Parents love me.
Seriously – it’s the most amazing thing. If you want to become popular with parents, become known as “The Girl Who Tells Teenagers Not To Have Sex Until They’re Married.” People will flock to you. They’ll follow you around, invite you to their homes. It’s quite flattering, really.
Flattering though it may be, I realize deep down that it’s not about me or any of my inherent wonderful-ness. It’s about fear. They look around at the world, and they see all of the pressures their kids face. Every unmarried character on every television show has sex with every person they date. Nobody in music videos wears any clothing to speak of. Internet porn reaches right out of the family monitor and grabs kids by the collar, pulling them into an unbelievably vile world of sleeze.
What’s a parent to do? Most feel like the bad guys – like their job is to scare their teenagers out of sexual activity. “I know all of those beautiful people on TV make it look like fun, but here are all of the awful things that could happen to you.” We get to tell them about disease and teen pregnancy and all of the horrible ways they could ruin their lives.
Not very appealing, is it?
The thing is, it’s not very effective, either. Teenagers don’t scare easily, as you may recall from your own youth. They know that bad things only happen to other people. They also know that a parent’s job is to dig up and share every frightening story they can possibly find, all in a somewhat fiendish plot to exercise totalitarian control over their lives—lives which they, in their maturity, are perfectly capable of running themselves.
It’s not entirely their fault. Brain research shows that teenagers actually aren’t yet completely capable of assessing risk and long-term consequences. That part of their brains is not yet fully developed, and won’t be until they’re at least 20 years old.
So what’s a parent to do, aside from turning to The Girl Who Tells Teenagers Not To Have Sex Until They’re Married?
The thing is, I don’t like being the bad guy any more than their parents do. I don’t like rejection. There is no way I would have spent the past 19 years being The Girl Who Tells Teenagers Not To Have Sex Until They’re Married if the only tool I had was scare tactics about disease and teen pregnancy.
But I’ve discovered a little secret. Teens may have bad judgment, but they’re not stupid. They’re not getting involved in sexual activity because they’re curious, or they can’t control themselves, or they want to rebel.
They’re having sex because they’re looking for love.
And why not? Love is the primary human need. They crave it, especially as they enter their teen years and begin to navigate the wider world. And that world tells them they’ll find love in sex. That’s how it worked for Ross and Rachel, Monica and Chandler. If it worked for the cast of Friends, why shouldn’t it work for them?
But it doesn’t. “Making love” doesn’t make love in their lives. It tends to make them lonely. It tends to distort their relationships. It tends to bring less real love, not more, into their lives.
That’s where I come in.
I don’t talk to them about pregnancy and disease. I talk to them about love. I tell them what seems to be the Church’s secret – that living chastity doesn’t just help us avoid pregnancy and disease – it helps us find and live real love.
And they respond. They want to hear it.
I’m on a plane right now, headed to Kentucky to speak to a large group of teens and parents. I spoke at a high school in Ohio last week, where I received a standing ovation after spending an entire hour telling the entire student body about chastity – basically telling them not to have sex until they’re married.
That’s right – a middle aged woman got a standing ovation from a group of teenagers for telling them to abstain from sex..
Again, please understand – this is not happening because I’m so wonderful. It happens because they’re hungry for the message, hungry for love.
I’m going to spend the next few columns speaking directly to parents, to single adults, and to anyone else who wants to learn more about why we believe what we do about human sexuality, and how to impart that information in a positive, beautiful way.
But for this week, just remember – it’s not about fear. It’s about love.