Parents of teens today may have a tougher job in front of them than parents of any other generation in recent history. While immorality has always existed in the world, the Western world has never seen such a time of moral confusion, especially regarding sexuality, gender and the definition of marriage. To help parents cut through the lies and political correctness and find a way to impart truth to their teens, Tom Gilson has written Critical Conversations: A Christian Parents’ Guide to Discussing Homosexuality with Teens.
In Critical Conversations, Gilson describes the efforts by some to paint Christian beliefs as hateful, making many believers hesitant to speak truth for fear of being seen as homophobic.
Q: You describe the content of your new book, Critical Conversations, as the “perfect storm” of awkward parent-child topics. What elements combine for making discussions on homosexuality so difficult?
This topic opens up the threefold potential of intergenerational conflict, young people’s sometimes-accurate belief that their parents are out of touch and, of course, the awkward topic of sex. Conflict in particular can arise because young people are frequently far more accepting of homosexuality and gay marriage than people in their parents’ generation.
Q: Parents sometimes avoid addressing tough subjects such as homosexuality and gay marriage with their kids. Given how difficult it is to talk about, why would a parent even want to have these “critical conversations”?
Parents sometimes avoid the subject because it’s as awkward as it could be, and it’s a contentious issue, often with one generation pitted against another. Parents fear it will start out bad and get worse. Above all they’re not sure they have what it takes to explain why they believe what they believe.
There’s an awful lot at stake. Teens are typically suspicious of the way Christians treat LGBT people, and they see themselves as morally advanced on this topic, compared to their parents’ generation. Tragically, for many this separates them from their own church, from their parents and most significantly from belief in Christ himself. However, with proper equipping, these critical conversations can draw teens back into closer relationship with their parents and give them new confidence to stay connected with Christ and Christianity.
Q: Some parents may even struggle with understanding certain issues themselves. How does Critical Conversations help prepare parents for these difficult conversations?
First, this book explains the biblical and common-experience reasons for keeping sexual relationships within the bounds of marriage between a man and a woman. Through this, parents will know how to answer with more than just, “The Bible says so.” They’ll know how to explain the Bible’s teachings in a way that shows the Bible’s teaching is both true and good.
Second, there is an introductory chapter that briefly describes the social history of homosexual activism. It’s the kind of background knowledge that helps parents be confident they know what’s going on in this issue.
Q: How is the design of Critical Conversations different than other parenting books?
The book is written in three parts:
- Understanding the issues (reasons for biblical morality and a brief social history of gay activism).
- Navigating the rocky relationships: how parents can help teens live in the real relationships they’ll find themselves in.
- Practical help in handling the challenges.
This third part is where the book is really unique. It lists more than two dozen anti-Christian challenges and explains briefly where these challenges go wrong. But that’s not all. If it were, it would be just another piece of information for parents to absorb. Instead, with each one of these challenges I include “Conversation Coaching,” advice for parents on specifically what they can say to their teens to help them deal with the challenge. It’s extremely parent-friendly and practical in that sense.
Q: If you had to simplify your argument in support of biblical marriage into a few sentences, what would they be?
God gave us plenty of good reasons in both the Old and New Testament to know that he designed sex to be for a married couple, and that he designed marriage to be for a man and a woman. It’s in Leviticus, in Jesus’ teaching on marriage and all over the Pauline epistles.
Marriage between a man and a woman is good. It’s a comprehensive human good that supports the nurturance of children and the growth of strong communities. Because children come out of marriages (normally), marital love is an outward-looking form of love, in contrast to the inward-looking and comparatively self-focused “just you and me, babe,” form of relationship found in non-marital sexual relationships, whether heterosexual or homosexual. Children thrive in homes with a mom and a dad.
So there are both biblical and non-biblical (common experience) reasons working together to make the point.
Q: What are the eternal and cultural implications for helping Christian young people understand this issue?
Let’s not be fooled here: The big question isn’t whether homosexual behavior or same-sex marriage is moral. The big question is whether Christianity is credible. Gay activists have tried to tear down Christianity’s believability. The more they succeed, the harder it will be for anyone to put their faith in Jesus Christ.
Q: What should parents do if their child has questions about his or her own sexuality or gender identity?
The first thing is, keep on loving unconditionally, no matter what—which is what “unconditionally” means. If that is at all challenging for you, find the support you need so you can do it—support that’s steeped in biblical grace and truth.
Don’t think you can go it alone! Don’t even assume your pastor is fully equipped to help with this issue. Rely on your pastor, yes, but find a Christian counselor with specific expertise in this area. Parents should spend time with that counselor, learning how to handle their relationship with their teen. If the teen will see that counselor (or a different one, equally qualified), that’s great.
Even before that’s set up, though, parents should gently seek to find out whether their teens have friends who are encouraging them to “explore” their sexuality. If so, it would be wise to set a firm and loving boundary between the teens and those persons.
If there’s been abuse (which is a factor in some, though certainly not all, such sexual questioning), then get the law involved—and again, a qualified counselor.