Dave Patty encourages parents and leaders to have ongoing conversations with teenagers, because “young people are under tremendous pressure”.
Young people are constantly receiving messages with sexual references, through social media, television, songs, or any other way.
Meanwhile, their parents, youth leaders, pastors, and older friends are often embarrassingly quiet.
How should parents talk with young people about sex? How do they start the conversation? And, what do young people most need to hear from them?
Dave Patty, President of Josiah Venture, with 30 years of experience working with the youth, believes that “young people are under tremendous pressure. That is why it is super important that parents talk with young people about sex”.
According to a study, “9 out of 10 young people, teenagers, said they would like most to hear about sex from their parents”, Patty explained in an interview during the European Leadership Forum in Wisla (Poland), May 2017.
Those conversations are very important because “everyone else is talking to them about sex”, but “very few of those voices are giving them God´s perspective […] they are not getting the picture of how God sees sex”, he points out.
Parents “have to realize that young people see the world differently than adults do. They look at everything through relational lens”, Patty says.
That is why “a relational environment will make a big difference in how young people hear that conversation”, Patty says.
Read the full interview below.
Question. Why should you be talking with young people about sex?
Answer. The last 30 years I have been working with young people and youth leaders. That particular age is a challenging period of time when it comes to sexuality.
Most people go through puberty when they are about 13 years of age, many do not get married until mid or late twenties, so you have a period of 13, 14 years when you are actually at your prime in your sexuality, and it is a time when, according to the Bible we should wait.
Young people are under tremendous pressure. That is why it is super important that parents talk with young people about sex, and also older parental figures, maybe youth groups leaders, uncles, aunts, grandparents.
It has to be an open issue for them, they need to hear it from us.
I remember when my son turned 12, and I realized I am going to to start having these conversations. I felt awkward, and during our first conversation, he felt awkward.
It was interesting that, even after talking about this for many years, with young people, when it came to my son, my daughter, there is a whole lot more in the line, you do not want to get it wrong, you do not want to open up things they do not know about yet, that would cause them head some direction.
You can even think that they are so in tune with media that they probably know more about what is going on now than you do.
Because of that, parents often hold back, they either have one symbolic conversation when they talk about everything and then they check it in their “to do” list, or they do not talk with young people at all about sex.
A study was done where young people were asked where do you want to get information from sex about? And they gave them options like your peers, or a school class, books you read; another option was also your parents.
What is interesting, and maybe a little surprising, it is that 9 out of 10 young people, teenagers, said they would like most to hear about sex from their parents.
They probably will not tell their parents that. Young people are notorious for giving the opinion, giving off the impression that they do not want to hear anything form their parents. But as someone who has worked with young people for years, I can tell you that a parental opinion, even during those teenager years, matters more than any other opinion.
In the same study, they asked them: have you parents seated down and talked to you about sex? And it was only one in ten. So 9 out of 10 said they want to hear about sex form their parents, and only 1 in 10 said that that actually happened.
Then, why should we do it? What are some of the reasons?I think there are 2 significant reasons.
One is that everyone else is talking to them about sex, we need to know that. Media is talking to them about sex, 75% of TV programs have some references about sex. If you watch an hour of TV, it will be 8 to 10 references of sex in that program, and young people consume about 50 hours of media a week.
About 45% of songs have sexual references too, so they are surrounded by this saturated media world that is talking to them all the time. Friends are talking about it all the time, it is on facebook posts, they are sending pictures to each other.
The second reason is that very few of those voices are giving them God´s perspective, although they are hearing a lot of information about sex, they are not getting the picture of how God sees sex.
Q. How should parents talk to their children about sex?
A. The conversations parents have with their children about sex are awkward. The study asked young people if that kind of conversation with their parent was awkward, and 50% said it was.
Both sides feel that, and if you go further in the conversation and things settle down a little it, it can maybe not be as awkward, but sometimes that awkward element is what keeps people from starting the conversation.
Another thing that may hold us back is the idea of will I say something wrong? And there is guarantee that we will not. Or the idea that I have to have everything in one conversation, rather than opening up an ongoing conversation.
Think about other topics, like having one conversation about friendships, or studies, or the future, or school. You think about, and have another question, and then come back, and think about again, and have another question.
In the same way, that should be an open topic of conversation between parents and young people, where the children can say: “I have been thinking about what you said, and I have another question”, or “one of my friends in school says this, what do you think about that?”
I think often parents are just afraid and they do not step into that, but I would say that even stumbling in that area, not getting it right, is better than keep it off limits, because you can do it wrong and come back and correct it, you can have a misunderstanding and clarify it. But if your voice is not even in the game, your children only have voices from other places, and those voices will not give them God perspective.
As parents have these conversation with their children, particularly in their teenage years, they have to realize that young people see the world differently than adults do. Adults generally are thinking in terms of data, facts, arguments for and against, they start with what is true and then they work out with other pieces.
Young people look at everything through relational lens, they begin with relationships, they do not begin with truth.
If parents have these conversations in a non-relational way, they will not even get through, this has to be in the spirit of a friend. A parent is never a friend, is always a parent, but it has to be in a spirit of relationship, in a relational context: I love you, I care about you.
It can be a conversation sitting on the floor, a conversation that will take time, with relation elements, because if young people do not have a relational context, they really cannot hear anything.
Another thing is that young people are learning abstract reasoning, so a year later they have more capacities and more questions. They really need to get their hands dirty in the ideas, they have to have the freedom to ask questions and say: “Mum, what is wrong with this? Or dad, what do you think?”
They need their parents not to respond in panic, but actually say: “Well, that is an interesting thought, lets talk about that”, an engage in a dialogue necessary for them to develop convictions and not just my parents say this and now I agree or disagree.
The relational nature is very important, the unfolding conversation is very important, and doing all in the spirit of trusting them, not trusting that they will not make any mistake, but trusting that their questions are coming from their heart, and we can dialogue about that.
That relational environment will make a big difference in how young people hear that conversation.
ABOUT DAVE PATTY
Dave Patty is the founder and president of Josiah Venture, an organisation focused on training next-generation leaders in 11 countries of Eastern Europe. He dreams of a movement of God among young people in Eastern Europe, one that finds its home in the local church and which transforms society.
He lives with his wife Connie and three children in Frydlant, Czech Republic. He holds a BA in Theology and a MA in Education. He has lived and served in Europe for the past 25 years. Before moving to the Czech Republic he ministered to youth in Germany with Cadence International.