Sex Ed: Inoculating in Pre-Puberty

So what are our options in protecting our kids? One is to try to shield them from all non-Christian influences. The problem with this approach is that it is impossible. It is doomed to failure, so attempting to totally shield them is a waste of time and energy. A second approach, simply telling them that other people will tell them bad things and that they should not listen to them, doesn’t really seem to help. When kids hear the other messages and find them to be sugarcoated, seemingly plausible, and much more popular than traditional Christian views, they may be unprepared to stand by what parents have taught them.

What we can do is inoculate kids against the wrong messages and negative influences they will inevitably face. We feel this is so important that we have made it one of our core principles:

Principle 8: We should “inoculate” our children against destructive moral messages.

A physical inoculation or immunization mobilizes the body’s natural defenses that protect us from disease. To protect us against such dangerous diseases as polio, smallpox, or the flu, doctors isolate the virus or bacterium that causes the disease, grow a culture of the germs, kill or weaken the germs, and then inject the inert germs into the body. The body’s immune system responds to the foreign germs by manufacturing antibodies and other agents to find and destroy that type of germ. Since the inert germs posed no threat to begin with, our bodies thus develop a defense against the dreaded disease without ever having been at risk of developing it in the first place.

What we want to do, then, is psychologically immunize our children against the germs of the non-Christian moral messages they will soon encounter in the world. This inoculation work should begin early in life; inoculation works best when you can get to the child before he or she has actually begun soaking in destructive messages from television, school chums, or sex education classes. Inoculation involves parents deliberately exposing their kids to the counterarguments and pressures they will be exposed to later in life, but in the safe environment of the family where you can show them how those non-Christian influences are unconvincing, false, and destructive. For instance, rather than shielding children from the argument that having sex is essential to really growing up, we become the first to tell them this argument. Then, we help them reason against these destructive messages, thus inoculating them against this argument.

A rich body of scientific research in the field of social psychology supports the effectiveness of inoculation. When adults or children are sheltered from views that oppose those they have been taught, their attitudes on those subjects remain fragile and easily changed. But when they are challenged with accurate, strong but not overwhelming counterarguments to the position they are being taught, and we show them that those counterarguments can be disputed, their beliefs will actually be strengthened. It’s just like building muscle: if our muscles never meet resistance we cannot get strong, but when we tax and strain our muscles, they respond by growing stronger.

<This discussion of inoculation is a brief summary of the chapter in the book on the subject.>