I grew up in church. I went to church camp. I did youth group. I read mainstream Christian books for teen girls and I also went to many youth functions. Needless to say - I have heard many purity and modesty talks in my time. I have heard a few that were done well but unfortunately, the ones that I remember are the ones that were harmful to me as a young girl and to the guys around me. The conversations about dating, purity, and modesty were often handled poorly by mainstream Christian media.
Basically, a lot of these books and events targeted girls for what they wore and guys for being "lustful". Girls were told in every way except directly that our bodies are shameful by saying that they must be covered up because they can be "stumbling blocks" (in reference to Romans 14:13-23 and 1 Corinthians 8:9). Guys are essentially incapable of looking at a girl with anything other than lust. (However, it is everyone's responsibility to be mindful of the role lust plays in everyday life and dress to protect others from it, men and women, just not in this twisted way.)
This is very wrong and very toxic.
These discussions say that girls are scandalous and guys are perverted which dehumanizes both parties and completely corrupts and twists what could make healthy relationships between males and females, friendships and dating relationships. The misleading talks teach youth that they are no longer human beings but objects and people inherently focused on sex. These 13-15 year old kids who are entering puberty and the maturity that is close to, if not at, the age for dating are told that they are either becoming what is to be ashamed of or are incapable of preventing a shameful gaze when they could be educated that modesty is not limited to clothing but that in the context of clothing, is something for men and women and that lust is a struggle that everyone faces as a human being.
When twisted and toxic concepts of this lust and objectification pervade the discussion of cultivating healthy dating relationships for these young teenagers, dating soon becomes as shameful as the female figure. While dating is linked to marriage, this does so wrongly. Marriage is not a lifestyle that everyone is called to and it should not be lorded over youths as it is when having these discussions. The purpose of dating is learning to become someone of good character that is worthy of eventually being married to while finding the qualities you want and need in someone else of good character if that is the lifestyle God has for you, all while being purposeful and having fun.
Finding someone physically attractive was something guys were shamed for and it was not discussed as something that happened among girls. It seemed honorable to not even look at a guy's physical appearance and to denounce that aspect of attraction and only count looking at personality and sense of humor as valid. This fosters legalism and forces young teens to grow up too early in an attempt to maintain innocence by sexualizing everything so they are ashamed of things that actually are innocent and know too much about things that are not. I could go into so much more about how not to do a modesty talk, so let me end by saying how to do one well.
Talk about modesty of character before modesty of attire.
The Bible says nothing about what the holy length of a pair of shorts is or what kind of swimsuit to wear, it does tell us what our character should look like though. Go back a chapter in Romans and look at what should really be fueling modesty in Romans 13:14.
Under the heading, "Fulfilling the Law Through Love": "But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires."
I want to say two things with this, number one: What does our "flesh" or human nature desire? To lust, yes, but also to get accolades, to be noticed, to be perceived as the "best". This is not modesty, Jesus was not like that and neither should we. This is a lifestyle, not just an outfit. This is not to say wear dull clothes that are boring and itchy to refrain from vanity, this is to say to wear your character and your clothes to honor God. If you feel like you can honor God and protect those around you from stumbling while not misplacing blame, let alone blaming at all in a certain piece of clothing, wear it. If not, do not wear it.
Number two: putting on Jesus means to know Jesus and depend on that knowledge and the Holy Spirit to lead you in establishing healthy modesty of character and attire that reflects Him and does not blame or shame.
Put off these old, toxic views of modesty and teach that it is rooted in character, is not supposed to be legalistic, and does not divide and create fear in this way. Teach modesty as Jesus would have.