Guarding Their Innocence, Preparing Them for Purity
By LESLIE LUDY
I once heard the parents of a young child declare, “We are not going to let our son find out anything about sex until he’s ready to get married!” Somehow, this well-meaning couple believed that if they kept their son naive of certain things until he was in his twenties or thirties, it would automatically protect his purity.
Whenever parents have asked my opinion about whether they should keep their children from all sexual knowledge throughout the teen years, my response is simple: “If you don’t give your child the right perspective on these things, you can be sure the culture’s warped ideas will get to him first.”
No matter how much we as parents might wish that we could hide our child away in a monastery until the age of thirty-five, the reality is that we live in a world in which sensuality and immorality are everywhere. Even if you are homeschooling your children and carefully monitoring every influence in their lives, it doesn’t take more than a trip to the grocery store for them to be bombarded by sensual, worldly ideas. Our culture is relentless in going after our children with enticements toward selfishness and perversion. So we as parents must be even more relentless in going after them with God’s vision of honor and purity. It’s not just about trying to keep our children ignorant of sexuality for as long as we possibly can. It’s about planting the right seeds in their hearts and minds even from an early age so that they are ready to embrace God’s pattern instead of the world’s.
But how do we teach our young children about God’s pattern for purity when we want to carefully protect their innocence? How do we prepare them for a God-scripted love story when we don’t want to awaken them to things they are not yet ready for?
The key is understanding the difference between innocence and purity.
Guarding a child’s innocence means protecting him when he is young from things he is not yet ready for — like sexuality. Innocence is a healthy ignorance of certain realities that could be dangerous for someone not mature enough to properly handle that information. It’s like keeping a two-year-old away from a stove. The stove in itself isn’t bad, but until that child matures enough to use a stove properly, it will only cause him harm.
Purity is different than innocence. Purity means being aware of the temptations and pitfalls that exist in our culture, yet choosing to walk according to God’s pattern. It is not an ignorance of sexuality and temptation; it is a maturity to make the right choices even while living in a perverse culture.
Innocence is a naivety of the world and its ways, while purity is a moment-by-moment choice to walk a path of integrity amidst a world polluted with sin. Innocence is a state of being. But purity is a choice, a step of obedience — a decision of the will. Purity, not merely innocence, should be our ultimate goal for our children.
Helping kids stay innocent of the world’s evil is certainly an important part of parental protection. But innocence is merely the soil in which purity can grow. Every parent must protect a child’s innocence as long as it is necessary, but every parent must be ready to let the innocence melt away at the appropriate time, so that purity can take over and rule the soul. As Eric and I wrote in our book, Teaching True Love,
A cocoon is the perfect picture of innocence. While a caterpillar is in the cocoon, it transforms, its wings grow, and its body prepares itself for a whole new life. While a caterpillar is growing its wings in the cocoon, it isn’t yet ready to use them.
Purity is much the same. As a young child is trained for purity, taught to yield to God, obey God, and guard their heart and mind, they are not fully prepared to flex this purity muscle until the season of innocence has finished its work. It is then, and only then, that those butterfly wings can open and flutter effectively in the open air of this world.
Many parents struggle with the idea of releasing their children into a life of purity. When we come face-to-face with the reality of the culture, it’s easy to want to keep kids guarded in the cocoon for the rest of their lives. But what good is a cocoon unless it finally breaks away and releases the new creature to fly, no longer as a caterpillar (a child), but now as a butterfly (a young adult)?
Modern parents tend to err in one of two ways. Either they never help build their child a cocoon of innocence, or they keep their child in the cocoon too long when their child needs to be spreading their purity wings and flying in this world. Both extremes hinder true purity.
In the early years, our goal as parents should be to protect our children’s innocence, while at the same time preparing them for a lifestyle of purity. Here are some practical ways to get started.
1. Stay Vigilant
There are countless ways that negative influences can creep into a child’s life and expose him to things he is not ready for, eroding the proactive cocoon of innocence that he needs during the early years of his life. Television, music, movies, the Internet, and social media are some of the most common culprits. Even seemingly harmless kids’ movies can sometimes plant the wrongs seeds in a child’s heart and mind.
Recently my five-year-old daughter found a “princess watch” in a bargain bin at a store on our way to the checkout line. I’d been meaning to purchase a watch for her ever since she generously gave hers away to her sister, so I quickly tossed it into our cart without looking closely at it. But when we got into the car I realized that the watch played a theme song from a popular princess movie. Upon listening to the lyrics of the song, I realized that it cleverly promoted an attitude of rebellion and selfishness, catering to the “bad girl” image glorified by the culture. So we exchanged it for a different watch.
From toys to cartoons, from commercials to cereal boxes, from movies to t-shirts, the culture is filled with items that promote worldly attitudes and mindsets. As parents, we must be continually on our guard against letting the wrong messages creep into our homes and influence our children. Remember: a few years down the road, when our children are ready to begin transitioning into a lifestyle of godly purity, they will be far more ready to embrace God’s pattern if they haven’t already been tainted by the world’s twisted notions.
I have discovered that even the subtle influence of neighborhood children or casual playmates at the park can make a negative impact upon my kids’ hearts and minds. Not long ago a sweet little boy from a nearby house came by to play with the kids. But in less than five minutes, he was talking to our children about things that we have gone out of our way to protect them from. After that, we made a rule that if our young children are going to be around other kids we don’t know well, one of us needs to right there the entire time, personally overseeing the conversation and activities that take place. It may sound overprotective, but Eric and I know from personal experience that it only takes a few minutes for other kids to unwittingly break open our children’s cocoon of innocence. Just think back to your own childhood…
It’s a lot of work and effort to stay vigilant in protecting our children’s innocence during these early years. When we are busy, there is always that temptation to let things slide—to allow some worldly influences to creep in here and there in order to keep our children pacified and content. There can also be that uncomfortable feeling that we don’t want to be “stick in the mud” parents who never let our kids experience life or have fun.
But we only need to recall what is at stake — our children’s future — and it will supply all the motivation we need to give our very best in this area. And the reality is that kids are even more happy and content when they are protected from things they aren’t ready for. When their innocence is preserved, they are free to truly be kids, growing, playing, and discovering the way God intended them to, without the perverted notions of the culture weighing them down in the process.
2. Plant the Right Seeds
Even when young children are not mature enough yet to handle certain knowledge about sexuality and temptation, there are many simple ways that parents can plant the right seeds to prepare them for a lifestyle of godly purity. In our home, when our kids bring up the topic of marriage, we say things like, “When the time comes, God will show you who you are supposed to marry, if you build your life around Him.” Eric and I don’t promote the idea of “dating around,” so our kids aren’t growing up with the expectation that they will launch into romantic flings once they turn a certain age. Rather, we cultivate the principle of honoring their future spouse, even before they meet that person. We talk to them about the fact that the decisions they make now will impact their future marriage and family. And if their focus starts to stray in the direction of relationships, we remind them that God doesn’t want them to focus on marriage until they are much older and the time is right.
One of the best ways to help young children begin preparing for godly marriage, even when they are too young to understand the concept of sexual purity, is to teach them how to honor the opposite sex. Start in the home. Help young boys learn how to be gentleman, by practicing on their sisters and mothers. Eric and I recently met the parents of two boys and a girl. Their boys are seven and nine, and they are already training them how to honor women. “We take every chance we see to teach our boys how to be gentlemen,” the couple told us. “They have learned to open doors for their mother. They’ve learned how to compliment their little sister rather than tear her down. We’ve taught them that women must be treated with special honor and respect, and we’ve reinforced that principle in our home. Our boys already see themselves as the protectors of their younger sister.”
Parents can also help young girls learn how to become women of honor, by practicing on their dads and brothers. A godly couple we know once told us, “We don’t allow our girls to speak down to their brother. We tell them that they have a responsibility to help him grow up into a young prince. Our daughters have learned that the way they treat their brother will have a great effect upon his confidence and masculinity. They’ve learned to take that responsibility seriously.”
When girls grow up with the correct understanding of how a man is supposed to treat a woman, they are far less likely to get involved with selfish boys who are only interested in taking advantage of them. And when boys grow up with the correct understanding of how to behave like a gentleman and honor a woman, they are far less likely to follow the trends of “conquering” masculinity so prevalent in our culture.
3. Teach the Right Motivation
The most important thing that we as parents can do to prepare our kids for true purity is to teach them the proper motivation for doing what is right. Obeying rules is important when our kids are young, but our ultimate goal should be to teach them how to do the right thing because of their genuine love for God, not merely the fear of punishment. If kids grow up with a rules-based motivation, rather than a relationship-based motivation, they will tend to view purity no different — as a duty or obligation they are expected to fulfill, rather than an act of loving obedience toward their Heavenly Father and a demonstration of love to their future spouse. As Eric wrote in our book Teaching True Love:
The right decision, when disconnected from the right motivation, produces a wrong result. It’s not enough to train our kids to do the right things; we must give them the right motivation to do the right things. We must help them discover their own love relationship with Christ and their future spouse. And when they make that discovery, they will hold the secret to purity that stands the test of time. Teach a child to love their future spouse, and they will go far beyond mere abstinence commitments. Teach a child to love their God, and they will go far beyond memorizing scriptures for Bible quiz team on Sunday nights.
Remember, even if you don’t have a clear-cut game plan for teaching your children about sexual purity, if you point them towards Jesus Christ and help them build a daily, personal relationship with Him, you will have already given them a strong foundation from which true purity can grow for the rest of their lives.
For more practical ways that you can prepare your children for a lifestyle of Godly purity, please see our book Teaching True Love.
The culture may try to boast about how powerful its influences are, and how easily it can snare our children into a lifestyle of immorality and perversion. But never forget: our God is so much greater than any negative influence out there. When we invite Him into the center of our parenting, He is more than able to keep us — and our children — from falling. (See Jude 1:24.) Remember He cares more about our kids than even we do, and His ways are truly perfect.