Helping Teens Build Healthy Relationships

Each year I have the privilege to lead a weekend retreat for our 9th Graders. It is called the Relationship Retreat. The purpose of the retreat is to create a safe space where students can discuss love, sex, dating, and how to have healthy relationships of all kinds. This page is designed to curate some content for small group leaders, parents, and students to both prepare for the retreat and access afterward. I hope you find this helpful.

This article is my opening presentation for the retreat. It names the tension of being a modern, suburban teen. Note that it was written in 2018, as I was preparing for my first time leading this retreat.

Between | Why I’m Freaked Out About the Relationship Retreat

One of the big questions teens ask is “How far is too far when you’re dating?”

Holding hands?

Kissing?

Heavy petting?

Having sexual intercourse? 

In this presentation I try to define two things: 

1. What is love?

2. The dynamics of a relationship. 

First, the word love means many different things in the English Language. I love ice cream and I love my wife. Are these two kinds of love the same? I hope not.

In Greek–the language of the New Testament–there are four words for love:

storge = love for things (like ice cream)

phileo = love for a sybling or friend

eros = sexual, physical desire for someone

agape = God’s love

The first three loves are good, but they are about “what I can get out of the relationship” or “what’s in it for me?”

Agape–God’s love–seeks what is best for the other person and for the whole community.

Second, look at the chart below. It shows five dimensions of a relationship: emotional, physical, social, intellectual, and spiritual. Along the bottom there is a scale from 0% to 100%.

Here’s an easy guide to know how far you should go physically in a relationship: You should only go as far physically as you are in all the other dimensions.

for example: if you barely know someone, you are maybe 5% committed intellectually, emotionally, socially, and spiritually. So, you shouldn’t be more than 5% active physically. This is equivalent to the type of physical contact you would have with anyone: shaking hands, a pat on the shoulder. 

Our society sends a different message. Characters in the movies jump in bed and have sex and then say, “Oh yeah, what’s your name?” While that might happen in real life, I would argue that a relationship based on that type of physical contact is not a picture of agape or commitment.

Here’s an article I wrote that goes deeper into these words and what 1 Corinthians 13 has to say about love.

What is Love? | A Devo on 1 Corinthians 13

Here’s a great video from Rob Bell on the Hebrew words for love. 

There is a great website from the ELCA on Faith Formation. They have a whole page of resources on sexuality.

Here’s one more article from the Center for Action and Contemplation on Purity and Passion

I hope you find these resources helpful.

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