Your Kids and Sexual Identity
About the Guest
Our sexuality is at the core of who we are. Phillip Bethancourt believes parents need to have conversations with their kids around the topic of sex and sexuality starting when they are young.
Your Kids and Sexual Identity
Bob: One of our intimidating responsibilities, as parents, is to teach our children about human sexuality. Phillip Bethancourt says that’s a conversation we need to be having over, and over, and over, and over, and over again with our kids.
Phillip: I remember when I went off to college—my mom knew I was well-equipped to go off in the world on my own in many areas, but cooking was not one of them. As one of my graduation gifts, she gave me a cookbook called A Man, a Can, a Plan—had pictures of the ingredients. The whole premise was that all you need is this one tool, this one time, and you can count on making the recipe perfectly in every situation in the future. Unfortunately, many parents think they can do the same thing when it comes to sexuality.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, January 8th. Our host is Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. There is no recipe for raising kids who thrive in this culture, but it does help to have a plan. We’ll hear more today from Phillip Bethancourt. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. It’s always good to be around folks who, when they start talking, you say: “Yeah! Yeah! That’s right!—
Dennis: —pound the table.
Bob: —“I agree with that!”
Dennis: You fight over the soapbox.
Bob: [Laughter] That’s right.
Dennis: All three of us have had a fight about the soapbox. Dr. Phillip Bethancourt joins us, again, on FamilyLife Today. Phillip, welcome back.
Phillip: It’s so good to be with you.
Dennis: Phillip has written a book called Christ-Centered Parenting. It’s really a book—well, it’s a book, first of all, he coauthored with Dr. Russell Moore. Phillip works at the ERLC and, as Bob said, that is The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. I asked Phillip before we came in the studio—Bob, I said, “Are you guys going to do away with having to spell out the ERLC of the SBC?” [Laughter]
Bob: There’s no way around it. I mean, there’s no shorter way to say it.
Dennis: I’m just thinking, “They’re going to get rid of all the words and just say, ‘The ERLC,’ and then not tell anybody what it stands for.
Phillip: The good news is we can call it whatever you want on your broadcast.
Dennis: There we go; no doubt about it.
Phillip, you’ve written a book about discipling our children. I think there’s a great need, within the community of faith, for parents to own this responsibility.
Bob: Well, and this is actually—this is not just a book—there’s a video series that comes alongside the book. This is a workbook for moms and dads to go through, either on their own or with other parents, so that they can get equipped around the challenging issues that parents are facing.
Phillip: And many of the listeners that you have on the broadcast today are in small groups in their church. That’s the whole design of it—it’s a six-week video-based curriculum, where we bring together different experts, pastors, and leaders from around the country to shepherd you to think through how to understand these issues for yourself but, also, how to have those conversations with your children.
Bob: Well, and in fact, if our listeners have been going through FamilyLife®’s Art of Parenting™ video series, this is a great supplement to that—it’s a great follow-up.
Bob: So once you’ve gotten done with the Art of Parenting, just launch right into this. It’ll dovetail perfectly with what you’ve been learning in the Art of Parenting.
Dennis: One of the subjects that you tackle, that seems to be very timely, is the whole issue of sexuality/sexual identity and helping kids embrace what it means to be a boy or embrace what it means to be a girl. Where’s a parent to start, Phillip? I mean, the voices in the culture are really loud; and there’s a lot of them.
Phillip: I remember taking my wife on vacation a couple of years ago. It was a tough season in ministry; we got away for a few days. When we got home, her mom had been watching our boys. She came up to me and she said, “Phillip, your first-grader has a question for you when you get ready to tuck him into bed.”
I walk in there—said, “Hey, son, what’s on your mind?” He looked at me and said, “Dad, do you have sex with mom?” This is a seven-year-old. I said, “What do you mean by sex?” and “How did you hear about that?” He said—before he even answered, I knew the trouble-maker in his class, who I was sure had been telling him about it. I said, “What do you mean by sex?”
He said, “Here’s what happens…” as if he’s about to explain it to me. [Laughter] He says, “What happens is two people get together and they go into a room, and they turn off all the lights. Then they start kissing each other, and then they rub their hineys together.” [Laughter] That was his first-grade understanding of what sexuality was.
I was like “No, son, that’s not what sex is.” I said, “Would you like to learn more about what sex is sometime?” He’s deep in thought and he says, “How about next Tuesday after dinner?” [Laughter]
Bob: Wow; he’s scheduling this.
Phillip: But instead of that, what we did use to talk about sexuality was Passport to Purity®.
We had an amazing conversation just to plant those seeds. The reason I was so struck by that was—not because I was surprised I was going to be talking about the issue of sexuality a lot in the home of four boys—it was that, even at seven years old, the innocence is gone. What we need to recognize—and one of the whole premises of Christ Centered-Parenting curriculum—is that the culture’s not waiting to disciple our children, and that’s especially true when it comes to sexuality.
Bob: In fact, I would go so far as to suggest—and you may know the statistics on this—but I would imagine that, if you went to the average evangelical youth group today— whether it’s in a Southern Baptist church or any evangelical church—and you polled the kids, who are showing up every week for youth group and are going to church, and are being raised in good and godly Christian homes—and you polled them on human sexuality and on sexual identity issues, I’m guessing that the average youth group kids’ views would not be biblical views.
Phillip: Sure; because if they’re fortunate, they’ve had parents that have said one thing to them; but most often, they’re learning about it through an older sibling, on the bus, on television—on other things. The issue is not an unwillingness to learn a biblical view. It’s, oftentimes, a disconnect, where we’re not even creating that opportunity for them. That’s why it’s so important for our churches to be thinking through: “How can we equip our parents in our church to have those conversations with their children?”
One of the things that I love about this curriculum, that’s unique to any others that I’ve seen, is—at the end of each chapter, we offer two-pages worth of age-graded conversation starters you can have with your child. When it comes to sexuality, the way I’m going to talk to my seven-year-old is very different than when he’s seventeen. It gives you the tools on: “What might they be thinking about?” “How are they processing these issues?” “What might be some questions you can ask?” because, oftentimes, a parent’s unwillingness to do this is more because they just don’t know where to start.
Dennis: So, back to your—back to your son— did you end up meeting on Tuesday night and having a conversation?—or did you just punt the ball down the field until the Passport to Purity getaway? [Laughter]
Phillip: No; I waited until Tuesday night. I told my wife, “I’m going to wait, and let’s see if he brings it up.” I’m willing to have the conversation, but we had already had Passport to Purity on the schedule. I thought you would do a far better job than me in that opening conversation, and you did not disappoint. [Laughter]
Dennis: You shared that story with me before we came in to the studio. I kind of pushed back and I said, “You’re talking about taking a seven-year-old/an eight-year-old…” And the reason I say that—for the listener’s sake, who’s never seen the Passport to Purity kit—it was actually designed, originally, for 11- and 12-year olds; and then it became 10-12 years old, and then it became 9-12. Now, you’re taking it even younger—down to the age of seven or eight; why?
Phillip: Well, it’s because we just wrestled with: “What do we do?” after we had this experience—he’s seven years old; it’s in the spring of his first-grade year. What I became convicted of is: “I want my children to learn about this from us first,” and for us to have that first conversation/shape that first perspective.
When we listened to Passport to Purity, I’m sure there’s a lot of things that went over his head. He remembered all the traps clapping, and all of those illustrations, and everything like that; but the point is not “Is he going to be a subject matter expert when it’s done?” but “Is this going to plant that first seed that we can water over time?”—that’s the desire.
Bob: It’s one of the reasons why we created a second experience for parents as their kids get into junior high called Passport to Identity™, which is another issue kids are wrestling with that you address in Christ-Centered Parenting. We wanted moms and dads, not just to have a one-and-done Passport to Purity experience, but to say: “Let’s revisit this here in a year or two,” and “Let’s have a conversation at a different level than when you were eight or nine.
“Now, we can deal with it on a different level.”
Moms and dads have to be regularly coming back into these conversations. The repetition involved with discipleship and parenting can’t be overlooked. As parents, we think: “I told him that—I’ve told him that 40 times. They should get it by now.” But that’s the nature of childhood; they don’t get it after 40, or 41, or 42.
Phillip: Yes; I remember when I went off to college. My mom knew I was well-equipped to go off in the world on my own in many areas, but cooking was not one of them. As one of my graduation gifts, she gave me a cookbook called A Man, a Can, a Plan. The way this cookbook worked is—it, not only gave you the recipes, it had pictures of the ingredients. The design of it was that you took it to the grocery store.
Dennis: “This is a corn cob.” [Laughter]
Phillip: You can hold it up next to 50 different cans of creamed corn and know the exact one to pick up and take it. [Laughter]
The whole premise was that all you need is this one tool, this one time, and you can count on making the recipe perfectly in every situation in the future.
Unfortunately, many parents think they can do the same thing when it comes to having these conversations rather than recognizing that, in the same way you can’t teach your child to drive on one occasion and put them behind the wheel in a way that you can trust them for their safety, the same is true when it comes to sexuality.
Bob: Even when the government had given me a license, I still was not fully prepared for what was ahead.
Dennis: I can attest—I can attest to that after watching Bob drive for 40 years. [Laughter]
Bob: —for being in the passenger’s seat a few times.
Dennis: That’s exactly right! [Laughter]
You did something a little bit earlier on the broadcast that I want to make sure our listeners caught. You asked your son to clarify what he meant by sex. I wish I’d heard that illustration; [Laughter] because I gave our kids way too much information, way over their heads, when they weren’t even in the ball park.
You had the wisdom to just say, “Well son, what do you mean by that word, sex?”
Phillip: Yes; you want to help them diagnose what they’re looking for, because sometimes—I mean, I wish that was the common problem—is parents giving children too much information. Oftentimes, its parents missing the opportunities to give them anything. We want to help to understand: “What will help serve our children the best at this moment?” that God has them in their growth.
Bob: When your kids were three, four, and five—maybe even when they were two, three, four, and five—were you having conversations with them about their body and about sexuality? You didn’t wait until seven and the question to have the first conversation; did you?
Phillip: No; and in fact, in a home of four boys, you won’t be surprised that body parts are exposed as people are running around, and horsing around, and being crazy on a regular basis. The anatomy that God’s given us is not foreign to our children, even at a young age.
What we try to do is help them understand the way God designed boys/the way God designed girls differently, anatomically—
—why it is that God created their bodies in the way He did—and what it looks like to protect our bodies and respect it—what is appropriate/ what is inappropriate, especially in terms of interacting with strangers—and touch and all of those things to help cultivate in them an understanding of what is appropriate with the body; so that once those conversations about sexuality began to be stacked on, there was a good foundation of a theology of the body.
Dennis: There’s a section in Proverbs that is a great parenting section. I don’t think most parents think of it in those terms; but it’s Proverbs, Chapter 5 through Chapter 7. It’s talking about the woman of the street seducing and luring men, who are compared to an ox going to the slaughter. After getting some feedback from listeners, Barbara and I hunkered down; and we wrote a book called Aggressive Girls and Clueless Boys; because that’s really what’s taking place in Proverbs 5-7.
I want you to comment, if you would, about how you’re seeing girls be more aggressive with your sons in grade school as you begin to raise them.
Phillip: I remember—a few years ago, I led a study abroad trip to Greece. One of the places that we visited in the biblical/from the biblical archaeology standpoint was the city of Corinth. Corinth was a city known for its worship of the goddess of love, Artemis. In that city, there was temple prostitution—that was the way you worshiped the goddess.
The temple that our guide showed us sat on the top of the hillside. What he described was that, every day at the same time, the temple prostitutes would make their way down the hillside and enter into the marketplace and try to allure that night’s worshipers to come back to the temple. One of the ways that this guide told us about—that they would attract those that would follow them—is that they wore sandals. On the bottom of their sandals were imprinted the Greek word that’s translated “Follow me.”
Every step they took, they would leave that imprint of allurement to: “Follow me,” “Follow me.”
The reality for the children that we’re raising today is the culture is seeking to do the same thing.
Bob: So what are some of the cornerstones of your strategy, as a parent and as you think about the future with your kids, have you started imagining: “Okay; at some point, we’re going to have to do this,” “We’re going to have to do this.” Have you started laying out a road map for yourself here?
Phillip: Yes; I remember when “True Love Waits” was so prominent when it comes to sexuality. One of my friends, during that time, went off to a college conference at a camp; and the theme was “True Love Waits.” They were heading to bed—this was out in a massive forest in New Mexico, where there were warnings all over the place “Beware of Bears.” There were bears around there on a regular basis.
Well, it turns out—one of the nights she was heading to bed, there was a report beginning to circulate around the camp that two of the college students—a guy and a girl—had been mauled by a bear that night. Now, thankfully, they lived/they survived; but whenever people got out there to help them, they noticed something peculiar—their bodies were torn up, but their clothes were not. What was clear is that something illicit was happening, there in the woods, during that time.
Imagine if you are the speaker at this camp. You’ve been speaking on “True Love Waits” and the need for sexual purity all week and, yet, this incident is now known widely in the camp. You can’t not address it; so he’s talking about the need for sexual purity that next night. He gives them a warning, “You need to honor God with your sexual purity or the ‘True Love Waits’ bear might come and get you too.” [Laughter]
Dennis: Oh, wow! [Laughter]
Phillip: So often, we can take a consequences-based approach to sexual purity. Instead, we need to be presenting that more compelling story. For me, what that means is starting with that building block of those conversations that we did, wrapped around Passport to Purity. Then, this year, I did a follow-up with our nine-year-old. We began to talk about what pornography is.
Thankfully, according to the way he talked to me, he’s never seen any before.
The reason I did that is because statistics show the average age that boys experience pornography the first time is somewhere between eight and ten, so we want to shape that. A part of what it is—is thinking through the milestones of development that they’re going to be experiencing and what you can be doing to be intentionally pro-active to shape that conversation.
Dennis: So a lot of dads just perked up—and moms too—when you said you had a conversation with your son, who didn’t know what porn was. How did you even introduce that subject?—because I’ve thought about this. It was not as prevalent when we were raising our kids. How did you describe what pornography is?
Phillip: Well, I just started with the simple question: “Have you ever heard the word, pornography, before?” He said “No.” I said, “Do you know what it is?” He said “No.” I said: “Let me explain it to you. There are some times where people take pictures or record videos where they’re naked.
“They do that in a way to try to make other people happy.” He was so perplexed: “Why would you want to do that? That’s weird. That doesn’t make any sense.” I asked him: “Have you ever seen any of that before? Have you ever seen a picture like that or a video like that?” He said “No.”
I said: “Okay; I want you to understand that that is something you’re likely to encounter/your friends are likely to encounter. Here’s what I want you to understand—that doesn’t make God happy. That makes God sad when people do that—they take that picture, or shoot that video, and when people look at it.
“But more importantly, if you ever come across that, your instinct is going to be to hide that/to keep it to yourself. You might even feel a little embarrassed or ashamed, because it might have happened by accident. The best thing you can do, son, is come and tell me; and let’s talk about it”; because I want to open up that communication line to make healthy conversation happen before it’s too late and that pattern of sin and hiding takes root in the heart of a young son.
Bob: I’d just add something to your conversation there that I wish I’d been more forthcoming with my kids about; and that’s to say: “You need to know that this is something that Dad’s had to wrestle with.
Bob: “So when it happens to you—and it’s going to happen at some point—just know I’ve been where you are, and I want to help you in that situation.”
I think, sometimes, as parents, we can present this idea to our kids that we have somehow maintained righteousness throughout our lives; and we’re calling them to some level of perfection that they’re not going to be able to achieve and that we didn’t achieve. It’s not right for us to represent that; so I think for us to say we’ve had struggles in this area, and we’ve faced challenges in this area, and “I want to be there to be an ally with you,” and “I need you to be an ally with me.”
Dennis: And what I’d say to the parent, who encounters this with their son or daughter—because these issues are not just for the male side of the equation—
—you need to visit the subject of shame; because shame is something a child will encounter when they fail or they perceived they failed. Talk about how that’s what the gospel is all about. God came to take our shame and our failure on Himself so that we might be forgiven by God. God doesn’t love you any less because you’ve seen that; but He wants to welcome you to come to Him and ask for His forgiveness, if how you’ve responded is wrong, and then embrace the gospel, going forward, and receive that forgiveness, as a young man.
Phillip: In our home, forgiveness is a recurring conversation that comes up. Anytime our boys are wronging each other, if we need to take them for corrective discipline, or there’s just been an altercation they’ve been unable to resolve, we like to model that pattern of forgiveness. Now, granted, I’ve got four boys that are all young; so it doesn’t always seem the most sincere when they apologize to a brother and they grant forgiveness.
Bob: [Speaking in a monotone voice] “I’m sorry. I was wrong. Will you please forgive me?”
Phillip: But going through the mechanics is creating a vocabulary of forgiveness in the home. That’s not just true for our children; it’s true for us, as parents.
One of the deepest joys I have, as a dad, is apologizing to my kids when I mess up. If I concede to myself, my temptation is I don’t want to compound this and draw attention to it by asking for forgiveness; but instead, if I can show them the guilt that I experience and help them understand how I process that act of forgiveness myself, that will show that to them.
That plays right into the point of dealing with this issue of shame that you were just talking about. One of the best gifts that parents can give to their children is to shepherd them through shame. Every child, just like every adult, is gripped by the guilt of unmet expectations, disappointments, failures, and sins. That’s part of normal Christian life or normal life in a Genesis 3 broken world. And if we don’t give them the pathways towards finding deliverance from that guilt, who’s going to do it?
Dennis: I love how you just said that. I think this is the assignment of a parent: “To disciple their children to be able to live out the Christian faith in the midst of a complex and a broken world.” If you’re looking for help in doing that, Phillip and Russell Moore have come up with a great video package, along with the book they’ve written, called Christ-Centered Parenting. It’s all about discipling your child and training them to know how to be Christ-followers, and to pick up their cross, and to get up off the dirt when they fail, deal with their shame and receive the forgiveness of God. It’s a hope-filled book for parents and for children alike. I hope folks will pick up a copy of it and maybe use the video series—as you mentioned, Bob—as a follow up to the Art of Parenting. Or do this first and then do the Art of Parenting video series.
Bob: Well, Session Four in your series is the session on sexuality—providing a godly perspective on sex for our kids. It’s one of six sessions that’s in this series.
I’ll just mention here—we’ve got on our website, at FamilyLifeToday.com, resources that are available. There are books available: like Dennis and Barbara Rainey’s new book, The Art of Parenting—the video series that goes with that. We’ve got the Passport to Purity and the Passport to Identity experiences that we’ve created for parents and kids to go through together—all kinds of things that will help you as you raise your kids in a challenging culture.
Again, go to FamilyLifeToday.com for more information on all of these resources. The website is FamilyLifeToday.com; or call 1-800-FL-TODAY—1-800-358-6329—that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
You know, everything we’ve talked about today is just a great reminder of the fact that, as moms and dads, we need to be diligent in praying for our kids and praying for ourselves, as parents, to know what to do.
And even before we have kids, the discipline/the habit of praying together, as a couple—well, you have said for years, Dennis, if there was one piece of advice you’d give to a couple getting married, it’s the advice you guys got when you first got married, which is pray together every day, as a couple.
We’re trying to help facilitate that—maybe help some couples build a new habit in 2019. We’ve put together a series of prayer prompts that we’re calling “Better Together: Seven Days of Prayers for Couples.” We’ll send these to your email inbox. They’ll just give you a little nudge every day and say, “Here’s something you guys can be praying about together.” We’ll kind of coach you in the process. It’ll take a couple of minutes each day.
We believe, if you’ll do seven days of this together, as a couple, it can begin a great new habit that can revolutionize your marriage and your family. Sign up for the “Better Together” prayer prompts when you go to FamilyLifeToday.com. Just click the link and give us your email address, and we’ll send out the first prayer prompt to you. Again, our website is FamilyLifeToday.com.
Now, we hope you can be back with us again tomorrow. Phillip Bethancourt’s going to be here again. We’re going to talk about how our kids develop a healthy godly biblical sense of self: who they are/who God made them to be. We’ll talk about their identity tomorrow and what we can do, as parents, to help point them in the right direction. I hope you can be with us for that.
Thanks today to our engineer, 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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