In the face of such seemingly insurmountable obstacles to a healthy Christian lifestyle, it's easy for parents to fall prey to a sense of powerlessness. But repeatedly, polls, surveys, and research reports underscore the overwhelming influence parents have on the choices their children make. According to the National Survey of Family Growth, half of the older teenage girls who said they were virgins cited faith and higher moral standards as the reasons they abstained from sex. And a June 2000 survey by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy revealed that most teens cite their parents as the most influential voice when it comes to their decisions about sex.
The bottom line: Parents and concerned adults must not abandon ship. While no one is suggesting that the process is easy-or the outcomes guaranteed-there are measures parents can take to help their daughters navigate their way through adolescence and empower them to withstand the pressures of their "tween" and teenage years:
- Pray. Christian parents know this, but often they're oblivious to the spiritual warfare they need to engage in. Danae Dobson (see "A Focus of Her Own," p.26) remains convinced that her parents' relentless prayer protected her and her brother from harm and from many of the temptations tweens and teens face.
- Provide open communication. "Start when they're 5 years old," says McMinn. "Have conversations, not monologues. Help them to begin thinking analytically about things like TV shows. Seek their opinions. When they reach adolescence, they'll be much more inclined to believe you'll actually listen to them."
- Encourage independence. Parents cripple their children by giving them rules instead of training them to think for themselves, says Fusilier. "I tell parents, 'I seriously doubt you're going to live at their dorm or go with them when they move away.' Teenagers need to stop depending on their parents and start making their own decisions."
- Establish rites of passage. McMinn suggests creating rituals that mark special events signifying greater responsibility, like entering high school or getting a drivers' license-or, in a females-only group, marking the beginning of menstruation. If the ceremony can take place in the context of a "community," such as extended family or her church, the rite becomes all the more powerful as the girl sees herself connected to something larger than herself.
- Model godliness. Mothers should run the "Truth or Bare?" test on their own wardrobes, says Gresh, and project a healthy body image of their own, say eating disorder specialists. In each area of life in which their daughters are experiencing pressure, mothers can model appropriate responses on their own level.
- Extend grace. If your daughter has already made some unwise choices, make sure she knows she's loved no matter what mistakes she has made, Fusilier emphasizes. "Tell her, 'I love you, and I forgive you, and let's start over.' That's what grace is."
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