If you work with teens, you have come across the following scenarios in recent years:
A dad discovers his teenage son has been accessing pornography on the smart phone they brought him last Christmas.
A teenage girl meets a boy online and begins "chatting," only to discover the "boy" on the other end of the messages was actually a 40-year-old married man.
A mom learns from another parent that her ninth grade daughter has been using the SnapChat app to send and receive indecent images with a boy in her class. The situation worsens when the boy saves several screen shots of the images and shares them with other students, destroying the girl's reputation.
These are nightmare scenarios. But as someone who works with teenagers, I am encountering them more and more. Maybe you have had to face similar situations. If not, it's only a matter of time.
The idea that we can insulate our kids from a highly sexualized culture is naïve. With apps like SnapChat and Bang with Friends out there—not to mention sexually suggestive images broadcast in primetime (think Miley Cyrus's MTV Video Music Awards "performance") a new era has dawned. But I believe we can help them navigate this new world, and help them discover God's best for life, relationships, and sexuality.
Through working with teenagers, I have discovered some practical approaches that can make all the difference. Here are a few ways every church leader can help teenagers navigate an overly sexualized culture and avoid the many pitfalls and pain it can bring.
Look in the Mirror
In recent years, our teens have seen fallen leaders, church scandals, and cover ups of abuse. It is imperative we not underestimate the impact our example can have on our kids. We, too, have been affected by the deluge of sexual temptation. Teens are perceptive. They may not know the full extent of the struggles we face, but they notice when our spiritual lives are compromised by sexual sin. It's not enough for leaders to teach on sexuality. Our teens need leaders who are actively resisting the onslaught of temptation in their own lives.
Paul implored Timothy to "set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity" so he could "save both yourself and your hearers" (1 Tim. 4:12, 16). Paul's challenge to this young leader is a call for us today. We need to model a life of love, faith, and purity as we bring hope and direction to a watching generation.
Our relationships, our marriages, and our walk need to inspire our teens to pursue something greater than what the rest of the world is offering them.
Partner with Parents
Some parents are oblivious to the kinds of challenges their teens are facing. Others are aware of the dangers, but have no idea of what to do. So out of fear, they suffocate their teens with restrictions, or live in obsessive worry. I have rarely met parents who just don't care. Most often, they feel overwhelmed and under-educated about how to deal with the issues their kids are facing. Parents are still the primary faith-influencers. What we do on a Friday night or Sunday morning can't compete with what happens in the home 24/7. Therefore, when we consider how we can best help teenagers in our overly sexualized culture, it's imperative we find ways to inform and equip parents.
A number of years ago, I made a shift in the way I partnered with parents in my student ministry. Rather than simply informing them about our programs and events, I decided to begin teaching and training them about youth culture. I used all modes of communication at my disposal, including social media, a monthly newsletter, and parent meetings.