I recently spoke to a couple that is a bit ahead of my husband and I in both years and experience (they have three teenagers; two boys and one girl) about reinforcing the role of accountability in their home. Here is snapshot of what they had to share:
- We started talking about the uncomfortable subjects early. My wife and I never wanted to have the sex talk, but because both of us had struggled with issues of lust (and for me, pornography use) at a young age, when we had our first child, we knew that we needed to everything we could to protect him (and then, our other children) and push him towards purity. We didn’t want him to fall into the same traps that I had fallen into; we wanted to set the stage for honest conversation early. This means looking out for teachable moments throughout the day and years—and, believe me, if you just open your eyes to this world and to your child, there will be plenty. We educated our son about his body parts, and when he started to ask questions about his origin and the differences he observed between his body and those of his female classmates, we took a simple but honest approach. As he moved from kindergarten to first grade, we started talking about relationships and love and what was appropriate and what wasn’t appropriate.
- We talked with other parents. It’s amazing to us how parents will share openly about things like sleep schedules, diets, homework assignments and extra-curricular activities—there is a free exchange of wisdom and ideas on everything meant to help kids excel today, but there are rarely honest conversations about matters of the heart. Many parents are afraid to admit they have questions about their kids physical, sexual and emotional development, but once you take the brave step of asking for advice in this area, you’re bound to walk away with some valuable takeaways and at least create space for sharing in the future. I remember the first time I asked another couple whether they had any advice about how to get a boy to stop playing with his penis all the time (a common struggle as I’ve learned!), and that vulnerable question opened the door for more sharing and lessons learned throughout the years.
- When the time was right, we shared our stories with our kids. As our children approached adolescence, my wife and I both took time together and then individually to talk to our sons and daughter about how experience with dating, relationships and sex. We didn’t go into gory details, and we prayed and discussed with one another how to do so in a way that best glorified God and didn’t bring extra attention to our missteps. That being said, we were honest and left the door open for our kids to ask questions and answer them in an honest, thoughtful way. Some of their questions were a bit painful to answer, but being honest has had so many rewards—our kids come to us with their struggles and have been more free in helping us understand what is going on in their class, with their friends and in their own lives as well.
- We use software and explain why. We have used parental control software on our computers since we first started to learn about it and as computers became more popular. We explained to our kids why we used the software and what limits/boundaries were in place for what they could do online when. Establishing rules helped us talk about being careful and safe online, and as they have asked for more freedom, the conversation has continued.
- We talk about accountability. Once our kids were approaching adolescence, we talked about why mom and dad met independently with a small group of the same sex. We told them about the important role that accountability partners have played in our life, while also explaining that both of us were always available for them to talk with about anything in their life that came up. My sons, as they have continued to mature, have shared, in small ways, that they appreciate the guidance that we have given them, and we feel blessed that they are involved in their youth groups and have a posse of guys that they meet with to have fun with but also to pray with.
I don’t think parents talk enough with their kids about these sort of things, and as a result, their kids are often carrying their burdens and struggles around all by themselves. That’s not what any of us should want for our kids, and it’s not what I think God wants either. My wife and I both knew that we had to set the standard and be honest, but that’s only because we recognize our own brokenness and want, to the best of our ability to help our kids navigate their lives better than we did at their age.
For more about leading an open and accountable life, be sure to check out XXXchurch.com founder Craig Gross’ new book: “Open”, available here.