From the Mailbag: Can we teach our children modesty without guilt?

Last week, I received this message from Sharon via my Facebook page

I read with interest some your prior blog posts on modesty and the modesty/purity movement. [See “Elizabeth Smart and Purity Culture” and “Modesty: I Don’t Think It Means What You Think It Means.”] As a reproductive biologist, and mother to a daughter, I thoroughly agreed that much of what we do or have said about these issues can harm girls and women and destroy healthy sexual relationships. At the same time, I want to empower my daughter not to engage in reckless sexual activity and to dress modestly, not because she's bad or ruined if she chooses otherwise, but because I want her to value herself, rather than making the appearance of her body the core of her value. How would you say that we, as Christians and parents can go about teaching modesty without it becoming about hem lines, guilt and worthlessness?

Sharon’s question reminded me of a conversation I had with another mom at a women’s retreat not long ago. She asked me a very similar question about how to teach her daughter about modesty, sex, and self-respect when, as she put it, “I can’t just tell her ‘the Bible says so’ anymore; there's more to it than that.” We ended up talking for a while, trying to work out the answer together, because the truth is, we’ve been immersed in these narratives for so long that it’s hard to know how to change them. 

I’m not a mom, so I’ve yet to have to work all this out in the context of parenthood, and I confess I do feel like some folks, in their reaction to purity/modesty culture, perhaps swing in the opposite direction and defy common sense by suggesting it’s wrong for a parent to have misgivings when their daughter picks the “Sexy Alice-in-Wonderland” costume for Halloween. 

So since I feel a little out of my depth tackling this one by myself, I’m going to leave my response in a comment and then open Sharon’s question up for discussion. If you have thoughts or experience with this, please leave a comment, and I’ll pick some of the best, most helpful ones to feature in a separate post. 

Can’t wait to read your thoughts. Thank you! 

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