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Modeled Behavior

Photo courtesy of Leeroy via stocksnap
Photo courtesy of Leeroy via stocksnap

In the quest to solve the mystery of relationships, children and teenagers turn to many sources. But the most impactful source of all is the modeled behavior they see from their parents.

If you are like me, my parents gave me little to no relational advice. Mostly, it was the usual, “Keep your hands to yourself,” “If we ever catch or hear of you touching a girl, you’ll be severely punished and grounded for life,” and, “Act like a Christian.”

Sadly, my pastor or youth pastor offered little more with, “Girls, don’t let guys touch you because all they have on their minds is one thing.” Needless to say, relationships became the fearful unknown, sex was degraded to something nasty and sinful, and curiosity was increased.

What I learned about relationships and “the birds and the bees” while growing up was what I heard from my older brothers, the school locker room, whatever worldly sources I could find, and trial and error.

The World’s Impact

In case you haven’t noticed, we live in a very sex-crazed world. Sex sells everything from carpets to hamburgers. And lost in all this counterfeit “noise” is the secret to a healthy, wholesome, fulfilling, and God-honoring relationship.

Websites, books and magazines offer relationship advice, testimonials and surveys on how to find “Mr. or Mrs. Right.” They describe what questions to ask, what signs to look for, and how to treat him or her. Some even offer advice on tantalizing sexual techniques that are guaranteed to capture his or her attention. Oh, the things you can read while standing in line at the grocery store!

Fashion designers promote midriffs, short shorts and yoga pants for young ladies that leave little to the imagination. Lord, have mercy – I about locked my son up in his bedroom after taking him to high school freshman orientation! Now, I can almost hear some moms scolding me, “Aww, my little girl looks cute wearing those things.” No, ma’am; from a healthy and wholesome man’s point of view, she looks like a street walker.

Teen magazines offer advice and rating systems on styles, types, and preferences of kissing. They even encourage trying the latest “seduction moves” to speed up the trip to the bedroom.

We are surrounded by the pressure to flaunt and give in to short-term pleasure at the expense of long-term satisfaction. Magazines, movies, television programs, fashion designers, commercials, computer games, and even “family friendly” television programs encourage children and teenagers to live without moral restraint. Invitations to instant gratification and pleasure tempt the young and innocent in just about every area of their lives.

The Absence of Sound Relational Guidance

Mom and dad, think back to when you were a teenager. Remember that unexplained loneliness? That deep desire to be loved, accepted by, and connected with someone special? Your children are not just acting out or being rebellious. They honestly want and need input in this critical area of life – and they need it from you.

Your teenagers take in all this worldly advice in the attempt to avoid relational heartache. The world whispers its immoral agenda in their ears – in the absence of your sound relationship guidance, they are left to figure it out on their own.

Unfortunately, many young people make avoidable mistakes. Loneliness and peer pressure take their toll. Curiosity leads to sexting which then leads to experimenting physically. This leads to feeling strong (and usually uncontrolled) sexual desires, which generally leads to their first intimate experience. Then comes an unexpected pregnancy. Or the sexually transmitted disease. Which leads to regret, shame, depression, and an altered life …

Parents, do you see why your guidance and modeled behavior are so important?

Parental Involvement

Very few children and teenagers seek their parents’ advice on relationships. Often, they perceive parents as unapproachable on this subject. Parents are “so not cool” or “with it.” Besides, what do parents know about true love?

Sometimes parents are uncomfortable talking about this subject with their kids. Maybe because their parents did not discuss it with them. Parents may be struggling with their own relationship “mystery” and have no substantial advice to give. Some teenagers observe the unemotional, detached, obligatory, or confrontational relationships their parents have and do not want to follow their example. And yet, the relationship behavior children see modeled by their parents is often repeated in their own lives.

So, what are parents to do to help equip their children for the most intimate, sacred relationship of all? Thank you for asking. Here are some basic tips for equipping your children and teenagers so they will be better positioned for success when it comes to relationships:

  1. Teach them their value in all four aspects of life from God’s perspective. The world wants them to focus on the physical appeal, charm, and feelings. However, in Mark 12:30, Jesus told us to love God with our heart (spiritual), mind (intellectual), soul (emotional), and strength (physical). There is much more to your child than just his or her body.
  2. Help them discover and develop who they are in all four aspects. Until they know who they are, how can they know what they need? By understanding who they are spiritually, intellectually, emotionally, and physically, they can start developing each specific aspect. Once they begin seeing who God created them to be, they can approach relationships (and life itself) from a position of strength instead of uncertainty and vulnerability.
  3. Consistently exhibit a God-honoring, loving, respectful, and interdependent relationship within your marriage. Your children are watching – what they see you model will set their expectations for their own relationships.

Used with permission and excerpted from Nate’s book, Matched 4 Marriage – Meant 4 Life.

About Nate Stevens

As a “missionary kid” who grew up in a Christian home and church, Nate Stevens has enjoyed a 30-year banking career in a variety of leadership roles. He is the author of Matched 4 Marriage – Meant 4 Life. He is a popular speaker at conferences, seminars and Bible study groups for singles, young adults, young marrieds and youth. Nate currently lives near Charlotte, North Carolina, is a newlywed to his beautiful wife, Karen, and is an active dad with two awesome kids, Melissa and Mitchell.

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