Our 50 Shades of Gray discussion this week demonstrates how our sin nature turns God’s gifts into perversions. But sex is still a gift, and part of parental responsibility is teaching children to respect it as such. Christian publishing has acknowledged that need with “guides” for young people over the years, of varying quality and emphasis. Nothing takes the place of honest, non-threatening dialogue between kids and parents, but a book can be helpful for raising questions and discussion points. Like for instance these two–and we’ll have more recommendations next week . . .
What every GIRL needs to know about crushes, friendship, relating, and dating is the subtitle, and Nancy Rue sticks to the point. There’s no body talk or sexual mechanics, which she wisely leaves for parents. Instead, she tries to get to the heart of a girl’s . . . heart. The female of the species is uniquely adapted to relationships, which expresses itself in slumber parties and girlfriend issues. But that guy thing is particularly thorny during the teen years and beyond.
As a popular author of Christian fiction for teens (we reviewed one of her novels here) Nancy Rue receives hundreds of letters and emails from fans with relationship questions. This book addresses the chief concerns she sees young Christian girls having when it comes to the opposite sex. She’s not dealing with extreme cases like abuse, pregnancy, etc., but trying to foster an image of what healthy relationships look like.
Each of the eight chapters starts with an exposition of the topic, then “Guydlines” (observations on why they are that way and why we’re attracted to them anyhow), God on Guys (biblical principles and passages), and a What’s Going on with Me? section that encourages girls to examine their own attitudes. Most chapters also include a “Mom, Dad . . . Now don’t Freak Out” section on how to talk about these problems with the folks. While strong on the Fifth Commandment, Rue emphasizes that “honor doesn’t mean unquestioning obedience, not at this stage of your life.” I believe she’s right about that; teen girls should be learning to work through conflicts and issues for themselves, and the best way to do that is through honest conversation with parents. “You can change the parent talks from lectures to discussions. Just ask the right questions.” Well, that’s not usually easy, but it’s a good target to aim for.
Teen authors often pander when talking to their audience. Rue avoids the “poor old dears, they just don’t get it” pose about parents. Instead she encourages mutual sympathy towards each others’ concerns and point of view: readers are encouraged, for instance, to imagine what it must be like for a dad to see his little girl become date bait. As for dating, she expresses no strong preference for single dates, group dates, or courtship, but encourages girls to work it out, again, with their parents.
She nudges her readers away from the aggressive girl stereotype: “The days of waiting by the phone for the boy to call may be over, but the pursuing ought to be at least equal. If he isn’t texting, give it up.” And what about the girl who’s not ready to date, but feels pressured in that direction? “Now it seems that a lot of the girls you know are turning to guys to make them feel worthy and accepted. It’s like the ones who have boyfriends are on a higher plane than the ones who don’t” (this is not a recent phenomenon, by the way). Rue continually reiterates that the source of our worth is in God–a point that will need continual reinforcement. She’s strong on our potential but weak on our weakness, i.e., sin. A girl’s God-given desire for affection is tainted like the rest of her, and will need more than a few pep talks to address.
That said, there are a lot of good discussion starters here–see for example the distinction between harm vs. hurt on page 148. Even though The Whole Guy Thing is not an in-depth examination of biblical sexuality (see Lies Young Women Tell Themselves, by Nancy Leigh DeMoss), it can be helpful for girls who are not that scripturally grounded, as well as their parents.
The author begins with an encouragement to pre-teen boys not to despise their own youth, mostly by citing youths of the Bible. He makes an earnest, if not entirely convincing, case that most of the twelve Apostles were in their teens when they were called by Jesus, and goes on to list Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David, Jonathan, Solomon, Jeremiah, Daniel, Samson, et al. as examples of committed young manhood. Some of this I would quibble with. But, as he acknowledges, getting to young manhood can be traumatic, and that’s what the rest of the book is about.
In Q&A format, the good Doctor addresses the most frequent questions pre-teens have about acne, facial hair, piercings and tattoos, genital size and shape, and pornography. Surprisingly, there are only two questions related to sex: Why is it so hard to talk about? (good question!) and Why should I wait until having it? The mechanics of baby making and female sexuality are not addressed here, which seems odd in a book about adolescent bodies, but, as mentioned above, those topics are best handled by parents and there are other places to find the drawings and diagrams. What Dr. Larrimore is trying to do is establish grounds and means for a boy to appreciate and take care of his own body. The grounds mostly come, appropriately, from scripture, though some of them seem a bit of a stretch—like I Cor. 2:14-15 applied to body odor. He makes helpful suggestions about the means, such as video game recommendations and exercises to overcome clumsiness. He’s fairly skimpy on porn—I’d like to see a fuller treatment, especially now that it’s so readily available online, and the average age of introduction to it is around nine years old. But for this age (9-12), while not the ultimate body book, it’s a decent introduction, ideally to be read and discussed by boys and their fathers or father-figures.
For more on development of the young male character, see Emily’s review of God’s Mighty Warrior and her podcast with Douglas Bond on his book Stand Fast. For girls and the guy thing, see “Looking for Love,” “Good Christian Girls,” and thoughts about Jane Eyre.