Most of the time our youth group meetings are a bit of a blur without a lot of opportunity for tons of one on one time. Every now and then I have a conversation with my teens that has an impact on me, if not on them.
A few years ago during small groups is one such example. We just finished a talk on chastity and modesty that really only scraped the surface of what our dignity is and how we should respect our own bodies so that others will also respect us. I sit down with my 8th grade girls and pull out my pre-planned discussion questions, prepared to dive right in when I am stopped short by one of the girls.
“When you’re married, are you allowed to, like, do it whenever you want?” she asked very seriously.
I thought to myself, “Okay, we are going there tonight.”
I proceeded to have a very candid and open exchange with these young ladies about the rich teachings of our faith on the gift of sexuality and what that means in marriage. I touched upon the use of Natural Family Planning to be open to the gift of children and the harm of birth control. I answered their concerns about “What if you are really afraid you will get pregnant? Isn’t it better to use birth control then?” and encouraged them to continue these conversations at home with their parents.
That last part seemed to be the most terrifying thing I could possibly suggest to these teens. They could not imagine talking with their parents about sex, birth control, or their bodies. This concerns me greatly.
Another conversation between teens and a pair of our high school core members also strikes me as concerning. On a night where the Church scandals were being discussed, it became evident that our teenagers did not have any idea about the concept of rape. They were horrified (justifiably) that this is even a thing and were positively near tears by the end of small groups.
As a parent, I understand the desire and need to protect our children from harm. Likewise, I understand that when we fail to educate them in the proper time, we also do great harm. With our young women, they need to be aware of the dangers so they can protect themselves. For our young men, we need to instruct them on the dignity of the human body so they understand what is acceptable behavior. I recognize that rape can happen to anyone regardless of gender, but believe that our teenage girls are especially vulnerable.
My concerns stem deeper than the personal safety of our teens and go to a more spiritual level. If teens cannot turn to their parents (whom they should be able to trust and depend upon for their faith instruction) to have their questions about sexuality answered, where will they go? What horrors await them at the end of a basic internet search? What lies or half-truths will they believe from friends who do not share a faith background? Where will they learn their inherent value and dignity as God’s beloved sons and daughters?
I recall my own talks with my mother about these same issues. The first happened at age five when my parents sat my older brother and I down to have “The Talk” because there were numerous reports of “incidents” between school-kids at my elementary school. Throughout my teenage years, I recall my mother vaguely teaching me about signs of fertility and constant warnings against birth control and pre-marital sex.
My own formation may have been somewhat lacking in content and delivery, but I am grateful that my parents opened the door to let me know that I could come to them with my questions. They left me comforted that they were willing to “go there” with me should I require it. With my own children, I feel an obligation to impress upon them their own worth and to help them see that in all others. My husband and I field all questions with honest and age-appropriate information.
If we don’t share this message over and over again, the loud and tempting message of this world will penetrate their hearts and the cycle of hurt perpetuates.
Be bold. Go there.