Sexual Character: Strengths

Christians are used to thinking in terms of needs we must meet, purposes we must pursue, and beliefs we ought to embrace. We are not so used to thinking in terms of our skills, but many of the things that we take to be permanent, inborn traits in people are actually learned skills. Think of the skill of throwing a baseball. The child watches parents and siblings throw, attempts to throw herself by trial and error, receives instruction from parents on how to do it better, and is praised (or criticized) by parents for her progress. Skills in listening or expressing care are developed in the same way.

Deliberately think about the kinds of skills that will help children be effective, godly adults, and work hard to encourage those skills while they are young. As we said in our earlier example of the athlete in training, skills have thinking and acting components; most skills are combinations of both.

In the example opening this chapter, Lindy must be able to think of possible things to do on the bus and decide among those options. She must then be able to act out the option she has chosen. If she can think of only two options—to let her boyfriend do anything he wants or, at the other extreme, to scream for help—her choices are impoverished. She really has many more options than those. If she has trouble choosing options, she will be paralyzed. Further, she must be able to act on her choices; if she has never before forcefully told another person, “You will not touch me and if you persist there will be consequences,” then the very newness of such an action may make her unlikely to do it. Many skills have both thinking and acting facets. Let’s briefly examine a few key skills.

Empathy

We teach empathy through our capacity to empathize with our own children. We can help the young child to pay attention to what his friend is feeling when he has just taken that friend’s favorite toy away from him. The capacity for empathy is critical in the area of sexual character because the child who is going to develop good friendships and have rewarding romantic relationships is one who can be sensitive and empathic to others’ feelings. Second, empathy helps the child to better understand the consequences of sexual behavior. The consequences of adolescent sexual behavior are unlike anything else the child would ever have experienced. The child who can understand and empathize with the devastation of an unwanted pregnancy, with the guilt of a person who has gone through an abortion, or with the grief of a friend who finds out she is infertile because of an earlier sexually transmitted disease, is going to be at less risk for sexual irresponsibility.

Interpersonal Strength or Assertiveness

Jesus had the strength to do what His Father called him to do. He condemned hypocritical Pharisees, cleansed the temple, exhorted and rebuked His disciples, and fearlessly proclaimed the good news. Strength submitted to God’s use and under God’s control is a great virtue. We need to praise our children for speaking their minds, for asking questions, for demonstrating their strength, teaching them to exercise this strength as God desires, especially in preserving their purity. 

Self-control

Children need to become less and less dependent upon external factors, rules, and guides, and more dependent upon the rules that they have taken within themselves.

Delay of Gratification

Children need to learn that greater joy often comes through sacrificing immediate gratification of a desire for the sake of obtaining something much better later. Parents can teach this in many ways, but a child’s handling of money is an excellent way to teach delay of gratification.

Relationship Skills

We can help our children learn to be good conversationalists and good listeners. We can teach them how to praise others honestly, to be abundant in expressing the positive. We can teach them how to share their opinions in a way that respects others but communicates confidence in themselves. We can teach them to be kind 

Decision Making

We can help our children to understand accurately the nature of the problems they confront, to generate alternative views of the problem, to brainstorm all possible solutions, and to evaluate the feasibility and possible outcomes of different responses to the problem.