Talking to your children


Does it matter if we speak with our children?

by Archpriest Joseph Purpura

Recent research by the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese Department of Youth finds that it really does matter what we say to our children. As parents we often wonder if our children are listening. Nearly 800 teens tell not only are they listening to what their parents and clergy are saying but also that it has profound impact on what they themselves believe and do. Interestingly the study by the Department of Youth found a direct link between parent and teen’s relationships, how many issues parents have spoken to their teen and the outcomes of teen behavior.

How well a parent and teen got along with each other (according to the teen's assessment) had a direct effect on how likely a parent and teen were to discuss an issue. For example:

Teens rated “How well they got along with their Parents …”

And the percent of those parents who have spoken to their teens concerning pre-marital sexual relations

Very Well

49%

Fairly Well

47%

Not Well at all

4%

How well I get Along with my Parents

My Parents have discussed their feeling about Birth Control

Very Well

52%

Fairly Well

44%

Not Well at all

4%

How well I get Along with my Parents

My Parents have discussed their feeling about Abortion

Very Well

52%

Fairly Well

44%

Not Well at all

4%

How well I get Along with my Parents

My Parents have discussed their feeling about Homosexuality

Very Well

50%

Fairly Well

40%

Not Well at all

5%

How well I get Along with my Parents

My Parents have discussed their feeling about Aids and other sexually transmitted diseases

Very Well

52%

Fairly Well

43%

Not Well at all

4%

The fact that parents speak to their children is vital in that there is a direct correlation between whether parents have spoken with their teens on these issues and whether the teens believe that such behaviors are morally right or wrong.

If parents spoke to their child about the issues in their life and those surrounding them, the teens tended to have a healthier more Orthodox understanding of moral and ethical behavior. This is significant in that we want our teens to live a righteous life that is rooted in their relationship with Jesus Christ. The study suggests that teens are more likely to live a healthier life if they have a good relationship with their parents and if their parents speak to them on the issues. What is not known from the study is whether parents have good relationships with their teens because they speak with their teens on current issues in the teen’s life or if parents and teens that get along better tend to talk more about the issues. It is the opinion of this writer that it works both ways and both support and build upon one another.

The following tables show the positive impact that parent child - parent teen discussions on the issues can have on the thinking of teens: Teens who believe that abortion, pre-marital sex, and homosexuality are wrong apparently are influence by whether their parents have spoken to them on the subject or not. In fact in most cases teens whose parents have spoken to them on the issues are 2 – 3 times more likely to see the above behaviors as morally wrong.

Abortion

Concerning Abortion, my parents Have spoken to me and I

What teens believe concerning Abortion

believe abortion is wrong

75% say it is wrong

believe abortion is right

4% say it is right

am not sure if having an abortion is right or wrong

19% say they are not sure

The figures in this table mean that of the teens whose parents have spoken to them on the given subject the percent is of the teens of that group who believe a particular way. For example in the above table of the 464 teens whose parents have spoken to them concerning their feelings on abortion 75% of those teens believe that abortion is wrong, while only 4% say it is right. This is significant because within the 323 teens whose parents have not spoken to them 6% believe it is right and 38% are not sure if it is right or wrong and only 55% think it is wrong, This indicates that parental discussion on the issues has a significant impact on the outcome of a teens thinking. The following tables represent similar findings.

Pre-Marital Sex

My Parents have spoken to me concerning Pre-Marital Sex and I

What teens believe concerning Pre-Marital Sex

Believe it is wrong

72% say it is wrong

Believe it is right

4% say it is right

Am not sure if it is right or wrong

23% say they are not sure

Of those parents who have not discussed this issue with their teen 10% believe pre-marital sex is right compared to only 4% above.

Homosexuality

My Parents have spoken to me concerning Homosexuality and I

What teens believe concerning Homosexuality

Believe it is wrong

74% say it is wrong

Believe it is right

5% say it is right

Am not sure if it is right or wrong

19% say they are not sure

Of those parents who did not discuss this issue with their teens 8% believed homosexuality was right and another 31% were not sure if it was right or wrong.

Nearly as significant as parents’ discussions with teens, both clergy and parent support of teens and discussion of the issues from both have a profound impact on what teens believe. It has been long known that the Church and the Family are meant to support one another. It is apparent in this study that the alliance between the two really does matter and brings about a healthier way of thinking in the minds of teens. The following tables show the impact that Parent/Clergy communication with teens can have on the teen’s values:

Concerning Pre-Marital Sexual Relations,

Of the 85% who believed that Pre-Marital Sex is wrong

My Parents only spoke to me

18.5%

A Clergyman only spoke to me

20.5%

Both my Parents and a Clergyman spoke to me

46.5%

Neither spoke to me

14.5%

The findings above suggest that we are nearly three times more likely to be successful in bringing about right moral and ethical thinking when both parents and clergy work together rather than either alone.

Teens will speak to their parents and clergy when given the opportunity and made to feel safe in doing so according to the teen survey. Sixty-five percent of the teens said that they would discuss a serious moral matter with a clergyman. I would venture to say that if more teens realized the love their pastors have for them and the wealth of wisdom that their priests posses and that in fact their priests understand the issues they are going through, more teens would be willing to speak to pastor and other clergy. Experience suggests that teens either think their pastor is too busy (which at times is true) or simply does not understand the issues they are going through, as many teens do not contemplate the fact that their pastor went through adolescents much as they now are doing. Similar obstacles stand in the way of parent and teen communication. For many years both as a priest and as a youth worker I have said that quality time is important, but so is the quantity of time we spend with our children and teens. Nothing can replace significant adult involvement in the life of young people. If we only spend a small amount of quality time with our young people, we most likely will never be around long enough for our teens to think that we have time for them and for them to become comfortable being around us and eventually opening up to us.

Sixty-five percent (65%) of teens in the survey said that they would discuss a serious moral matter with a clergyman.

I would discuss a serious moral matter with

Yes

Only to my pastor

192- 24.5%

Only to another clergyman

98 - 12.5%

With both my pastor and another clergyman

221- 28%

Of those who would not discuss a serious moral matter with a clergyman, another 7% would discuss it with their youth director, meaning that 72% of the teens would be willing to turn to someone in the parish in a ministry role.

Reading the Bible also appears to have an effect on behavior. Those who report reading the bible at least weekly report the following behavior compared to those who did not regularly read the Bible.

Showing Behavior, as a percentage of total teens

Read the Bible at least Daily

Read the Bible at least Weekly

Do not read or read less than once a week

Were involved in Pre-marital Sex

.63%

1.14%

7.97%

Drunk Alcohol in the past twelve months with friends

2.02%

6.08%

34.43%

One behavior certainly affects other behaviors. Teens that drank alcohol with their friends in the past twelve months were more than 3 times more likely to have had sex than their peers who reported not having drunk alcohol in the past twelve months with their friends.

Other significant parallels in one behavior affecting others:

  • Of those teens that reported having been forced to have a sexual relation, 41% also reported having had sex on other occasions, compared to only 9% in the general survey and if you pull out the 48 who reported being forced into a sexual relationship, the percentage of teens in the overall survey that reported having had sex was 7%.
  • Of those teens that reported having had sex with someone of the same sex, 77% of them reported drinking alcohol in the past twelve months, compared with 41% of teens in the general population of the teen survey participants, who drank but did not engage in homosexual behavior.
  • Of the 41 teens reported to have taken illegal drugs, other than marijuana or cocaine, 85% of them reported also having drunk alcohol in the past twelve months.

Those who took illegal drugs were more than twice as likely to have considered committing suicide (56%) than their peers who did not take drugs (24%).

Of those 137 who reported having used marijuana in their lifetime, 121 (88%) also reported drinking alcohol in the past twelve months.

Of the 41 who reported other drug use 32 also reported having used marijuana, meaning that 78% of those who used other drugs also used marijuana.

One behavior certainly does affect other behaviors. The teen study shows that we can not take any one behavior lightly as all of the risk-taking behaviors such as smoking, alcohol; pre-marital sex and so forth can lead to and make it that much more likely that teens will engage in other risk-taking behaviors. How we choose to relate to our teens does matter. We need to talk with our children and teens on a regular basis as to what is acceptable and what is not acceptable behavior. The process of dialoging with our teens needs to start from early childhood and continue throughout the teen years and early adult years. It is our choice, as parents and clergyman, as to whether we will be involved in the moral and ethical formation of our children and teens. Our young people will form their thinking and behaviors on these issues. We can have a very positive influence on their moral and ethical formation if we choose, or we can abandon our responsibility and allow others to form our children based on their agendas and lifestyles.