First, let me tell you that this column is going to contain some unpleasant material material that’s unsuitable for children. Nevertheless, it’s vital that I get this information out to you even though it may cause you some uncomfortable reading.
Alright, you’ve been warned.
I know a lot of parents, myself included, have been casting around for ways to better protect and educate our kids in the wake of the Church’s sex scandal. Like all things related to the scandal, Boston is once again the focus of attention, as Catholics and the media alike watch to see what kind of programming the diocese will implement to clean up its act.
To that end, and since April was designated Child Abuse Prevention Month, the Boston archdiocese has chosen to institute a program called “Talking About Touching” (TAT). Created by the Committee for Children, a secular group in Seattle, the program is designed to teach kids in kindergarten through grade 4 “safety, self-protection, and assertiveness skills” to help protect them from dangerous situations.
Sounds great, doesn’t it? I mean, what parent wouldn’t want his or her child armed with some good safety tips as they go out into an increasingly dangerous world?
But there are some parents in the Boston archdiocese who aren’t so thrilled with TAT. And after investigating the program and the way it’s being implemented, I can understand why.
First, there’s TAT itself. The title alone sets off warning bells in my mind “Talking About Touching”? After being billed as a program that covers everything from car and fire safety to assertiveness skills, I’m a little suspicious that they chose to focus solely on touching in the title. It makes it sound like a sex-ed program, which some parents may be uncomfortable with. When kids are this young 5 or 6 shouldn’t the parent be able to decide the appropriate age to “talk about touching”? And isn’t it the parents’ job to do the talking in the first place?
And then there’s the program’s contents. A web site started by concerned parents in Norwood, MA, outlines some of the scenarios taught to the kids in the program.
Again, remember that this is geared to children in grades K through 4:
“This is Kerry. She is worried about something that happened to her last week when she spent the night with one of her friends. Her friend’s older brother came into the bedroom, put his hand under the covers of the bed Kerry was sleeping in, and touched her vagina (private parts). She said, ‘Stop that!’ in an assertive voice. He stopped, but then he told her to keep it a secret. Kerry is wondering what she should do.”
I don’t know about you, but I find this outrageous especially, when you consider the ages of the children who would be hearing it. The thought of my 5-year-old son Cyprian being subjected to this kind of thing burns me up. Frankly, I wouldn’t stand for it.
And that’s the problem.
You see, if my family lived in the Boston archdiocese, I wouldn’t have a choice. That’s right the archdiocese has made it mandatory for every child in Catholic schools, and no parent is allowed even to sit in on the class with his or her child.
Even if TAT were a completely legitimate program, the fact that parents are not given a say in how their young children are taught about sexuality is outrageous. It’s the parent’s responsibility to make these decisions, not the school board’s.
What’s more, the Church agrees. Consider this passage from Familiaris Consortio, Pope John Paul II’s encyclical on the family: “Those in society who are in charge of schools must never forget that the parents have been appointed by God Himself as the first and principal educators of their children and that their right is completely inalienable” (#40).
That’s pretty clear, I think. And what’s also clear is that these parents in Boston are being denied that right.
Some parents, like those at St. Catherine of Siena school in Norwood (where TAT just began this week), are raising questions about the program and petitioning the school and the archdiocese to allow them to pull their children from the class. I hope they’re successful, and that their success might encourage other parents to do the same.
In the wake of the scandal, it’s vital for us to talk to our kids about safety. But as far as talking about sexuality, parents must be allowed to teach their own children when and how they see fit. It’s not only our duty, it’s also our right.