Top 4 Tips on Talking to Teens About Chastity
We try to talk about chastity (at least once) with every group we ever work with, 7th grade and up. It’s a critical virtue in such an unchaste world and we’d encourage everyone who has any kind of moral influence over teenagers – parents, educators, youth ministers – to do the same. We cannot talk about chastity enough.
But that can be a tall order… who here received good information from their own parents about love, sex, dating, relationships? Yeah, me neither. So then how can we talk to teenagers about this when it wasn’t modeled well for us? It’s possible. But it requires some courage, some honesty, and some good information.
The more we know about the virtue of chastity, the more we can offer to our teens. Let’s begin with a definition: chastity is a virtue (which means a habit of doing the good) that’s all about respect. It’s about respect for self, others, and sex itself. Chastity isn’t just about purity of our bodies, but also of our minds, hearts, and souls. It’s a life-long virtue, for all vocations. Whether we are single, married, or religious (priests and nuns), chastity is for us. And since chastity is a life-long virtue, it’s never too early – or too late – to start living it. That’s because chastity is not about the past, but about the present and the future. Anyone at any time can choose chastity and start living it for the rest of their lives.
As we attempt to talk to teens about chastity, two things to keep in mind:
- If you’re not talking to them about love, sex, dating, and relationships, someone else is. Sometimes it’s people like priests, the REAP Team, youth ministers, theology teachers. But more often it’s movies, TV shows, magazines, their friends… not always the best sources for truth. Every message of chastity we offer is a drop in the ocean of unchaste messages they’re getting from culture.
- You were never their age in this age. For the 0.02% of you who said you got good intel on this subject when you were growing up… great. The world is rapidly changing with advances in technology and shifting family structures. We have to learn how to speak into the lives of teens today to effectively bring them truth.
Now that we’ve got that covered (drumroll, please)… here are our Top 4 Tips On How To Talk To Teens About Chastity:
Focus on the Positives
- A fair number of us probably grew up hearing messages like ‘Don’t have sex or you’ll get pregnant and die,’ à la the coach in Mean Girls. That won’t work on this generation, because our culture has an answer for every negative consequence: if you get pregnant, you can have an abortion; if you get an STD, we have medication for that. Scare tactics aren’t scary anymore. They don’t work.
- When we talk about chastity, talk about how awesome it is, because it IS awesome. We want teens to experience all the benefits that come from living chastity – real love, respect, confidence, trust, freedom, etc.
- Sex is a good thing. God made it that way, to strengthen marriages and bring about new people. It’s holy and sacred. And our sexual desires and urges are normal, natural, and healthy. Chastity simply helps us keep those desires under control so that they don’t control us.
Understand Their Culture
- Since we were never their age in this age, it’s critical that we try to understand their world. It doesn’t mean we approve of their culture – instead, affirm what is good and help teens recognize what is evil. Be critical of the media all around us and teach them to be critical of it, too.
- Remember, if you’re not talking to them about love, sex, dating, and relationships, someone else is… so be very aware of how prevalent pornography is in our world and do everything you can to protect teens from it. Warn them about the dangers before they’re old enough to use a smartphone. If a teen admits to a problem with porn, first affirm that you care and you’re there to help. Explain very clearly that while sex is good, pornography is bad because it changes the way we view sex, love, and people. It turns people into objects and it always leaves us feeling unsatisfied. Sex is for married love, between adults, and has healthy boundaries. Our sexual curiosity is normal and healthy, but feeding that curiosity with porn is very dangerous. They’ll probably hear others talking about porn like it’s no big deal, but it is a big deal and unhealthy at any age. Remind your teen that s/he is not bad, but bad people want them to view porn. Encourage them to go to Confession, if Catholic, and help set up healthy boundaries around screens (blocking/accountability software, keeping them in public spaces, etc.).
Tell Your Story
- I waited for marriage and my husband didn’t. When our kids get old enough, we’re going to tell them that. I’ll share all the reasons I’m grateful I learned about and committed to chastity at such a young age; he’ll talk about how he heard the message but never took it to heart and how much he regrets that. Sharing about our mistakes can be tough, but our kids can learn a lot more from our admitted weaknesses than our vain attempts to act like we’re perfect.
- And let me be clear – I don’t think we need to give anyone (outside of our Confessor and maybe our spouse) the details of our sin. The simple facts are sufficient. But teens can learn a lot from the details of our regrets. Remember, as the Scriptures say, “Never be ashamed of your testimony to our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Timothy 1:8) – even if that testimony is how He has redeemed your past.
- Be as wide open as possible to the Holy Spirit so that you can be ready for any and all graced moments that might appear. The right words at the wrong time aren’t any good, the wrong words at the right time aren’t helpful either, but the right words at the right time can change a life forever. Be deeply rooted in prayer and the Spirit will help you offer that.
- The wisest, most challenging advice I have ever heard from an older parent about talking to teenagers about anything – including chastity – is “their timing is not our timing.” Teenagers operate on their own timetables. They might be most ready to talk at the least convenient moment for you. Deal with it. If we miss a moment, it’s gone forever. So be as available as possible, as often as possible.
Your best is the best you can do, so study up, pray up, and remember this: the best you can do is to be open to the conversation. And it’ll definitely be an ongoing conversation. Our teens need continual help and support as they pursue this virtue. They’re going to have questions about the bigger issues in our culture. They’re going to need practical advice for dating and relationships. What they need when they hit puberty won’t be enough to carry them through high school and what they know in high school won’t get them through college.
So keep your mind, heart, and eyes open. Our teenagers deserve our very best. And they’re counting on you to bring it to them.