One of the most frightening parts of my job as a youth minister is talking to “Tweens” (kids ages 10-14, around the middle school years) about human sexuality and the Theology of the Body. I’m nearly ten years into this gig and it just doesn’t get any easier. Broaching the subject and or sharing the beauty of God’s plan for human love aren’t actually the hardest part. It’s reading the room and walking that fine line between sharing important truths that they need right now and using restraint so as not to rob them of their right to innocence.
It’s just a challenging age all around because young people go through so much development – physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually – in just a few short years. When I’m looking out at a room full of middle school students, I know that some have very little knowledge about sexual love while others are already engaged in some sexual activity, including sexting. In spite of this broad spectrum, the Theology of the Body offers very simple truths which they all need to help them develop a healthy sense of sexuality.
Starting the Conversation
I can’t emphasize enough to parents of Tweens that if you aren’t already having regular conversations with them about God’s plan for human sexuality, the time to start is yesterday. It’s necessary to lay a solid foundation of good conversations, learning a vocabulary, getting comfortable, so that you’re ready and able to tackle the more difficult questions when they’re ready.
My favorite place to start is right at the very beginning with the creation story. Starting with God’s gift of masculinity and femininity, girls see that women are created with a unique gift, an incredible capacity to receive and nurture life, both in their bodies and in their hearts. The story of the Fall shows them that the pernicious plan of the evil one is to attack this feminine gift directly, tempting Eve to grasp, rather than receive.
This opens a door for talking with your daughters about being made in God’s image an likeness, male and female, created for community and endowed with a special dignity. I’ve found that Tweens in particular are able to come to a deeper understanding of these things through a “via negativa” if you will. Starting with some of the “classically feminine” sins, they can see clearly that the evil one seeks to twist the goodness of their hearts and that unique gift to receive and nurture others.
What are some of those temptations that they encounter as young women that oppose their receptive and nurturing heart?
- Emphasis on the exterior rather than the interior (vanity, overwhelming fear of how others think of you, judging others, extreme dieting or physical alterations)
- Jealousy or Envy (comparing yourself to others, feeling ill will toward others who succeed)
- Immodesty (reveals what is meant to be reserved in the hopes of getting attention, desire for status among friends – to be the “hot one”)
- Gossip and Manipulation (putting ourselves first, trying to control situations or other people)
- Emotional lust (mental stalking, seeing others for what they can do for us rather than for who they are, allowing the imagination to run away, reading “chick lit” with excessive sensuality)
- (And for those who are ready to have a discussion of this nature) Inappropriate uses of the gift of sexuality (making out, sexting, pornography and masturbation, excessive curiosity about sex, vulgar dancing, inappropriate touch)
The media they consume and the friends they keep greatly impact Tweens’ understanding of human sexuality. Guard their hearts! Talk with them about the YouTube videos, movies and TV shows, books, and music they like and what kinds of messages they receive about love and sexuality. Pay careful attention, too, to how they interact with their friends and the media their friends consume; these all contribute to either a healthy or unhealthy understanding of sexuality and either the truth or a twisting of God’s plan for human love.
(Next month I’ll share the corresponding virtues and good habits that help girls to combat these common temptations/sins and help nurture their feminine genius, and how parents can continue to help their young teens develop a healthy understanding of human sexuality.)
Copyright 2016 Megan Swaim.