The goal of a study done by the Journal of Adolescence was to get a feel for what teenagers were doing when it comes to relationships and sexual activity, and how much they were sharing with their parents. (You can access the study here if you wish.)
The study asked 22 questions covering three categories. From these questions, teenagers were then asked to rank how likely they were to disclose to their parents the details of their dating and sexual activities. Here is a simplified version of the findings, followed by my comments:
- Girls are more likely to "disclose" information regarding their love life than are boys. AND, moms are more likely to be "disclosed to" than dads. Not surprising to me here. I wonder if some of this is just the natural/environmental/cultural tendency for girls to deal more in the emotional realm. Call it the "Taylor Swift" effect.
- Older teens disclose less than younger kids do. I read this and wondered if it's because older teens are more likely to be doing things they know they are not supposed to be doing (see number 3). Thus, less inclination to disclose. Just a thought.
- If teens think they will get in trouble or others will get in trouble, they are less likely to disclose. Um . . . yeah.
- If teenagers believe they are doing something sexually that could be potentially harmful to themselves, they are likely to disclose. This gives me faith in teenagers and is consistent with the teens I engage with. I believe teenagers in general (I am very aware of the exceptions) have a high regard for their self-worth. I believe teenagers are very sensitive to anything (especially relating to sex and relationships) that is potentially harmful to themselves or their bodies. This last finding is a biggie, and quite honestly, the main reason I write this post . . . Get ready for it . . .
- The more trust a teenager has developed with their parents, the more likely they are to disclose. This is especially true for girls. And there you have it . . . A rather profound and very obvious truth. If teenagers trust their parents, they are more inclined to openly talk about their relationships.
So what do we as youth workers do with this information?
The great news is that the burden for this one is not wholly on us. But we're not quite off the hook. The million-dollar question is, "Do we have a role to play in this arena? Or are we merely innocent bystanders?" I believe we DO have a role. Here are a few things we can do:
- Help Shape Students' Biblical Worldview Regarding Sex and Personal Holiness---Simply telling teenagers "not to do it because Christians don't have sex before marriage" is just one part of the puzzle. We'll never compete with the tsunami of culture encouraging students to have sex as they will. We must help teach a biblical worldview that values personal holiness as the standard of people who long to live like their Savior. Peter's admonition in 1 Peter 1:15-16 is a good starting place: "But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: "Be holy, because I am holy."
- Lift Up And Support Parents---In an effort to be seen as cool, or approachable, or "on their side," youth workers can often make jokes at parents' expense. The 5th Commandment says to "honor" parents. As youth workers, we have to make sure we're honoring parents in what we do.
- Encourage Openness---As youth workers we can actively encourage students to engage with their parents in an open manner. Parents want to have this openness with their children, but are intimidated because of the natural developmental and cultural issues that arise during the teenage years.
- Equip Parents---Equip your parents to become more plugged in to what their teens are dealing with culturally. Consider sending this article (and others in the Culture & Trends category) to them. Or, create a list of websites dealing with youth culture. By equipping them, you can help develop the comfort level and confidence to engage their teens in open conversations.
- Last Resort? Step In---There will be students in our youth groups whose family situation negates any opportunity for a trusting, open relationship. If you develop a trusting relationship, you may find yourself in the position to lead these students in the decisions they make about sex and dating. However, and this probably could go without saying, steer clear of developing these types of relationships with students of the opposite sex. As much as possible, try and have a volunteer or assistant of the opposite sex engage these students in these conversations.
I've said it here before and I'll say it again: As a youth worker you are equipper, motivator, and mobilizer to the parents of your students. This is just another one of the many areas you can use your influence to build up and support your students' families.