“Love always protects.” 1 Corinthians 13:7
It’s no coincidence that one of the first things God did after placing Adam in the Garden of Eden was to establish a clear boundary about the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. God let Adam know the rules and limitations that would ensure his safety; eating fruit from this tree would cost Adam his life. Even in Eden, we can see that God established boundaries as a form of love.
In the wake of the #MeToo movement, dialogue about the importance of consent and boundaries abounds. But while everyone seems to be able to agree that boundaries are important, few can agree about where and how to draw them.
Teens growing up in this milieu have much cause for confusion. Their magazines include articles with detailed instructions on how to create code words so their sexual partners will know when their “no” actually means “no.” (Thanks to the recent popularization of BDSM culture via books like “50 Shades of Grey,” apparently it’s hard to tell these days.)
Last year, a movie about a woman engaged in a sexual relationship with a mythological water creature won “Best Picture” at the Oscars, while a movie about a teenage boy engaged in a homosexual relationship with a 24-year-old grad student took home the golden statue in the “Best Adapted Screenplay” category.
While boundaries and consent may be widely broadcast buzzwords, in today’s culture of fluidity, it doesn’t seem like many people are saying “no” to very much at all. The lines are dramatically blurred in important categories like age and gender. Condoms are distributed like lollipops in bathrooms, health rooms, and other student events, and a great number of the students we encounter seem genuinely surprised to learn that, contrary to popular opinion, not everyone is having sex. In fact, reputable studies indicate that the average age students are beginning to have sex is 18 years old.
A recent participant in one of Care Net’s Smart Programs confided, “I wanted to wait until I got married, but I felt a lot of peer pressure, like everyone, including my boyfriend, expected me to do it, so I did. I wish I had waited.”
On the opposite side of the boundary equation, we find that a lot of our particularly abortion-vulnerable clients come from very strict backgrounds where the entirety of “the sex talk” could be summarized with the directive, “Don’t do it or else…” Legalism in this area too often proves an incredibly deficient substitute for the relationships and the awkward conversations that foster the confidence and trust necessary to hold the desired line.
What’s often missing in all these discussions about boundaries is the deep sense of personal dignity and value as the motivator. What we see is that, too often, the boundaries are set or broken as a means of trying to gain someone else’s approval rather than being motivated by a genuine understanding that refraining from premature sexual contact is a choice that says, “I respect myself and fully understand that I’m worth waiting for. I refuse to settle for less than God’s best for me.”
It’s a critically important piece of the equation.
That’s why we’re excited to announce that, beginning this school year, our Smart Programs plans to launch “Smart Boundaries,” a new 45 minute presentation designed for jr. high and high school classrooms. The presentation explores topics like how to identify and set healthy personal boundaries, the importance of consent, the value of abstaining from premarital sex, and many other important pieces of the conversation that are largely absent in the surrounding culture.
Someone once said that “Morality, like art, requires drawing a line some place.” Our job is to encourage students to draw that line in a place that leads to abundant life.
We teach students how to say and receive the word “no” with dignity, and in so doing, we teach them how to say “yes” to a path that ensures they are free to walk with the self-respect and confidence for which they were created.
To find out more or to schedule a Smart Boundaries presentation at your church or school, go to realsmarts.org