Guiding today’s teens into an authentic appreciation of Catholic teaching on human sexuality is no easy task when the environment in public schools, entertainment and the wider culture often undermines Catholic morality.
A group of Alaskan parents, however, are not standing idly by. They continue to meet each month at St. Benedict Church in Anchorage to tackle some of the most pressing issues associated with modern parenting. The gatherings are hosted by Liz Loeffler, campus minister and teacher at Lumen Christi High School, and Bob McMorrow, director of evangelization and catechesis at St. Benedict’s.
The next meeting, Jan. 15, features a presentation with facilitated discussion on the topic: “Catholic response to gender identity issues.” The gathering runs 4-5:45 p.m. in Lumen Christi High School, room 109.
Below are responses from McMorrow and Loeffler about the most recent parenting meeting that dealt with the issue of chastity, as well as a brief preview of the upcoming meeting on gender identity issues.
How do you choose the topics for discussion?
MCMORROW: We asked parents what they want to talk about and then developed a schedule.
What did the last meeting cover?
MCMORROW: We discussed how to talk to teens about chastity. We watched a video from Jason Evert from chastityproject.com. He is one of the more popular Catholic chastity speakers. We then discussed all sorts of issues. Many parents seem to forget that they are the primary educators of their children. Parents might assume that the schools are doing it so they don’t have to. Do not trust the schools to be able to share the beautiful message of Catholic sexuality. Often schools avoid sharing the beauty of sexuality with the kids and don’t encourage abstinence because it sounds like faith or morality. Instead they take the more politically correct approach of going over how to use contraception to avoid pregnancy and STDs. Sometimes they will even invite Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion provider, to share their views with our children. Parents are the primary educators of their children and must not give up this duty to anyone else.
How can parents approach this topic with their teens?
MCMORROW: Don’t try to scare kids into abstinence by highlighting STDs and pregnancy. Talk about the beauty of Catholic sexuality. It is a gift from God that can only achieve its proper beauty and glory when shared between a man and a woman who are married. Everything else is a hollow mockery of what God intended. One of the videos talked about making a fire as an analogy. A fire brings warmth, is an invitation to fellowship, a place to make meals and overall can be a great thing. But start a fire on your carpet in your living room and watch people freak out. In its proper place — a fireplace or stovetop — fire is a great thing. On your living room floor it is a destructive force. Our sexuality is similar. Used in its proper place and time and it is a great gift that brings life and unifies married couples. Outside of the proper place it causes a lot of damage.
Another topic we discussed was a rediscovery of the church’s teaching on avoiding near occasions of sin. Most Catholic couples want to abstain from sex until they are married and remain chaste throughout their lives. Many fail, often times, because they failed to avoid near occasions of sin. Avoiding consumption of alcohol or other mind-altering drugs is an essential place to begin. Also, dating in groups, hanging out with friends who will challenge you to holiness instead of encouraging promiscuity, avoid too much un-chaperoned times — these are some ideas to help couples not fall to the temptations.
Parents can start by making sure you have regular communication with youth. If the only important conversation you have with your youth is about chastity it might be intimidating. But if we regularly talk to them about dating, life, faith, future, family and other important topics, then this is just one more important aspect of life that we find time to share with our children. There are some great books and videos that can be used to help bring up important topics of sexuality.
LOEFFLER: The best way to broach the topic is to teach your kids, from the time they are toddlers, how to be respectful and holy in the way they treat others and themselves. We think of it as sitting down one time and giving “The Talk” but it is really about seizing opportunities such as when passing a sexualized billboard advertisement, or when a song that treats sex flippantly comes on the radio. Let these be your conversation starters. I have found that talking about video games or movies during family time, such as game night or dinner, has spurred really good conversation.
What is the next parenting meeting going to cover?
MCMORROW: Parents asked that we discuss the Catholic response to gender identity issues. All parents would benefit from attending as we attempt to reason through the various issues. Many parents seem frustrated by new policies that are disconnected from the reality of biological gender. This has been forced upon us by the federal government and schools’ response to their mandates. The issue is not easy, and simply being tolerant or respectful of how people feel does not adequately respond to the reality of the situation. The other side of this issue is the safety of our children in locker rooms, bathrooms and on overnight trips. Other topics are the various legal issues and how these policies influence our athletic programs.
LOEFFLER: We will examine the spirituality, sociology, psychology and biology of teens struggling with transgender identity as well as the long-term outlook of this challenge. Also, we will broach how to discuss the subject when children ask questions.