Friday, July 17, 2015

Parenting Your Christian Teen Part 4: The Science of S E X

If you're reading these teen parenting posts and wondering if this is all about helicopter parenting, consider what that term really means. Helicopter parenting is more about pushing your children into life goals or pursuits you deem worthy and acceptable--such as pressuring them into Yale when they really want to go to art school; or pressuring them into a four-year university when they'd rather start with junior college or vocational training. It's about living through your kids in an unconscious effort to boost your own ego and self-worth.

It's also about fighting their battles for them at school and work and not allowing them to fail, and thus instilling a crippling fear of failure. The hovering also denies a child the thrill of discovering their God-given strengths and gifts, and what unique direction God has for them.

For example, when your child turns 16 it's great to encourage them into the teen workforce. Nothing teaches responsibility and work ethic like a job--whether paid or volunteer. But, do you also fill out the application for them for fear they won't write neatly enough? Do you act as their personal alarm clock so they won't ever be late? When they are late, do you call the school or employer and offer excuses--even blaming yourself rather than your child? When your child is in trouble at school, do you call and blame the teacher or another student? Do you do whatever it takes to get them a stellar grade, because a failing or mediocre student doesn't make you look good? Do you discourage their artistic abilities for fear they'll be poor all their lives?

Providing moral training and scaffolding is far different than being your child's personal alarm clock. How many adults look back at their own youth and wish their parents had provided more training, more boundaries, more scaffolding? We can never get those years back, and some people suffer the consequences for decades.

We can be a good moral role model; we can pray; we can love them and provide affection so they're not desperate for it; we can train; we can provide boundaries with consequences, but they still have free will. They have to take the consequences for their poor life decisions, but that doesn't negate our responsibility to be like a Holy Spirit to them in these transitional years. The Holy Spirit is always present, and so should parents be as brain maturity catches up with the passions of youth.

God loves us, he forgives us, he upholds us with his strength, he fills our deep emotional needs, he provides mercy and grace, and he provides a way out of temptation. We are called to gift our children with the same, as their earthly parents. And because we can't fill them as deeply as God can, we direct them to the foot of the Cross, so they'll be filled forevermore.

Don't be apologetic about being an involved, present Christian parent. Let other parents around you do what they will, but stand up for God and what he asks of the Christian parent whenever you have opportunity.

And as much as you're deeply disappointed when your child messes up, let him or her know that you have a capacity for love, mercy, and grace that is beyond whatever mistake they can make. But love, mercy, and grace don't mean permissiveness; make no mistake about that.

God designed the teen so that their bodies give them one signal, but their brains and emotional maturity are not up to par yet. In fact, even up to the mid-twenties their brains are still developing discernment and emotional maturity. While passion comes before the ability to control that passion, God didn't curse us with this design. He meant for parents to be involved. He meant for us to have their moral backs. 

A doctor had this experience: a mother brings in her 14-year-old daughter for an exam after finding out that she's sexually active. The mother assigned the doctor with this task: teach her how to do what she's doing safely. The doctor found out that the girl became sexually active at 12 years old, and had had 14 partners in two years. She felt that as long as the partner was her boyfriend at the time, than it was okay.

She writes about the science of sex and the importance of explaining all of it to teens, excerpted below:

The doctor's words (full article here): For example, when we do anything exciting, a hormone called dopamine is released in our brain that makes us feel like the world is good, that we have been a success. This hormone makes us want to repeat that activity.

Dopamine is necessary for us because it is what gives kids this excitement about leaving home and taking the huge risk of going out and being independent adults, which is a necessary part of growing up. But that hormone also can be negative because if a kid, for example, enjoys speeding at 100 miles an hour down a twisted road, he gets a dopamine kick for that, too. And the dopamine makes him want to repeat it.

When any of us have sexual intercourse, we have a huge outpouring of dopamine into our brains. It is released when a married couple has sex, which makes them want to repeat the sexual act which then allows them to get pregnant and have babies. But for the unmarried kid it makes him want to repeat that sexual act again and again. It is the same hormone that is secreted with addiction to drugs and nicotine.

Emotionally attached

Another thing teens may not understand is that even with one act of intercourse they will be emotionally attached to the person they are having intercourse with, and that these attachments can last a lifetime. During sexual intercourse, in the female brain there are more receptors for oxytocin, and in the male brain there are more receptors for vasopressin. Both hormones cause the person to feel emotionally attached to the other, even with just one act of intercourse.

So those in a relationship not only have the dopamine that rewards them for the repeating of the act, but also the oxytocin and the vasopressin that makes them feel attached. Thus, we have the name of our book Hooked. You become attached, addicted, bonded to each other.

In marriage, that is a good thing because you will stay attached to each other. Children are reproduced and you bond to those children, care for them, and help them grow up and our human race survives. But if you are 14 years old and have had 14 partners, and are still attached in some way to all 14 of them, you create problems.

All of this results in actual physical changes in the brain. When these hormones flow and send their impulses, they dramatically affect connections or synapses between the neurons in the brain. Those synapses actually are strengthened when we repeat a behavior or they are weakened when we stop. So, when you repeatedly attach and unattach with multiple sexual partners you actually weaken the ability to stay connected. Studies have shown that when people have had multiple sexual partners before marriage they are more likely to divorce because they actually weaken the pathways that are necessary to attach at the deep and necessary emotional level important for marriage.

The immature brain

One of the reasons parents are so important during their children’s adolescent years is because the Prefrontal Cortex – the part of the brain where we make rational decisions and where dopamine has its greatest influence – is not fully mature until the mid-twenties. Teenagers are not brain damaged. It’s just that they are not mature, and any parent of a teenager knows exactly what we are talking about. The growth of these synapses is increased before birth and again when they are in pre-puberty. Then, between puberty and the mid-twenties, the hardwiring is molded and “set” in its mature condition.

So, these adolescents need the judgment of parents to help them through those years with decisions about the future and to consider the consequences that they cannot fully see for themselves. Otherwise these mechanisms we have described as so important for marriage become a trap—an ambush of brain molding and a habit of behavior that can hurt them in ways they cannot imagine, not just for a few months but often for a lifetime.

We find that in every bit of this science we have looked at—the neuroscience, diseases, and so forth—that human beings are designed to be with one other person sexually and monogamously for life. The use of the term “design” calls to mind the intelligent design of God, but it is so amazing that even the secular reproductive anthropologists who would disagree with much of what we’ve said here use the word.

Based on the most modern neuroscience, sex is a whole body experience. The brain is the biggest and most important sex organ of the body. All these hormones in the brain and all these synapses that influence our habits and our patterns of living were designed by God so that we can be connected to one person for a lifetime in marriage.

As parents, that is our assignment: to guide our children so they can experience the very best thing that God has for them.

See Part 1 of my teen series here,
Part 2 here
Part 3 here

Further reading:
How do I teach my children about sex so that they will stay pure until they are married?
Passport to Purity Weekend Away Kit Introduction
Kids of Helicopter Parents Are Sputtering Out.

Have you felt pressured by other parents to give your kids more space?


Anonymous said...

Excellent post, Christine. You've put everything together in one place with honesty, dignity and brevity. I will save this for future reference. I think my children will want to know these things and you've said it so very well. So well in fact that it could be the basis for a Christian book... if ever you have the time!

Christine said...

Thanks, Sandy. Around age 65, I might have time for a book, and probably enough material, but I sure hate what the publishing industry has become in terms of having to sell your book on social media ad nauseam.