By Susan Ciancio
According to a recent report,
“In 2017, 40% of high school students in the United States reported that they had ever had sex.”
To put that number in perspective, in a high school of 2,000 kids, 800 of them are having sex. As parents, we should be frightened. As Catholics, we should be terrified.
We know what the Church teaches about sexuality. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church,
“Sexuality is ordered to the conjugal love of man and woman. In marriage the physical intimacy of the spouses becomes a sign and pledge of spiritual communion. Marriage bonds between baptized persons are sanctified by the sacrament.” But do we teach our children this? And, if we do, are they listening?
A somewhat optimistic find by Guttmacher tells us that “in 2006–2010, the most common reason that sexually inexperienced adolescents aged 15–19 gave for not having had sex was that it was ‘against religion or morals’ (41% of females and 31% of males).”
So, some kids get it! Whatever they were taught at home stuck with them and helped them make good decisions about their bodies and their sexuality. This firm foundation in the Culture of Life is what all parents should aspire to give their children.
We know the repercussions of sex outside the marriage or sex with multiple partners. We see the rise in STDs (especially HPV). We see unplanned pregnancies. We see abortion clinics frothing at the mouth as these scared kids come in looking for the easy solution. And, of course, we see a whole host of emotional issues that come when someone gives himself or herself wholly and completely to another, who then walks away days, weeks, or months after.
And now we also see an increase in kids using their smartphones to “sext.” Sexting—or sending inappropriate photos, messages, or images via text—is becoming more and more popular, especially among young children who want to explore their sexuality.
According to the New York Times:
In [a] new study, researchers looked at data from 39 studies of people under 18 sending and receiving sexually explicit images, videos and messages. Taken together, the studies included data on more than 110,000 kids (they ranged from 11.9 to 17 in age, with a mean of 15.16).
These studies included kids of very different ages and asked—and answered—very different questions, a challenge the researchers acknowledged as they pulled together the information on this relatively new and probably rapidly changing set of behaviors. Still, they offered prevalence data from this big group: 14.8 percent had sent sexts, 27.4 percent had received them, 12 percent had forwarded a sext without consent, and 8.4 percent had had it happen to them.
Sexting comes with its own host of problems as well. Kids don’t seem to understand that, once a picture is sent, they can never get it back. That picture can be shared by the recipient countless times, uploaded to various sites, or even printed out. Platforms such as Snapchat, where pictures are deleted about 10 seconds after they are opened, lull kids into thinking the pictures are somehow gone. But this is not true. Anyone looking at the picture can take a screenshot of it and save it. And then there’s the very real and scary threat that comes along with sending lewd pictures—the fact that they could be charged with possession or dissemination of child pornography. A charge like that could ruin their lives.
In short, our sex-obsessed culture presents a real problem for our children.
Talking to Kids about Sex
If we truly want to build a culture of life and teach our children about chastity, we must teach them about the sanctity of their bodies and of all human beings from the time they are old enough to understand.
- When they are small, teach them the beauty of a preborn baby. Explain that everyone is a valued child of God, even innocent babies waiting to be born. Providing this foundation will help them respect even the most vulnerable among us and will keep them from believing the lie that a preborn baby is just a blob of tissue.
- As children get older, and understand more, teach them that their bodies are a temple of God and should be respected as such. Teach them to wear appropriate clothing, to not look at pornography online, to treat others with respect, to speak kindly, to not tell or laugh at dirty or inappropriate jokes, and to remain pure of heart and body.
- When it’s time to talk to kids about sex, speak honestly and openly out of love and concern for them. Explain that the Church teaches that sex must be between one man and one woman in a marriage and that a marriage has a twofold purpose: the unity of the couple and procreation. Explain that having multiple sexual partners has detrimental effects on people. An excellent resource for both you and your children is Theology of the Body for Teens. Use this book as a springboard for conversation with your children and to help them understand why the Church teaches what she teaches.
Explain that giving yourself wholly to another is making yourself as vulnerable as you can possibly be. Ask them to remember a time they felt vulnerable. Then ask if they want to feel that way with someone who doesn’t care about them and who might hurt them. Explain that having sex just for the sake of sex uses them and that bodies aren’t meant to be used. They’re meant to be cherished and loved. Provide some perspective by giving this analogy:
A classmate knows that you’re good at math. This person hangs around you only when he wants to see your math homework answers. The rest of the time he ignores you. You tell him you won’t give him your homework. Then one day he wants to see your answers during a test. You know he is just using you, so you sit across the room and avoid him at every opportunity. It seems only logical to distance yourself from him, right? So, if you wouldn’t allow someone to use you for your math answers, why would you let someone use you for sex?
When we provide bits of that moral foundation day after day, when we teach our children that they have value, and when we make them understand and believe that this is true, they will be much less likely to give themselves so easily to another. Building a culture of life takes effort. It takes love. And it takes patience. But the souls of our children are worth it, aren’t they?
This article has been reprinted with permission and can be found at hli.org/resources/protecting-kids-from-sex.