that world?”
Beth: Well, I’m going to say: “The most important thing, as a parent, when a kid comes to you with any difficult topic around sexuality is: ‘You have got to manage your emotions before you do anything else.
Ann: So don’t freak out?
Latayne: “’Don’t freak out; manage those emotions, because if you get very emotional’—any emotion, you know: anger, excitement, whatever—‘your kid is going to interpret that as, “You can’t handle it.” So you’ve got to be a cool cucumber so your kid thinks you can handle it, even if inside, you’re going, ‘Oh, my goodness! I don’t know what to do; I don’t know what to do. How am I going to handle this?’”
Your kid needs to believe that you’re calm, and that you can be a resource; because you want them to come back to you.
The second thing I’m going to say is—
Dave: By the way, that’s great wisdom—not always easy to do; right?
Latayne: I agree.
Dave: It’s almost like you’ve got to pray in the moment: “God, help me to respond in a way that brings him or her to me—
Dave: —“feeling safe: ‘I can talk to Mom,’ ‘I can talk to Dad.’”
Beth: And sometimes, we almost have to time-out ourselves on some of those conversations.
Beth: I mean, if we can’t do it for a long period of time, when the kid initially brings it up—you know, “I think I’m a boy, and I’m trapped in a girl’s body,”—we need to say, you know, “I need a little time to pray and think about this, but I want you to know I love you.” I think the most difficult thing for our kids is if they feel cut off from godly support when they’re battling a spiritual war. I want my kid to know that I’m safe to come to/that I can handle it. I want them to know that I love them more than they can ever imagine. I would say, one of the greatest lessons I’ve learned, as a counselor, is how much I love the kids I work with; and I know God loves them more.
So number one: “Be calm”; number two: “Make sure your kids know, no matter what, you’re going to love them; and you’re going to be there.” Then you get to the scary part; okay? [Laughter] The scary part may be a lot more to unwind than we can talk about just in a radio show; because really, you need to go get some help from a Christian counselor to navigate: what’s going on, what’s happened, what’s leading your child to believe this.
I can tell you, from counseling experience, that lots of times, kids express gender issues as part of identity and even sexual preference as part of identity development in adolescence. If parents can just stay calm, and walk in faith with their kid, and make sure the kid knows you love them; God loves them, and they know what God teaches, that phase passes.
Ann: So we don’t have to keep bringing it up every day?
Beth: Not a good idea! [Laughter] Don’t bring it up every day. Put the child in charge of when it comes up so that you can have those conversations; because twenty years ago, I saw kids get very cut off from their families. Back then, it was usually homosexuality. They got very cut off from their families, and they didn’t hear anything from a biblical perspective; because there was a very welcoming homosexual community that pulled them in and involved them. That became all of their social connections.
Beth: And I’m not going to turn loose of my kid that easily; I’m going to fight.
Dave: Yes; and it sounds like, in that case, they’re going to where they feel safe and loved. You’re saying that’s the role of us [parents]: make them feel safe and loved.
I’m guessing you would say the same thing to the Christian community or the church—when a person first has the courage to say: “This is what I believe about myself,” whether “My preference is this,” or “I think I’m a girl trapped in a boy’s body,”—start there: get your emotions in check; they need to feel safe and loved. And then, like you said, and then the hard work begins.
Dave: Because then you’ve got to talk through truth and grace—what God says; what the Word says—that’s when it often becomes problematic in terms of them feeling safe and loved, though, is when you get to that point. Do you know what I’m saying? I’m guessing you’ve done this many times, especially with college students; you know? So what do you do?
Beth: I have. But I’m going to tell you that I learned from Latayne a lot more about how to do this, and using God’s Word as the mirror—and just letting God’s Word be what they look at, not my interpretation of it—God’s Word: “You read it. You and God struggle with this.”
Ann: How do we do that? How do we share God’s Word, a biblical viewpoint of sexuality, without using it as a hammer/you’re hammering it into them? How do you do that in a loving way that our kids can hear, and they feel heard as well?
Latayne: Well, one example that we talk about is Romans 1:20, when it talks about homosexual behavior. Ask a kid to sit down with you and say, “What do you think these words mean? What do you think it means to be ‘unnatural’? What do you think it means when God says something is ‘detestable’? You tell me what you think this means,”—rather than saying—“Well, this definitely proves this,” and “…proves this,” and “…proves this.”
For instance, to show them the teachings in Leviticus; and then find out that Jesus quotes some of those, or that Paul quotes some of those, so it’s not just Old Testament Law. Just ask them to use their brains.
Beth: I’m going to differ just a little bit. I think that approach is great when we’re just working with teaching our kids, like we’ve talked about.
Latayne: —with the teaching part; okay.
Dave: —like in your own home?
Latayne: Yes; but I think, when we get to the point that that’s an issue—say it’s homosexuality—I think we have to be very gentle in how we present that information to our kids. I do think we want them to read those verses, but I think we want to give them time and space to process.
Ann: So give us a conversation: “What’s that sound like?” You’ve probably had those conversations in counseling kids.
Latayne: Yes; I mean, the conversation is—you’re assuming the kid wants to please God—you talk about what their faith means to them and how important that is to them. And then you say, “Okay, I’ve got a passage. I just want you to read it; pray about it. Read it; pray about it—try once a day—it’s two verses. Read and pray about it, and see what wisdom you develop from reading and praying about it. And when you’re ready to talk about it, we’ll talk about it; but it’s on your timetable.”
Ann: And in the meantime, I’m imagining parents/I’m imagining you’re praying: “Lord, speak to my kid. Let them know how much You love them. Let them know how much I love them. Let them know that Your Word is trustworthy.” Because a lot of kids are saying, “I don’t know if I believe the Bible”; so that’s a factor as well.
Beth: Well, I think, Latayne, this would be a great time for you to talk about supernatural.
Latayne: One assumption that we have to make in our own lives is that we have a supernatural religion/a supernatural faith; and that if a God, who can raise the dead, if He can do that, He can do anything.
Ann: That’s right! He can.
Latayne: He can do anything. And so He can change minds; He can change attitudes.
By couching our religion as something that is beyond what is seen and what is felt by us, and letting our children know that there’s something—as it says in Ephesians, “Our battle isn’t with flesh and blood; it’s with powers and principalities,”—if we keep our nonsexual language or our nonspecific conversations with our kids about the unseen realities—and that’s something I did do well with my children: talk to them about unseen realities—“We don’t know what’s going on; God is fighting battles we don’t know. He’s doing things for us.” If that is a basis for our conversations with kids, then when we bring Scriptures into it, we’re able to let them understand that this is not something we’re imposing from the outside/it’s unnatural to our lifestyle.
And that goes back to what you said about talking about the Lord when we sit down, and when we go on the road, or whatever.
Beth: And I think for parents to understand that God can change things in ways we can’t imagine—and relying upon our own faith, too—instead of feeling like we, somehow, have to do something to change our child; you know? It is a little bit about planting the seed, and watering it, and watching it grow.
Ann: It’s so hard!
Beth: It is!
Ann: It’s so hard; because I’m like, “I am going to take care of this situation! I’m going to…”; you know?—“I…”/“I…”—and there is a power in surrender that we forget.
Dave: There is! I mean, I’m thinking, even as I look back over the last 20 years of parenting our boys, there were moments—I’m smiling because I can see Ann stomping through the kitchen, you know?—“You’re not doing that!!” [Laughter] And we both had moments, where we laid down the foot, and you’re like/sort of laying down the law. We’re not talking really about sexuality or that kind of thing, you know; but just about, “You’re obeying these rules this way; this is our house.”
But when it comes to these kinds of conversations that we’re talking about here, that are really soul—because we don’t often talk about it; we haven’t even talked about it here—but when you even talk about sexuality at any level, there’s a soul part of it; it’s sacred—
Dave: —not just because it’s created by God and beautiful by God—but it’s connected to our soul.
Dave: I think that’s one of the reasons we’re afraid to talk about it; we can feel that! Even though we don’t know it, we can feel that: “I’m wading out here in the deep end, and I don’t know if I want to swim here.”
But man, when our children are asking questions, or they’re in chaos, or they’re in confusion, this is when we have to be the parent, like you’ve already said, that enters into that conversation—even if it starts with a question—but enters into it gently; because no one is strong-armed into the kingdom.
Dave: You are loved in with grace, but there is truth; so there’s that balance. And Jesus was the perfect embodiment of grace and truth: John, Chapter 1. We—and that’s supernatural—we can’t do that apart from the supernatural work of God in our lives.
But man, if I’m a parent listening right now, it’s like, I want to step into that conversation; it’s going to be scary, but I’ve got to do it the way you’ve modeled for us today. It’s been a real gift to say: “Okay, keep your emotions in check; make sure they feel safe; make sure they feel loved; ‘Okay; let’s have the conversation,’”—sort of on their terms—let them process it; let them think it through, and then bring it back to you. Be there, ready to lead them to truth in a graceful way.
Ann: I was just going to add, Dave, that before we do all of that, we are praying continually, all the time, about all of these things. James 1 says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God who gives generously without reproach.”
Bob: It’s so important, as parents, that we, not only are intentional about the kinds of conversations that we’ve heard about today, but it’s important that our tone during these conversations be the right tone—that we’re not talking about human sexuality uncomfortably; that we’re not talking about it fearfully or shamefully—but that we’re talking about it as a positive good for our lives in the right context. Our teens need to hear that message, and they need to hear it from us.
Beth Robinson and Latayne Scott really coach us, as parents, how to have these important conversations with our teenagers in the book that they’ve written, called Talking with Teens about Sexuality: Critical Conversations about Social Media, Gender Identity, Same-Sex Attraction, Pornography, Purity, Dating—the whole line-up of questions. Find out more about the book; you can order it from us online at FamilyLifeToday.com, or call 1-800-FL-TODAY to get your copy. Again, the title of the book is Talking with Teens about Sexuality. Order it online at FamilyLifeToday.com, or call 1-800-358-6329; that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Dave and Ann mentioned the resource FamilyLife has created called Passport2Purity. So many of you have used this resource effectively with your pre-teens to help have some of these difficult conversations over the course of a two-day getaway with your child. The Passport2Purity resource is available. You might want to add to your New Year’s resolution list this year a getaway with your pre-teen and order the Passport2Purity kit so that you have it ready to go when you and your son or daughter are ready for a couple of days away to have some important conversations together.
Our team, here at FamilyLife, is excited about the new year; and honestly, very excited about the response from listeners, like you, over the last few weeks. Many of you heard us talking about the matching-gift opportunity that was available to us. You heard us talking about our need for donations at yearend, and many of you responded.
In fact, we’re still getting mail, and we’re still tallying the results; so we don’t have the final numbers yet; but we just wanted to make sure we said, “Thank you,” to each of you who donated at yearend so that FamilyLife Today can continue, can expand, can move forward in 2022. Thank you for your vote of confidence and your ongoing support of this ministry. We look forward to this new year, along with you. We trust it’s going to be a great year for your marriage and for your family, and we want to be here to help make that happen, all year long.
We hope you can join us, again, tomorrow when we’re going to hear from Beth Robinson and Latayne Scott about the kinds of positive conversations we can be having with young people about dating, about marriage, about sexuality that get them ready for a good future. That conversation happens tomorrow. I hope you can be with us for that.
On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We’ll see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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