Guiding Your Teens in the Truth
About the Guest
No one likes to be marginalized. But if you follow Christ in this post-modern culture, you will be. Tom Gilson, author of the book, "Critical Conversations: A Christian Parents' Guide to Discussing Homosexuality with Teens," reminds us that there's an incessant onslaught against God and against truth today. Moms and dads need to have critical conversations with their kids about spiritual and cultural issues so they will know how to respond when questioned about their faith and values.
Tom GilsonTom Gilson is a senior editor of The Stream, author of the new 2016 parent-friendly guide to keeping kids in the faith, titled Critical Conversations: A Christian Parents’ Guide to Discussing Homosexuality With Teens, and the chief editor of True Reason: Christian Responses to the Challenge of Atheism. In late 2017 he released A Christian Mind: Thoughts on Life and Truth in Jesus Christ, a collection of hi...more
Tom Gilson reminds moms and dads to have critical conversations with their kids about spiritual and cultural issues so they will know how to respond when questioned about their faith and values.
Guiding Your Teens in the Truth
Bob: As a parent, if you’re going to engage with your children, who are growing up in a pro-homosexuality culture, how do you have winsome conversations with them around this issue? Here’s counsel from Tom Gilson.
Tom: Start with safe questions, like, “What do your friends think about same-sex marriage?”—that’s a very safe question. “What do your friends think about the fact that you go to a church that doesn’t believe in this?—that doesn’t agree with that? What do you think about going to a church that doesn’t agree with this?”
If they give the safe Sunday school answer, you say: “You know, good; I’m glad you answered that way, but I kind of wonder if you’re holding back. I want you to know that you can give me the whole answer.”
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, July 5th. Our host is Dennis Rainey; I'm Bob Lepine. Conversations with our children about current issues, like the LGBT issue—these are important and delicate conversations for us to be having.
We’ll get some coaching on that today. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. It has occurred to me that, if you are parents, raising children in today’s world, you need to be raising children who will likely, at some point, be outcasts among their social circle. If they’re going to grow up in this culture and if they’re going to hold to biblical values, they’re going to face ridicule and scorn for what they believe.
Dennis: At a minimum, they need to know how to suffer persecution for the name of Christ.
We have a guest, here, on FamilyLife Today, who—I am really, really glad that you have written this book, Tom; because I have a bunch of grandkids. I’m thinking, “Now, how do I get this in the hands of my grandkids’ parents; so they can best equip my grandsons/granddaughters to know how to handle the questions—
—“not if they’re going to come, but as they come?” Tom Gilson joins us on FamilyLife Today, the author of Critical Conversations. Listen to this subtitle: A Christian Parents’ Guide to Discussing Homosexuality with Teens. Welcome to the broadcast.
Tom: I’m glad to be here; thanks.
Dennis: You’re a courageous man to write a book like this. Why’d you write it?
Tom: I wrote it because I am concerned about teens. I have been blogging for a very long time and interacting with folks on all kinds of topics—atheism is one of them—but homosexuality always produced an enormous amount of controversy / an enormous amount of challenge—of: “If you believe in the biblical position on morality and marriage, then you’re a bigot,” “…you’re a hater,” “…you’re a homophobic person,”—you’re all these bad things.
What that is saying is—that if you’re going to be a Christian, then you’re going to be a “bad person.” What teen is going to want to grow up and be a “bad person” and join this club of “bad people”?—which the message is that that’s what Christianity is about.
Bob: We had a guest on FamilyLife Today a number of years ago, right after the Obergefell decision—the [same-sex] marriage decision of the Supreme Court had come out. This mom had a 14-year-old daughter; and the daughter came and said, “Mom, I want to put the rainbow flag on my Facebook® profile.”
Bob: The mom said, “Okay; why do you want to do that?” The daughter very candidly, at 14, said: “Because everybody in school is doing it,” and “If I don’t, it will be noticed; and people are going to ask me why, and I’ll be shut out.” This is the real world that our kids are growing up in.
Tom: Yes; they’re getting it from everywhere, and it’s an incessant onslaught. I would even call it an insurgency against spiritual reality—against God / against truth.
Dennis: And yet the family unity, a mom and a dad—and Barbara and I just finished a book, where we were dealing with some of these issues you’re talking about—moms and dads are the ones who need to have these conversations with their children—as they grow up; and as they enter the teen years and go through the teen years; on into college, or to service, or to jobs.
You say in the book that 12 percent of young people in Christian youth groups have conversations around life issues with their parents—only 5 percent talk to their dads about them. This has to be a source of urgent need within the church, to give our parents the courage, as well as the equipment, to know how to tackle these issues.
Tom: That’s right; and of course, it’s very frightening for parents to bring up spiritual issues of any kind, because it’s not normal: “We don’t do that around here. We’re walking on eggshells. Our kids are going to roll their eyes at us.
“’Oh, that again, Mom?—that again, Dad?”
What we need is to have the equipping that says: “We can have these conversations—we can do it with authority; we can do it with credibility. We can do it in very natural conversation, too, so it’s not just, ‘We’re having that conversation,’ but we’re just talking about things that are important to all of us.”
Dennis: Most parents are not venturing off to have these conversations, because they don’t know how to answer the questions themselves. That’s what you’ve attempted to do in your book, Critical Conversations.
Tom: That’s right. There are a ton of questions that come at us from every direction, and they are—like I already mentioned: “You’re a hater,” “You’re homophobic,” “What about marriage equality? Are you against equality?”
The parents do feel unequipped, and I don’t blame them.
Bob: You know, before we dive into the apologetics side of this—because that’s really where the heart of all of this is—but before we get to the apologetics side, I want to go back to what you’re setting your child up for, which is to be a countercultural spokesperson / to be, maybe, an outcast.
Bob: Forget whether you can make a rational defense for your position—even if you can, where that’s going to leave you is marginalized by your classmates / by some teachers. It’s going to put you in a position that no teenager wants to be in; so how do we, as parents, help our children embrace being an outcast?
Tom: I have actually sat down with my two children, separately, and said: “If I wasn’t sure that this was true, and if I wasn’t sure that this was life, I would actually regret having brought you up in the faith; because I have landed you in a heap of trouble, because you have accepted what Mom and I have taught you,” and “It’s not going to be easy for you. I don’t know what it’s going to be like, but it looks like it is getting worse than it is now. But I am sure that Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life; and I do not regret…”
My kids have affirmed me in that. They’re ready to face it, because—and this gets to your question: “Where did they get that from?”—a lot of prayer; the grace of God; a good church; and at home, we set an example that we believed, no matter what. We taught why we believed, and we demonstrated that we believed.
Dennis: This is a delicate dance between truth and love. How did you teach your kids how to love another person, who doesn’t agree with you, while still standing for the truth?
Tom: I don’t know, in the sense that I don’t know that we sat down and taught them, but we did demonstrate—we have an extended family member, who’s a gay man. They know that we don’t agree with his choices and his morality; but they know that we greet him with a hug, and we treat him as a family member—someone to love. I think there was a demonstration of that.
Bob: Let me ask you about that; because I have a friend, who has a similar situation, raising his kids—there’s an extended family member, who’s gay. The kids, as they’re growing up, don’t have a category for that. Would you start with a six-year-old/a seven-year-old, where you’re teaching about human reproduction? Is that the time to have the conversation about homosexuality?
Tom: No; by the way, one of the things I regret about this book is that I called it the Guide to Discussing Homosexuality with Teens. I keep hearing that kids younger than teens are facing this a lot. However, when they’re teens, you know that they’ve been exposed to just about everything that you wish they weren’t exposed to.
At younger ages, you don’t know that yet; but I think we need to explore the possibility with neutral questions / safe questions, like: “What are they teaching you in school about what it means to be a man and a woman?” “What are they teaching you in school about marriage?” “What do your friends say about this?”
If nothing appears in their answers that seems to indicate that they’ve been exposed to questions, don’t raise it. When that does start to show up in their answers, I think you need to walk through the door, as far as is appropriate.
Dennis: Parents are always in the process of helping their kids do the science projects [and] prepare for tests at the end of the semester. Many parents aren’t preparing their children for these kinds of tests. You said your children / your two, as they went to junior high and high school, began to face the onslaught of these questions. How did you, practically speaking, prepare them for these tests?
Tom: The main thing we did was—we prepared them to follow Christ—that’s the core; that’s the real heart. They saw an example of godly marriage in their parents too. It really starts with knowing the truth—it starts with knowing the relational and the—what we call the propositional side of the truth—the facts of the truth.
It starts there. And then, yes, along the way, when questions came up about sexuality, we just had conversations about it. I couldn’t point to a single one, because it was kind of a natural part of our daily conversations.
Dennis: What I hear you saying is—the model of a mom and dad and a husband and wife, in a healthy marriage relationship, is a powerful apologetic.
Tom: It is! The homosexual activist will dispute this; but there is strong evidence that, where that model is lacking, you’re a lot more likely to have children growing up, questioning their sexuality or questioning their gender.
The model is strong, and it’s powerful—it teaches a lesson. It’s not just a lesson in what’s true; it’s a lesson in what’s good. A lot of kids aren’t learning that marriage is good, because they’re not seeing it modeled as good. Where kids see it modeled as a good thing, they want to grow up and do it the same way.
Bob: Tom, I’m having the sense that you were not intimidated by or embarrassed about questions around sexuality as you were raising your children. A lot of parents—when the kids say: “Where do babies come from?” or “How do you make babies?”—a lot of parents will get flustered by that question. Were you and your wife ready for those questions when they came, and did you just step into those areas comfortably and easily?
Tom: As I recall, we did; it’s been awhile. The whole process of developing this book came along when my kids were well into their teenage years. To remember how I did it when they were very young is—I could make up an answer, but—
Dennis: Well, it wasn’t as prevalent back then.
Tom: Right; I would say that what we did was—we taught them the truth.
Dennis: This conversation is around what kids believe.
Dennis: It’s an issue of truth. You’re trying to help them have a conviction. There’s also the side of teenagers that is increasing today—
—where teenagers are questioning their own sexual identity. They’re being encouraged by their peers to self-identify as something else other than a male or a female.
Tom: Right; right.
Dennis: For a lot of parents, this is a foreign language. They don’t even know how to get into this and how to start. Are there any clues that a parent needs to be on the lookout for that a teenager might be expressing, who’s going through a serious questioning of their own sexuality and gender identity?
Tom: I would start with just good conversations and the ability to give the child the ability to answer honestly. Start with safe questions, like: “What do your friends think about same-sex marriage?”—that’s a very safe question. “What do your friends think about the fact that you go to a church that doesn’t believe in this and doesn’t agree with that? What do you think about going to a church that doesn’t agree with this?”
If they give the safe Sunday school answer, say, “You know, good; I’m glad you answered that way, but I kind of wonder if you’re holding back. I want you to know that you can give me the whole answer.” Build that relationship. Kids can hide things; but you want a relationship, where they just won’t think that they have to.
Bob: Yes; a lot of kids are going to give the answer that they think Mom or Dad want to hear—get the conversation over with and not create any conflict—so they’ll get the answer right on the test. But the question: “Do they really believe this at the core of their being?”—especially if it means ‘I’m going to be socially ostracized,’ / especially if ‘When I get to college, I’m going to be marginalized by this.’” How can a parent tell whether I’m getting the textbook answer or whether I’m getting a real convictional answer?
Tom: Take time with your kids—ask the safe questions and work up from there.
Dennis: Let’s talk about some of the riskier questions—they’re on Page 66 and 67 in your book.
I thought, Tom: “These questions are worth the price of your book.” Now, I mean that; because, if you’re a safe parent, just knowing the right question to begin to drill down into your child’s conscience, and heart, and soul is extremely helpful if you’ll just be quiet and listen to what they say and what they don’t say. Go through them real quick here.
Tom: Okay; these are questions, by the way, that you can ask on the way to soccer practice—this does not have to be a session—so: “Do you have any gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender friends?” “What’s it like for you when they talk about their relationships or their feelings?”
Bob: Okay; let me stop you on that, because I know you have a whole list of questions. [Laughter] When the child says, “Well, yes; Ronnie says he’s gay, and I have this other friend who says they think maybe they’re bisexual.” How do you respond when your child says, “Yes; I do”?
Tom: Respond; don’t react—say, “Well, tell me about your friendship.”
I would encourage good friendships. You can’t avoid relationships unless you hide in a closet.
In these days, 76-plus percent of teens say that they have a homosexual friend, or classmate, or whatever. As Christians, we need to have good friendships. Now, I’m very careful how they spend their time/free time in anything that might look like it’s influencing them in the wrong direction or if it goes so far as looking like a “date.” But just to have a friendship, I think is fine.
Bob: In FamilyLife’s Art of Parenting™ video series, Tim and Darcy Kimmel talk about the difference between what they call “asset friends” and “liability friends.” They said you should be friends with everybody, but you need to be careful the asset friends are the people who add value to your life; the liability are the friends, who may drain value from your life—so yes; be friends—
Dennis: —or may steer your life in the wrong direction.
Bob: That’s right. So yes; be friends with everybody, but just recognize: “Some of my friends are helping me; some of my friends are steering me wrong.”
Tom: Right; and “be friendly” may be a better term for some people you don’t want influencing your kids.
I still want my kids to be friendly with them.
Dennis: I like that; and Tom, I just want to commend you and your book. I really liked that part of your book, where you were calling parents to say: “You know, they’re human beings.
Dennis: “They need a relationship.” I’m talking about the other kid, at this point—they need a relationship with a young person, who does know what he or she believes.
Bob: And I know I interrupted your first question, so we were getting to the questions. The first one is: “Do you have any friends who are gay or lesbian friends?—any trans friends?”—that’s a good question—and, “Tell me about your relationship with them.”
What’s another question you’d ask?
Tom: “What do you think about gay marriage being allowed now? Do your friends think of Christians as being anti-gay? What do you sense they’re saying about your own views? Do they know what you think about it? Do you know what you think about the whole issue?”
Dennis: Stop right there.
Dennis: This is one I’d really want to listen carefully to how the child answers—
—what they say and what they don’t say—because all of the teenage years are parents equipping their kids—for the children / these young men and women—to grow up to know what they believe.
Dennis: They’re hitch-hiking off of their parents’ conviction and faith, initially; but they have to make the transference to believing it themselves.
Tom: They do. The great preponderance / the great majority of messaging they’re hearing is in favor of the activist version of marriage and morality. They’re hearing that a lot more than they’re hearing the truth. What we have to do is—become a lot more intentional, both in church and at home, in teaching what’s true; why it’s true; and why it’s good that it’s true.
Bob: So when your 16-year-old says: “Well, no; I’m not sure what I believe. I mean, I know what the church teaches, but I also read some other stuff. I read some stuff online, where they say that some Christians are misinterpreting the Bible and that some of these passages—
—“there are only six passages in the New Testament that talk about this. Jesus never said anything about it,” and “Why do we always go back to Leviticus?—and you’re not supposed to eat shellfish or mix fabrics either; so…” I mean, this is what they’re hearing; right?
Tom: That’s exactly what they’re hearing; that’s right.
Bob: So they start parroting this stuff back to you. As a parent, my natural reaction is, “Okay; we’re going to have to set aside two hours this Thursday night, and I’m going to have to take you, line by line, and explain this to you,”—that’s probably not a good strategy.
Tom: But we do have to take the time—we have to take some intentional time. One thing that you could do is—give them this book and ask them to read the first three or four chapters, which describes some of the history of the gay rights movement and the truth about marriage, both from what I call a common experience perspective, which doesn’t rely on the Bible but helps set up some terms; and, of course, also from a biblical perspective.
That gives a foundation for them to say, “Okay; is this what I agree with?” even.
They know the questions from a biblical perspective, and you can talk about them. Then you move on to saying: “Okay; do I think this is true? Why do I think this is true? Are there good reasons to think this is true?”
Dennis: We have time for a couple more. What are two of the best questions left on this list?—because there are a lot of them.
Tom: “Have you ever wished that Christians could just drop this whole issue completely?” “What would you say most of your friends think about gay rights and other LGBT concerns?” It’s about coming at the issue from a direction, where they can say, “This is what I think,” without actually having to do it in a scary manner at first. It’s not so much the questions as it is the listening afterwards.
Dennis: —and not condemning.
Tom: —and not condemning.
Dennis: Just listen; don’t freak out. If your child has doubts about what they believe, much better that they express it to you, and you have the chance to interact with them.
Tom: Who else are they going to have the conversation with?
Dennis: Exactly!—with someone who’s going to lead them to the truth? Do you think their peers will?
Tom: Not likely.
Dennis: Not likely.
Bob: This has been helpful for me, over the last couple of months, as I’ve just been reflecting on this. We used to live in a day—I grew up in a day—when truth was really located in what makes logical sense / what makes rational sense: “What can you prove, scientifically or mathematically?—that’s where you find truth.”
Well, the ground has shifted. Today, what constitutes truth is not what can be proven, but what is most deeply felt—so it’s not facts; it’s emotions.
The reality is—it’s neither facts nor emotions that are the foundation for truth—it is revelation that is the foundation for truth. It’s not: “What can I prove?” or “How do I feel?”— it is, “What has God said?” That’s where we, ultimately, have to get to, with our kids and with ourselves, to be able to say: “How I feel—that’s not insignificant. What science says—that’s not insignificant.
“But what God says trumps all of that.”
Dennis: I’ll tell you how far the ground has shifted. The Wall Street Journal recently had an article on how, in debating in college, they are no longer requiring sourcing for the facts they present—
Bob: —for your claims; yes.
Dennis: —for your claims and the argument. So, where does that leave you?
Dennis: Where does that lead you? Where does that lead a debate?
Tom: Up in the air.
Dennis: It leaves it: “Who feels this the strongest?” and “Who can express their feelings in the clearest way?”
Bob, this is a good illustration of how parents need to anticipate what’s taking place in the culture and help their kids realize that feelings are not—they are not illegitimate, but they’re not a good basis to base one’s life on.
Bob: And it is why having these kinds of conversations / getting a book like this and having dialogue is good, validating the fact that feelings and emotions are real / that how you think about things matters; but that, ultimately, what we’re looking for is:
“What has God said is true?” and then “How do we align our lives in that direction?”
I’d encourage our listeners to get a copy of the book, Critical Conversations: A Christian Parents’ Guide to Discussing Homosexuality with Teens. We have copies of the book in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. You can order from us, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or call to order: 1-800-FL-TODAY. Again, the book is called Critical Conversations. Order by phone at 1-800-FL-TODAY or online at FamilyLifeToday.com.
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Now, tomorrow, we want to talk about the arguments our kids are hearing in support of same-sex marriage and the LGBTQ lifestyle. We’re going to talk about the argument that people are just born that way and other arguments as well. I hope you can tune in for that dialogue.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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