How to Talk to Your Kids about Modesty
We live in a society that is quickly losing a sense of decency, modesty, or shame. The Bible, however, calls for God's people to observe a sense of modesty. How do you talk to your kids about this subject? Here are 10 "Do Not" principles that you may find helpful:
- Do not teach that the body is a bad thing. Gen. 1:31. Modesty is not because there is a problem with the body, it is because there is a problem with our mind. Before they sinned, Adam and Eve were naked and unashamed. After sin, even though they were married and there is no indication that there was anyone else in the garden, they looked at their nakedness in a different way than they had before. As a result, they covered themselves. Let's be honest, we live in a world of perversion and uncovering the body is provocative. Call it art, call it beauty, naked is naked. I have read articles that object saying that we should honor the person without objectifying the body. Ultimately we do want to see people as parts of the body of Christ rather than just seeing people as body parts. Yet, again, really hard to do when that person is naked. It's the nature of the way we think. Modesty is an answer to our situation. We are sinners. Sinners are tempted, enticed, and think bad things. Cover up.
- Do not teach that the body is their own. The attitude of the culture is that one can do what one wills to do with their own body. The Bible calls for us to practice a different ethic. 1 Corinthians 6 and 7 teaches that the body is a temple of the Holy Spirit and that the body is also something that one can surrender to their spouse. We need to have conversation about modesty in the broader conversation about sexuality and marriage. In a culture that is undermining marriage, the church needs to be more proactive at teaching marriage and purity. Modesty is not just covering up, but it is saving up for a grander goal that God has for us.
- Do not think that if your kids are wearing what you said they could wear that the mission is accomplished. Legislation is not life change, it is legalism. However, this does not mean there is not a place for rules. Even though someone may not understand the heart of a law, laws are necessary to protect us. Even in the garden when Adam and Eve sinned God made a correction. They covered themselves with fig leaves, God covered them with animal skin. There is a broader picture of atonement here, but our Heavenly Father was the first one to say to His children were not going to go out of the house wearing that! They needed to put more on themselves. Legalism takes the life out of principles. Modesty is not about a certain color, length, or texture of anything. It is about a mindset that is considerate of others. Interestingly, the Bible never defines modesty, it just uses words like appropriate, modest, respectable. The word modest comes from a Greek Word that talks about a person in a crowded room of excellence; perhaps there are skilled actors on the stage, singers, or musicians. All the attention in the room is directed toward something beautiful, then in an act of vulgarity you break that attention and draw it towards yourself. This is the idea modesty is rooted in. Modesty is a position of humility that realizes life is not about you. We need to teach the heart of this principle, not simply legislate obedience.
- Do not make modesty an issue of conviction, but of aspiration. Modesty is about loving God and loving His body (His people), not magnifying your own. G.K. Chesterson stated that it was a mistake when we moved modesty from the organ of aspiration to the organ of conviction. Our goal is glory for our Lord, not guilt over what we wear. Modesty teaches that we want to be pleasing to Him and mindful of His people. We don't measure our shorts because a Baptist believes it, we wear what we wear because we love the Lord and His church.
- Do not teach that modesty is a matter of clothing, but rather that it is an issue of the heart. If it is always a fight about clothing, there probably needs to be some conversation about deeper things. It may not be an issue of the shirt, it may be an issue of the heart. The Bible teaches that modesty is a heart issue, not a fashion one. (Luke 6:45, 1 Peter 3:3-4)
- Do not teach that modesty is about what you wear only, but it is also about the way you wear it. Interestingly, 1 Timothy 2:9 was about overdressing not underdressing. Let's be honest, for the ladies, they wear what they wear not for other guys, but for other girls. Have you ever been sitting in the waiting area of a crowded restaurant? Next time you do, when a woman walks in, watch the eyes of the other ladies around her. They check out her shoes, then her clothes, then her purse, then how she got her hair "did." Watch their face, you can tell what they think :). It's funny! Modesty means that I don't dress just to best someone else. There is an attitude of Christian con tenement that should permeate everything we do (and put on).
- Do not teach that modesty is an issue for your daughters and leave your sons out of the conversation. We need to teach our sons to honor the ladies, not victimize them. Job made a covenant with his eyes. Jesus taught that to look lustfully on a woman was to commit adultery in the heart. We need to teach our sons that girls are not giving guys permission based on what they wear. I read a great statement in an article published by Relevant magazine by Sharon Hodde Miller, "Love your sisters by exercising the fruit of self-control and “taking captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). Love your sisters by taking ownership in this resistance, rather than letting the bulk of the burden fall on us."
- Do not teach modesty without modeling it. Modesty does not just apply to the way we dress, but it is about a sloppy, vulgar, selfish life. Modesty is seen in every venue of life from the way one keeps the house, speaks in public, or posts online. Overly loud and obnoxious can be just as offensive as an outfit that is too short and too tight. If our kids are to receive the message of modesty it is something that must be modeled at home, in society, and at church. Titus 2:3-5
- Do not teach that modesty makes you more beautiful. There was a popular message that sounded attractive, but was dishonest, "Modest is hottest." Yet, modesty is not a beauty issue at all, it is about consideration of others. A person who dresses modest may not be "hot" at all. In fact, by societies standards, probably not. At the same time modest doesn't mean I have to look like a potato sack either. When the Lord sent Samuel to seek out a new king he revealed to us that the issue for the Lord is not outward appearance at all, but the Lord looks on the heart (1 Samuel 16:7). For humans beauty is often a relative issue anyway. Recently a free lance journalist sent an untouched picture of her natural face to 25 graphic artists in various countries and simply asked, "Make me beautiful." What she received back was 25 various versions of herself compliments of photoshop. Check out the project here.
- Do not give up on teaching modesty just because it modesty is more difficult. In a culture that seems to value "uncovered" it is not easy to find modest clothing at times. It is especially difficult in the warmer seasons, and especially true of swimwear for women. When it comes to our children we cannot trust a sexually addicted culture that does not value censorship and moral protection for our children. The fashion industry will probably not applaud what you are trying to teach your children. Furthermore, your children may not get support at school, at the pool, and you may not get any help from other parents. And there may be some rare occasion of life in which your children don't agree with your values. As shocking as this may be, remember, you are still the parent. For Christian parents this is where the church should be especially helpful. In a Christ centered counter-culture there should be support, not undermining of the message. Parents need to talk to one another as well as to their children about modesty.