Problematic sexual behavior affects more than just the teens who are acting out. Trying to cope with a daughter’s or son’s sexual acting out is one of the hardest challenges parents face. You’re aware that the sexually saturated culture encourages problems, of course, but you didn’t expect that your teen would have them, at least not on this level.
Parents struggle emotionally when a teen is in trouble. Maybe you’re embarrassed and ashamed that your teen is violating your values regarding sexual behavior. Perhaps you feel guilty and wonder if somehow you might be to blame. Maybe you weren’t strict enough, or maybe you were too strict. How did things go this wrong?
You also are affected by your teen’s changing behavior overall. It’s not just the sexual acting out; the lying, deception, blaming, anger outbursts, drama or withdrawal are paralyzing. Your daughter or son may accuse you of being out of touch with the times or interfering with their business. It’s common for teens with problematic sexual behavior and their parents to develop strained relationships.
You may be deeply afraid. You’re fearful about the consequences your teen may experience such as a sexually transmitted infection or pregnancy, concerned for their emotional and spiritual well-being, or even terrified for their safety. Their high-risk behavior keeps you awake at night.
Who do you talk to? Is your church a safe place to share this very personal situation? Do you believe few other parents have these struggles? You likely feel terribly alone and even hopeless.
The culture is swamped with sexual messages, images and values – most of them unrealistic and unhealthy. Sadly, the church is largely ill-equipped and ineffective in providing healthy alternatives. Silence or shame only fuel the allure of society’s norms and expectations.
Typically, teens won’t recognize their sexual behavior is a problem. They think they’re engaging with their friends and boyfriends like “everyone else.” Unfortunately, they may be right, since sexting and promiscuity are more the norm than the exception, including for teens raised in Christian homes.
Teens don’t have the maturity to realize the impact of their sexual and relational behavior, which might affect the rest of their lives. Problematic sexual behavior can interfere with education, health, self-esteem, and social and spiritual development. It can also be extremely dangerous when teens put themselves in risky situations.
Developmentally, teens live in the moment and focus on having a good time or meeting some underlying need. Many teens may act out sexually, but are able to maintain focus on healthier choices. They can self-correct and realign with their parents’ (and often their own) values. Teens who are in trouble may compare themselves with peers who aren’t, and they falsely believe they can pull it together and be OK.
Teens and Sex
According to a 2017 report from the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), 55% of both females and males (a general sample, not specifically Christian) say they’ve had sexual intercourse by the time they are 18 years old.
While most Christian families believe in the value of sexual abstinence before marriage, the majority of Christian teens don’t achieve that goal. When you consider the complete (accurate) definition of “sex,” the incidence of activity among teens skyrockets. Many adolescents, perhaps especially those among communities of faith, only consider vaginal intercourse to be “sex.” They ignore oral sex (either giving or receiving) as a part of the definition, much less all the other fondling and activities parents used to call “petting.” You don’t hear the term “technical virgin” much these days, but this is the way many Christians view themselves.
The reality is that having intercourse isn’t the litmus test of whether a teen is in trouble regarding his/her sexual behavior. Many Christian adolescents haven’t engaged with another person sexually, but their pattern of pornography, sexting, or compulsive masturbation is disrupting their lives and hurting them emotionally and spiritually. In fact, viewing porn and sexting is the norm among teenagers today.
Attempts to Help
As children grow into adolescents, parenting is much more difficult. Your child is too old to physically control, and emotionally, is learning to differentiate, which means to develop a separate identity. Parents struggle to know when to restrict and when to let go.
The challenge is especially hard when it comes to sexual behavior. When a teen’s behavior includes activities that aren’t just unwise or unhealthy, but that parents believe are morally wrong, the stakes feel much higher. You want to protect their spiritual well-being and help guard their heart.
To this end, you’ve probably tried all kinds of approaches to the situation. Many Christian parents sincerely believe their job is to make their children’s choices, regulate their behavior, fix their problems, fight their battles, and smooth their road. Surely good parents are in service to their children.
At the other end of the spectrum, many Christian parents think kids learn best when they are severely punished for their mistakes, or better yet, fully insulated from things that might create temptation.
Maybe you’ve tried new lectures, new schools, new rewards, Christian counseling, purity programs, or restricting technology. Some of these tactics worked for a while, until they didn’t. You’ve endured sleepless, terrifying nights wondering where your teen was, when they would come home, or if they would come home at all.
The crushing pain of watching a child spiral downward is too much. You and your spouse may be at odds with each other about what to do. Maybe you blame and resent each other for the mess you’re in. You’ve done everything you know to do, and it’s not enough. You’re at your wits end.
Real change happens within a systems framework, meaning the whole family engages in the healing process. Parents need and deserve help for themselves to overcome their own emotional struggles and learn how to help their teen through their own attitudes and behaviors.
For this reason, the Healing for Teens & Parent Offerings
are family-based, rather than a program just for the adolescent themselves. For your daughter or son to heal and that healing to last, parents must be part of the process. Struggling adolescents are much more likely to change in the context of family-based healing. That environment takes some of the pressure off, as they realize the treatment focus isn’t solely on them as the “problem.” It’s vital that the whole family be involved in a coordinated process of understanding, growth, and change.
Whoever is identified as the parents (whether parents or step-parents – those who have primary residential and legal responsibility for the teen) are REQUIRED to attend.
Research and experience shows that families with a struggling teen benefit from family therapy as well as help for the teen individually and for her parents. Even if you decide the Healing for Teens & Parent Offerings would be helpful for your family, we strongly recommend that parents get help for themselves and that the entire family participates in family therapy as a separate process.
Teens & Parents Offerings
The Healing for Teens & Parents Offerings are based on the foundations of systems theory, group process, and a wholistic approach that examines issues beyond the teen’s problematic sexual behavior. This is a group process where multiple families attend at the same time (normally four to six families). The participants move between brief educational segments, activities, and group settings.
Some of the groups are separate gatherings of the girls and the parents, where each population has a safe space to share their challenges as a family. Other groups are family therapy (with the girls and parents together) in a multi-family group setting, meaning one or two other families will be part of the group. The intensive is active, experiential, and engaging for both the teen and the parents.
All participants (including Nashville area residents) stay together in a nearby hotel. The teen is required to stay with at least one parent in a hotel suite, which consists of a bedroom, a living room area with a pull-out sofa, and a shared bathroom. A single room for the teen isn’t an option. A step-parent may stay in the suite with the other parent and the teen, or in a separate room at the conference hotel, if desired. Parents are responsible for the teen overnight.
Healing for Teen Females & Parents Offerings
for female teens ages 15-18 year-olds who are still attending high school struggling with problematic sexual or relational behavior and their parents.Learn More
Healing for Teen Males & Parents Offerings
for male teens ages 15-18 (18 year-olds who are still in high school) struggling with problematic sexual or relational behavior and their parents.Learn More
A multitude of research shows the benefits of group therapy, including as a treatment for addiction. Because humans are fundamentally relational beings, group therapy is a natural ally of the healing process. Intrinsically, groups have many rewarding benefits such as reducing isolation, fostering attachment, and allowing members to witness the recovery of others. In the hands of a skilled counselor, a therapy is an ideal place for curative forces to influence long-term healing.
Peer support groups are a cornerstone of addiction recovery. Unfortunately, the sex addiction fellowships are geared for adults, and in fact, they aren’t an appropriate setting for teen females with problematic sexual behavior. Outside some occasional church-based, gender-specific groups, resources for girls are almost non-existent. Some counseling agencies that focus on adolescents offer groups, which may or may not be equipped to address problematic sexual behavior.
Parents of teens are more fortunate. Al-Anon is the “grandmother” of 12 Step groups for loved ones of alcoholics, and most Al-Anon groups welcome members whose loved one is dealing with a different drug of choice. Many areas have Al-Anon groups tailored to parents of addicts, which are especially helpful for parents of a teen with problematic sexual behavior.
Addressing Roots of Problematic Sexual Behavior
The culture’s saturation with sex and cultural messages about femininity are clear influences toward problematic sexual behavior. Frequently, though, deeper issues are present. Both “Big T” and “little t” traumas are often present. Attachment breaches, relinquishment by a birth parent, sexual abuse, physical abuse, neglect, bullying, losses or other painful experiences are critical factors in a teen’s development. The resulting false core beliefs can lead a girl or boy to the false solution of using sex as a substitute for love, self-esteem or empowerment.
Sometimes these experiences lead to problematic behaviors or attitudes. Lying, deceit, entitlement, irresponsibility, defiance, histrionics, apathy, poor self-care, under achieving, eating disorders, and substance abuse may accompany the sexual acting out.
The family environment and parents’ relationship are sometimes part of that bigger picture. When the marital or co-parenting relationship is strained, family dynamics are impacted. Difficulties with siblings, or a chronic medical, emotional, relational or behavioral problem in one or more family members can contribute to a teen’s acting out.
Effective treatment addresses the whole-person within the family setting. It’s not enough to stop the specific behaviors that are clearly destructive. That’s actually just the beginning of healing. Lasting recovery depends on addressing underlying issues.