Amid the ongoing debate in the Catholic blogosphere about proper and effective sex education, I came across this post from Dr. Gregory Popcak on whether it’s appropriate to teach the Theology of the Body to children 10 years old or younger. He’s responding to Elizabeth Duffy who thinks that TOB is too complex for young kids. Popcak disagrees saying,
“Teaching TOB to a 10yo, or a 5yo or a baby doesn’t mean sitting them down and saying, “Repeat after me, child. ‘The body and it alone makes visible that which is invisible…’ “)
Oy, vey. I can’t imagine something more stupid or horrible. Elizabeth and anyone else would be absolutely right to be allergic to that idea. Fortunately, I don’t think that’s what teaching TOB to kids really means.
I would suggest that teaching TOB to kids means presenting the Bible as the love story between God and his people that begins and ends in union with him. It means discussing the Catechism in a manner that conveys that it reveals the basics of our quest to understand the intimate heart of God and his loving plan for his people. It means discussing morality, not in terms of rules and punishments and lines we may tiptoe up to but never cross, but as a guide to what it means to be truly loving to ourselves and others. And it means presenting a model of love that is openly physically affectionate, ordered to meeting the unique needs of every family member, is extravagantly generous (and expects extravagant generosity in return), and is rooted in a life of both communal and individual prayer.
Anytime parents do these things, they are teaching TOB to their kids. TOB isn’t supposed to be a subject we study. If that’s all it is, then it is useless even as an intellectual exercise. As an “adequate anthropology” TOB was always intended to be a message we live; the internal structure that guides our thinking, relating, and decision making as we live the gospel of Jesus Christ and labor to build his Kingdom (aka the “Civilization of Love.”)
The TOB, Popcak says, is not an idea or some heady intellectual property, but a way of life that bears witness to the “amazing ability self-donative love has to facilitate the flourishing of the human person.” This is something that can (and should) be taught to children at any age.
Several months ago, Christopher West also had some advice for introducing kids to the concept of the TOB at an early age:
First, we must recognize what a critical responsibility we have as parents to pass on the glory of God’s plan for the body and sexuality to our children. Silence is not an option. When we say nothing, the culture fills the void with its terribly distorted message. But we can’t give what we don’t have. As parents, before we can pass the TOB on to our children, we have to immerse ourselves in it.
The Church teaches that education in God’s plan for sexuality must begin in the womb, and continue uninterrupted throughout all the ages and stages of development. So, obviously, we’re talking about much more than just giving our kids “the talk” when they reach a certain age. We’re talking about a way of living and of embracing life that is itself an education in the meaning of sexuality. We’re also talking about engaging in an ongoing conversation about the meaning, purpose, and dignity of being created as male and female in the image of God. One of the things my wife and I have done with our kids is put this ongoing education in the context of our nightly prayers. Every day since they were born my kids have heard me thanking God for making Mom to be a woman and making me to be a man; for calling us to the sacrament of marriage; and for bringing each of them into the world through Mom and Dad’s love. Then I ask God to help the boys grow into strong men and the girls to grow into strong women and I ask God to teach them how to give their bodies away in love as Jesus loves. Then I pray for their future vocations. Eventually, as they get older they start asking: “What does it mean that I came into the world through your love?” That’s when we start taking the conversation to the next level – based on their age level and understanding – and it unfolds fairly naturally from there.
Greg Popack recommends his own books: Beyond the Birds and the Bees: Raising Sexually Whole and Holy Kids and Parenting with Grace: A Catholic Parents’ Guide to Raising (almost) Perfect Kids.
Also, a few years ago, I came across a series of books designed to help parents answer difficult or embarrassing questions about sex comfortably and truthfully (in age appropriate terms), and to encourage healthy communication between parent and child. I’m sure it’s not based on the writings of John Paul II, but it looks pretty solid. Click here to find out more about the God’s Design for Sex series.