When one considers adolescent society and its obsession with the dark side of popular culture, we have reason to be discouraged about where it is headed. There is, however, a definite sunny side to be celebrated, and it is time we heralded it. The good news is that there are millions of teens who are not sleeping around, are not using illegal drugs, are not binge drinking, are not at war with their parents, and are not failing in school. These are wonderful kids who are loved at home. Many of them, like Daphne from Boulder High School, are deeply committed to Jesus Christ and aren't afraid to share their faith. So while it appears at times as though an entire generation of teens and young adults is totally lost, it is definitely not true.
According to data culled from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 52 percent of high school students are still virgins.1 What's more, this is a significant improvement from the early 1990s, when less than half of high schoolers (46 percent) reported never having had sex.2 Though obviously I wish these numbers were higher, it is remarkable that so many of today's teens have not succumbed to the enormous pressures of our hyper-eroticized society. The entertainment industry has thrown everything but the kitchen sink at these kids since they were in kindergarten, but some have chosen to take the high road. When the safe-sex advocates say that it is unrealistic to expect teens to remain chaste and that they are all going to do it anyway, the "experts" are wrong in the majority of cases. And remember this: some of those who experience intercourse once or twice subsequently abstained entirely. We call these individuals "secondary" or "renewed" virgins.
I say this to offer hope and encouragement to today's parents. You have a real shot at keeping your kids moral in a very immoral world. Don't believe those who say, "It can't be done." There is much you can do to help resist the popular culture, if you have the "want to." When I was sixteen, my parents sold our house and moved seven hundred miles away to protect me from the negative influence of some friends. It cost my father professionally, but he never looked back. He and my mother were willing to do whatever was necessary to pull me back from the edge. Are you willing to pay a similar price?
Your strong-willed teens may rebel for a time, but you owe it to them to hang tough and continue to point them in the right direction. Your task is to be intentional about teaching chastity and common sense to your children while they are still young. I'll offer some suggestions about how to do that in a moment.
There is more good news on the home front. Sixty-two percent of high school students have never tried marijuana, 93 percent have never used cocaine, 96 percent have never used methamphetamines, and just over 55 percent do not drink alcohol.3 Many of them are good athletes or disciplined students or hard workers who are determined to do something significant with their lives. In short, there is plenty of good news about this generation that we can applaud.
One of the most encouraging developments is that many girls appear to be realizing that sex without commitment is utterly empty. They are rejecting the lie that the only way to get the love they crave is to throw off all vestiges of modesty and to behave like predatory males. They know this is a popular myth that delivers only tragic consequences. These girls have seen their peers returning from racy prom nights, frat parties, or spring breaks feeling used and rejected. When their passions have cooled the next morning, they look in the mirror with disgust and disdain. Some have hangovers or drug-induced depression. Then they have to deal with apprehension about possible pregnancy, disease, and a return to loneliness. Many girls have watched their friends fall into this trap and have chosen to avoid it, in some cases because of a personal commitment to Jesus Christ.
The observation that attitudes are changing is reported in numerous publications, including a 2008 article that appeared in Christianity Today entitled "Zipping It."4 It features an interview with Donna Freitas, professor of religion at Boston University, and author of Sex and the Soul. The interviewer was Katelyn Beaty, assistant editor at CT. This is a portion of their important conversation:
Beaty: The cultural myth says that secular schools are the places where faith goes to die. Or, secular colleges are for adults who don't need religious beliefs to prop up their worldview. But what you found is that spirituality, even though it takes various forms and is often private, is thriving. Students are just not being given the tools to know what to do with it.
Freitas: Absolutely. For example, take the sexuality and spirituality class I taught last fall at Boston University, where we studied books by Joshua Harris, Lauren Winner, and Rob Bell, in addition to different sexual-ethics scholars. Almost all the students were as liberal as liberal can get. One of the big hits of the semester was Wendy Shalit's A Return to Modesty. The students were floored by her critique of hookup culture, and they spent so much time talking about modesty as a virtue. It allowed them to say, "Wow, we're witness to all this vulgarity on campus. We pretend that we're okay with it, but we're not." I actually had students who for their final project proposed a modesty club. I'm sitting here thinking, This is Boston University. It made me think Shalit published her book 10 years too early, because the Left reviled her when she published it [in 1999]. For my class, she could do no wrong. I think that's really telling.
At different points I have received flak from scholars for the in-class resources I use. You're not supposed to teach Harris's I Kissed Dating Goodbye or Winner's Real Sex because they're not "ivory tower material"—except that it's in these books where robust conversations are happening about the things students care about. I'm a feminist and a liberal, but this is something beyond ideology. It's not a Left or Right issue. It's about responding to young people who are struggling. It's a mistake of many people to tense up about ideology in the middle of this kind of conversation. Part of my job is to figure out what professors do about the issues students are struggling with. They want modesty. And we can give them rich resources on modesty. So why don't we then?5
1.Danice K. Eaton et al, "Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance: United States, 2007," Surveillance Summaries, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report 57, no. SS-4; see http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/ preview/mmwrhtml/ss5704a1.htm.
2.Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Surveillance Summaries, data for 1991, YRBSS, "Youth Online: Comprehensive Results."
3."Youth Online: Comprehensive Results, Alcohol and Other Drug Use," Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2007); see http://apps.nccd.cdc.gov/yrbss/CategoryQuestions .asp?Cat=3&desc=Alcohol and Other Drug Use.
4.Interview by Katelyn Beaty, "Zipping It," Christianity Today (August 26, 2008).
Book: Bringing Up Girls
By Dr. James Dobson