Many parents dread having to give their once-babies-now-teenagers-with-raging-hormones the talk. I asked a friend if she could share tips on how she used to talk to her grown kids about sex when they were teenagers: “Huh?! I’ve blocked out those awkward memories!” she exclaimed. Another friend quickly switched topics in a panic to distract her nine-year-old who wanted to know how babies are made. And so we end up dodging these sensitive and awkward questions putting them off indefinitely… leaving it to the school teachers or catechists to answer those questions. Or worse, letting the kids go find out on their own!
Why do we feel so awkward and inadequate when it comes to talking to our children about sex and the virtue of chastity? After all, preparing them for adult life is our ultimate duty as their parents.
More than just The Birds and the Bees
Chastity and virginity – once upheld and protected by the general culture and the greater part of society – has, in a steady course of moral degeneration, become grounds for shaming among peers, at best. We can’t seem to get a handle on this sophisticated and prematurely “advanced” generation of youngsters. We are plagued with self-defeating questions as we broach the topic with our juniors: Are we being too “Catholic”? Too permissive? Too inhibited? Too open? Too old-fashioned? Too pushy? Are we telling them too much? Too little? How much do they already know?? Where do we start???
As a mother of two young girls puts it, “The danger of making the topic taboo is that they may go under and carry enormous guilt all their life, never feeling comfortable in their skin about their sexuality… and who knows where that could end up…”
Stewardship of a precious and rich gift of love
Yet in the context of the Church, sexuality education is so much more than just The Birds and the Bees. It goes beyond merely just the biological, concerning the “intimate nucleus of the person” and is ordered towards chastity (The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality, 1996). St John Paul the Great explains, “the virtue of chastity is found within temperance and is not to be understood as a repressive attitude but as the purity and temporary stewardship of a precious and rich gift of love, in the view of the self-giving realised in each person’s specific vocation, and is thus that spiritual energy capable of defending love from the perils of selfishness and aggressiveness, and able to advance it towards its full realisation.” (FC, #33)
But how and where do we begin?
It Starts AT HOME
In his Letter to Families issued in 1994, Pope John Paul II wrote, “Parents are the first and most important educators of their own children.” This point has since been affirmed by both Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis.
Instilling chastity in children begins with the incorporation of the preceding virtues of temperance, fortitude and prudence. Chastity cannot exist as a virtue without the capacity to renounce self, to make sacrifices and to wait. “In giving life, parents cooperate with the creative power of God and receive the gift of a new responsibility – not only to feed their children and satisfy their material and cultural needs, but above all to pass on to them the lived truth of the faith and to educate them in love of God and neighbour. This is the parents’ first duty in the heart of the “domestic church”.”
Children who exist in an atmosphere permeated with that love for God that makes an authentic reciprocal gift possible are better disposed to the moral truths that they see practised in their parents’ life. They will have confidence in them, learn that love overcomes fears and that “nothing moves us to love more than knowing that we are loved”. (TMHS, #52)
Be role models – you are the benchmark
Get it right first, and walk the talk. How else can you model Christ’s love for them and others?
Work on your marriage and make it solid – that is the very first step in making your home a warm and safe haven for all its inhabitants. Exemplify in your spousal relationship, unconditional respect and enduring love that is total, self-giving, patient and kind. It sets the tone for the wellbeing and happiness of your kids – they will thrive in it and instinctively radiate the same to others. Live out Christian virtues in your daily family life and walk the talk – how and where else will they learn them? You are the benchmark against which they will measure their prospective spouses – make sure you set the standards high!
Build them up
Build them up emotionally – affirm and validate them every chance you get. Lovingly instruct, don’t criticise, shame, tear down or put them on guilt-trips. Positive reinforcement does so much for the development of children and negative reinforcement achieves the exact opposite. Children need all the security and stability they can get at home in order to weather the challenges of life and develop strong self-identities that will help them appreciate their unique gifts and qualities.
Don’t underestimate the power of the human touch. Cuddle them often… be playful and affectionate with them… make your love for them incarnate. If they are getting all the love they need at home, they have no reason to look for it elsewhere.
Teach them to love the Father
Pray as a family and instil deep piety in them, again by your good example. Teach them to pray and to turn to God’s word in times of sorrow and need. Imbue them with God’s promises of love to them. No one loves them better than He does. Help them fall in love with Him and experience His infinite and enduring love for them. When your kids are in love with God, they will live their lives in love and service for Him and their neighbours and will be less likely to walk down paths that sadden or offend Him.
Theology of the Body
Between 1979 to 1984, Pope St John Paul II presented an in-depth biblical explanation of the meaning and vocation of the human person, elucidating the beauty of sexuality, marriage and celibacy for the Kingdom. Delivered over 129 General Audiences, this collection has been collectively known as the “Theology of the Body”.
Get acquainted with it and the workings of human sexuality in the context of the church –you can’t teach your kids what you don’t know. If reading is not your thing, watch Fr David Garcia’s series of video talks which has him breaking down theories from the Theology of the Body. You can find these talks on the ACF website at catholicfamily.org.sg/tobgarcia. Fr Garcia is a Dominican and the Spiritual Director of Family Life Society. He presents his material with wonderful anecdotes and interesting analogies, and he is witty to boot.