April / May 2018 - Vol. 97.

                        person falling off cliff

When Good Kids Get Into Bad Trouble
Why so many young people fall into sexual immorality
– and how to help them get out of it.

By Bill Baer

To whom it may concern:

I am writing to you because I don't know where else to turn. My 19-year-old son Keith has gotten into a big mess. His mother and I have done everything possible to raise him as a good Christian. We sent him to Catholic schools; we've tried to be a good example. But since he went off to college, he's left the church and is involved in all sorts of immoral things. What are we to do?"

It's a sad, familiar story. As a Christian youth worker at a large state university, such desperate requests from heartbroken parents come across my desk with alarming frequency.

Teenage pregnancy, abortion, sexually transmitted disease, and “date rape" are the rapidly spreading crises that fill our headlines and plague our young people's world. Yet these crises all seem to occur “out there,” with bad kids from broken homes, among families that lack solid spiritual foundations. Until it hits home your own Christian home. A shattered daughter breaks down and confesses that she has had an abortion. A son returning home on spring break announces to his parents that after years of Catholic schooling, “I'm no longer going to mass, and by the way, uh, I've also moved off campus with my girlfriend." Sometimes the parents' discovery is sudden: hidden contraceptives or pornography; a shocking announcement of an unwed pregnancy. At other times the parents simply watch in resignation as their children slowly slip away from godly morality, from the narrow way that leads to life.

Why are so many good kids getting into bad trouble with sexual wrongdoing?

The problem is devastating and widespread. Recent studies have found that between 60 and 80 percent of practicing Catholic and evangelical Protestant young people engage in sexual intercourse before marriage. Other experts put the actual figures even higher. Yet many Christian parents are caught unawares by their children's immorality and feel helpless in responding to it. In this article I would like to draw on my eight years of youth work with high school and university students to examine why so many Christian teenagers, despite the best efforts of their parents, have been losing the battle for godly moral character. I would also like to suggest how we can begin, with God's help, to reverse the trend.

First, let's look at the “morality gap.” If you think you and your kids see eye-to-eye on morality, look again! The “morality gap" is my name for the difference between the moral viewpoints of today's Christian parents and their teenagers, as well as the parents' unawareness that such a gap even exists.
It can be illuminating for Christian adults to look through the eyes of a typical, good-natured, but spiritually naive Christian young person. What do they see? How have they been seduced by the phony promises of an immoral youth culture? (In fact, all of us, young or old, single or married, could benefit from an Occasional self-examination to see how we have been duped by the false allure of the world. I have observed that the same worldly seduction blinds older Christians, including the very parents who are alarmed at their own children's perilous ways!)

Here are five moral deceptions that are seducing many Christian young people today:

Moral Deception #1:
"Hey, good kids who have sex still seem like good kids. Nice people are doing it, all the best athletes, all the prettiest girls; only the nerds and outcasts aren't. And besides, I haven't seen anybody struck down by lightning lately!"

Our children's attractive and promiscuous peer models do not appear to be suffering from instant divine judgment, nor from any of those horrible consequences that parents are so worried about: venereal disease, AIDS, abortion, divorce, misery. To today's teenagers, most of the harsher realities of fornication are not apparent (at least not yet): Rare is the friend at school who openly brags about an abortion or a herpes infection.

Moral Deception #2:
“So what's the big deal? The whole adult world is full of sexual immorality. Sports heroes, presidential candidates, TV preachers, well-todo relatives and neighbors—all the grownups are doing it, just like they've always been doing it."

Kids can get tired of sermons against “teenage peer pressure,” especially when they look around at the adult world awash in moral decay. Our children also have an extremely limited historical perspective. Parents, catch your breath: Some of your children can't even remember a time when Ronald Reagan wasn't president! How can they be expected to see today's youth culture as a tragic decline from the moral standards of earlier generations?

Moral Deception #3:
“How can anything that feels so good and natural be as bad or dangerous as my parents say it is? It's not evil, it's love."

Young people are easily disoriented as they encounter unfamiliar and overwhelming sexual desires. That has been true as long as there have been teenagers. But in past generations there has never been such an exaltation of romantic adolescent passions as we see today in movies, music, and the youth culture.
Most often Christian teenagers are seeking not so much for sexual pleasure as for approval, identity, and emotionally satisfying relationships. However, they fail to realize that today's youth culture gears that search to end in serious sexual wrongdoing.

Moral Deception #4:
“I can do whatever I want in every other part of my life. What's the big problem with doing what I want in this part, too?"

In today's world of instant gratification, we adults have done little to foster such character traits as self-control and discipline in our young people. Yet we expect them to find within themselves the moral restraint and rectitude to say no to their most deep-seated passions. That just doesn't seem consistent to them.

Moral Deception #5:
“It's only wrong if you get caught."

Let's face it: Many of our kids have been living double lives for years before getting caught in flagrant sin. Lying, cheating, cursing, smoking, drinking, making out, masturbation, and pornography may all be going on “under our noses” for years. The serious immorality that appears “out of the blue" to shocked parents is often merely the first episode to be detected.

Deception, temptation, hidden sin: In the face of these challenges, what are Christian parents to do? What do our “good kids" need in order to grow into responsible and righteous Christian adults?
Frankly, they need a lot!

First, let's remember that God's grace is with us. He loves our children even more than we do, and he promises to assist us in the challenging task of raising young disciples for the Lord. “All your sons will be taught by the Lord, and great will be your children's peace” (Isa. 54:13). Jesus has overcome the world (see John 16:33), and he will help our children resist this world's fatal attractions.

In my job as a Christian youth worker, I learned long ago that daily intercession on behalf of the kids I work with is absolutely essential. Let's give our young people back to the Lord every day.

Second, as we come face-to-face with our children's entrapment in sexual wrongdoing, let's not succumb to self-condemnation and finger pointing. Anxious hand-wringing and cries of, "Where did we go wrong with Suzy?” will probably not help you or Suzy or the Lord in his efforts to reclaim a wandering son or daughter. And remember, God doesn't have any grandchildren! As our children approach the moral responsibilities of adulthood they must ultimately make their own choices between the wide and narrow roads.

This is not to say that simply hoping for the best will turn things around. In these days when moral standards have descended to those resembling pagan times a radical response is a sensible response The world around us is redefining what it means to be a good kid, and today's “good kids" are heading down a highway to hell Jesus has not called us to produce well educated, well-dressed, nice young people who will not enter the kingdom of heaven He has called us to help him raise up young disciples and saints.

Three essential sources or strength and support

Let's consider three essential ingredients, three sources of strength and support necessary for Christian youth to walk righteously amidst today's jungle o promiscuity and self-indulgence. All three are familiar to any reader of today's “how to” Christian family literature, but each needs to be applied fully enough to successfully safeguard moral purity. Here are the three ingredients—plus.”

1. A personal relationship with Jesus -- plus.

It seems so obvious: If teenagers are to live as dedicated Christians, they must first become dedicated Christians, consciously choosing to follow Jesus and growing in relationship with him. Yet we often settle for less, hoping that our children can successfully ride piggyback atop our faith without ever personally dedicating their lives to the Lord.

“But honestly,” we say, "I didn't have much of a personal relationship with Jesus as a teenager, and I came out okay. That may be true, but consider how much more deChristianized society as a whole has become since we were in high school.

Now more than ever, kids need Jesus. He is a living source of grace, strength, self-control, holiness, and confidence, Knowing Jesus personally is essential to maintaining a healthy “fear of the Lord" as a deterrent when temptations and peer pressure seem so insurmountable. And the more our children know the Lord, the more they will desire to please him by “offering their bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God, as their spiritual worship” (see Rom. 12:1).

And now the plus: If a teenager is to know Jesus, he or she needs to be baptized in the Spirit. It is ironic that many Christian parents who first opened their lives to the action of the Holy Spirit as young people don't expect that same Holy Spirit to reach their own children! Yet I have personally known hundreds of teenagers who heard the call to follow Christ, and who answered that call with a level of commitment and joyful dedication that their own Christian parents would never have thought possible.

Of course, a relationship with Jesus means just that: communication and interaction with God. If daily prayer and Bible reading are essential for older Christians, they are certainly essential for younger Christians. Every single day our teenagers encounter temptation, falsehood, and despair. Every single day, therefore, they must encounter Jesus, the way, the truth, and the life.

2. Good peer environments — plus.
We all know how influential peer groups are for young people. And as concerned Christian parents, we want our children to have friends who will not lead them down the road to sexual immorality.

Yet, if we want our children to have a decent shot at living in moral purity, we must consider a sobering fact: Most young Christian peer environments today are every bit as sexually promiscuous as those “bad crowds” out there. In fact, many church youth groups provide a convenient avenue for our teenagers to engage in unrighteousness. We cannot assume that Christian young people can or will support and encourage one another in righteous standards simply by hanging out together. The plus-factor is that they need to be explicitly committed as a group to God's commands for godly living, and their life together needs to foster purity and self-control.

Furthermore, while most Christian parents do not wish their children to engage in sexual intercourse, they have few qualms about their kids entering into dating relationships with members of the opposite sex. Yet in today's youth culture, dating equals sex. With years of counseling Christian teenagers behind me, I have concluded that “Christian dating" equals sexual wrongdoing just as consistently. Even when Christian young people never intend to “go all the way,” the exclusive, intimate, stimulating nature of the dating scene gets them into serious moral trouble before very long.

Ironically, young people are the first to admit this. Hesitance to face the “facts of dating life” usually comes from naive Christian parents, who may be more concerned that Suzy meets a “nice boy" than that Suzy remains steadfast in moral purity.

Not long ago a young man named Dan, who was raised in an upstanding Christian family, joined our university outreach group. Dan was dating a girl and had begun to get into rather serious immorality with her. In fact, they had just reserved a motel room in Canada where they would spend the night together after an upcoming fraternity "formal.” When Dan informed me of the “deep waters" he and his girlfriend were getting into, I spoke to him about God's purposes for sexuality and marriage, and frankly warned him about the moral dangers of fornication. Unfortunately, Dan's parents (who, not surprisingly, were kept unaware of the adventures over the border) took offense at my discussions with Dan and objected strongly to the interference of a Christian group in their son's "personal life." Yielding to the encouragement of his parents, Dan left the Christian group, became more deeply embroiled in sexual wrongdoing, and now admits that he no longer wishes to live the Christian life.

Christian young people need peer environments that resist the exclusive, one-on-one dating patterns of today's youth culture, and that instead foster opportunities for lively worship and sound Christian teaching, for service to the needy, and for recreation and socializing that promote righteous Christian friendship and character-building.

3. Good home training and example -- plus.

A fellow youth worker once noted, "When it comes to young people, the apple doesn't fall far from the tree." In considering how a teenager is faring in areas of self-control and moral purity, one often does not need to look any farther than the kind of training and example that was given-or not given-in the home. “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it" (Prov. 22:6). It's a simple fact: If children are given love, discipline, and a godly example in the home, the chances are much better that they will walk uprightly in the ways of the Lord once they're “out of the nest."

This is obviously true in the specific area of moral training. Yet many Christian parents have left their children's moral formation in the hands of secular educators, media celebrities, and self-styled "youth specialists,” powerful shapers of moral character who, unfortunately, often lack both morality and character!

The age at which today's youth are tempted to promiscuity is getting shockingly younger and younger. Let's not wait until tragedy erupts to train our young people in righteousness. Establishing patterns of moral purity, self-control, accountability, and personal confidence before there is the potential for getting into trouble is the needed plus.

Where to start?
Try a discussion with your teenager about the five moral deceptions mentioned earlier. You may be amazed at how thoroughly your children have been beguiled by an alien moral worldview. But more importantly, your children will be amazed to discover the tremendous truth, freedom, and power in God's worldview, in the way of the Lord.

Teach your children to say no to sexual temptation by saying no to the sources of sexual temptation. And start with your own example. Have they ever seen you turn off a television program because of its immoral content? Share with them about the moral challenges you face on the road as a Christian businessman. Your children will be surprised that their parents also fight sinful peer pressures, and they will be inspired by the power of purity that is demonstrated in your marriage.

These are challenging tasks. But let's face it: These are challenging times, and the sugary remedies offered by many of today's youth experts haven't exactly raised up an upright generation. There is a battle for the young generation raging all around us. And some of the greatest modern heroes are mothers and fathers and teachers and youth workers who, with God's help, are willing to make the necessary sacrifices and take the often unpopular steps so that their “good kids" may one day say with the psalmist, “Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever."

This article originally appeared in New Covenant Magazine, Volume 18, Number 9, April 1989.

Beginning in 1984, Bill Baer was actively engaged in University Christian Outreach work with the Servants of the Word in Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA. Bill moved to St. Paul, Minnesota to join the Companions of Christ and to study for the Catholic priesthood. He was ordained in 1996 on his 39th birthday. He taught for several years at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, and he also served as rector for St. John Vianney Seminary. He passed away in January 2018 and was remembered by many people who knew him well as a man of conviction, focused faith, and preaching.

top illustration by (c) Kevin Carden

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