TEENS & TWEENS
By CHARIS PATRICK
In a front-page report in The Star on Sept 22, 2012, a major hospital, Tengku Ampuan Rahimah of Klang, Selangor, revealed that it had come across at least one case of an unwed teen pregnancy every working day of this year.
In another article dated Nov 26, 2011, in StarMetro, it was reported that unwanted pregnancies among teens are rising at an alarming rate, and “surveys show that 1 in 3.5 teenagers in Malaysia says that it is acceptable to have premarital sex.”
The increase in sexual activity among teenagers is a concern as it poses serious health risks for girls and has long-term implications for our nation. This has prompted groups to call for sex education for our youth.
In my opinion, this is clearly a moral issue. Teenagers mature in different aspects of their lives: Legally, physically, emotionally, socially, intellectually, and morally. The one most tied to healthy human relationships is moral maturity.
As much as we desire our children to excel in life, we need to recognise that moral character is the vehicle that will carry them through to sustainable success in the face of fame, power and wealth.
Many of us embark on the parenting journey knowing that developing moral character in our children should be a priority. However, parents tend to spend more time and energy suppressing wayward behaviour than elevating good behaviour in their progeny. When teaching moral principles, parents often tell their children what is wrong and what not to do, rather than what is right and what they should do.
The outcome? Our kids only know what they cannot do but do not know what they should do instead.
We do not want our teens and tweens to be only moral robots who do all the right things without fully knowing why these things are right. They often respond to situations and circumstances correctly, but not from any guiding principles of the heart. They only have an outward form of morality.
It is not enough to teach our children to act morally. It is equally important to teach them how to think morally.
This will happen when they govern their behaviour by intrinsic principles, not extrinsic circumstances. As the saying goes, “true character is what you do when no one is watching.”
In today’s sex-saturated culture, waiting till marriage seems outdated and prudish. Most people consider premarital sex acceptable and harmless. But is it? The answer, for me, is a straightforward one.
Suppose your teenager has an anger issue and cannot control his/her anger, do you allow him/her to simply beat up anyone in your family knowing that he/she is protected because you will not report him to the police? By the same token, just because our teenagers have raging hormones and are unable to exercise self-control, do we then allow our teenagers to practise premarital sex as long as they are protected?
Hence it is important to educate, empower and equip our teenagers with the practical “whys” for sexual self-control. We must trust that our young generation is capable of a higher moral standard. As we believe in them, they will rise up to the mark.
Here are some practical (and convincing) reasons for exercising sexual self-control before marriage (adapted from No Apologies, a character-based abstinence curriculum by Focus on the Family):
- Free from pregnancy and the pain of giving your baby up for adoption.
- Free from emotional consequences of premarital sex.
- Free from STDs/HIV/AIDS.
- Free from risks and side effects of contraceptives.
- Free from marrying out of wedlock.
- Free from increased risk of promiscuity and divorce.
- Free to pursue life goals and enjoy being a teenager without pressure.
- Free to give your best self in marriage and establish a greater trust in marriage.
As I read on Focus on the Family website (focusonthefamily.com), I certainly agree that a good abstinence and character-based sex education should emphasise on character traits such as honesty, self-control, responsibility, caring about others’ wellbeing, courage, humility, self-discipline and justice. These values are taught so that children and teens will learn to view life through this lens.
Waiting for the best sexual context (marriage) and focusing on life-success objectives (finishing school and college, job, marriage) should still be our primary aims. Research consistently shows that early sexual experience and premarital sex has been linked to marital dissatisfaction, lower sexual satisfaction, low self-esteem, and greater incidence of divorce.
It has often been said: “The family is the basic building block of a society.” It is not just about teenage pregnancy but a whole spectrum of social issues that comes with it.
If we do not pay attention and be proactive now, it will eventually weaken the social fabric of our society and the social cost will be an enormous one.
Let us be reminded: “What one generation allows in moderation, the next will allow in excess.”
Charis Patrick is a trainer and family life educator who is married with four children.