Monday, August 18, 2008

A few brief thoughts on chastity and teens

Having had some extra time today after finishing and sending my first post-residency paper for better or for worse, I was cleaning out my cathedral e-mail box today and I came across something I sent several months ago in response to a very personal question. So, here are a few thoughts on answering the inquiries of older teens about sex with an eye toward educating them to be chaste, even when being chased, which means educating about destiny.

In talking to older teenagers, who are, realistically, too old to control by parental force or fiat, about sex it is important to both recognize and not impose on their freedom. Have a little trust that their desire is for happiness and that they are seeking what corresponds to their hearts, even if they're confused or mistaken about freedom and happiness. In other words, start from a positive hypothesis. Seek to educate them about their destiny, the path to which is through this world, through their own humanity, which includes their sexuality, which, if misused, can lead to a precipitous fall off path to destiny and be deleterious to their happiness even now.

Along these same lines as parents and adults to whom young people turn for support and guidance, we must understand that guilt trips are never helpful and lead to either rejection or neurosis, but not to Christ. Respecting their freedom, while being unrelenting about the truth, called among Christians teaching the truth in love, is always the way to go. It is the harder path given what it is at stake. Nevertheless, anxiety about outcomes is always the result of the risk-taking Love requires of us. This anxiety, born of concern, drives us to our knees in prayer, especially as parents. Keeping our children in prayer, whether they are in our charge as a result of birth, affinity, or circumstance, is key. I suggest offering intentions to our Blessed Mother when praying a rosary everyday. Mother Mary is very good with these situations, as is St. Mary Magdalene, and St. Gianni Molla. This suggestion only remains a cliché if you do not follow up. It is up to us to verify these claims of our faith with humble hearts.


  1. What I am seeing very clearly as a mother is that chastity education begins when the child is born -- I thought, "I'm glad some parenting concerns are a long way off" (when my girls were little), but now that I have two teens, I can see that I have been educating the girls to respect for their bodies and for destiny all along. It is ESSENTIAL that we show with our actions and teach with our words that their bodies are precious temples of the Holy Spirit, even when they are infants. At this point, I don't think I have outright told my girls anything about chastity -- they tell me about it every day -- worried about the choices their peers make, unable to understand how their peers can be so disrespectful to themselves, sharing their struggles with trying to speak with their friends about why their behavior is so harmful to themselves. I have been filled with wonder that my "strategy" (which I never consciously enacted) has been so "successful." Thanks for this post! But I do think that when we face this question, in all its drama, during the teenage years, it is only because we're in need of conversion ourselves. We should look to the beam in our own eyes before we try to remove the speck from our teenagers' eyes. I think that your reflections are a beautiful and gentle call to parental conversion.

  2. At the risk of sounding sexist because I am male and the father of a teenage son, it is important for young women to respect themselves and have good self-esteem. In other words, to know who they are and for whom they are made. Of course, the same holds true for young men. Yet, young men approach these matters from an almost entirely physcial standpoint.

    Of course, there is so much garbage to compete with which to compete. In addition to respecting themselves, young men need to respect women even while appreciating their beauty, mystery, and allure, which appreciation means not objectifying- to use revert to a cliche. It is possible, even preferable, to appreciate someone without feeling the need to possess her/him. This is what it means to move toward freedom, at least until you find the one whose destiny and yours are bound together in a loving, unbreakable bond, blessed by God and strengthened by sacramental grace.

    I especially appreciate your insight that we, too need conversion. I know I do.

  3. I regretted that comment shortly after I made it! It's very dangerous to boast! And I also thought about tv and movies -- we don't do tv (except the public tv shows for little kids) and we see a lot of movies instead -- for just the reasons you mention. This is a big factor.

  4. Your daughters are blessed to have you as their mom. As you point out in your subsequent post, you're a blessed mother. Heck, rejoice in your daughters' understanding of themselves, which they learned from you.

  5. Honestly, this is not false modesty: they didn't learn it from me. If I've done anything right with them, it involves not getting in the way. A gardener can optimize the conditions for growth, but she doesn't "make" the flower grow, bloom, or be spotlessly beautiful. A lot of why they are who they are has to do with the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. When three year-olds have hours and hours (and hours) to reflect on the parable of the merchant and the pearl, it helps them to begin to understand what is valuable (for example). It has to start happening at age three, or earlier, though.