The popular media have done a very effective job of awakening sensuality even in children. I’ve seen G-rated, family movies where pre-teens shared mouth-to-mouth romantic kisses. Such displays are the natural and normal course that romance takes, but are these actions appropriate for that stage in life? Where can a romantic relationship go at the age of 12 or even 16? The awakening of romance at this age is often a futile road that can lead more to lingering pain than to long-term pleasure.
Let’s look at a few warnings in the Song of Solomon and examine some reasons why teens need their parents to help them cautiously guard their hearts, not only their physical purity.
“Promise me, O women of Jerusalem, by the swift gazelles and the deer of the wild, not to awaken love until the time is right.” (NLT) Song of Solomon 2:7
“Don’t excite love, don’t stir it up, until the time is ripe and you’re ready.” (Message Bible)
“… do not stir up love until the appropriate time.” (Holman Christian Standard)
After studying these verses and several others from the Song of Solomon, (3:5, 8:4) a common theme stands out – beware of awakening romantic love before it is time.
Romantic awakenings lead to thoughts, accompanied by feelings that lead to actions. It is God’s wonderful plan for romantic love. However, if these awakenings happen during a season when they can’t be righteously fulfilled, they often lead down a path of hurt and regret, not only a loss of virginity.
Countless teens who have fallen into romance too soon have given away their hearts only to have them broken. Others have been victims of self-deception, confusing infatuation with love. These situations create several questions for parents trying to help their teens avoid the heartbreak and deception that early romantic awakenings can bring. For parents, the questions which seem hardest to navigate in our overly sensuous culture are: When is the right timing for romance? How can I encourage my child to wait for the appropriate season? These are important questions to ponder since most of our children will eventually “fall in love” and marry someday, unless they are called to be single.
Within the Christian community there seems to be a myriad of opinions and stands on this matter. Books like I Kissed Dating Goodbye and I Gave Dating a Chance nestle together on the very same shelves of our local Christian bookstores. As I stated in my last column, my intent is not to prescribe a formula. Instead, I want to ask questions that will help parents reach their teen’s heart in dealing with the topics of love, sex, romance and purity. Most people associate purity with virginity only. They believe that as long as teens remain virgins, that they are walking in purity. While this may be true at the physical level, as Christian parents, we must be concerned with our teen’s emotional integrity and spiritual wholeness as well. A teen who has been through various breakups or has been the victim of someone’s selfish flirtations, sometimes has as many regrets as a teen who has lost her virginity.
It is every mom’s privilege to help her daughters and sons walk through romantic feelings with wisdom and grace from God. How that is accomplished is a very personal and unique task that requires a great deal of patience and understanding of each teen’s spiritual maturity. As we walk our teens through this process we need to lead them into asking a question that arises from reading the Song of Solomon: What are some of the dangers of awakening passions before the time is right?
No matter how passionately a teen wants to serve God, crushes can happen. Attraction is a normal and healthy gift from God; however, dealing with those feelings, while trying to stay emotionally and physically pure can be a challenge. The teen needs a parent to help stay accountable, to help deal with feelings and to be encouraged that with God’s help he can stay pure.
I’ve seen girls try to help their girlfriends get their focus off of a guy only to find themselves having a crush on the very same guy. This doesn’t just happen with girls; it also happens with guys. What about friends who find themselves liking the same guy or girl? What about guys or girls who are attracted to more than one girl or guy at the same time? I’ve seen examples of all these happen and harm good relationships.
In a teen’s life, these are not laughing matters. Serious hurts and wrong patterns of relationships can hurt young hearts. Seeds of unforgiveness and jealousy can hound a young person for years.
A guy and girl in the same youth group or Bible study may grow to be very close friends. That is a natural product of sharing the same values, pursuits and goals. However, sometimes that friendship goes in the direction of romance before the couple is in a season of life where they can follow through with a serious commitment. Moving back into the direction of friendship is sometimes tough and even hurtful as one or the other teen begins to back off the intensity.
Another danger of early romantic awakenings is that they can become a stumbling block to a young person’s passionate pursuit of God.
In the years I have worked with youth, many young adults have told me how they wished they had spent their teen years more effectively seeking God and serving Him without these distractions and the pain of broken hearts. Many young people look back and grieve about the time they wasted and how some of their plans to pursue their life goals went by the wayside. We need to think about how we can help the next generation to awaken to God, before they awaken to untimely romantic passions that sometimes serve only as decoys to God’s best plans.
Teenagers who passionately want to pursue God will need a lot of help navigating through our highly sensuous culture that screams romance and even lust through every medium of sight and sound. The greatest support they need is someone who will gently help them steer away from romantic distractions and back to using their time and energy preparing and pursuing their life goals until the time they can pursue a relationship. Without teasing or scolding, parents should be the ones offering this kind of graceful support and guidance. How can we do that?
Strategies for parents
One of the most powerful strategies a parent can employ during the teen years is casting vision for the future. Three practical ways of doing this are:
· Helping teens view this season as a time of preparation
· Helping teens discern God’s voice
· Helping teens protect their hearts and the hearts of others
Our culture seems to treat the teen years as the only time in life to have fun and be merry. Few people see this as a unique time for preparing to fulfill God’s call and destiny. I’ve heard many parents say to their teens, “Oh, these years are special. Have as much fun as you can.” When the emphasis is on all play and no preparation, teens are cheated from growing in God and learning life skills that will be a blessing in the future. In Parenting News, Windy Echols says, “…It is typical for young women to want to spend time with boys, but not spend time preparing to be the wife of a man.” In the same article, she laments her own lack of preparation during her teen years, “Although in my teens I was interested in homemaking skills, I was encouraged to be just a teenager. ‘After all,’ they would say, ‘you’re only young once.’”
Parents can cast a vision for the teen years as a time of preparation for pursuing God’s will and practicing to hear His voice. The young man or woman who can discern God’s call and has prepared to serve people is the kind of spouse for which everyone wishes. In the Bible Jesus says, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them and they follow me.” John 10:27 (NIV) How wonderful to spend the teen years as a training season for hearing God’s voice. With this outlook, every challenge in a teen’s life could be turned into an opportunity for learning to recognize God’s voice and follow His direction.
Another key aspect of these preparation years is helping teens understand the value of protecting their hearts as well as their friends’ hearts. This process begins with knowing that emotions will come, but that we don’t have to be driven by our feelings. Of course, in our “if it feels good do it” culture, this can be a continuous battle. Parents can be allies in these situations as they remind their teen to seek God first, for real love and wisdom that only He can give.
Along with her husband, Gary, Vivian Padilla-Chapman has been homeschooling her two children, Daniel and Sara since 1991. Daniel just completed his 2nd year at Georgia Tech as a President’s Scholar this fall and Sara just graduated high school. Vivian holds a B.A. in Mass Communications and an M.A. in Applied Linguistics from the University of South Florida. First published in The Mother’s Heart magazine, a premium online publication for mothers with hearts in their homes. Visit www.The-Mothers-Heart.com for more information