As I mentioned in the last post, I spent this past weekend on the campus of Franciscan University attending the Defending the Faith conference. Most of the talks were excellent and it was wonderful to be surrounded by so many other faithful Catholics. One of the highlights (aside from Mass and Adoration!) was a workshop by Mark Hart. The topic was "The Gospel according to 'Glee'" and he was discussing the strong sexual messages presented by the media in popular culture and the ways these messages affect children and teens. It was a great talk.
One thing that he said really struck a chord with me. So much so that I went up afterwards to thank him for saying it.
"It's not an option not to talk to your kids about sex."Now, (hopefully obviously as this was at a FUS conference) he wasn't talking about promoting contraception or waiting until you're out of high school or "in love" or something "typical" like that. But this is a message (talking to your kids) that is just as important in Steubenville as it is anywhere. On Saturday evening, there was a student talking about why everyone should donate to the university. One thing he mentioned was that the "Steubenville bubble" is a myth. Maybe that's easy to say as a student from out of town who was not homeschooled in Steubenville. But I can say with very real conviction that the "Steubenville bubble" is not an urban legend. Take the example of my friend "Rachel." (not her real name)
Rachel grew up in a town much like Steubenville in a very Catholic family. She's the oldest (about my age - out of school, etc.), has a bunch of younger siblings, and they were all homeschooled at some point. Although I've never discussed this topic with any of her siblings, she and I have spent plenty of time dissecting thoughts on the Catholic meaning of sexuality. She tells me that "everything [she] ever learned about sex came from [her] friends, the internet, books, or a youth group type event (including Steubenville conferences)." She has no recollection of her parents ever telling her anything on the topic. I don't mean to condemn Rachel's parents, as I know they are lovely people who did/are doing the best they can with their children. I only wish they would see how important parents can be in influencing their children. Luckily for Rachel, she has been blessed to learn plenty about the Catholic teachings on human sexuality. And - perhaps even luckier - she has never been in a situation where those teachings were strongly tempted. But, was it fair for her parents to ignore the topic and hope that she would "learn what she needed" at a Steubenville Youth Conference or something similar?
I know of other families who have not been so lucky. Another friend "Beth" (again, name changed) struggled with remaining chaste with a boyfriend in college. While I do not know what (if anything) her parents told her, she was under the impression that if this boy was going to pressure her to go further than she wanted to, he would do so verbally. When the situation actually arose, there was much more pushing of the envelope physically rather than verbose nudging. And this girl wasn't even raised in a Steubenville-like bubble.
In a similar situation, there are stories of Steubenville-homeschool-raised adults who are married and have kids whose birthdays fall less than 9 months after the marriage of their parents. Again, I can only speculate (and freely admit that I have no personal experience similar to this with which to compare) but I can't help but wonder how much their parents spoke with them about chastity. Or if they had so little practical information (beyond "Don't have sex until you're married") that it was incredibly easy to find themselves sliding down a slippery slope with little hope of catching themselves.
It seems that the bottom line is something to the effect of: kids will be catechized by something. This includes moral teachings just as much as "strictly" faith-based ones. By our very nature we have an intense curiosity about human sexuality. If parents don't step in and catechize their children, at some point, something else will. It doesn't matter how much of a "bubble" you create around them, it will happen. Yes, I'm sure those aren't easy conversations to have -- Mark admitted that he's not looking forward to speaking with his daughters -- but as he said when I spoke with him after the talk "we need to get comfortable with being uncomfortable." Why would a parent want to leave something this important up to someone else to teach their children about? ESPECIALLY, when what these particular parents would like to impart on their children is so completely foreign to what most of the outside messages are saying. Or, to state it another way... I'm incredibly honored to be quoted by my dear friend, Dani, numerous times in her facebook quotes. One of these is: "If you can't even type the word sex, you probably shouldn't be having it." I would add a corollary: "If you can't talk to your kids about sex, perhaps you shouldn't be having them."
AND... as an added bonus: Don't ask me what to say or how to say it to your kids (I don't have any yet so I don't have to worry about that for a good long while!!) ... this kid makes some great points and his blog in general is well written and enjoyable to read.