Psychological and Emotional Aspects of Adolescence - Part 1
by Dr. Leela Francisco
Sexuality and morality in teenage values
One of the dominant peculiarities of adolescence is the development of sexual attraction with the opposite sex. These feelings are healthy and normal, but mean much more than being infatuated or being 'in love' with someone.
The teenager today, due to the media, is constantly bombarded with sexual messages. Brown, Childers and Waszak (1990) reported that the average teenager in the USA watched almost 2,000 hours of sexual references on television each year and that teaching about unwanted consequences or sexually transmitted diseases were almost nonexistent!
Add the impact of films, music, videos, the world wide web, and magazines to that of television and it becomes evident that adolescents today learn about sexuality through an unlimited exposure to sexual scenes where a deep understanding of their moral implications and responsibility are practically absent. (Perry, Kelder & Komro, 1993).
For this reason, it is probably more important for teenagers to see real-life examples of people who understand and deal responsibly with their sexuality. Morals have to do with real-life commitments to people and things that have value.
Morals are not abstractions. Parents and other influential adults (at school, at church, and in the community) need to show teenagers the difference between devotion and infatuation and help them make the distinction in their own hearts.
Moral choices are based on Church teaching, which in turn is based on the Word of God in the Bible.
Show me the way
Why is it important that as teenagers we should be guided through the process of making decisions? Often it is difficult for teenagers under the influence of strong peer pressure to follow moral values. Many make mistakes and wrong choices. Sometimes these mistakes have serious consequences, like contacting a sexually transmitted disease (AIDS, VD etc), or else may result in unwanted pregnancies.
In most situations, one may end up with emotional scars of betrayal and feelings of being 'used' that can affect and destroy committed relationships later in life as well. Being well informed and guided prior to all this can help a straying teenager get back on track before the psychological trauma gets too deep.
The Bible, the Word of God provides guidance on all these issues so that we may live life to the fullest in wonderfully committed relationships and be a blessing to others. The importance in following Bible-based morals is because that was how God intended for man to live on this earth and God wanted that we live deeply fulfilling and complete lives. No other instruction or fleeting sexual pleasure can take the place of the type of love and fulfillment that God planned for us.
Sharing ones sexual need with another person is sharing ones soul with that person. Why should we cheapen this depth of sharing and fulfillment with just anyone for a few moments of fleeting pleasure? It becomes obvious that the values that we observe around us do not subscribe to what God intended for us and it is important for us to learn through a maturing of our hearts and minds with individual experiences, how we need to be what God intended for our lives.
As a doctor, once of the most frequent and long term emotional problems I encounter with patients is a history of being sexually abused or molested. Others suffer terrible trauma from having multiple meaningless and often abusive sexual relationships in their teenage years. The scars are deep and the physical disease that results from this affects them for years.
God wanted that our bodies be the temples of the Holy Spirit, so every sexual act should be sacred, to be shared with a person one is committed to for the purpose of procreation (child bearing). Any relationship outside of that is slow poison, resulting in suspicion, lack of trust, feelings of inferiority, etc that are detrimental to a future long term committed relationship, unless one is healed in the soul through God's love.
Studies conducted in the US find that developing moral resiliency with regard to sexual issues is one of the most challenging issues the youth of today face. The number of sexual messages that adolescents receive via the print and mass media each day makes it extremely challenging to be sexually resilient.
Interestingly, according to Perry, Kelder and Komro (1993), during the 1960s the adolescent issues dealt with on television were rather innocuous and included dates, blemishes, after-school jobs, and cars. During the 1990s, adolescent issues portrayed on television included suicide, pregnancy, HIV/AIDS, sexual harassment, and sexual abuse.
Another study discovered that the individual youth today looked at their PARENTS to set the moral values and restrictions about what their sexual behavior should be.
With the break up of the family and parent relationships (which is often a vicious circle of lack of moral values), the youth then have no one to model their moral values on!
Parents need to realize their responsibility to the adolescent child first by their own model behavior in this regard. This will prevent teenagers from doing what their peers or friends 'appear' to be doing, and would be less pressured to keep up with them. Also they would not be easily influenced by what is depicted in the media, knowing exactly where they have to draw their boundaries, based on the moral code passed on to them by their parents.
Here are a few pointers for parents to ensure effective communication on these issues:
- Be clear about your family's values and morals.
- Be honest and let your teen know that you're available to answer any and all questions.
- Be approachable and open-minded, even if you disagree with your child's viewpoint.
- Use appropriate terminology and avoid slang expressions for anatomy, sexual behaviour and other sexual matters.
- Utilize sources in your community, including the library, videos, books and brochures. Remember to preview materials before giving them to your child.
Sexual feelings are not meant to be suppressed, nor they are to be encouraged when inappropriate. Feeling sexually attracted to someone does not automatically mean that one has found a good match for a long term, committed relationship.
A committed relationship (and here we always mean marriage) is between two people who are capable of making mature emotional decisions and taking on the responsibility of bearing children and providing for them. That is the first priority and responsibility when one wants to engage in a sexual relationship. Being sexually attracted to the other person (one is married to) is a definite plus but for the long term, you can be sure, it is not a necessity!
The Bible has all the answers
The Book of Proverbs in the Bible offers the best guidance to what our morals ought to be as Christians or Catholics. Check the chapters and verses that deal with sexual immorality as well as fidelity, they are good guidelines. Then, understand that making morally right decisions inspite of being human, especially in regard to 'sins of the flesh' and being susceptible to our weaknesses, has very little to do with following a set of strict rules! It is actually a continuous maturing of ones ability to live life strengthened by the Holy Spirit within us and developing a closer and closer relationship with Jesus.
We may do inappropriate things, we may make mistakes and take wrong decisions (sexual) in this process. But God is always merciful to us though all this. He never condemns us for anything we have done. All we need is to be humble, realize our mistakes, repent and accept his love, mercy and forgiveness.
Reaching this point of repentance, being in relationship with God and understanding and living in his love for us is actually what true and deep fulfillment in life is all about. Succumbing to sexual weaknesses or inappropriate sexual behaviour for temporary pleasure is hollow and unfulfilling in comparison, and leads more often than not, to lifelong emotional and physical problems.
In the New Testament, study especially the Letter of St. Paul to the Romans in a Bible Study group. It is a specific guideline on moral behavior based on the faith, hope and power we have as Spirit-filled Christians, living in relationship with our loving God, for abounding joy, love and fulfillment in every area of our lives!
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© 2004 Dr. Leela Francisco. All rights reserved.