How You Impact Your Teen's Values
Concerning Love, Sex, and Marriage
By Dr. Greg Smalley
Smalley Relationship Center
"Doing unto others as you've seen done unto you!"
Changing the "Golden Rule" ever so slightly, illustrates
a powerful aspect of learning. As a matter of fact, the word "seen"
can have a major impact upon the development of your teenager's
values concerning love, sex, and marriage. A young teen learned
this lesson one day while at school.
A ninth-grade teacher was giving her pupils a lesson in logic.
"Here is the situation," she said. "A man is standing
up in a boat in the middle of a river, fishing. He loses his balance,
falls in, and begins splashing and yelling for help. His wife
hears the commotion, knows he can't swim, and runs down to the
bank. Why do you think she ran to the bank?"
A female student raised her hand and said, "To draw out
all of his savings?"
The girl's comment might have been humorous if it wasn't for
the fact that her parents were in the middle of a heated divorce.
Imagine the kinds of messages she has been learning by watching
her parents battle each other. What values about love, commitment,
and marriage are being formulated in her young, impressionable
mind? As her careful eyes are watching, will she "do unto
her husband as seen done unto her father?" No wonder she
came up with that answer.
How Your Marriage Can Impact Your Teenager's Relational
A teenager's values of love and marriage is impacted by his parent's
relationship through modeling. Learning by watching other people's
behaviors is an important part of our lives. Attitudes, habits,
and standards are borrowed from others with whom we identify,
such as our parents. This includes many of the things we do within
our marital relationship. Have you ever thought, "I can't
believe I just did that—my father did that to my mother
and it drove me crazy!"
Scripture makes very clear this generational influence, "Visiting
the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren
to the third and fourth generations" (Exod. 34:7). Furthermore,
research studies confirm this generational pattern. One study
shows that abused children often become abusive parents and spouses.
Also, according to Dr. Conway Hunter, in the book, The Courage
to Change, nine out of ten times the daughter of an alcoholic
father will marry an alcoholic. Finally, Edward Teyber, in the
book, Helping Children Cope with Divorce, found that
children from broken homes reported that in their marital relationships
they experience greater difficulty with trust, loyalties, security,
and conflict than did children from intact families. The most
staggering statistic was from researcher Larry Bumpass, who found
that divorce rates were as much as 50 percent higher for children
who grew up in divorced families than for children raised in intact
Based on the Scriptures and on the research, it's obvious that
parents have an important role in teaching children about love,
commitment, and marriage. So what can we do as parents to pass
on the positive characteristics of love to our teenagers?
The Secrets of an Effective Model
The first aspect of an effective model is to decide what qualities
you want your teenagers to learn. Do you want your teen to place
God at the head of their future relationship? Perhaps you feel
honor or learning to become a servant is important. Whatever the
quality, imagine what your son or daughter would look like if
they possessed that trait. Imagining this provides an accurate
picture so you'll know when they possess the trait. This also
allows you to determine the specific ways your marriage reflects
the same characteristics and values. Ask yourself: "What
does my teenager observe when he looks at my life and relationship?"
The second way to become an effective model is best illustrated
by something that happened in Texas, when a city slicker collided
with a truck carrying a horse. A few months later he tried to
collect damages for his injuries. "How can you now claim
to have all these injuries?" asked the insurance company's
lawyer. "According to the police report, at the time you
said were not hurt."
"Look," replied the city slicker. "I was lying
on the road in a lot of pain, and I heard someone say the horse
had a broken leg. The next thing I know this Texas Ranger pulls
out his gun and shoots the horse. Then he turns to me and asks,
'Are you okay?'"
The lesson the city slicker learned is the second aspect of becoming
an effective model: Your children need to see the consequences
of your behavior—positive or negative. This is important
because it indicates what your teenager may receive for imitating
For example, I remember watching my parents affirm their love
and commitment to each other on a regular basis. My father even
hung a plaque in the hallway of our home which read, "In
assurance of my lifelong commitment. To Norma, Kari, Greg and
Mike. Christmas 1976." The consequences my father received
for making this commitment were extremely positive. As a child,
I felt very safe and secure that my parents were going to stay
together because I could see their commitment hanging on the wall.
As a result of my parent's behavior, not a day goes by that I
don't remind my wife and daughter of my love for them.
As you strive to be an effective model for your children, I encourage
you to get involved in a small group with other parents who share
your desire. Small groups are a powerful source of support because
they not only provide accountability, but also encouragement and
the perspectives of others. In Ecclesiastes 4:10-12, King Solomon
recognized the importance of friends when he wrote, "If one
falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls
and has no one to help him up! Also, if two lie down together,
they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one
may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three
strands is not quickly broken."
Berman, C. (1991). Adult Children of Divorce Speak Out.
New York: Simon & Schuster.
Kalmuss, D. (1984). "The Intergenerational Transmission of
Marital Aggression," Journal of Marriage and the Family,
© Copyright 2005 Smalley
Relationship Center. Used by permission.
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