The latest news stories seem to be filled with example after example of prominent leaders, actors, or politicians who have been accused of sexual harassment or sexual assault. With these complex issues happening frequently, how can parents navigate conversations about these topics with their kids?
If we're being honest, many parents don't want to have this conversation. It's awkward. It's complicated. It's hard enough to have conversations about “the birds and the bees.” It's all the more difficult to discuss a hornet's nest like sexual assault. The reason it's so difficult is because we often don't know what to say, don't feel equipped, or don't have the confidence to have the conversation.
But every parent must be prepared to have difficult conversations with their children, even on topics like sexual harassment or sexual assault. God has designed parents to be shepherds of their homes. And what a shepherd does is protect and provide for the flock. In this case, it means providing a framework for understanding this topic. If parents do not disciple their children when it comes to sexuality, the culture will be glad to do it instead.
Conversations related to sexuality must be done in age-appropriate and intentional ways. And it is usually best, when possible, for moms to talk with daughters and dads to talk with sons. Here are several factors that every parent should highlight to their children when talking through the issue of sexual assault.
First, parents should teach their children that God designed sexual intimacy for marriage. It's not enough to have a one-time conversation about “the birds and the bees.” We need to teach our children how sexuality was created by God for our good. When it is practiced within the boundaries of marriage, sexuality leads to true human flourishing. When children see sexual brokenness around us in the culture, what they need most is to hear the beautiful picture of marital sexuality from the Bible celebrated in the home. This is not a conversation we should run from, but one that we should be faithful to have.
Second, parents should teach their children that sexual sin is an issue of behavior and brokenness. Our kids need to be reminded of the effects of the fall on the sinful rebellion of all humanity. When discussing sexual assault and harassment, it creates an opportunity to point out to our children the way selfish desires of the heart can manifest in sinful deviancy. Our children need to understand that the use of authority or power for selfish gain is never appropriate in the eyes of God, especially when it comes to sex. This also creates the opportunity to show our kids how the brokenness expressed in sexual assault leads to the brokenness of the victim of that assault, as well.
Third, parents should teach their children about the consequences of sin and the need for accountability. Sin has consequences, and clear examples of sexual sin create opportunities for our children to see the results of those consequences. Because of the public nature of both the sexual sin and the ramifications, these recent stories create an opportune time to remind our children that there are always consequences for sin, even if they are delayed.
Fourth, parents should show their children the proper way to respond to victims of sexual sin. We should model both empathy and action. We need to help our children understand why their first instinct should be to take the stories of victims of alleged sexual assault seriously. Furthermore, we need to explain why the church should be the safest place for victims of sexual assault to find help and hope in their time of desperation. Cultivating empathy and calling for action can help our kids understand the right way to respond to sin of all kinds.
Fifth, parents should show their children the difference between remorse and repentance for sin. In the Bible, remorse is described as sorrow for the consequences of sin. But repentance is sorrow for the commission of sin. When leaders or celebrities offer remorseful, half-hearted, non-apologies for their actions, it provides a backdrop for parents to discuss what genuine repentance and sincere apologies should look like. Beyond that, it creates a scenario for parents to discuss the hope that we have in repentance, while also reminding our children that forgiveness from our sin does not always remove us from the consequences our sin.
Sixth, parents should teach their children the need to protect their hearts and bodies. On the one hand, we want to protect the hearts of our children so that they might walk in a manner worthy of the gospel, while also preserving the innocence appropriate for their age. Yet, parents have a responsibility to educate their kids on how to protect their bodies from those who might put them at risk of sexual harassment or assault. So, we need to teach our children to be vigilant and to always be open with us about experiences that have happened to them. It also means we should be careful to teach our children that they don’t need to live in fear or panic about what may happen to them.
Having a conversation with their children about sexual harassment and sexual assault does not rank high on the list of what parents look forward to doing. But we don't get to choose our cultural moment or the sins that are being exposed all around us. If parents keep these key factors in mind when having age-appropriate conversations with their children, it will help them navigate a difficult topic in a Christ-centered and compassionate way.