While we were driving home from a family campout, my 7-year-old daughter asked, “Why do girls at school always talk about having boyfriends?”
I wasn’t quite prepared for a question like that at the end of a wonderful, five-day family outing. But I wasn’t shocked by it either—not with the sexually charged culture our children are growing up in.
“It’s because of what they see and hear all around them,” I finally answered. “But just because our society says it is okay doesn’t make it right. What matters is what God says.”
The conversation made me mad—not at my daughter—at this world. It reminded me of what Paul wrote to his congregation at Ephesus, where he referred to Satan as “the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now works in the children of disobedience” (Ephesians 2:2). As Herbert W. Armstrong often said, Satan has surcharged the air with attitudes of rebellion, self-centeredness and vanity—a spirit now at work even in the minds of our children. Left to herself, my daughter will gravitate in the direction of those attitudes and moods.
As her father, I must counteract that influence, or else she will be victimized by an evil world intent on hurting her.
Fathers, we are up against the world. But be of good cheer—so was Jesus Christ (John 16:33). He overcame the world. With His help and support, so can we (Philippians 4:13).
Back in 2001, a pbs Frontline special, titled “The Merchants of Cool,” examined the link between corporate America and our “hottest consumer demographic”—teenagers. To get at the $150 billion teenagers spend annually, marketers are always on the prowl for what’s “cool.” They call it “cool hunting.” One researcher described it like this: “We look for kids who are ahead of the pack because they’re going to influence what all the other kids do. We look for the 20 percent—the trendsetters—that are going to influence the other 80 percent.”
So researchers interview these teen correspondents, searching for cool, and then produce and market the latest new craze in hopes of luring the 80 percent to their product. For boys, marketers focus on the crass, obnoxious, reckless, in-your-face menace to society—they call him “the mook.” For girls, it’s “the midriff”—highly sexualized adolescents who dress and act like grown women.
The documentary explained the gender difference this way: “The midriff is no more true to life than the mook. If he is arrested in adolescence, she is prematurely adult. If he doesn’t care what people think of him, she is consumed by appearances. If his thing is crudeness, hers is sex.” What we are left with, then, is a teen-driven, media-saturated environment that caters to boorish boys and hyper-sexualized girls.
Of course, media moguls justify their unjustifiably depraved “entertainment” by arguing that it’s merely a reflection of our societal mores. And in a way, they’re right. If parents were vigilant in refusing to allow the garbage into their homes—if they restricted their children’s spending to wholesome products—there would be no market for smut. But media outlets are not without their share of blame. “It’s a giant feedback loop,” said the Frontline correspondent. “The media watches kids and then sells them an image of themselves. Then kids watch those images and aspire to be that mook or midriff in the tv set. And the media is there watching them do that in order to craft new images for them, and so on.”
Talk about vigilance! Cool hunters are lurking in our midst, spying on our children, appealing to their carnal and lustful desires, packaging vile products, and then preying on the spending habits of young people they desperately hope you aren’t supervising.
Let’s examine the devastating impact this has had on our girls in particular.
In February, the American Psychological Association (apa) released a report on the “Sexualization of Girls.” According to the report, there is no question that girls “grow up in a cultural milieu saturated with sexualizing messages.” On television and the Internet, in movies, magazines and music—besides all being rife with sexually explicit content—girls are often represented as sex objects. Even programs aimed at small children have sexually charged content. Animated characters, the study noted, “have more cleavage, fewer clothes, and are depicted as ‘sexier’ than those of yesteryear.”
In the world of advertising, female sexualization is everywhere. Young girls are made to look and dress like adults, while women are constantly “youthified.” Whether it’s the clothes your 7-year-old wears or the ones she dresses her impossibly curvy Barbie doll with, sexy is in. Fashion designers know well that in order to get a piece of the teenage consumer pie, they must first target the “tween” demographic, ages 7 to 12.
Add to that the billions that girls spend each year on beauty products and cosmetic surgeries like breast implants, liposuction, tummy tucks and face-lifts. Even teenagers are joining the ranks of those willing to pay big bucks to alter their looks or to “delay” the aging process. “Whereas girls of earlier eras focused on improving their studies and becoming more well-mannered,” the study pointed out, “girls [today] almost exclusively described changing their bodies and enhancing their physical appearance as the focus of their self-improvement.”
The entertainment-driven media get their message across to our daughters loud and clear. And here’s how it hurts them: According to the report, the sexualization of girls diminishes their cognitive ability, lowers their self-esteem, generates negative thinking and even depression, and is a root cause of eating disorders.
But don’t expect media moguls to alter their message. They don’t care about your daughter’s well-being.
But you do.
You love your daughter. She means everything to you. She is your responsibility. Don’t let the world bring her up. That’s your job: to raise her up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4).
You can do it! Here’s how.
1. Spend Time With Her
The Apostle Paul wrote, “Be strictly careful then about the life you lead; act like suitable men, not like thoughtless; make the very most of your time, for these are evil days” (Ephesians 5:15-16, Moffatt). It’s precisely because of the evil days we live in that we must make the very most of the time spent with our daughters.
Yet, for the past 50 years, fathers have dramatically cut back in this area. One study conducted in 1985 found that fathers in England, compared to other nations, spend the least amount of time with their children. The United States was second worst on the list. And that was a generation ago. More recent studies have found that the amount of time fathers devote to their children has decreased by 10 to 20 hours per week over the past two generations.
Nothing is more selfish and irresponsible than siring children without regard to the responsibilities of fatherhood. Your daughter is your responsibility.
In As the Twig Is Bent, Leslie Hohman wrote, “Most fathers and mothers—especially fathers—do not devote many hours enthusiastically to their daughters and sons after the first novelty of babyhood is past. They listen to the troubles of middle childhood when they have to, and occasionally come swooping off their perches for sudden reprimands. By the time children are old enough to be really interesting as companions to the average parent, it is too late. The children have been forced to establish other interests, pleasures, and affection relations.” That’s what happens when you ignore her. You force her to fill that void with other interests and pleasures—like boys and popular culture.
One of the conclusions Mary Eberstadt drew in her 2004 book Home-Alone America is that teenagers are far more likely to engage in sex and experiment with drugs and alcohol when their parents are absent. On the other hand, a father’s involvement in his daughter’s life puts her at tremendous advantage over her peers, as Meg Meeker wrote in Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters: “With overwhelming evidence, the [studies show] that kids who feel connected to their parents (and who spend more time with them) fare much better than kids who don’t. Parents keep kids out of trouble; parental influence can be more important than pressure; and specifically, daughters who spend more time with their fathers are less likely to drink, take drugs, have sex as teenagers, or have out-of-wedlock babies. Your time with her matters.”
Don’t make the tragic mistake of substituting physical things for the one gift your daughter really wants from you: your time. That’s all that really matters. True love is expressed by giving your time and your energy—not your money. Make personal sacrifices for her welfare and well-being.
She’ll love you for that—and look to you for guidance and direction the rest of her life.
2. Restrict Media Influence
Entertainment media’s frequent response to critics is, If you don’t like it, turn it off. Michael Medved compared that to saying, “If you don’t like the smog, then stop breathing” (Saving Childhood). He makes a good point. The influence of television goes far beyond just what our children see for themselves on the tube. But there’s still a lot you can do as a father to curb its negative influence and counteract its deceptive and false messages.
American television churns out more than 65,000 references to sexual activity every year. And since most young people spend more than three hours per day watching television, and much of that without parental supervision, you can be sure they are getting a steady diet of sexual content—“classroom” instruction that glamorizes promiscuity while ignoring the consequences of teen sex.
No wonder we have a teen sex epidemic. Children who learn about sex on tv are far more likely to have promiscuous sex. In fact, a September 2004 study found that children who view lots of televised sexual content are twice as likely to experiment with sex as those who watch significantly less sexual content. Psychologist Rebecca Collins told the Washington Post, “The impact of television viewing is so large that even a moderate shift in the sexual content of adolescent tv watching could have a substantial effect on their sexual behavior” (Sept. 7, 2004).
The restrictions and standards you put in place for your family’s media intake do make a difference. The apa report said “there is an urgent need for girls to view media critically.” But in too many cases, fathers are failing to act, as Eberstadt points out in her book. “American parents tell every survey and outlet available about their disgust with popular culture, and yet toddlers watch more hours of television year by year; some 65 percent of kids 8 to 18 have television sets in their bedrooms, and some 58 percent of households watch television during dinner.”
We know it’s wrong—we know its influence adversely affects adolescent behavior—and we do nothing about it. That is an absolute shame.
All too often, fathers rely on television to keep their children occupied—and then when our daughters turn out bad, we blame television. How convenient.
Your daughter is your responsibility. Don’t allow her to indiscriminately view whatever she wants. Monitor what she watches on the one television you place in the living room of your house. Even during acceptable programming, view it with her. Apply these same standards across the board. Get rid of teen magazines that teach girls how to be “hot” so they can manipulate boys. Check up on the music she downloads, the websites she visits, the people she communicates with through e-mail and instant messenger. Get to know her friends at school—who she hangs out with. Let them know about your standards. They’ll respect you for it.
And your daughter? Well, she might “kick and scream” once in a while—complaining that everyone else gets to do this or that. But just because everyone else is doing it doesn’t make it right. She’ll learn that lesson over time. Don’t be a coward. Stick to your guns. If you do, your daughter will be more concerned about what you think than she is about what other people think.
3. Establish God’s Moral Authority in her Life
Ultimately, of course, our objective as fathers is to teach our daughters to be most concerned about what God thinks. It’s not enough for her to merely accept God’s existence. James 2:19 says that the demons believe in God, but they don’t obey Him. The same holds true for most human beings. Jesus Christ asked the religious zealots of His day, “Why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?” (Luke 6:46).
In John 13:13, Jesus said to His disciples, “Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am.” They were right to refer to Him as their Master—that’s what He was! And if they accepted Him as their Master, Christ went on to say, then they needed to follow in His steps—to do as their Master said.
This principle is a fundamental building block for life: In every human endeavor, there will always be a teacher-student relationship, whether it’s parent-child, teacher-pupil, boss-employee, minister-member, or Lord-servant. Fathers who won’t reinforce this principle with their daughters are not properly preparing them for their future.
“Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man” (Ecclesiastes 12:13). That last part should actually read “for this is the whole man” (“duty” was added by translators). True education begins with fearing God—which means we submit to His moral authority with honor and reverence.
Notice Psalm 111:10: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom: a good understanding have all they that do his commandments: his praise endureth for ever.” Even before understanding, children should be made to fear God’s loving authority.
“He who spares his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him promptly” (Proverbs 13:24, New King James Version). Loving discipline is the greatest key there is to learning, because a disciplined mind will be an attentive learner. It will be more responsive to instructions; more discerning of good and evil. That’s why God says the rod and reproof actually give wisdom (Proverbs 29:15).
New Testament theology is based on the same principle (Ephesians 6:1-4; Hebrews 12:6-8), so just ignore what detractors say about this subject. God’s Word is what matters. God punishes His children because He loves them. Shouldn’t we follow His lead and do the same with our daughters?
“Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby” (Hebrews 12:11). Of course it hurts! It’s supposed to. But it is always for her own good—for her long-term learning and development of godly character. It always brings forth abundant fruit in the long run.
4. Diligently Teach
Yes, God rules His creation—He is our Master. But God is also the great Educator! And to fathers everywhere, He gives this charge: “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6). This is a proverb for us, fathers. As a type of God the Father in our households, we are the primary educators for our daughters.
God admonished the ancient Israelites to “diligently” teach their children the laws of God “when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up” (Deuteronomy 6:6-7). To teach diligently means to repeat, reiterate, or do something again and again.
Now think about how diligently Satan the devil works to educate our daughters through popular culture. He is prince of the power of the air! He is bombarding our girls with a distorted image and definition of beauty. He is selling them on unlawful sexuality.
Our job is to constantly reinforce God’s truth on these subjects—even if it means repeating it over and over again.
In his masterful textbook for life, The Missing Dimension in Sex (free upon request), Mr. Armstrong wrote, “If teenagers had been properly taught what they needed to know about sex, from the very first and second years of their lives, by informed and loving parents, the frightful tragedies of teenage and premarital sex would have been reduced to the barest minimum” (emphasis mine). Begin teaching early—and do it often. Don’t wait until a crisis before you reach out to your daughter. Don’t expect Mom to handle all the teaching while you make the money.
Don’t rely on schools to do your job. Even if schools get the instruction right, which they most often don’t, they are still poor substitutes for a loving father who is diligently teaching his daughter how to live.
Mr. Armstrong wrote, “Of course you cannot tell a 2- or 3-year-old more than a small part of sex knowledge. But as the child grows older, explain more from time to time. Keep ahead of the ‘gutter.’” This is the basic rule to remember in teaching your daughter about sexuality: Stay ahead of the gutter. It requires vigilance to do that! It means you establish God’s standard of conduct in your home and enforce those rules. It means you’re in regular communication with your daughter, making sure you’re well ahead of the gutter knowledge she absorbs from worldly influences.
Giving her God’s perspective on sex education goes well beyond just teaching abstinence. If she is told to put off sex until marriage, she must understand why. She needs to know that God’s law forbids fornication because of the automatic harm it brings—and because it will steal future happiness and joy from her marriage.
Beyond that, constantly reinforce what God says about true beauty in the Bible. God doesn’t view beauty the way this world does—He looks on the heart (1 Samuel 16:7). Teach your daughter to adorn her heart with spiritual strength, wisdom, honor and humility (Proverbs 31:25; Titus 2:4-5; 1 Peter 3:3-4). Of course, she needs to take care of her physical appearance too, but not by wearing provocative clothing. God says she should dress in “modest apparel” (1 Timothy 2:9). She should learn to combine a modest physical appearance with genuine spiritual beauty.
God offers so much in the way of valuable instruction for our daughters. Few people have ever realized just how practical and applicable God’s instructions are for our daily living. The Holy Bible is God’s Instruction Manual for mankind. It provides the laws of human conduct we need for happy, abundant living!
Pull it off the shelf and start using it.
5. Set the Right Example
No human father is perfect, but before we set out to shape the life of our daughters, we had better get our own act together first. Teaching is administered most effectively by simply setting the right example. As Hohman put it in his book, “Parental example is probably the greatest single factor in training. What you yourself do is of greater influence than anything you can say, especially if your actions belie your words. Your children will inevitably desire to be like you and to act like you” (op. cit.). And when your daughter grows up, we might add, she will most likely marry someone just like you.
Be the kind of man you hope she will marry someday—a sincerely humble man who submits to God’s law. One with the spiritual courage and determination needed to lead his family the way Jesus Christ leads His Church. A man who loves his wife and flees from sexual lust. A man of sacrifice and service. A hard worker and good provider who makes time for his wife and children—a good family man. A discerning man of wisdom and understanding who leans on God’s counsel—and who takes the time to teach. A good communicator—one who talks to God, his wife and his children.
Your daughter desperately needs you to be that man. Spend time with her, restrict the world’s evil influences in her life, be authoritative and decisive—lovingly lead—and teach her from God’s Instruction Manual. But above all, be the man you want her to be with for the rest of her life.
We’ve got our work cut out for us! It’ll be a real struggle at times. In fact, we must wake up every day prepared for battle! “Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil,” Paul wrote in Ephesians 6:11. We must stand against the evil we see at every turn in this world and give our daughters a rock solid foundation to grab hold of.
“Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God,” Paul continued, “that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand” (verse 13). Note that! Having done all to stand.
Give it everything you have. She is, after all, your daughter. She’s your responsibility. You have to be sober and vigilant in your role at home or else Satan will devour her (1 Peter 5:8). Satan is vigilant in his determination to destroy your little girl.
Shouldn’t we be just as determined to keep our daughters on the straight and narrow path that leads to eternal life in the Family of God?