* This is an excerpt from the NYTimes Bestseller, Teaching Your Children Values
In the age of AIDS (and many sexually transmitted diseases) it is easier than it has been for many decades to agree as a society on the desirability of fidelity in marriage and the good sense of abstinence before marriage. Those who now agree practically are added to those who have always agreed philosophically.
Whether or not you agree morally with this value, you do, as a parent, have the responsibility to deal in your own way with these critical issues.
Many parents who did not practice chastity or abstinence in their own youth are nonetheless hopeful and even anxious that their children will. This is not hypocrisy and shouldn’t cause guilt. Today is its own time – with its own concerns and its own reminders. And the fact that some of us have learned from our mistakes ought to be the best reason why our kids do not have to do likewise.
It is hard to argue against the mental logic and the emotional benefits of fidelity within marriage. And positive commitments toward it can start to form in very small children.
I sat in the library one day, researching some quotations for a manuscript I was working on. I was having a hard time keeping my mind on my work because I was thinking about one of my adolescent daughters and about my efforts to help her understand why chastity and sexual morality was something to be sought or valued. She was not rebelling against the notion or even disagreeing with it. But she was at the age where any restriction bothered here. She had asked, the night before, why there were so many limits on so many things.
And I had wanted to tell her that chastity, like any true value or virtue, is a positive thing that you gain, not something you give up.
I was looking through some G. K. Chesterton essays and I literally fell onto the words I was wishing for. They were in an essay called “A Piece of Chalk,” in which Chesterton uses the metaphor of an artist who was sitting on an English hillside drawing on brown paper. He had all his chalk except white; he had forgotten to bring the white. Could he do without it? No, because white is not the absence of color. White spaces are not blank, they are put on by the artist and can be the most important element in his canvas. Should he return home for a piece of white chalk? Then he realized that he is sitting on chalk – England is made of chalk, he said. He broke off a piece from a white chalk rock and completed the drawing.
Virtue, in Chesterton’s mind, was not a void or the absence of a wrong. It was the presence of a right. And he felt that values or virtues are the light and the key to putting beauty into the rest of life. In Chesterton’s words:
The two most important reasons that parents should be the ones to teach children about sex and sexual morality are: (a) parents can teach in a warm and loving way that avoids the sterile, factual, academic tone that predominates in school discussions and the silly or “dirty” connotation that often accompanies peer discussions; (b) when a parent teaches a child about sex, the intimate and personal nature of the subject creates a mutual sharing of trust and forms an emotional bond between parent and child.
Make your own example of fidelity as obvious and noticeable as possible. You can help your children see the importance that you place on this value as well as the happiness and security it gives you. Talk about commitment in personal terms. If you are a two-parent family, point out how the two of you belong to each other so that you don’t need any other man or woman. Try to let children see the basic physical signs of love and commitment, such as holding hands or a kiss as you leave for work.
Make sex and sexual maturity an open topic in your family. Maximize the number of opportunities you have to comment on the logic and benefits of chastity and fidelity and to permit concerns and problems to surface early rather than late. With children over eight (assuming that you have had your initial talk with them as suggested), do all you can to make sex an open and agreeable subject rather than something that is secret or off-limits or silly or embarrassing. It may seem difficult and unnatural at first, but these feelings are a sign that the subject needs opening up. Things you observe on television, movies, and music – or in article or books – or in styles of dress – all present potential opportunities to make comments about what you think is appropriate or not appropriate, what things are moral in the sense that they help and what things are immoral (or amoral) in the sense they may hurt someone physically, mentally, or emotionally.
Look for chances to discuss the behavior of young adolescents (your children’s acquaintances) and bring up the possible connections of that behavior to hormones and the effects of puberty.
Strive to convey the following two impressions whenever possible: (a) sex, the feelings and changes of puberty, and the attractions and feelings they cause us to feel are natural and good, even wonderful and miraculous; and (b) because sex is natural and good, and because its urges are powerful and have to do with the creation of life, its use should be connected to love and commitment – it is too beautiful to be made common or to squander.
For a wonderful month-by-month program that helps you teach your children about the monthly value using audio downloads for parents and children as well as discussion and activity guides, please check out our Alexander’s Amazing Adventures Program