What Do Teens Need to Hear?

Andrew Bunt 1 month ago
Blog 3 mins
Found in: Church, Sexuality

Someone recently asked me what I wish I had been told about sexuality as a young teenager. I thought it was a great question, and it got me thinking about what teens need to hear. Here are three things I think it’s important for teens to know. I hope they’ll be helpful to parents, youth leaders and anyone else involved in the lives of young people.

1. You’re developing into a sexual being. And that is a good thing.

The emergence of sexual desires in adolescence can be unsettling for teenagers. These desires are new. They are often very strong. They may feel unclear or surprising. They may raise many questions.

Those who have already been exposed to pornography may find their emerging sexual desires particularly unsettling. Sadly, many young people are exposed to pornography that features violence and dishonouring treatment of women. Some who have viewed such material may find the realisation that they are becoming a sexual being difficult to handle. Girls may feel that being a sexual being makes them vulnerable. Boys may fear it is going to make them a violent sexual predator.

Developing into a sexual being through the process of puberty is a good thing.

For those who have grown up in a Christian context, sadly that context may make the processing of an emerging experience of sexuality more difficult. As much as we shouldn’t, often Christians have sent the message that sex is inherently bad and that therefore to be a sexual being (when you’re not married) is a bad thing. Some may worry how God is going to feel about them if they experience sexual desire. The emergence of sexuality may disrupt some young people’s relationship with God.

All of this is why it’s so important that we help young people know that what is happening to them is normal and is good. Developing into a sexual being through the process of puberty is a good thing: it’s part of God’s design for them to grow into the adult he’s created them to be.1 God isn’t disgusted by their emerging sexuality. He delights to see them growing up into an adult. Young people also need to know that there are healthy ways of being a sexual being: boys don’t have to become violent sexual predators, and girls aren’t destined to be objects of lust and male-violence (though the reality that this is sometimes the case is something that should move us to prayer and action).

2. You don’t need to rush to work out the pattern of your desires.

In the cultural context of the modern west, many young people will feel that they need to work out their sexuality, embrace it as their true self, announce it to the world, and enact it in their lives as soon as possible. This puts a lot of pressure on young people – they need to work out who they are and have the courage of their convictions to both tell others and act on that supposed identity.

But as Christians we’ve got some good news for young people: you don’t need to rush to work out who you’re attracted to because those desires don’t define you and you don’t need to be thinking about those sorts of relationships yet anyway.

As Christians we’ve got good news for young people.

Young people are living in a culture that tells them to define themselves by their desires. God’s word shows us that is it not our desires that define us, but God himself. We get to tell young people the good news that they don’t have to work out who they are attracted to or who they are; they get to receive their identity from God.

And we get to tell young people that they don’t need to rush to think about romantic and sexual relationships. Culture tells them that sex and romance are the only way their good desires for love and connection can be met. It tells them that the single life is inevitably the lonely life. We get to tell them that all of us can find our desires for love and connection met through deep, meaningful friendship. And we get to tell them that celibate singleness can be a fulfilling, life-giving way of living life. We get to show young people there is no need for them to feel pressured to rush into dating or into a sexual relationship.

3. However things pan out, Jesus loves you and has a good plan for you.

Young people need to know that whoever they end up being predominantly attracted to – people of the same sex, the opposite sex or both – and whatever situation they end up in – married or single – God loves them and their situation is part of his good plan for them.

We’ve often done badly here. Some young people have received the message that God will only love them if they are exclusively opposite-sex attracted, or if they never fall into any sexual sin, or even if they never experience any sexual desire. Some will have heard or assumed or concluded that they will only be happy if they get married and can have sex and will believe that singleness equals misery and loneliness.

They need to know that God loves them and has a good plan for them.

We need to help young people know that none of this is true. They may find themselves attracted to people of the opposite sex, the same sex or both; they may find that this is a static experience or a fluid one. Whatever turns out to be the case, they need to know that God loves them and has a good plan for them. They may barely ever have entertained a lustful thought or may have got hooked on pornography at a young age. They need to know that the work of Christ is powerful enough and the grace of God big enough to declare them righteous in God’s sight if they trust in him. They may marry young or remain single their whole lives; they need to know that both are ways in which we can faithfully follow Jesus and both are contexts in which we can experience his promise of life to the full.

There’s lots more that could be said about what young people need to hear. But if we can help teenagers to get these three points, I think we’ve made a good start.

If you’re a youth leader looking to be equipped on questions ofsexuality, don’t miss our youth leader pages where you can sign up to the Living Out Youth Leader Network. You might also be helped by our Youth Leaders’ Crash course podcast series.

  1. For more on how we should view puberty, see my ‘Puberty Positivity’, Think Theology.