How to Talk to Your Kids about Essena O’Neil

EssenaOneilYou’ve likely heard by now of Essena O’Neill and her recent transition to post more honest content on her social media accounts. The GOV team has been speaking to a lot of youth in Singapore lately, and we have even started including some pieces of Essena’s story in our sessions about social media. If you’re a parent wondering if this would be a good story to share with your tween or teen, here are a few thoughts to help you form a conversation:

1. Even social media can be staged – Often we expect advertisers to use things like photoshop, perfect lighting, etc. to make their models look stunning. We realize this and we’re prepared for it. But it’s harder to wrap our minds around social media that’s been altered. Think about it – when you take a selfie, do you adjust the angle at which you’re holding your phone so you look better? We all do. But we don’t always stop and think that maybe our friend has 11 other shots on her camera roll that are not as flattering as the one she just posted. We often scroll quickly through our feeds, see how great everyone looks, and never stop to wonder why we all of the sudden feel so fat and ugly. What I appreciate about Essena O’Neill is she explains some of the tricks she used to get the images she posted, thereby exposing the fact that social media is not always as spontaneous and natural as we assume it is.

2. There’s no such thing as a free meal – This is a true statement, even in social media. If you look at a picture of a celebrity/friend and think more about the clothing he or she is wearing, the thing being eaten, the makeup used, etc., that person might have been paid to take that picture. In Essena’s opinion, this is fine in and of itself, as long as the person tells you he or she is advertising something. I think this is good food for thought when you talk to your kids. No one wants to be deceived, and kids especially need to know when their emotions are being manipulated to make someone else money. That’s only fair.

3. You are responsible for the content you post and share – One thing I appreciate about Essena is that she realizes she is responsible for the effect her posts have on other people. And because she realizes this, she wants to start posting honest things. Kids need to know that even if they are just sharing something created by another person, they are still responsible (at least on a small scale) for the effect that post will have on their friends. Which gives them incentive to share positive things instead of negative things. I am friends with a lot of people who are younger than me on my social media networks (the consequence of speaking to so many youth over several years!). I’m really careful about what I post because I don’t want them to see something I share and get the wrong impression. Here’s a practical example: I live in Colorado. The sheer amount of funny memes that have circulated over the past few years about legalizing marijuana are enough to choke an elephant. I think some of them are really funny, but I don’t think smoking marijuana is a good idea. Hence, I haven’t shared any of the marijuana memes. I just don’t want to risk it being taken the wrong way.

The bottom line when guiding your tweens and teens toward healthy social media use is to communicate that social media is what we make it. We can be honest in the things we post, we can consider others before we post, and we can choose what to view. There are several advantages to social media. However, if we don’t discern the messages coming at us (whether they be from a friend or acquaintance or even an advertisement), we are in danger of allowing social media to have more control over us than we do it.

One guideline we like to share when speaking to youth about social media is T.H.I.N.K. before you post. Ask yourself: “Is what I’m about to post
T rue
H elpful
I nspiring
N ecessary
K ind

It’s a good rule of thumb for anyone – adults included!

– Megan Briggs

Megan joined the Generations of Virtue team to become the Product Manager, a position which keeps her busy researching, reading resources, managing inventory and speaking to young people.

It’s All about Context


5 Principles for Parents to Convey when Talking about Sex
The GOV team has a lot of experience ministering to people. After 12 years of equipping parents to convey a healthy message of sexuality to their children and speaking to youth about the same topic, we’ve learned a few things. One of those things is that a message about healthy sexuality goes a lot further when it comes from a larger context than just sex.

Sometimes when people come to GOV events for youth, they are surprised by the fact that we don’t spend the whole time on the more technical things like boundaries in dating or the danger of STDs, etc. It’s not that we don’t think that information is necessary, only that there is other information that is more pertinent to grasp first. Focusing on the technical details of what you should and should not do instead of grasping the larger picture first is kind of like drilling the entire rulebook into a little leaguer before he or she even understands the purpose of the game. If a coach were to do this, the poor kid probably wouldn’t want to play baseball by the end of it. If nothing else, he or she would choose NOT to play under the watchful eye of that coach.

Sadly, I think this happens more often than we care to admit. We spend so much time drilling the rules in that we fail to help kids understand the bigger, more glorious picture. You see, the bigger picture contains the reasons one would want to abide by the rules in the first place. Isn’t that what you want to communicate to your kids, Mom and Dad? Don’t you want to tell them the whole truth of God’s great design?

Below I’ve listed some principles we seek to convey when we speak to youth about sex. I hope they are useful to you as you speak to your own children.

    1. God is a good father – Something that parents inherently understand is the desire to see their child succeed and experience the very best life he or she can have. In all the hundreds of parents I’ve ministered to over the years, I can’t recall a single one saying “Yeah…I just really want my kid to have a crummy life.” If we, as sinful and flawed people, feel this way about our children, imagine how God feels about us. Sometimes we fail to remember that God is so incredibly FOR us. He’s not sitting back waiting for us to get in trouble and foul things up so He can swoop down and discipline us. Instead, He’s actively working to help us and guide us. This applies to our sexuality as well. He wants us to experience the very best when it comes to sex, which is why He gives us guidelines surrounding it.

    2. God’s design is very good – Despite popular opinion that has historically circulated in the church (and especially in western culture), sex is good. Sexuality is good. The desire to experience sex has been built into us by God. There is nothing shameful or wrong about this desire. The way He made men and women to be different is good. If you look into the brain chemistry that happens when a man and woman have sex, you can see God designed sex for marriage. The beautiful thing about teaching children about sex in our day and age is that science is starting to catch up with the word of God, and we are seeing why God gave us the guidelines He did in His word.

    3. You have an important calling – God has a specific job for you to do in this life. He doesn’t waste a single life and He’s not partial (IE: one person’s calling isn’t more important than another person’s). What you do MATTERS. What you do with your sexuality MATTERS and affects whether or not you are able to fulfill your calling – more than you may realize.

    4. You are not what they say about you on MTV. And neither is sex – there are a lot of messages directed at kids (especially teenagers) that essentially tell them that there is no way they’re going to be able to control themselves. So they might as well do what feels good. Furthermore, sex is nothing special and EVERYONE is doing it. If we can deceive ourselves into thinking that sex can be casual and it’s not that big of a deal, we are severely selling ourselves short. Sex is a big deal – God designed it that way and deep down everyone wants it to be that way – so when we treat it casually, we are missing out on the original intention behind it. It’s like settling for a pineapple-flavored piece of candy when we could have had real pineapple instead. We need to tell our kids not to believe everything they hear and see! More importantly, we need to teach them how to recognize when the enemy’s trying to deceive them.

    5. It’s not a one-shot deal – Doing things right in the area of sexuality is not a pass-fail test. If you “mess up”, you’re not condemned; you can turn around from your choices and choose again God’s direction. When Christ died on the cross for us, He died for all our sin – including sexual sin.

One final note about that last principle: I know it’s tempting to leave that one out when you talk to your bright-eyed adolescent who has no sexual experience. There is the fear that they will hear everything you’re saying about God’s design for sex and then go “Well, I guess I have room to screw up here” as soon as you mention that last one. But this would be immature thinking on our part. It does no good to tell kids about sex and then cause them – by omitting this part – to think if they don’t get it right they’ll end up damaged goods. Sexuality is complex. Kids need to know there is grace and that yes, this is a big deal, but they also have a very big, able God who is willing to help them navigate. The last thing you want is for your kids to make decisions about sex out of a mindset of fear. What you want instead is to equip your kids with the truth and have them make decisions out of love and wisdom.

– Megan Briggs

Megan joined the Generations of Virtue team to become the Product Manager, a position which keeps her busy researching, reading resources, managing inventory and speaking to young people.

Prostitutes, Abuse, and Thailand

4ddca121-053b-400c-981e-1e65c4d0cca7_profileEarlier this summer, on the eve of an exploratory trip to Thailand, I found myself asking the Lord again if we were supposed to go. The purpose of our trip was to meet with ministries, churches, missionaries, non-government organizations, etc. who were working with children, youth, and parents in some capacity or another, and see how GOV might serve them. The only thing more intimidating than going to an unfamiliar nation to see how you might teach on the issue of sexual integrity is going to that nation after you’d been repeatedly warned it was going to be very hard (perhaps even impossible) to do what you were setting out to do.

I had been to Bangkok several years ago to learn about the sex trafficking industry, so I had somewhat of an idea of what we were in for, but what I didn’t know was how we were going to “sell” the idea of proactively equipping individuals and families to pursue a lifestyle of sexual integrity in the midst of a culture that, in many ways, embraces things like prostitution. Would it even work?

I prayed again the night before we left Singapore. “Lord, are you sure?” The answer I got left me speechless. Straight from Matthew 21:31: “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you.”

Once we were in Thailand, the main response we heard from ministry workers (precious people doing some very difficult work) after explaining the type of proactive and preventative work we’d like to do went something along the lines of “This is such a big need here” and “When can you come back?” Courage stirred in my heart as I realized I had heard correctly from the Lord. Yes, He did want us to come minister in Thailand.

As we met with orphanages and safe houses, the picture started becoming clearer. These children had almost all been sexually abused, or at the very least were at risk for being trafficked because of their families’ extreme poverty situations.

I quickly began to realize that I didn’t know what to do when faced with a child struggling to make sense of the abuse he or she had experienced. I asked the Lord, “Father, if we tell them how good it is to wait for sex until you’re married, and we tell them how to protect themselves from sexual predators, what are they going to think about what has already happened to them? There is a lot of pain here. They need your healing, Lord.”

Again the answer came from Matthew: “Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.’” (19:14) After reading that verse, I came to the conclusion that I would rather teach a child about sexual purity and guide them to the healer of any trauma they may have experienced than consider them “too badly wounded” to receive such teaching. Isn’t it the Lord’s will to heal us instead of just helping us cope with our wounds?

Our team certainly has a lot of work to do (and a lot to learn!) as we prepare to minister more extensively in places like Thailand, but I am convinced that this kind of ministry is something the Lord is very keen to have us do. I know we don’t have all the answers, but I do know the One who does. I am encouraged when I realize we do not labor in vain when we partner with Him to bring about His Kingdom.

To read about our upcoming trip in October, please click here.

– Megan Briggs

Megan joined the Generations of Virtue team to become the Product Manager, a position which keeps her busy researching, reading resources, managing inventory and speaking to young people.