Story by Tess Wahlmeier
(SNR) - Sex and pornography.
Two of the hardest and most uncomfortable things to talk about with one’s children, yet... two of the most important things children need to be educated about, and specifically by their parents.
Although uncomfortable and perhaps awkward, the importance of sexual education – education for love – cannot be overlooked by parents. One Holdrege woman, Becky Deaver, took the initiative to educate herself and those in her community about protecting their children when she heard Father Sean Kilcawley, director of the Office of Family Life and Evangelization, speaking on Catholic Answers Live.
“Two things that he said specifically really made me passionate about this: the first was that children can be exposed to pornography as early as the age of 8, and that 50% of Christian men are addicted to pornography,” Deaver said. “I had children at the time who were 7 and 6, and so I felt like I really needed to start addressing this issue with them.”
She contacted Father Kilcawley for resources and invited him to speak in her hometown. Deaver then reached out to other churches in the area, creating an event for Catholics and non-Catholics alike. Together, the Holdrege area churches presented the seminar, “How to Talk to Your Kids about the Tough Stuff,” Jan. 23.
“John Paul II spent five years of his pontificate writing, giving this beautiful catechesis on love, and we have amazing things to offer,” Father Kilcawley said. “It is a gift that the Catholic Church can give to all of Christianity.”
Father Kilcawley was the first speaker, followed by Jen and Matt Davis of Lincoln. Father Kilcawley also gave a presentation on Covenant Eyes, a filtering and accountability software for the internet.
Jeana Popple, mother of three young boys from Funk, said learning about the protection technology was a relief for her, since she considers herself technologically challenged.
“Our 9-year-old already knows more than I do about how to run the computer,” Popple said. “We need to be more diligent with that. We feel like we’re pretty protective, but it’s going to get harder as our boys get older.”
“I feel like pornography is such a huge problem in our culture,” she continued, “and I’m obviously concerned about our boys and raising them with pure hearts and minds, and I’m always wanting to find out how other people are doing that successfully.”
Marcus Faltys of Columbus said that with his oldest child in fourth grade, he knew he needed to start the conversation soon, but didn’t quite know how to do so.
“It’s something that I see a need for, but I’ve always been intimidated to talk to our kids about,” Faltys said. “I know I’ll probably be behind the game, and so I thought this would be a good way to get courage or resources to start the conversation with our children.”
Faltys also said he’s excited to share what he learned with other parents back in Columbus.
“People recognize the need to have these opportunities available,” Faltys said, “to start having the conversation with our friends, parents of our kids’ friends, and trying to change that and bring it out, knowing resources are available.”
Deaver’s husband Luke said one of the biggest challenges will be engaging the culture.
“Pornography is so prolific and engrained in our culture that the effort to protect your kids and protect your home – to protect the dignity – it’s a battle worth doing, obviously, but it’s a battle, frankly,” he said.
While these issues are dark and difficult, Father Kilcawley said the joy of the Gospel still needs to be at the center of these conversations.
“The Gospel provides hope, and we can get really bogged down in talking about how everything is bad, everything is wrong, and the laws are bad, but our job is to be a light that shines in the darkness, and to be a countersign,” he said. “This is an opportunity for the parents themselves to reflect on our Lord’s love for them, on their vocation to marriage, and the role they play as parents and being the image of God in the lives of their kids. The most important catechists in a child’s life are his or her parents.”
While example is one way of teaching, mothers and fathers have the responsibility to directly educate and protect their children, a designation given them at Baptism.
“We’ve always held the position that, especially the most intimate things like education for love, are the responsibility of a mother and father,” Father Kilcawley said, “yet we’ve not always been proactive about forming mothers and fathers to do that job and to carry out that responsibility. Many of the parents that I’ve talked to have felt like they’re on their own trying to figure this out, and it’s also embarrassing for them to seek out resources, and so doing these workshops is a way of providing them with resources and confidence, and empowering them to carry out their roles as primary educators of their children.”
“It’s not a matter of if our children are going to be exposed to pornography, but when,” Becky Deaver said, “so I think it’s important to be proactive in talking to our kids about these issues so that when they see graphic images, they’re able to recognize that it is a false picture of sexuality because they know the truth. Their parents have already talked to them about that.”
Presenters Jennifer and Matt Davis, parents of eight, have taught their children about human sexuality from a young age and are advocates for proactive parenting. Their presentation was a down-to-earth account of the measures their family has taken to educate for love, and how that hasn’t compromised their children’s innocence but rather has liberated it.
“We want to empower our kids and give them the tools of how to handle this culture, and to cling to the truth and not allow the culture to feed them the poison it has to offer,” Jennifer Davis said.
The Davises’ education for love all began when their daughters needed bathing suits and they addressed the issue of modesty and dignity. From there, Jen Davis said she networked with other moms and came upon a book series which addressed everything from how babies are made to how sex is a gift from God, designed for marriage. She read the book to her two oldest daughters, who were then in the second and third grade. Now her girls are in middle school, and they’ve continued on to subjects like morality and hormones, while her younger children are just beginning education for love.
Jen Davis laughs when she recalls people saying, “Well, Matt and Jen Davis, they talk to their kids about sex, and their kids are... okay!”
“It’s really funny, too, because when you teach them young enough, it’s just information,” she said. “It’s not awkward and uncomfortable. To them, it’s just information.”
“It’s a shift in mentality, that you would give the whole birds and the bees talk when the child is about 10,” Father Kilcawley said. “A lot of times, parents would wait until puberty, they wait until the child is 12 or 13, but by the time a child hits puberty, they’ve probably already learned everything from their friends or from the Internet, and the first education they get should be from their mom or dad.”
The seminar offered education and resources, but it also provided a community where parents saw other parents who have the same beliefs, desires, and fears as they do, all coming together for the same cause.
A similar seminar called “Educating for Love” will be held in Hastings Saturday, Feb. 20 at St. Cecilia Church, beginning at 8 a.m., and it will cover the Church’s teaching on human sexuality, modeling conversations between parents and kids, and practical solutions. Father Kilcawley will be the main presenter.
Father Joseph Walsh, pastor of St. Cecilia Parish in Hastings, said this seminar has been one of his priorities during the Year of Mercy.
“I want people to experience the mercy of God and the freedom from the effects of an addiction to pornography,” he said. “This is not an easy topic to talk about, but it’s a topic that we can’t allow it’s manipulation through the silence anymore. I think the devil uses this as a means of really undermining the purity of our heart – the joy of our lives – and I’m sick of that, I’m sick of the fact that he’s had such influence here, and we have to respond. We respond with the light of Christ.”
Similar workshops have been held in Lincoln and Wahoo. To schedule a similar seminar in your parish or deanery, contact the Family Life Office at 402-488-2040, Ext. 300.