Teen Purity and the Selfie

Teen Purity and the Selfie - Parenting Like Hannah
Thanks Erin Bankston for the great natural senior photos!

Ask parents of teens what secretly worries them the most about their child’s teen years. They will probably mention their child’s possible sexual activity as one of the fears that can keep them up at night. Parents tend to have one of two mindsets about teen purity – either teens are going to do it no matter what, so let’s just help them be “safe” or if I dress them in maxi dresses and scare them to death (or don’t bring it up at all) it won’t happen. The results are often disastrous.

One of the biggest mistakes parents, churches and others make in the purity battle is making it all about the girls/women. The trend seems to favor the idea that “boys will be boys” so just encourage them to be careful and not produce unwanted heirs. As the mother of a girl, this will get me on my soapbox faster than you can say “birth control”.

Christian parents need to impress upon their sons their responsibility for keeping dating relationships pure the way God designed them to be. Teach them they will not die if their sexual desires are not immediately fulfilled. Coach them how to look away from young ladies dressed in such a way they stimulate your son’s desires. Teach them how to have dates that are fun and special, but don’t end in excessive physical contact. Give them the burden women have been given for years – to make sure the relationship stays pure and godly.

Another huge mistake parents make is forgetting to explain to all teens why sexual purity is so important to God. Ask your teen to think about it with you. Why does God want sex reserved only for marriage? What is so special about sex, God only wants a husband and wife to share it between the two of them during the entire span of their lives (except for widowhood remarriages)? What does the sexual relationship in a marriage lose when God’s plan is not followed? What earthly consequences can there be for not following God’s plan?

And then there’s the selfie. Okay not the selfie per se, but the idea that making sure our daughter wears a skirt that is long enough or has straps on her shirt that are three fingers wide, will keep her pure. Meanwhile, society is teaching our teens to send out overtly sexual messages in the way they dress, pose and even touch each other in public. I promised some specifics last time for those of you who don’t know all of the hidden messages your teen may be sending accidentally or on purpose as they interact with the opposite sex.

None of these are necessarily sinful in and of themselves. What they are though is a cautionary tale. Do your children really want to send the messages they are sending if they do these things? They may have very innocent motives, but older, more worldly people will possibly read messages in to what your kids are doing that your teens may not want to send. This is not a list of things that must be banned by every Christian home, but things you need to have long serious talks about in your home with your children.

These are some things I notice that concern me:

  • Posing – smoldering eyes, chin down and eyes looking up  and over through lashes, arched backs, pursed lips, sultry looks and more are tricks photographers have used for years to get photographs of women to look sexier. Even the “angry” look can be perceived as sexual. Your teens should want to appear fresh and young in their photos – whether it is pictures they take of themselves or are taken by professionals. Personally, we tend to avoid any photographer that promises to make their subjects look “glamorous”. In photography language, that often means sexual. Look for photographers who make your child look his or her age. If your child looks ten or more years older, then the photographs are probably telegraphing sexual messages as well. Your kids can still look attractive while looking their age. A good test is to ask your children if they were a magazine editor, in what magazine would that photo belong. Then think about what messages that magazine “sells”. Is it a message with which a Christian would want to be associated?
  • Makeup – full disclosure here – I am not a huge fan of makeup. I have always loved the natural look. Having said that, there is a time and place for a little more dramatic makeup. I see parents allowing teens to send a lot of unintended messages with makeup, though. First, I am very firm on this – tweens should only wear makeup on stage. I am not even a huge fan of letting little girls play with makeup. It just sets up a lot of false expectations and frankly bad habits (Ever seen a five year old with makeup? Looks like they put it on with a spatula!) In the teen years, makeup should be added gradually and girls should be taught to apply it by someone who really knows what they are doing. These people are very, very hard to find and don’t necessarily work at makeup counters. (Remember they want to sell more makeup, not less!). Another makeup pitfall is stage and photography makeup. For photos, your daughter needs to wear the same makeup she would normally wear. There is no need with modern equipment to make makeup heavier. On stage, I would say at least half of the girls I have seen, wear stage makeup that is way, way too heavy. Stage makeup is to gently enhance your daughter’s features, not allow her to be seen from space! Watch out for makeup trends like smokey eyes and anything labeled sultry – while they are not necessarily bad, they were often designed for older women going to bars and clubs at night to attract “hook-ups”. Have discussions with your daughter about the messages she is sending with her makeup. Godly makeup should enhance without promising something your daughter does not want to promise.
  • Hair – I will admit, this is one area where it is very hard to find the line. Different men find different hair-do’s “sexy”. Every woman struggles with her hair and wanting it to look “good”. In fact, I think most of us would even consider shaving our heads if we thought it would make us look better. Having said that, certain hair-do’s in conjunction with specific poses, make-up and clothes can add to the perception that your sons and daughters are attempting to put out sexual messages. Probably the biggest one for both sexes is the tousled look. I don’t mean the “cute kid can’t get their hair to lay flat” tousled, I mean the “you just caught me in the middle of a hot and heavy make-out session” tousled. For women, lots of volume, usually in giant waves with all of the hair over one shoulder is used to send the same message. Once again, there are no hard and fast rules, but be aware if the hair is styled that way and several of the other elements are also in evidence.
  • Voice – this one is one I have not thought much about until recently. If your daughter is encouraged to use a “baby” voice or sound like she smokes five packs a day, someone is encouraging her to act in a  sexual way. For a school play, there may be legitimate reasons, but not in every day life. If your daughter is beginning to talk that way – especially if it is only when she is around boys, this is a discussion you may want to have with her. Pull up some old Marilyn Monroe tapes to show her what you mean and what men of her era thought about her, in part because of her voice.
  • Clothing – Okay, I am going to go liberal here and then circle back around. I am not a bit fan of mandatory hem lengths or banning swimming for Christian teens. For one thing, I have a very tall, very thin daughter and it is almost impossible to find anything she can wear – period. We do the best we possibly can, but sometimes we are not as successful as we would like to be. I also think parents and teens use a long hemline as a false sense of security. On the other hand, clothes can send a very sexual message. Exposed cleavage and rears as well as shirtless young men can be overtly sexual. The newest trend I would guess many parents miss entirely – wearing clothes one or two sizes too small. Boys and girls are doing this on a regular basis to appear sexy. There is nothing wrong with wearing clothes that flatter a figure, these are clothes that are uncomfortably tight so they are super, super form fitting and sexy. If your children can’t sit, move a chair or do some sort of normal activity without gasping for air, exposing unnecessary body parts or ripping their clothes, then they are buying clothing too small for them. This is an area where discussions should start at a very young age and evolve with your kids and the latest trends.

The bottom line is that all of the above could be done in accordance with the rules of the strictest person on the planet and your child could still send out sexual messages and engage in sexual activity in ways that would not be pleasing to God. Jesus made it very clear in the New Testament time and time again – ultimately your children’s purity is about their attitudes, their thoughts and most importantly, their hearts. Teens who want to please God with all of their hearts are much more likely to remain pure until marriage – I know quite a few who have managed to do it.

If you want a teen with that kind of heart though, you need to start at birth. Can you reach a newly converted teen and help them develop godly attitudes? Absolutely. It is a lot easier though if they are taught to love, worship and obey God from before they can even remember. It makes it as much a part of their identity as their name.

No matter how old your children are though, you can begin having age appropriate conversations about the messages they can send with their bodies. These messages can be godly or sinful and may not match what they think they are saying. As your children mature, you can gradually add the idea of some of the nonverbal cues above as a part of sexual purity. Try to discuss rather than dictate. Who knows? You may find your teens are more aware and more careful than you think!

Published by

Thereasa Winnett

Thereasa Winnett is the founder of Teach One Reach One and blogger at Parenting Like Hannah. She holds a BA in education from the College of William and Mary. She has served in all areas of ministry to children and teens for more than thirty years and regularly leads workshops for ministries and churches. She has conducted numerous workshops, including sessions at Points of Light’s National Conference on Volunteering and Service, the National Urban Ministry Conference, Pepperdine Bible Lectures, and Lipscomb’s Summer Celebration. Thereasa lives in Atlanta, GA with her husband Greg, where she enjoys reading, knitting, traveling and cooking.

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