No-kiss standard aims to keep kids off slippery slope

March 26, 1995|By SUSAN REIMER

Dennis and Barbara Rainey have six kids, ages 6 to 20, and they want each to experience their first kiss right after the minister says, "I pronounce you man and wife."

Their goal for their children is that they arrive at the marriage bed as innocents, not just technically virgin.

The Raineys, Christian broadcasters from Little Rock, Ark., state this goal with conviction, but with some trepidation. They are out there, and they know it.

"When we prepared this set of broadcasts, Barbara and I felt horribly vulnerable," says Mr. Rainey, executive director of Family Life Today, heard locally on WAVA (105.1 FM) and WRBS (95.1 FM).

"We were scared. After all, who else is saying this?"

Probably nobody you know. The Raineys have set a lofty and challenging standard for their children: That virginity is not the goal, virtue is. That sex is a wonderful mystery that is to be experienced only in marriage. And that kissing is the first step down a slippery slope.

Before you decide that the Raineys are not living on the planet Earth, listen to their bottom line: OK, Mr. Rainey says, if the first-kiss-is-a-wedding-kiss sounds nuts, what is your goal?

What limits will you set as your children move through puberty and adolescence? How are you communicating those boundaries to your children? Are you involved enough in your children's lives to limit their sexual initiation? Or are you so oppressive that your children will shut you out?

"And what are you going to do when they fail? Not 'if,' but 'when,' " says Mr. Rainey. "Because they will fail. What will your relationship be after the tirade?"

In a series of tapes -- humorous, self-effacing, and filled with the family anecdotes that bring the Rainey household alive -- they describe a years-long process of teaching their children about sex.

This broadcast series has been a hit, the most requested from the Family Life library. From the proper naming of a toddler's body parts to the comfort you must give a teen-ager when your standards set him apart from his friends, the Raineys build a case that might sting those of us who think sex education is a book and a bedtime talk.

"It is lifetime exchange between parent and child. Virginity isn't the plan. There's more to it than that. You need to attach character to the information they have," Mr. Rainey says.

Dennis and Barbara Rainey outline steps for teaching your children how to handle their sexuality with restraint and respect, modestly but without shame. Thanks to their six kids and the sixth-grade Sunday school classes they've taught for years, they have heard it all, and their advice has the ring of real life.

But they frankly admit this approach is not possible without an intimate and honest relationship between parent and child -- a fragile relationship parents fear will break apart under the weight of high expectations.

"A relationship gives you the edge. You can sense when they are tempted, when they are fearful, when they might make wrong choices," Mr. Rainey says. And building this relationship starts early, before the static of adolescence prevents kids from hearing your voice.

"Don't be deceived by how young they look. Believe me, it is in their heads. You have to help them to think ahead, to know what is coming and to talk about what they will do.

"Help her decide now what she'll do in a parked car, not when he's whispering in her ear."

Mr. Rainey's voice is soft and sad when he talks about the isolation of a child who is asked by his parents to live by a standard so different from that of his friends.

"The loneliness of the child, that is real," says Mr. Rainey. More than the screaming, angry tirade, it is the tears that will test a parent's resolve.

"We have given them a standard to live up to, and we have held that standard in spite of their anger, their tears. When they have failed, we have been right there with forgiveness. But we have never lowered the standard."

The Raineys have not drawn some line in the sand and terrorized their children to keep them behind it. "Our kids are not robots, believe me," he says.

The oldest, Ashley, is a sophomore in college, and Benjamin is a freshman. Both have told their parents that they will decide for themselves if this is what they believe.

"Both of them have told us that it is not automatic that because we believe it, they will believe it," says Mr. Rainey.

"And that's OK. You can't impose convictions on kids, they must make them their own. But at least we are still talking. And I have the phone bills to prove it.

"I tell them that a kiss is part of a gift of innocence, and you only give that first kiss, that innocence, away once. After that, where do you stop?"

Where do you stop? That is the essential question of sex education. When does a good-night kiss become a passionate kiss? When does that become heavy petting? When does that become noncoital sex? When does that become intercourse? Every parent who has been to third base knows how close it is to home plate.

The Raineys' message is deeply couched in Biblical teachings, but your religion or personal theology does not matter here.

"I think parents -- whether Christian or not -- long to do what is right. I think within them there is a moral absolute and a sense of conscience. Every parent feels the same. 'How do I do it?' We are just confused because of the mixed signals of the culture. It makes us feel old-fashioned and out of date."

Many of us who believed in premarital sex until we had daughters were introduced to sex in college or later. That was then and this is now, and sex is common today among 13-year-olds. Good grades, church, high self-esteem, sex education -- none of these have been shown to have any impact on the age of sexual initiation.

It takes character to say no to peers, to say no to sex. And it takes years and an involved parent to shape that character. Think this through. What is your goal for your child? And how will you see that he reaches it?

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