Marcia Segelstein has covered family issues for over 25 years as a producer for CBS News and as a columnist. She has written for FoxNews.com, “First Things,” “World Magazine,” and “Touchstone.” She is a Senior Editor for “SALVO” magazine and author of the book Don’t Let the Culture Raise Your Kids, which will be released by Our Sunday Visitor this spring.
Today’s Catholic and other traditional Christian parents have the monumental task of trying to teach their children the true meaning of sex. What makes it so difficult is that the world’s understanding of sex is completely different from the Church’s. And while the world once at least tacitly supported parents in their role as primary educators, it no longer does. When it comes to this all-important issue, the education establishment and the entertainment industry have largely usurped parental authority.
For starters, there’s the sex education children may be taught at school. Many schools teach what’s called “comprehensive” sex ed. The word “comprehensive” may sound like a positive, but what it really means is that students are presented with a laundry list of ways to give and receive sexual pleasure. “Safer sex” is current mantra and various methods of artificial birth control are presented with the emphasis on condoms. Abstinence is usually mentioned, but only as one choice among many. Let’s just say that it’s amoral at best.
Then there’s entertainment for teenagers in the form of TV shows, movies and books with storylines where people seem to fall into bed with each other after their first kiss (think Gossip Girl). Or how about magazines like Teen Vogue that promote and even provide instruction for what the CDC calls the “riskiest sexual behavior for getting and transmitting HIV for men and women.”
There’s no doubt that parents who want their children to embrace the Catholic view of sex face an uphill battle.
Dr. Michael Artigues has been a practicing pediatrician for 22 years and is a member of the Board of the American College of Pediatricians. He and his wife are the parents of six children. I asked what advice he has for parents who want their children to embrace the traditional Christian view of sex.
Don’t underestimate your influence
Dr. Artigues believes it’s important for parents not to make the assumption that their teens will necessarily become sexually active. “I want parents to know that they have more influence than they realize,” he told me, “even in the teenage years when peers start to play a greater role. Focus on building and maintaining good relationships with your kids, even when they’re argumentative.” Kids are listening, even when their faces say otherwise.
Share the facts and emphasize the positives
It’s important to share with kids the risks involved with sexual activity. According to the Centers for Disease Control, every year there are 10 million new cases of sexually transmitted diseases among young people ages 15 to 24. Sexually active teens are more prone to depression, with higher rates of attempted suicide. The emotional bonding that takes place during sexual activity can make breakups devastating to young people. “But,” Dr. Artigues advises, “it’s not a matter of saying ‘no’ to sex because it’s bad. It’s a matter of saying that there’s a right time for it.” It’s reasonable to tell young people that abiding by the teachings of the Church when it comes to sex — a good in and of itself — is also likely to lead to better physical and emotional health.
Don’t believe the myth that everyone’s “doing it”
Earlier this month the CDC released a report showing a significant decline in teen sexual activity between 2005-2015. The percentage of teens who reported ever having engaged in sexual intercourse declined from 46.8 percent to 41.2 percent. That decline was even larger than from the previous ten-year period. Other studies have shown similar results. LifeSiteNews reported on a study in the Archives of Sexual Behavior showing that the number of women who were sexually abstinent as young adults has tripled since the 1960s, and the number of men has doubled. Here’s the headline: the majority of teenagers are choosing not to have sex and abstinence rates among millennials are skyrocketing.
Don’t be afraid to be the parent
“Kids want limits, even if they don’t know it,” Dr. Artigues told me. “Our kids are buried in their electronic devices these days. Set limits at the dinner table, for example. Give kids opportunities to engage with the family.” Strong relationships will make everyone more comfortable talking about even difficult subjects. Don’t be afraid to be in charge. Or as he puts it, “be willing to be the parent.”
For additional tips, visit the “Talking to Children about Sex” section of the American College of Pediatricians website.