Editor’s note: This discussion contains terminology that may not be appropriate for sensitive readers and children. Parents are cautioned.
Unless you’ve been living on a remote island for the past decade, you know that our culture has gone crazy regarding sexual issues. Christian parents are filled with questions. When is it too early to begin discussing these tough topics with your children? How do you ground them in the truth found in God’s Word?
The goal of Answers magazine is to equip readers even if some truths are uncomfortable to talk about. But in a culture that pushes gender fluidity and sex outside of marriage, it’s critical that we be intentional about giving answers.
The publisher of Answers magazine, Dale Mason, recently sat down with “The Busy Mom”, Heidi St. John, a popular speaker, blogger, and author whose passion is to encourage and equip parents with biblical tools to train their children. A link for the video of their full conversation is available at the end of this article. Here are the highlights in a simple Q&A format that’s easy to share with other parents.
When should parents start teaching their children about sexual issues?
First, we should acknowledge that it’s always been hard to talk to our kids about sex. But we should teach our kids from the time they’re very little that God’s Word, the Bible, is where we get our answers.
I’ve been telling parents more and more that I raised my 28-year-old much differently than I’m raising my 8-year-old. They grew up in very different eras. I’m noticing with our youngest one that I’ve had to have conversations with her a lot earlier in her life. I’m having discussions I wouldn’t have had 26 years ago. You should have these conversations with your kids early, and you should be explicit. By explicit, I don’t mean graphic. I mean really talking about the nature of what they’re seeing in magazines, online, and at their schools.
When did you start talking to your own children about sex?
I started when my kids started asking questions. They’re asking questions earlier and earlier. I know when I was growing up, my parents didn’t broach the subject of sex until I was probably a teenager. They didn’t know this, but by then, all my friends already told me. They told me wrong, so I had mixed-up ideas. Parents should be the ones who talk to their kids about sexual issues.
What are some key scriptures that parents can reference?
Parents need to start in Genesis. We learn that God had a plan for human sexuality, and it was good. He created it. I want my children to grow up with Genesis as their starting point, which lays the foundation for everything else. But God didn’t just say he made it good. He also adds that he made us male and female in his image. There is a definite difference, and our world has perverted it. Our kids need to know that.
In our culture, transgenderism and homosexuality are celebrated. How should parents address this?
We need to be honest about what’s happening. If your three-year-old starts asking you whether they’re a boy or a girl, tell them. How do we know? Because God said, “I made you male or female.” Sometimes parents will come to me and they’ll say, “My three-year-old or my four-year-old or my five-year-old son is trying on his sister’s dresses.” I think that this has been happening in the Christian community for a long time. But we don’t talk about it because we’re kind of embarrassed. We shouldn’t be embarrassed. We should address it.
Can you give an example of a teaching moment with one of your children?
One day, I was at the grocery store with my children. At the checkout stand, my four-year-old daughter noticed a picture of Bruce Jenner on the cover of Vogue. Children aren’t stupid. She said, “Mama, Mama!” I looked, and I asked, “What is it, honey?” She said, “Why is that man dressed like a princess?”
Inwardly, I was thinking that I didn’t want to have this conversation in the middle of the store. But I have learned that I need to strike while the iron’s hot. I wanted to give her a thoughtful answer, and I didn’t want her to feel embarrassed for asking me a question. So I squatted down until I was eye-level with her right there in the checkout line, and I said, “Sweetheart, did God make you a boy or a girl?” She said, “He made me a girl.”
Then I went on to explain to her, “You know, some people are really confused right now, and some people don’t know how much God loves them.” She replied thoughtfully, “Well, Mama, we should pray for him.” We need to be honest about what’s happening and be ready to give an answer when our children ask.
What do you tell an older child who begins to wonder about God’s love for those who choose a transgender or homosexual lifestyle?
First, we need to tell our children that God loves everyone. God loves the men or the women who are struggling with their sexual identity. God loves the homosexual. God loves all of us. He died for us. I think that when we focus on one sin above another, we do a terrible disservice to how God views us as human beings who are all flawed before the Father.
I tell my kids, “Hey, this may not be a popular position to take in the culture right now. But we stand on the authority of the Word of God as believers.”
I tell my kids, “Hey, this may not be a popular position to take in the culture right now. But we stand on the authority of the Word of God as believers. We don’t shy away from it, and we recognize that our emotions will never trump the truth.”
What is the biggest issue that parents tell you they’re dealing with?
The biggest issue, other than transgenderism, is the idea that truth is subjective. Christian leaders with big followings talking about cultural issues are saying, “Hey, set the Bible aside.” But the Bible tells us that God’s Word is a sword (Ephesians 6:17). We should take our children back to the authority of the Bible.
I think many parents are afraid to answer hard questions because they don’t feel equipped enough to answer them. Instead of running when their children have a question, I want parents to say, “You know what? I don’t know the answer to that question, but let’s go to the Bible.” Talk to them about what’s happening in the news. Talk with them about the covers of magazines. Talk to them when they’re hearing from their friends. Don’t be afraid. Don’t run away from it.
How should a parent monitor a child who is an avid reader?
In our home, we’ve always surrounded our children with excellent resources. If you come to my house at any given time, you’ll find baskets of books. I’m a sneaky mom like this. I will put books I want my kids to read in the bathroom and in the family room. We want our children reading, but we want to know what they’re reading. It’s not that hard to look for good resources. We want our kids reading stories that are interesting to them but that point them back to the truth of the Bible. We live in the internet age.
Do you have advice for parents who are unsure of how to navigate these unfamiliar waters?
I can sit here for hours and tell you stories of families who did everything “right.” But they didn’t realize that their child graduated from homeschool with a pornography addiction. You need to be able to say to your kids, “We’re not going to let you read everything. We’re not going to let you watch everything.” Reiterate to them that the Bible tells us to think on whatever is good and whatever is lovely (Philippians 4:8). As you frame that as a family, hopefully those are values that they grow up with and take into their own families.
Many young people have been exposed to pornography. What is the best approach when this happens?
One of our sons stumbled upon pornography accidentally, which is how it almost always starts. My husband so wisely sat down with him and explained that he understood the struggle. They can hold each other accountable when there is open communication without shame.
Approach your kids with love, but don’t be afraid to address it. Encourage them to stay away from porn and explain the dangers. And don’t forget to tell them the beautiful thing that’s ahead for them inside of marriage. It really is that encouragement, instead of just constantly saying, “Danger! Danger!” Try to say, “Hey, good things are coming, and this is how God is going to prepare you for it.”
What advice would you give to parents who fear meddling in their child’s privacy?
Parents will say to me, “That’s his account. I don’t want to get into my child’s business.” It is all your business. If you are their parent and they are living in your home and eighteen years of age or younger, it is all our business. Hopefully, the net result is that you’re going to train them in righteousness, which is what we’re trying to do.
When it comes to social media, it’s important for parents to realize the widespread dangers. Even if your kids have an Instagram account, monitor what they’re doing. There’s pornography on Instagram now. Hashtags have become a huge problem, and parents need to be alert there too.
What resources do you find most helpful?
I love the American Family Association (AFA.net)—anything that they recommend I’m interested in reading. I publish through Tyndale, owned by Christians. They’re not afraid to answer what’s happening in the culture from a Christian perspective. Obviously, Answers in Genesis. And if you’re looking for news sources, I suggest the Family Research Council.