My daughter will never eat at Red Lobster again.

It wasn’t the food – the food was wonderful. It wasn’t the service – the young man did a fine job. It was the subject of our conversation.

I figured "the talk" should be done in celebration, so I tied it to an evening out on the town. It was my brilliant parenting philosophy that if I were open about the topic, my girl would go forward with a healthy perspective on sex, purity and all things boys. I wanted to avoid winning her obedience by linking sexuality to shame, so having a conversation over fried seafood seemed ideal.

I prayed that my approach would help her make great choices and give her the courage to stand against anything inappropriate. Ultimately, I envisioned her walking down the aisle in white, all because her mom took her to Red Lobster and made "the talk" engaging and fun.

Unfortunately, I didn’t consider the long-term effects of drawing anatomy on Red Lobster napkins. My daughter is now 21 and still can’t drive by a Red Lobster without turning several shades of red as she recalls her childhood "trauma."

I know I’m not alone in my faux pas. Talking purity with our kids is no easy task, and not many of us will get it perfect. But there are things we can do to help facilitate healthy discussion, and ways we can offer our children direction in this sensitive area.

Live our faith

We can’t underestimate the value of living our love for God and modelling purity in all areas of our lives. I was a single parent at the time I taught Sam, so I had a chance to model sexual purity in my dating practices. Married parents have the same opportunity, just in other areas – by modelling purity in how they treat one another, what they watch on TV and what they listen to on the radio. All these things make a difference in how our kids receive the purity message. We can’t tell them one thing yet live out another value in our daily lives; kids and teens can sniff out inauthenticity in a heartbeat. We have to live it if we want them to live it.

Talk openly

Teens are hearing about sex and sexuality in every area of their lives – friends, TV, school. We have to be the loudest voice. Address the topic early (in age-appropriate ways), and often. Give them the freedom to ask questions. Help them understand that sex is a wonderful thing and that intimacy is beautiful when explored in the context that God designed. When we are simply about the "no" and the consequences, we set them up to barrel across the lines we’ve drawn. It’s important that we help them to understand the why behind the choice to remain pure – the benefits that lie ahead.

Tell the whole story

Traditionally, purity is defined solely as waiting until marriage to enjoy sex. But it is so much more, and our teens need to know that. Make your conversation about the good things that purity entails: loving God fully, loving friends generously and living life without secrets. Give your teens a well-rounded perspective. Remind them that, "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God" (Matthew 5:8). Talk through the incredible benefits of seeing God, explore what might get in the way of that clear vision and how they can stand firm to protect it.

Honour purity in practical ways

Teens love tokens that represent a life stance. They wear t-shirts from their favourite band, wristbands from their most passionate cause, and plaster bumper stickers all over their cars. A purity ring is a great way to celebrate a choice they’ve made to seek hard after God. Purity balls are also sweet opportunities to make purity a celebration. Combine the token with a conversation and the invitation to keep the conversation ongoing. A purity ring alone will not equip our teens, but a purity ring that is symbolic of many intimate conversations can be a special reminder when they need it most.

Offer grace

Most teens don’t get out of middle school without regretting something they’ve seen, thought or done. They’re exposed to so much, and it’s nearly impossible for them to escape unscathed. They may have stumbled on a website at a friend’s house or thought about something they’re now ashamed of. We have to help them find their way to grace.

Let them know from an early age that they have a loving God who opens His arms to them. Acknowledge the reality that they might run across things that stir their desires, but are outside of God’s will. Help them to understand that if they ever do make a poor choice, they can run to God, rather than away from Him. If we don’t give them a pathway to grace, they’ll start feeling more and more shame. They’ll turn from God and toward their desires if we don’t help them find their way back. It’s important to model grace as well – to illustrate how it works in our own lives as we stay authentic about our choices and our own need for grace.

Just like my debacle at Red Lobster, purity discussions may not always have a happy ending. Don’t give up. Don’t choose not to engage because you might not do it perfectly. This is one area where we have to push through our own discomfort to have the conversation. Our teens need us more than we know.

For some additional help in walking your teen daughter through purity issues, consider Elsa’s book Pure Love, Pure Life: Exploring God’s Heart on Purity. Each chapter includes discussion questions to help you talk through the tough issues your teen faces every day.

Elsa Kok Colopy is the former editor of Focus on the Family’s Thriving Family magazine. She now writes and speaks full time, leading retreats, seminars and workshops. Elsa pens the companion blog, Pure Love, Pure Life. She also pens a second blog, God Has Dimples.

© 2012 Focus on the Family (Canada) Association. All rights reserved.

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