Abstinence for Teens – Reality or Pipe Dream? (Jan-Feb 2003)

By Matt Dabbs

by Doug Berny
January – February, 2003

The debate is on from the White House to local school boards: is abstinence-based curriculum really the best approach in educating teens? With “experts” on both sides weighing in, the battlefield of opinion is being fought everywhere from local newspapers to the cover of Newsweek. The only certainty revealed by all the banter is that views on teen sex and sex education are diverse, confusing, and for many, irrelevant in view of what teens are choosing to do on their own…abstain. Some refreshing long-awaited good news has arrived.

The December 9 issue of Newsweek states in its cover story “The New Virginity,” “this wave of young adults represents a new counterculture, one clearly at odds with the mainstream media and their routine use of sex to boost ratings and peddle product.” More and more teens are choosing to abstain from sexual relationships before marriage, adding to the confusion of the sex education debate.

The Centers for Disease Control report the number of students engaging in sexual activity is down almost ten percent from 1991 to 2001. So who is responsible for the positive trend? Who holds the primary power of influence? You might be surprised to find out.

Is it the culture? Hardly, though the culture does get credit for producing negative consequences. Seeing painful penalties lived out among sexually active peers and pop stars leaves many teens wanting something healthier. Interviews with abstinent teens reveal that fear of STDs, pregnancy and meaningless relationships motivate some to choose better.

Is it school based education? Sex education in schools and social programs deserves some credit for attempting to empower students with information. However, programs have also encouraged students to be free of any sexual moral constraints. Curriculum varies so much that it’s hard to discern what is helpful. Fortunately, some “new” sex education programs, like one being considered by Bryan, TX I.S.D., are abstinence based, empowering parents to play a significant role. “Choosing the Best” encourages students to abstain as a way of building character and healthy relationships. Programs, however, still don’t hold the primary force of influence among teens.

Is it the church? Certainly credit for spiritually-based abstinence can be given to churches that promote purity and peer accountability. Institutionally, the church is able to provide a safe base of peer power for students seeking support in making right choices. Unfortunately, the church has also been guilty of delivering a negative view of sex and adding to the shame burden of those who have been sexually active but are looking for a second chance at purity. While many abstaining teens report that their faith and church play a significant role in their decision, another influence makes the real difference.

Who holds the greatest positive influence? Our culture, educational programs, and church youth groups provide varied levels of help, but the power of influence is dependant less on the availability of great information and more on the availability of those who deliver it. Parents hold the greatest position of influence on the decisions their students will make about remaining pure. That’s right, mom and dad, your relationship with your middle and high school students plays a more significant role than any other factor in their sexual purity. Contrary to popular belief, God still gives parents the power to raise His kids.

Parents can take advantage of teachable moments in culture and find support through church youth ministry and small groups. Faith-based curriculum, resources and information exist to help parents. However, no amount of information can replace time spent reminding students that they are loved with a love given by Christ, full of His grace and hope. When one young lady was asked by Newsweek reporters why she chose to abstain from sex, she replied, “A lot of girls feel like they need that. But my mother loves me and my father loves me, so there’s no gap to fill.” Bravo, mom and dad!

The battle is not over. Nearly six of ten graduating high school students report having engaged in sexual activity. Parents must reclaim the influence once believed lost. Don’t be afraid moms and dads…regardless of what you hear, your role is significant, your God is good, and your influence is great!New Wineskins

Doug Berny is the Youth & Family Minister for the Family of God at Woodmont Hills in Nashville, Tennessee. Doug is an eighteen year youth ministry veteran who has dedicated himself to helping build stronger relationships between teens and their parents. Doug helped develop a youthbuilders training seminar entitled, “Helping Families Succeed.” Doug, his wife Tracie and their two children live in Middle Tennessee.

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Profile photo of Matt DabbsThis author published 1577 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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