Have you seen this article {FYI If you’re a teenage girl} making the rounds of Facebook today? A lot of my friends are sharing it because it seems in passing to be a call to modesty for teenage girls by a mother of teenage boys. I have no problem with their family practice of reviewing the social media accounts each week. What I have a problem with is that, by blocking any girls who post a picture that the boys might deem sexually tantalizing and then blaming the girls for being immodest and putting bad thoughts in the boys’ heads, they are working absolutely against the development of the Christian virtues of self-control, humility, charity, and even faith itself.

Here’s an okay response: As a teen boy, I feel sexually tempted by seeing some 13 year old in her pajamas, so I had better not look at her photos anymore TILL I GET MYSELF UNDER CONTROL! Because I apparently don’t know how to see a girl in a picture the way God sees her.

Here’s a not-okay response: Let’s blame that girl for putting sex thoughts in your mind. She obviously wants to tempt you sexually even though you can’t escape those thoughts, and she’s immodest. (Because God forbid that any teenage girl lack the discretion to think ahead about teen boys slowly going through and studying her photo stream when she’s taking a photo to show her girlfriends her new top or makeup. But this conversation is not about discretion, is it? It’s about blame.) Let’s delete her from your friends list, since she is not codependent enough to pretend that she’s in charge of your responses.

Telling a girl that a boy can’t unsee her state of undress just reinforces the idea that boys cannot control their own thoughts. (Which? Since when? Are we just going to write off all creation and say evil can have it because we can’t be bothered to make an effort?) Controlling your thoughts, by the way, is a major focus of Christian prayer disciplines. Whether you’re schooled enough to be conversant in the language of fighting the passions, or if you only know how to proof text the Bible about taking thoughts captive to Christ, if you’re a Christian who prays or studies or worships at all, you have been exposed to this idea of self-control. What you may not have been exposed to, the world being in the state that it is, is the idea of humility.

St. Mary of Egypt is a huge help if you have some struggles with pornographic thoughts. Here’s her icon so we can all be encouraged.

How so? Well, basically, humility steps into any equation and reminds us of the glory of God, which has the effect of also reminding us that we are weak. That means, in the case of self-control, that we should assume that our struggle comes from our own lack of the fullness of God. Therefore, we ask for God’s help to act and see rightly, and we work hard to discipline ourselves and follow the disciplines of our Christian community in order to fight for the control that we lack. In other words, if I were a teenage girl who felt sexually tempted by, say, a blog post filled with photos of shirtless teenage boys on the beach (you know, while the mom gets mad at me for posting a photo in my pajamas), I would try to remember first of all that God made those boys for God’s glory alone, not for me to see as objects to use. Then I would remember that it was my own weakness that I did not see them rightly, and I would work over time to change the way I see them. Eventually, I would be able to look at anyone, of any degree of attraction or revulsion, and see the grace and glory of God in them. Because that is what I as a Christian would be called to do – to love God with all my all, and my neighbor as myself, that is, the way God sees me and wants me to see them.

Then modesty would be in the mind of the beholder, which is where it ought to be cultivated in the first place.

IF for some reason we think it’s okay not only to discourage boys away from the Christian virtues of self-control, humility, and loving their neighbors as themselves, trusting that over time the way they see girls and women will be transformed into something more along the lines of respect and love rather than as objects to be used to boost one’s selfish desire for power over others, then we should realize that we are basically telling them how not to be Christians. Because the core of Christian belief and practice is the humility of God, who became human so that we might become like God. And that humility and glory of God is what we call grace and why we give thanks and why we try to do kindness, justice, and mercy in the world.

But! You might say, what about not wanting my son to be around temptresses? (Because there are so many of them in 9th grade?) Okay, if indeed your dear son comes across a girl who, because she has been severely abused her whole life, sees herself only as a sex toy, then it’s your job as a Christian parent to have 1) Schooled him to see her for the way God sees her, even if she doesn’t cooperate, and 2) To have taught him compassion. If he’s a Christian man, taught from an early age that he’s responsible for how he responds to people, then he should be able to speak to the girl with kindness and not lust, without playing into her own damaged self view. He should be able to say to her, as a 15 year old with crazy hormones and confused emotions, “Hey, nice job in science class!”, not  “I like your tits in that top.” If you have not managed to teach your son the difference by that age, then don’t blame the girl.

A further thought on being judgmental: Stop it. We just aren’t supposed to. It’s trendy today to make up pithy sayings to repeat (love the sinner, hate the sin), but those things are basically misguided. The best prayer is the humble one – Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner. Try to live your life by that, and teach your children to do so as well, and you might find that by the time they are teenagers, that they can manage to be friends with fellow teenagers –even those who wear pajamas in Facebook photos! — without resorting to slut shaming or blaming other people for their own unruly thoughts.