Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of July 3, 2006
Talk to your kids about sex, priest recommends
Tell them the truth, says former college president
Fr. Jack Gallagher
By BILL GLEN
WCR Staff Writer
Families who make time to discuss important issues have a greater chance their children entering puberty will be less influenced by an exploited understanding of sex, says Father Jack Gallagher.
"Parents should tell their children the truth. But it isn't a lesson that is learned all at once," said Gallagher, former president of Newman Theological College. "What the parents should try to convey is a critical attitude by the child."
Gallagher led a workshop June 19-23 for parents and educators titled Helping Youth to Develop Healthy Attitudes About Sex.
It was the final session of Pastoral Institute 2006 at Newman.
Very powerful force
"The Christian teaching is that sex is a very powerful force and when properly used, it becomes a tremendous power to bind people in the sacrament of marriage," he said. "By doing so, it serves the good of the next generation. But sex is never neutral. If it's misused, it works against marriage."
A former superior general of the Basilian Fathers, Gallagher is widely published in the area of moral and pastoral theology.
He said helping youth develop healthy attitudes to sex is highly complicated. Many factors come into play. But it must be more than just a physical pleasure.
"Sex education should be seen broadly as preparing a person to make responsible decisions. That starts in infancy when children learn to trust their parents."
Certain studies show that the relationship with their parents and supervision are the two greatest factors influencing adolescent sexual behaviour.
Children actually prefer to have some limits placed upon them by their parents. For some, it gets them home on time, although others might counter by yelling "You don't trust me."
Gallagher suggests there is nothing wrong with agreeing with them as long as the parent remains honest and objective. It is the beginning of a trusting relationship. "Say to them, 'I trust you with some things, but I wouldn't trust you with a 747.'"
Limits shape identity
Limits help to properly shape a child's identity, although most adolescents butt against the very things that provide stability. It's their way of showing independence. Adolescents without limits find it more difficult to shape their identity, Gallagher said.
"Showing your kids you give up is telling them you don't (care)," he said.
Limits placed upon a child influences him or her to make choices just as Jesus continually forced people to think with their hearts.
"It's something parents can do while the child is in the pre-adolescent stage - to keep pushing them gradually - and have some way of recognizing what he is doing so he notices he is being given more responsibility," Gallagher said.
"Parents should not guard their kids from making choices. An example is use of their own money. If you make some sort of fuss about telling him he is old enough to do it (on his own), the child gets a sense that he is moving up the ladder. It's recognition of responsibility. So when it comes to adolescence, they will know the way it works.
Parents weather the storm
"They are fed responsibility gradually and won't suddenly rebel against their parents."
All's well in a perfect world but adolescence is still "weathering the storm," Gallagher said.
When the child begins to learn that limitations and critical thinking are not so bad, trust is enhanced. Their identity and values are strengthened.
It's never too early to talk to children meaningfully, Gallagher said.
"Conversation happens naturally when they are young because children gab away to their parents believing everything they do is interesting. They want to tell their parents about it."
Parents are available to make sense of a child's experiences and to answer any questions.
It's been said that theatre is life, film is art and television is furniture. But watching the latter can be an effective medium to discuss sex.
"It is possible to be other than passive in front of a television set," he said. "Engage in conversation with your children so they become active viewers."