I have a 12 year old daughter who seemingly became a woman (physically) overnight. God has blessed her with amazing beauty (after all, she looks like a female version of me). OK, so that was my sick attempt at humor! But seriously, now that young womanhood is present in my home, “who is sufficient for these things“?
Apparently not me.
But, I am not alone. I distinctly remember one of my favorite preachers, Dr. Voddie Baucham, sharing how his own daughter’s sudden entrance into womanhood caught him offguard and forced him to begin changing things he’d never thought of before, like how to hug her now, how she could and could not sit in his lap, and a host of other issues. Oh the joys and perils of parenthood! What a sanctifying gift from God these precious children are to us.
Our struggles as parent of a now “tween” are not uncommon. Several others in the church I serve are neck deep in this swamp, too! So, I offer some lengthy thoughts that I hope will be used of God to guide us in this adventure.
- First, we need to realize we are parenting in be “tween” times – pun very intended. In the decades of the early 20th century, rigid, legalistic parenting often aimed at outward behavior and rarely ministered to children’s hearts. Sex and attraction or desire for the opposite gender was not spoken of, and if mentioned, it was declared to be “evil” and “bad.” It was taboo. Children and parents rarely discussed these things heart to heart. The tragic result was a generation of “hiders.” Children and teens growing up in the 1920s-50s were going behind parents’ backs doing all sorts of sexual mischief. Don’t believe me? Ask an honest 80 year old. Children were scared to death to even tell their parents they were attracted to someone. Those feelings were off limits, forbidden, left undiscussed. The only problem is that those attractions and desires were STILL PRESENT in the breasts of those kids, and tragically left to their own devices!
- The 1960s generation of young adults finally tired of playing the hiding game, and knee-jerked in the other direction. Free love and rampant sex in any form you wanted. This was my parents’ generation. They typically held the reins on their children far too loosely, if they held them at all. Young men and women were permitted to spend time alone in darkened movie theaters and lots of other places. Supervision was lacking. Group dates often morphed into time alone in the car off a back alley. And we are still reeling from the results of this “laissez-faire” parenting approach, aren’t we? STDs and sexual deviancy are becoming normal?
So, now we are seeing a new crop of Christian parents, of which I am one, hungry to return to bringing up our children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Eph 6:4). God has given us men and women and ministries out the wazoo to help us do family God’s way. Praise God for His kindness and patience and mercy! But, we must ever be vigiliant, dear friends, of the yo-yo affect. If we had loose parents, we will typically be overly strict and lean towards legalism. If we had legalistic parents, we will frequently gravitate to the loose end of the spectrum. Neither are biblical or good. Cursed human nature!
So, God is showing me time and again my need for balance. God’s way is perfectly balanced. Here are some thoughts on parenting Tween the Times:
- Attraction or desire for opposite gender is not evil or sinful in and of itself. God put those desires in us! Young women are supposed to be attracted to young men by God’s good design. Trying to squelch the desire itself is not biblical. Only the Holy Spirit can change the desires of our hearts. And, why would God kill the desire in a woman for a man unless He was granting her the gift of singleness (1 Cor 7:32-35). Again, opposite gender attraction is by Divine design! Making a discussion of such attractions / feelings / desires off limits or unacceptable is not biblical parenting. Biblical parenting always aims at the heart. Read Proverbs and note all the references to the “heart.” We may achieve outward conformity in our children as it relates to their time spent around the opposite gender, but we do not have the power to kill sexual desire or even innocent attraction in them.
- For example, the desire for food is God-given and good. We do not forbid our kids to discuss or feel attracted to food! Why? Because that desire was put in our child by God for their good and to ultimately bring Himself glory as they eat with thankful hearts to the Lord our Provider (1 Tim 4:3-5). But, desire for food can morph into sin, right? We call it gluttony. So, what do we do as parents? Cultivate the desire and aim it towards God and away from sin! Likewise, sexual desire or attraction (opposite gender) is God-given and good, when we place it under the constraints of God and His Word (marriage being the only proper place of release for that desire). Go ahead and try to convince your teen sex is bad and not to be desired at all. I assure you that tactic will not change a thing going on in your teen’s heart, and your teen already knows better, too! So, we had better beg God for grace to help our children think highly enough of sex to aim their desires and attractions towards God and away from sin. As Dr. Baucham said in a conference last year, “Our problem is that we do not think enough of sex.” Notice he did not say we do not think of sex enough! His point is biblical and valid for us, believing parents. We need to be asking God to help us imbue our teens with a godward view of sex in all of its exhiliration because it is designed by God in the covenant of marriage to make us long for the unspeakable thrill of one day seeing our Bridegroom face-to-face! Ephesians 5:22-33 makes this point emphatically!
- So, our aim as Christian parents, then, is to help our tweens and teens understand their hearts (desires, attractions, thoughts) in gospel-centered ways. We train them to examine their hearts and place all their desires before the scrutiny of God and His Word (Psalm 139). We keep open dialogue with our children in all matters of their hearts, including sexual temptations and attractions. How else will we train them to submit their hearts to Holy Spirit God if we do not invite and enocurage them to freely talk to us about what is happening in their hearts? The Song of Solomon has the refrain, “Do not awaken or arouse love before its time.” It does not tell the unmarried maidens to squelch their attractions towards men, but rather not to put themselves in positions where that beast of lust or even romantic love is likely to consume them. Nor does it condemn a desire for a man to marry. The whole Book is actually one big celebration of romantic, sexual attraction and love done God’s way! Our job as parents is to help teach and train and supervise our children in how to not awaken (notice they’re there, just sleeping) those desires in such a way that they fester into lust, which surely “gives birth to sin” (James 1:15). We do this by teaching a robust doctrine of sanctification (Rom 6-8). We do this by closely watching interactions with opposite gender – correcting, guiding, ever communicating, probing the heart, showing children how to discern strong, healthy spirituality in others, helping them plunge their thought life under the purity of the Spirit and the Word. Simply put, this task cannot be done by cutting girls off from boys, but neither should it be done by haphazardly allowing “alone time” or even unsupervised mixed group interactions. It’s the challenge of BALANCE.
- Paul told young Pastor Timothy to treat and view the young women in his congregation “as sisters, in all purity.” Again, we note Paul expected the young man to pastor and relate to and interact with the young women. He was not to avoid them. Yet, he must relate to them purely as sisters. Biological brothers and sisters play together. They poke fun at one another. They hug and show affection. They may even sometimes pick on one another in semi-physical ways. Nobody accuses those siblings of impurity! I think we too often miss Paul’s analogy here because we are scared to death of our children running off and doing things with boyfriends or girlfriends that we did in our loosely, under-supervised days. But this analogy Paul employs is critical, isn’t it? How should young men and women relate in the Church? As BROTHERS AND SISTERS IN PURITY. So again, how are my daughters going to learn to do this biblically if nearly all of their time is spent only with same gender?
- As a parent with a biblical understanding of sin, the human heart (desires, thoughts) and the power of Christ, I must find the balance between squashing physical attraction and feeding it / leaving it unguarded so that it grows up into lust. A teen man or woman displaying no physical desire or attraction for the oppostie gender would not seem to be biblically healthy, unless that person is being given the gift of singleness by God in order to devote his or her life to service. I think we need to keep these things in perspective from time to time. If my teen is not showing any interest in opposite gender, why is that? We should be asking ourselves these questions, and guiding our teens to enter that discussion with us under the absolute authority of God’s Word.
Those who know me and read this blog know that I am committed to doing the whole courtship “vetting” of a potential husband in a fairly radical way. My wife and I have taught our girls to renounce cultural dating and they both seem joyful at knowing when the times comes (and it won’t be anytime soon), we will be directly helping them get linked up with God’s man for them. We absolutely forbid our daughters to spend time alone with any boy, but we do not want to parent out of fear (doesn’t come from God) and shelter them too harshly from mixed group relationships that our Sovereign God will use to further sanctify them and make them godly women. I have written extensively on this previously, so no need to rehash here. It just occurs to me that right now my daughter is in the Tween time. A young woman beginning to experience the God-given interest in the male made in God’s image just like her. Yet, she knows that a boyfriend is not in her future, not anything remotely resembling dating or even courtship anytime soon. This is a critical time for us as Mom and Dad to cultivate all that honors God in her and help her learn how to repent of and trash all that rises in her heart that threatens her love and devotion to her Forever Husband, Jesus. This is a time for us to slowly widen some boundaries so she can learn how to view and relate to young Christian men as true brothers, even while keeping a hawk-eye on how we see her responding to these new found interests and desires (and the attention young men seem all too eager to give her). We do not ask or expect that you agree with every single method we choose, but we do think we must ALL strive by God’s grace to help one another down this path, under the authority of God’s Word, for His glory alone, and the genuine good of our children.
Maybe you have this all figured out? And no doubt many of you are excelling me in these matters. I welcome your godly counsel and wisdom. And I need your prayers. God help me. God help us.