Below is a guest post from Rebecca Lindenbach. She’s an exceptional young lady and the kind of person I hope my kids grow up to be like someday, so I’m taking her brilliant advice to heart! So many parents surrender to the naive and false assumption that teenage rebellion is a foregone conclusion, but there is a better way! If you are a parent (or ever plan to be), THIS could change your whole perspective and reshape the way you teach kids about SEX, faith and relationships.
Hi, I’m Rebecca Lindenbach, I’m 22 years old, and I never rebelled.
Over the last two years I’ve been working on my book, Why I Didn’t Rebel, interviewing 25 young adults and scouring social science research to figure out what parents can do to prevent teenage rebellion.
A common concern among parents is around the topic of teenage relationships. How do you raise kids to have a healthy view of sexuality within a Christian context?
From my interviews and research, I found three strategies that parents of kid who didn’t rebel used to help their kids see God’s design for sex and give them the tools they needed to make good decisions.
- Who you are on the outside needs to match who you are on the inside.
In high school, my friends all knew my parents as “the ones who make out a lot.”
Seriously, I had one friend who walked in on my parents making out in the kitchen, ran back up to my room, wide-eyed, and said, “Your parents are kissing downstairs!” I just shrugged and said, “Yeah, what else is new?”
Here’s the thing: it’s OK for your kids to know that you are a sexual being. And that’s coming from a kid of a mom who writes Christian sex advice books for a living.
Parents say all these things like, “wait for sex until marriage,” but then we look around and the people in marriages seem to never have sex, and people who aren’t married are getting it on! What kind of message does that send to young, hormonal teens who are facing a highly sexualized culture? It tells them that marriage is where sex goes to die!
My mom started a campaign a few years back called, “Be great parents: gross out your kids!” featuring photos of my parents making out while my sister and I cowered in mock horror. Being openly affectionate with your spouse shows kids that marriage can be a place of passion and romance.
“Gross” parents are a much better picture for teens of healthy sexuality than parents who try their best to hide the fact that they have a sex life so their kids aren’t ever uncomfortable.
- Be real with your kids.
When it comes to the hard stuff in parenting, it’s much easier to crack down on rules to try and control the outcome than to be vulnerable with your kids.
However, kids pick up on a lot more than parents give them credit for. In the interviews I did for Why I Didn’t Rebel, over and over again I heard people say, “I knew something was wrong, but no one talked about it,” or, “My parents never admitted that they ever did anything wrong, and it seemed really unfair.”
Discussing sexuality with kids is difficult. I’m not going to sugar coat that. But explaining your past can be a much better way to show your kids how to make good decisions than piling on rules.
But it’s more than just discussing where God has brought you—teenagers want to feel heard and understood. And a lot of teens turn to sex and relationships for that when they don’t feel that they’re heard at home.
One of the easiest ways to show your kids you hear them? Apologizing when you’re wrong.
Those of us who didn’t rebel had parents who weren’t afraid to just be real with us—admitting that they weren’t perfect showed us that our feelings mattered in the family, too. Protecting mom’s feelings wasn’t more important than doing what was right by us.
- Use relationship, not rules, to help your kids make good choices.
She came into my room, sat down, and said, “Honey, it worries me out that you’ve added this boy on Skype. I’m just concerned that he’s going to get the wrong impression or you’re going to be caught in a bad situation.”
I replied, “Well, I’m homeschooled, and if I weren’t, I’d talk to him at school. But the only way we can chat is online. I don’t have a crush on him, I know he’s into bad stuff, and so I never hang out with him outside of church, I refuse to go anywhere with him and his friends, and I will never get into a car with him because he’s a horrible driver. But he’s my friend, so I’d like to be able to talk to him.”
And my mom could walk away assured that I was fine. I wasn’t going to date this boy, I had a plan to stay safe, and I was handling it responsibly. Also, because she and I had open communication, she knew I’d come to her if anything went wrong.
Often, though, when parents find out that their kids are talking to someone they don’t like or dating someone they don’t approve of, they use rules to try and control the situation. “You’re not allowed to talk to him ever again!” “If I catch you chatting with her, you’re grounded!”
Cracking down like that can actually backfire. If teens’ biggest need is to feel understood and heard, and the parent does everything they can to disallow the teen’s feelings, they’ll end up ironically sending them into the arms of the person they don’t like in the first place.
A better route is to keep open communication. When teens don’t have anything to prove or when teens feel comfortable and heard at home, there’s less need to prove you’re separate from your parents by making choices your parent won’t agree with.
When Jordan was in high school, he met a girl we’ll call Sarah. Jordan’s mom, Krista, knew that Sarah wasn’t right for her son. She was very needy, emotionally unstable, and did not follow the same moral compass as Jordan’s family. Jordan was attracted to her mainly because he thought he could rescue her, and Krista saw that.
So Krista, instead of demanding they break up, welcomed Sarah into their family. She invited Sarah to family games night, took her out for coffee, and made her a part of the family life. Soon enough, Jordan saw it was obvious that Sarah didn’t fit the kind of life he was looking for. And soon after that, they broke it off.
When it comes to raising kids who don’t rebel, the goal is to raise kids who follow God even when they leave home, not just while they’re under your roof. And that means kids need reasons for why they should make good decisions, not just a list of “dos” and “don’ts”. That’s what my parents got—that’s what Krista got. And that’s what makes all the difference.
Rebecca Gregoire Lindenbach is from Ottawa, Canada and the author of Why I Didn’t Rebel. The daughter of blogger and author Sheila Wray Gregoire, Rebecca is an online entrepreneur passionate about challenging pat answers and daring people to live beyond the status quo. She just celebrated her second anniversary this July. You can find her online at her blog, Life as a Dare.