The one who gets wisdom loves life; the one who cherishes understanding will soon prosper.
Okay, confession time. How many of you have a “My kid is smarter than your kid” bumper sticker on your car? You know, the ones schools give out for honor roll. Is it proudly displayed for everyone in the Wal-Mart parking lot and gridlock traffic to see?
Some people get a little attitude toward us parents who want our kids to be smart…and it can be reflected in their bumper stickers:
My parrot can talk. Can your honor student fly?
My kid can beat up your honor student!
My child is an honor student at the state correctional facility.
If that kid is an honor student, he must not really be yours.
My daughter can out-fish your honor student.
Previous owner had an honor student!
People might joke about their kid being smart—or not so smart. But deep down, all parents—all good parents—want their children to be wise, discerning, and yes, smart enough to make right choices that lead to happiness and God’s favor and blessing over their lives.
Because our goal as parents is to help our kids be smart in a sexually-saturated world, let’s look at the five core character development areas and link them as an acrostic. We all want our children, teens, and young adults to make S.M.A.R.T. decisions. We hope, pray, and train so they will:
Suspend gratification: the ability to delay indulging desires.
Mind authority: a longing to obey and please God above all others.
Adore God: cultivate a listening heart.
Resolve to be authentic: be genuine, real, and honest.
Trust the trustworthy: the ability to relax in a safe environment.
Let’s take a closer look at each one to see why each is important, especially in the area of your child’s future marriage and sexuality, and how to cultivate each trait in your child’s heart and life.
As the mom or dad of a preschooler, you were painfully aware of the daily testing of your patience. Your child had no patience! The good news is that all the “Please Mommy, please Daddy! I neeeeeeeeed it!” pleas are the forum for cultivating your child’s ability to wait, to delay gratification, and (ultimately) to teach them to defer their sexual desires until the day they say, “I do.”
We know God values delayed gratification because the words wait, waited, and waiting are so prevalent in the Bible. Often the waiting is linked to a payoff. Waiting is a priority with God, and waiting gives us all kinds of splendid blessings, including heaven and being rewarded for walking faithfully with Jesus. So our goal is to help our kids grasp that waiting brings with it a cool, awesome, rewarded value!
Waiting for the I Do
If waiting is so important, how can we help our kids learn to wait for the best and not settle? Give me a minute…and we will tell you…in a little while…See, you don’t like waiting much either! But when God says it’s not time yet, it’s good to wait. And if God’s Word says it is His will for sex to come after the “I do,” we are to wait until after the marriage ceremony for sex. Here is one passage that captures the priority of waiting for sexual intimacy until after the wedding day (more verses will be handled later—so wait!):
It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the pagans, who do not know God; and that in this matter no one should wrong or take advantage of a brother or sister. The Lord will punish all those who commit such sins, as we told you and warned you before. For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. Therefore, anyone who rejects this instruction does not reject a human being but God, the very God who gives you his Holy Spirit (1 Thessalonians 4:3-8).
Since this passage is one of the core reasons for writing this entire book, let’s take a closer look at the key words. We have written this as an expanded paragraph, adding biblical word definitions in parentheses to gain a clearer understanding of God’s heart and intent in asking this of every person:
It is God’s will (His desire, decision, and intent) that you should be sanctified (consecrated, set apart for a holy use): that you should avoid (abstain, distance yourself, keep away from) sexual immorality(fornication [consenting sex involving someone who is unmarried], all sex of any kind outside the context of the marital bed, adultery, premarital and extramarital intercourse, homosexuality, prostitution, and other perversions); that each of you should learn (know, realize, be aware of, recognize, and have the information) to control (acquire and possess) your own body in a way that is holy (consecrated, dedicated to God) and honorable (respectful and treating it as if it has high, precious value), not in passionate lust (passion that leads to a craving, deep desire, or lust) like the pagans, who do not know God (who do not believe in God, or have yet to realize or perceive God); and that in this matter no one should wrong (go beyond, trespass, or step over) or take advantage (exploit or outwit because of a motivation of greed or self-indulgence) of a brother or sister. The Lord will punish (judge, avenge, and bestow His wrath on) all those who commit such sins (become an adulterer), as we told you (testified, admonished, instructed)and warned (predicted; told of some future happening that is dangerous and may lead to serious consequence) you before. For God did not call us to be impure (morally or physically unclean in a way that defiles the soul by all kinds of wrongdoing or sexual profligacy [extravagance, wasteful, reckless, licentious, wicked, or immoral behavior]), but to live a holy life (consecrated and dedicated to God). Therefore, anyone who rejects (refuses to accept, consider, or submit to; or who nullifies or regards as nothing) this instruction (education, direction, or showing the way) does not reject a human being but God, the very God who gives you his Holy Spirit (The Holy Yahweh, The Supreme Creator and Sustainer of the universe).
A Splash of Ice-Cold Water
When we read this the first time, it felt like a bucket of ice-cold water had been thrown over us on a freezing cold snowy day. It stopped us in our tracks and took our breath away. I (Pam) had attended church on and off for most of my growing-up years and only a few mentions had ever been made concerning God’s will for us to wait until marriage for sex. I never remember a sermon on this set of verses until I was in college at a Campus Crusade for Christ leadership conference. Bill had even less exposure to God’s Word, but he, too, was at this same leadership conference. We were not yet dating; in fact, it was at this conference that we first met. God wanted to make sure we both heard this information loud and clear!
Most of society carries little or no regard for casual sex, but that doesn’t mean that an apathetic attitude toward God’s plan for sex is right, healthy, or smart. God is very specific in what He is asking and equally specific in painting a word picture of the consequences of disobedience. When I (Bill) became a pastor, I was committed to preaching through the entire Bible, word by word, so all of the heart of God would be heard by those I was responsible for leading—not just the happy verses that are easy to hear and quote, but all the verses! It is when we see God in His many facets that life, His commands, and His promises finally make sense.
Why God Says Wait
God is not a killjoy. In fact, He’s just the opposite: a joy-creator. You saw in chapter one that God has several really wonderful purposes for sex and that sex is a gift—one of His most creative gifts, which brings humankind joy, pleasure, and happiness. But it is only within its proper context (a committed, faithful marriage) that sex can be all it was created to be. When we are wholly committed, we are holy and He is committed to bring us blessing and joy.
Outside these boundaries, sex has natural consequences that we believe are a part of God avenging and releasing His wrath: disease, physical pain, shame, complicated relationships, distrust, a difficult life path, unplanned pregnancy, the guilt of an abortion, consequences that affect future fertility, less money to live on because you are supporting your offspring, broken hearts, broken lives, broken hopes, broken dreams—the consequences are many and varied. A few minutes of thrill (or, for many, no thrill) cannot possibly be worth so many of these harsh consequences. And we are sure that death from HIV/AIDS is not worth the rush that might have been felt from sex outside the context of marriage.
Why would God ordain such a strong restriction on our sex drives? Because premarital sex…
• keeps us from being consecrated or dedicated to God. It places our will above God’s will.
• exposes us to more sex, riskier sex, and more uncommitted sex. Sex ignited outside marriage lights the fire of more forbidden fruit, which can endanger our hearts, health, and life. The desire for the forbidden can, in turn, rob from future marital sex, as it becomes harder to reach orgasm unless we are engaged in the illicit or forbidden. It can also become hard to be satisfied by just one lover and it lessens our ability to be faithful after marriage.
• lowers our view of ourselves as holy, treasured, and valuable. God holds sex as a treasure to give to a precious individual, and we devalue it and ourselves when we misuse it. A consistent misuse of the gift of sex will slowly erode a person’s self-esteem. Each sexual interaction can be like leaving a piece of yourself behind until none of your authentic self is left.
• lessens our ability to impose self-control or self-discipline. Lack of self-control can easily seep over to other areas of life, and an undisciplined life can unravel God’s best plan for our lives.
• creates a selfish attitude so that sex becomes more about what you can get than what you can give. Traits God says premarital sex produces are a desire to go beyond what your partner might be comfortable with, a willingness to trespass or step over others to get your way, and a desire to take advantage of, exploit, or outwit someone to indulge your own greedy desires.
• reduces our ability to stop sinning. People become accustomed to sexual profligacy: extravagance of time, money, or effort given just for a sexual thrill, a wasteful or short-term view of life, reckless endangerment in pursuit of desire, licentious, wicked, or escalating immoral behaviors in search of the next sexual high.
• trains people to ignore God and God’s instructions. It becomes easier and easier to stray from God and shut down His voice and calling in life.
• unleashes God’s wrath. Premarital sex opens a person up to Satan’s realm. In the days of the early church, when the Scripture we just studied was written, sex was woven into the sacred rituals of many pagan religions. Temples employed prostitutes of both genders and an atmosphere of hedonism, or self-gratification, reigned. Immorality was everywhere as people indulged themselves in the pursuit of pleasure.
To refute or rebuff God’s plan is to open oneself up to a foothold placed in your life—either willingly and with full knowledge or unwillingly. Remember, Satan is a deceiver; he sneaks in any way he can and loves to wreck and ruin a life. That’s why we’re reminded, “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8).
But God gives the solution to overcoming Satan’s temptations and attacks in this same passage. To the above warnings He adds:
Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings. And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast (1 Peter 5:9-10).
Waiting for Marshmallows
Having sensed God’s heart for sex, let’s be willing to walk that heart back to the first ABC’s or building blocks of a child’s life. A simple way to begin training a child to wait for something vital and important, like sex in marriage, is to first equip him or her to wait for the small things. For example, as he or she begins snacking, space the snacks out at regular healthy intervals (you can consult your pediatrician or a certified nutritionist on this). Even having a preschooler or elementary child wait a few minutes for his appetite to be fulfilled helps train him to understand that there is a reward for waiting patiently. If he wants a treat (ice cream, for example) and you decide it’s appropriate, he will have to wait patiently for it. If he whines, start the timer and make him wait all over, this time without whining. When the toddler picks up toys and places them in the toy box, offer a reward—a snack, reading his favorite book, or a trip to the park. Teach your preschooler that rewards come after the work. And when she sees a toy on TV that she wants, make her do simple chores to earn it. Parents who run right out and indulge their preschooler’s every whim are setting themselves up for a world of hurt later. Being accustomed to instant indulgence will make your teen the one who pressures his or her date to “put out” just like he or she is pressuring you to jump and fulfill every desire!
In the early seventies a professor at Stanford University, Walter Mischel, tested the willpower of four-year-old children in a famous experiment. He put them in a room and placed a large marshmallow on a table close to them. He told them that they could eat the marshmallow right away if they wanted, but if they waited to eat it for 15 minutes, he would give them a second marshmallow. He left the room and observed the results through a two-way mirror. The results? Some children grabbed the marshmallow and ate it right away. Some tried to wait, but could only hold out for a few minutes before succumbing to temptation. Only 30 percent were able to wait the whole 15 minutes for the promised reward.
Later, when the children had entered high school, the researchers caught up with them. The children were examined for the capacity to plan, think ahead, find solutions to problems, and interact well with their peers. The results were startling. The differences researchers had observed between the students 14 years earlier were excellent predictors of the children’s behavior in high school. The children who were able to wait instead of gobbling up the marshmallow generally had a more positive outlook, were self-motivating, and had developed healthy habits that pointed toward future success. The children who couldn’twait for a second marshmallow struggled in stressful situations, were more likely to have behavioral problems, and had trouble maintaining friendships. The children who were able to wait had, on average, an SAT score that was two hundred ten points higher than their peers who could only wait thirty seconds.1
Our society is one where no one wants to wait for sex, save for expenditures, or plan for things like vacations—or even calorie control! Our instant gratification society is killing us.
Building a Waiting Priority
From the time our sons had the ability to reach up and demand with an “Ugh! Ugh!” we taught them that patient means “Willing to wait.” We rewarded them anytime they waited patiently, saying, “Thank you, honey; you are waiting so nicely.” We even taught them the song about Herbert the Snail learning patience!
Later we’ll talk about other things we did to help our own children wait for the best in life and love. For now, take our word for it, this work early in your child’s life is worth it! But it can be tough to maintain. Chances are you have had those moments at the checkout stand when your little one wants all the gum, candy, and other treats so shrewdly placed at toddler eye-level, knowing the kids will whine and the majority of parents will simply give in, creating profit for the store.
One of our friends had an all-out showdown with his first grader who wanted a toy. He calmly said, “Not today, honey,” but then the inner Tasmanian devil took over and it was an all-out screaming fit on Aisle 10! He ultimately picked up his daughter and carried her out of the store, ending their shopping trip. She had been yelling things like “Why Daddy? I want it Daddy! Yes, Daddy!” But when he picked her up and carried her to the car she screamed, “Someone help me! This is not my daddy!” Fortunately it was a small town, and the dad had plenty of family pictures and a few good neighbors to vouch for his identity and family connections! We share this extreme example so that the next time your child begins her pouting, his stomping, her screaming, or his temper tantrum, you will know it can be worse. It can definitely be worse because a spoiled child becomes a demanding teen and evolves into an impatient date who wants sex when he or she wants it, how he or she wants it—now! Helping your daughter parent a child while she’s still in high school or hiring a lawyer to defend your son against date rape is harder than saying no at the checkout counter!
Even if your child is older, a middle schooler, or in senior high, having him or her earn the extras he or she wants will help develop the delayed-gratification muscle. And be careful with lavish parties and gifts. If your child takes a limo to the sixth grade graduation party or has a sweet sixteen as extravagant as many people’s weddings, he or she will feel entitled. An attitude of entitlement only serves to erode the delayed-gratification character you are seeking to build. Decisions like saving for his or her first car, that gaming unit, or even church summer camp will help develop the character needed to make wiser relationship choices later.
Next time, remember: It really isn’t about giving the candy bar, the designer jeans, or the coolest new computer. It is about your child’s future! Your ability to hold the line helps your child succeed later in life. Leadership expert John Maxwell explains that “timing is everything.” When we make a move is often as important as what move we make:
The wrong action at the wrong time leads to disaster. The right action at the wrong time brings resistance. The wrong action at the wrong time is a mistake. The right action at the right time results in success.2
Helping your child learn this, by first modeling it and then holding him or her to a waiting lifestyle, will be their first step toward success.
We all love those obedient children. Who doesn’t adore the preschooler who stands next to his parents and patiently waits to be acknowledged? We love to hear, “Yes, Mommy. Yes, Daddy.” We like to look good as parents when our children obey, but that shouldn’t be our primary motivation. Rather, obedience should be vital because it is how children learn to be obedient to God.
We encourage you to continue to be a legitimate authority in your child’s life. Two critical choices on your part will better ensure wisdom on your child’s part all along his or her growing-up path.
First, maintain your own integrity. When we were in youth ministry, we could almost predict a teen’s implosion if his or her parents divorced or one of them had an affair. One father with several teenaged children—a man who had held himself up as a Christian leader—decided to come out of the closet and make his homosexual lifestyle public. Bill begged him to turn back from this choice, but the man felt he needed to be “authentic.”
He told Bill, “I have denied my feelings too long. It is my turn for happiness.” Bill, seeing he was losing the battle with this self-centered dad, said, “Can you at least put off the decision until your kids are in college or young adults? Give them a chance to be solid in their own life and sexuality before cracking their world wide open.”
The father’s reply was, “My lover won’t wait and neither will I.”
Change the scenario to a heterosexual affair and the hurt is just the same. We have seen both mothers and fathers place their sex lives ahead of the well-being of their own children and futures. This is the height of selfishness. (If you have already had a breach of integrity, stay tuned—we’ll talk more about how to handle this later. But for now, Mom and Dad, stay the course of obeying God too!) As a parent, you decided to give birth to your child. Now see it through! From this moment forward, make all your choices with your child’s best interest in mind!
Make the Commands Clear
When you give instructions to your child, make them clear. In our home, with any task or chore, we held to this series of instructions:
I do, you watch (so your child can clearly see, hear, and experience how to succeed).
We do it together (so your child can experience success with you—a relationship builder).
You do, I watch (so he or she can succeed and hear praise or fail with a safety net, thus learning from errors so they’ll succeed next time).
You do alone (applause!).
It is all too easy to be angry or discipline a child for something that you, as a parent, have never really enabled him or her to do successfully. Be sure to be clear!
To be SMART, your child will need to develop a personal relationship with God. In the chapters to come, you will see how a little proactive hard work can have impressive positive payoffs. But some of you might already feel shame or guilt for not having done things so proactively. God knew exactly when you would hear some of the truths in this book—trust His heart and His timing! God can take what you have built and add Himself to it. Even if your family’s a dysfunctional one, try to cultivate a relationship with your child. At the right moment, it can be enough to help your teen make a wise choice.
My (Pam’s) father struggled with alcoholism. The distance grew between us emotionally. However, my mother overcompensated and went out of her way to build strong bonds with me and my siblings. She was my Campfire Girl club leader, my 4-H club leader, my Vacation Bible School craft leader, my team mom, and my room mother. She tended my emotional well-being and soul. In the middle of a very chaotic and crazy home environment, I knew she always had my best in mind. While she regrets not reaching out for help for our family sooner (through a counselor or Alcoholics Anonymous), she did take us to church weekly. Even before she herself had a personal relationship with God she was looking out for ours.
Because of my strained relationship with my father, as a teen I was desperate for the love of a man. I was like many teen girls, where a few sweet words and a few kind gestures from a guy fooled me into thinking I was in love. If pressured, a battle raged inside me—should I please my boyfriend or please God and my mom? I was a young believer, and I did know God loved me, but at that stage of my life, as a teenager, it was my relationship with my mother that kept me from giving in to urges, pressures, and persuasive words that could have completely altered the course of my life and future.
My mom was already in enough pain because of my father’s drinking; I couldn’t do anything to cause her more pain. Having sex outside of marriage would have broken her heart, and a teen pregnancy would have as well. I thought she was committed to being pro-life, but I didn’t ever want to put her in the situation of counseling me through that hard choice. Her love for me and my love for her was a safeguard on my future. I thank God every day for my mother’s committed love because it gave me strength in fighting the demons of our dysfunctional home. It made me refuse to settle for less than God’s best and pursue healing. Her love gave me the ability to receive God’s love, and God’s love led me to my amazing husband, Bill.
Be encouraged. Even in a less-than-perfect environment, God can meet you and teach you how to love lavishly…just the way He loves you. And that is the key to unlocking your child’s ability to adore God—show her God adores her. Show him God loves him and has his back. When a child, a teen, a college student, or a young adult is fully convinced God loves her, it raises her ability to trust Him with her heart, relationships, and future.
Resolve to Be Authentic
It is imperative to instill the value of being genuine, real, and honest in our kids. Our children need to be honest with us so they can learn to be honest with themselves and with God. When we were in youth ministry and the pastorate, we had more than one student in our office who said the same thing: “We didn’t mean for it to happen. We thought we could handle being alone (in an empty house, in the dark, together, in a sleeping bag).” Seriously? You thought that was a good plan?
We heard so many of these lame stories. An honest teen or young adult knows they would rarely succeed under those kinds of circumstances!
One young woman we know never went on a date with a young man she was interested in because she was afraid of what her parents would say about him because he was not a believer. But she didn’t protect her life with good boundaries, and one day she discovered she was pregnant—to a guy she never went on a “date” with! If a conversation about his character qualities was hard before, it was next to impossible now! Her double life had serious implications!
Our children need to learn to be honest with us. We told our children, “There is nothing you can do that will ever make us stop loving you. If you make a mistake, come straight to us and confess, because if we hear it from you your punishment will be much less than if we hear it from anyone else.” It is hard to hear our kids are less than perfect, but it is even more difficult to deal with someone who has lost his ability to tell the truth…or see the truth. Encourage honesty in all ways possible.
Trust the Trustworthy
We as parents should foster trust so our children gain the ability to relax in a safe environment. You might be wondering…Why is resting in trust one of the five core values? Why is it vital to learn to “chill out”? To truly have a remarkable sex life once married you need to be able to be completely open, vulnerable, and free. A woman must relax to reach orgasm. In fact, while researching our book Red-Hot Monogamy, we found a study that marked trust as the number-one factor that positively contributes to a woman’s ability to climax.
As parents, we want to build a healthy boundary around sexuality—not an impenetrable fortress with an electric fence and razor wire! Some well-meaning parents use scare tactics and exclusively negative messages to keep their children away from sex, apparently thinking that somehow, on the child’s honeymoon, the happy couple will suddenly be able to relax and enjoy sex. That’s not the outcome of fear-based parenting. More than one solid Christian couple has shared with us the mental and emotional hurdle they had to overcome to replace the negative sexual messages their well-meaning parents gave to “protect” them.
Rather than reverting to fear tactics, instead model affection as normal and natural. Let your children see you hug, kiss, and flirt with your spouse. Appropriately express tenderness to your child as well. Let it be natural to cuddle, pat, or scratch his or her back, run your fingers through his curls, brush her hair, pat your child’s hand, give a neck or shoulder massage, and give hugs and kisses. As your child transitions through his or her teen years, you will adjust how to handle affection toward him or her. Do not be afraid of tenderness and affection or your anxiety will be transferred to your child and he or she will have a difficult transition into marital sex.
Overall, verbalize and model the tenderness, affection, kindness, and physical expressions of feelings that are positive languages of love. Your view of love, sex, and marriage will color your child’s.
Answers to Have Ready
Here are some verses to begin to share with your child, of any age, that describe the lavish, relentless love of God. You can communicate them to your child any way you like—just be creative! You might choose to read one aloud before each meal, pray one each night over your child at bedtime, print and pack it in his or her lunch, send it to him in a text, or post it on her door or mirror.
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38-39).
I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness (Jeremiah 31:3).
But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy (Titus 3:4-5).
“Because he loves me,” says the LORD, “I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name. He will call on me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him. With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation” (Psalm 91:14-16).
The LORD is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love. The LORD is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made (Psalm 145:8-9).
“Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,” says the LORD, who has compassion on you (Isaiah 54:10).
Because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved (Ephesians 2:4-5).
This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us (1 John 3:16).
Parent to Parent
One of the simplest tools we used to help our kids develop a strong inner compass was to teach them how to use their moral GPS. We taught our kids that before they said or did anything they were in question about, they should ask, “Does this show respect for God, People, and Self?”
Answers for Your Heart
Before God, ask, What things in my past or in my thinking need to move to match up with Your view of love and sex? What can I do to help my child become SMART? We will give you more opportunities to deal with your own baggage further into this book, but for now, ask yourself, Does my child know that I love him? Am I balanced between discipline (the ability to say no and enforce it) and devotion (the ability to say yes to relationship builders and appropriate affection toward my child)?
On the continuum below, mark the place you fall on the delicate balance of imposing discipline and expressing devotion.