Sex Education: Why We Should Take Back Teaching the Children

Sex education in instructional settings presents a plethora of problems.  One of them is that such education ignores the maturity level of the individual child.  Because children mature at different rates, only a parent can know each child individually, and thus teach what that particular child is ready to hear.  "Each child's process of maturation as a person is different.  Therefore, the most intimate aspects, whether biological or emotional, should be communicated in a personalized dialogue"– Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality (TMHS) 66. 

Some experts believe they are in a better position to discern for a child than the child's own parents.  This is an interesting belief.  But it is not Catholic and it is not true.  The Church holds that this gift for discernment is given by God to parents for the purpose of fulfilling that special and blessed vocation of parenthood to which we have been called by God Himself.  This gift to discern for the child cannot be taken away from the parent.  "Since parents know, understand and love each of their children and their uniqueness, they are in the best position to decide what the appropriate time is for providing a variety of information, according to the children's physical and spiritual growth.  No one can take this capacity for discernment away from conscientious parents." (TMHS 65)

Teaching children is not just a God-given gift; it is a basic responsibility and duty of parenthood.  "The church has always affirmed that parents have the duty and the right to be the first and principal educators of their children…"  (TMHS 7)  "…If… parents do not give adequate formation in chastity, they are failing in their precise duty.  Likewise they would also be guilty were they to tolerate immoral or inadequate formation being give to their children outside the home" (TMHS 44).  Unless we are suffering from some serious physical or moral incapacity, no one can replace us is our educative role (TMHS 22). 

To help us in our role, the Council offers support and direction.  As parents we need to pray to God for wisdom and ask for his grace, find time to talk to our children, and associate with other parents to "…fight against the damaging forms of sex education and to ensure that… children will be educated according to Christian principles and in a way that is consistent with their personal development" (114).  Rare perversions should not become the norm in classroom discussion.  Instead, the council recommends that such perversions should be dealt with "through individual counseling, as the parents' response to genuine problems."  (TMHS 125).  We must "Attentively follow every form of sex education that is given… outside the home, removing …children whenever this education does not correspond to their own principles." (TMHS 114).  If necessary, special formation courses can be developed to assist us in our role "with the help of experts" (TMHS 134).  But this assistance must be given first to the parents. (TMHS 14;emphasis added)

 It is true that here are several good speakers, books, and videotapes which effectively cover the topics of purity and chastity from an authentically Catholic perspective.  We may opt to avail ourselves of these.  But there are also dangerous programs afoot.  We need to know the difference, recognize the danger, and uncover the details.  Hearing a talk from a Catholic school representative, or being shown a glossy advertising brochure is not enough.  It is not enough because in these scenarios the intimate and graphic details of the program can remain hidden.  Parents need to see and hear the actual material which the children will see and hear.   This includes the teacher's manual, worksheets, pictures, drawings, coloring sheets, videotapes, models, exercises, tests etc.   For any program involving sex information, parents should know the answers to the questions below, where a "yes" indicates digression from Pontifical guidance.

1.   Is biological and sexual information injected in religious education? (violates TMHS 141)

2.     Is "direct" information provided to pre-adolescents about chaste living?  (violates TMHS 78) Are dramatized representation, mime, role-playing, drawings, charts, models and oral or written exams used to convey sexual information? (violates TMHS 127)

3.     During adolescence, does catechesis provide intimate aspects of sexual information (biological or affective)? (violates TMHS 133)

4.     Is the presence of a secularized culture used to defend explicit and premature sex information? (violates TMHS 143)

5.     Are children or young people bound to secrecy about the content of the instruction? (violates TMHS 115)

6.     Are parents denied the right to be present in classes? (violates TMHS 116)  Are parents denied the right to remove children from instruction if instruction violates their own moral principals? If a child is removed from instruction, is discrimination shown toward the child? (violates TMHS 117)

7.     When assistance is given, is it given first to the child, rather than first to the parents — thus taking or diminishing the formative right and duty of parents? (violates TMHS 145)

Without regard for what the class is called (e.g. safety, family life, catechesis etc.) children should be pulled from classes which violate Rome's teachings.  But simply pulling little Joey out of class may not suffice.  This is because little Luke's parents may leave him in.  And much of what little Joey didn't hear in class, he will likely hear from little Tommy on the bus after school.  After pulling our children from these classes, the next step is to address concerns about unorthodox programs directly and in charity with the pastor.  If violations continue, then concerns should be directed to the diocesan Bishop.  If that fails, then documented facts, details, materials, and videotapes can be sent to the Pontifical Council for the Family at the following address:

Alfonso Cardinal Lopez Trujillo, President

Pontifical Council for the Family

16 Piazza S. Callisto

00120 Vatican City State, Europe

Psalm 127 reminds us that "Children… are a gift from the Lord."  As Catholic parents, we are responsible for protecting the gifts God gave us when He gave us our children.  If we want to truly protect our children then we cannot simply surrender them into the eager hands of those who are being led astray by the latest psychobabble of the day.  We must live by the faith handed down from Christ through the Church.  We must root ourselves and our children firmly in that faith. 

Moms and dads, it's time to take back the truths of our faith.  And while we are it, in a way that only we can, let's take back and protect the most precious gifts God has given to us — our children!

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  • Guest

    Amen!  If I am ever blessed with children, I will reserve the right to own this part of their education, according to my Catholic values.

  • Guest

    thank you for this informative peice.  I've often felt alone in the wilderness on this issue.

     

    I do feel that at some point, it would be necessary to combine the scientific and theological education of sexuality, else a complete picture is not obtained.  I think the maintenance of this separation is one reason why catholic formation so regularly fails today.

     

    Perhaps there are some good suggestions on how the parentscan be the ones to do this, especially those parents who do not have an extensive background themselves in these areas.

  • Guest

    Thank you, Mary Anne, for helping parents to discern the parameters of appropriate catechesis outside the home. I agree that these are not things that I want someone else (including their youth ministers) teaching my children, or anyone else's.

    I wonder, however, how many people will read this article and assume that because it is inappropriate for an outside party to impart this information to their children, that their children never hear about some of these things … ever? Even from their own parents?

    As parents, we do need (at the appropriate time, in an age-appropriate way) to impart "biological and sexual information" to our children, in the context of God's plan for family life.

    As parents, we do need to talk about the ways secular culture makes it difficult to live chastely — and how those influences are affecting their friends (even their church friends). Watching TV together and listening to music together is one way to do this — and an important way to teach them to make well-reasoned choices for themselves.

    As parents, we do need to talk about trusting their instincts, how to "fly from evil," and to recognize and avoid "friends" who do not have their best interests at heart (some of whom, I might add, are horrifyingly capable of using even Scripture to control and deceive, and to isolate that child from the influence of family members).

    As parents, we do need to dialogue with (not lecture) our children, so they have an opportunity to choose these values for themselves, so that they will continue to choose wisely even when mom and dad are no longer around.

    As parents, we need to dialogue with our children about situations they may encounter outside the home, so that they are prepared to handle themselves with confidence and prudence. In this context, role-playing is often helpful. (Consider taking a self-defense class together.)

    As parents, we need to instill confidence in our children by investing in our relationship with them and acknowledging their ability to make good choices. We need to keep the lines of communication open, even if at times it makes us uncomfortable to hear the things they have to say. (Hard questions are good … it shows that they are thinking!)

    We need to be there for them, even (perhaps especially) when they make mistakes — not to lecture, but to help them find the way back.

    We need to keep an "open home," welcoming our children's friends (and when possible, collaborating with their parents) so that we can be a source of light, knowing that often teens will accept guidance from other adults even as they pull away from their own parents.

    Finally, and perhaps most importantly, as parents, we need to model for our children what a healthy, affectionate, self-donating (yet chaste and modest) marriage is all about, so that our children will want this for themselves. We need to talk about our own journey to find our vocation, and draw from our own experiences information that will help them to discern their own.

    Heidi Hess Saxton Editor, "Canticle" Magazine Blogroll

  • Guest

    As an adult, married for decades, it became easy to speak of sexuality in the confines of a Catholic marriage after being involved with Theology of the Body, first by reading JPII's take on it in Love and Responsibility, and also using Christopher West's video program with other couples and having discusssions as a group about what chastity is and how we can pass that along to our children and grandchildren.

    My favorite line with my grandchildren when we talk about "life-giving" issuse is: "Do they have your best interest at heart?" So far this has been very effective.

    "Do not try to please everybody. Try to please God , the angels, and the saints. These are your public. If you are afraid of other people's opinion, you should not have become Christian." St John Vianney

  • Guest

    Thank you, bambushka, for those succinct and memorable reminders.  I'd like to add that one thing our family had to deal with throughout our children's 12+ years of Catholic education in the Midwest and South (and I'm sure we're not the only ones encountering this issue) was the information dealt them from their peers.  We've had interesting (to say the least) questions come up on car rides and even after dinner around the table about lunchroom conversations with less-naive classmates. 

    Catholic parents need to become somewhat familiar with all the sexuality portrayed in all the media–because some kids in every environment will have been exposed to it. 

    Prayer as a family, and individually, is essential; the Holy Spirit has been our Guide every time we've had to encounter this kind of teaching, and the Blessed Mother our greatest ally and intercessor. 

    Additionally, my husband and myself having been military officers working in that broad population (some, inevitably, of the "lowest common denominator" in language and interests), and with my bachelor's degree in nursing, we were able to answer the girls' questions calmly, without displaying shock or ignorance.  

    Our personal education in the Catechism and the Theology of the Body gave us the theological and biological rationales for  sexuality as a God-given gift to be expressed fully in marriage.  I thank Mary Beth Bonacci, Jason Evert, and EWTN's "Life on the Rock" for providing excellent resources in young people's language to support our home catechesis.

    It is an extreme trial for us to have had to teach our children about healthy and holy sexuality in this very open, and frequently nasty, 21st century environment; I've been shocked and nauseated by what I've found inadvertently on the internet, I can only imagine what curious adolescents are encountering in clandestine purposeful searches.  Full and broad preparation to discuss sex and sexuality is, unfortunately, essential as part of our vocation. 

    Praise be to God's grace, mercy, and guidance, I am so enormously grateful to say that our children–one a graduate nurse, the other still in a major state-supported university–are now able to be salt and light to their peers, active in their campus and young adult ministries living away from our home. 

  • Guest

    I would have to agree with taking back the education of our children when it comes to their sexual education.  I believe this is the only way we can preserve their purity and instill in them that sanctity Our Lady of America called for in Rome City, IN in 1956.

     Fathers need to be the spiritual lions of their families (which should do their best to emulate the Holy Family) and children are being called to lead the world by the purity of their lives.

     

    Learn all about Her messages and all of the history at http://www.oltiv.org

     

    God Bless the American Family.

  • Guest

    We've had interesting (to say the least) questions come up on car rides and even after dinner around the table about lunchroom conversations with less-naive classmates.

    One question this raises is how is a responsible parent to respond to such shocking detail if the questions come up while other people's children are present? Silence would appear not to be an option, though addressing such conversations directly and immediately seems to run the risk of violating guidelines #1, #2, #3, #4, and #7, above. One obvious response is to address the issues directly with the children's parents after the fact and with one's own children, also after the fact. But it seems that a parent is right to present proper information immediately to his own children (because the immediacy addresses the proper contextual need for children who often cannot remember the necessary details of conversation even a few minutes later). But immediacy is compromised if one waits for an opportunity to address such concerns until other children are not present.

    This raises an interesting conundrum, the resolution of which I cannot even pretend to provide. The same conundrum presents itself when teaching youth. Potentially inappropriate questions can (and do) get raised completely outside the context of anything pertaining to sex education. How is one to respond without violating the TMHS guidelines? Again, speaking directly with parents is one option. But again, immediacy is sacrificed. Even better would be to provided catechesis to the parents, especially since so many misunderstand the Church's teachings in the areas of human sexuality.

    But again, the initial conundrum remains unresolved, especially if there is no support for catechesis of the parents at the parish.

  • Guest

    There's a wonderful organization out there based in SC that offers family-centered chastity education programs – Family Honor, Inc. (http://www.familyhonor.org)  Their site offers some great resources. Their programs for 6th grade – high school are grounded in JPII's Theology of the Body and are the only ones that require parents and children to attend together.  I'm part of a new teaching team in Raleigh, NC and the response to the program so far has been phenomenal.  Parents are hungry for information about how to present sexuality as holy and wholesome.  I wish I'd known all this growing up! 

  • Guest

    HomeschoolNfpDad, I think I may have misstated the context of my teen daughters' questions; only they, their father, and I were present at the time they asked about the sexual situations their male classmates brought up at the high school lunchroom table.  If other families' children had been present, the course of action you suggested, i.e., postponing instruction with my kids, and letting the parents of the involved young people know what was brought up in my presence, would have been appropriate.  

    Indeed, catechesis of parents and other adults about sexuality, chastity, and purity, with guidance as to the means of teaching the youth under their responsibility, should be high priority for the American church.  The generation of seriously undercatechized adults who were children during the immediate post-conciliar period (like my brothers who were born in the early '60's), when the U.S. church was "finding itself" amidst the implementation of what were perceived as necessary changes dictated by Vatican II, are "the blind leading the blind" in matters of faith and morals.  Backtracking to engage and enlighten this population is the fundamental task in reaching both them and their children with the truth about their relationships with God, parents, and one another, snatching their souls from destruction.

    The job is Herculean, and only the Holy Spirit can effect such a miracle as to save these generations of people from the sin inspired by the spirit of the age.  I have felt such deep discouragement from seeing the effects of the culture of death on family members and friends who preceded the "JP II Generation."  Our home and others like it, as well as our parish function as sanctuaries in the midst of the vast garbage dump of lies, filth, and hate expressed in so much of 21st century culture.  This situation makes the concept of home-based sexuality education a conundrum.  Public school education is NOT a viable option (omitting the essential aspects of Catholic faith and morals), but what information about God's gift of our sexuality present in so many homes is so seriously deficient as to be nonexistent, even in nominally Catholic households. 

  • Guest

    I am glad to see so much discussion of this issue as it is vitally important.  But we must not forget that our children also need to have a deep understanding and love for the Eucharist.  So I have been saddened to see that very few people responded to the following story.  http://www.catholicexchange.com/en/node/62187

    I think we all need to express our Catholic opinions with equal fervor and length concerning the issues addressed in this article or all chastity education (Catholic or otherwise) will mean nothing.  
  • Guest

    My mother gave me the very basics of sex education, as well as lessons on living chastely. Everything else I learned, I learned in my Catholic school classes in junior high and high school (both science and religion). I am very grateful that I had teachers willing to broach these subjects in a responsible manner. 

     

    In our diocese, due to the sex abuse crisis, religious education classes are required to discuss topics such as "right" and "wrong" touches, respect for one's own body, and the like. We teach them to tell a trusted adult if someone makes them uncomfortable. The parents are aware that this is part of the curriculum.

     

    The subjects can be difficult, but the sad fact remains that there are parents (and other relatives) who sexually abuse their children. Leaving these children's sexual education in these people's hands is not OK. Neither is burying one's head in the sand and pretending that sex doesn't exist and that our children won't find out about it. It would be wonderful if every parent was honest and open with their children in an appropriate way about these topics but that is not always the case.  

  • Guest
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