A Parent’s Perspective
I always remember my mother giving me a little pamphlet titled My Dear Daughter which was the equivalent of what’s commonly referred to as ‘The Talk’. Schools often depend on outside-trained speakers now to supplement the information they deliver on sexuality and relationships. Parents may be relieved to leave this aspect of their children’s education to the schools and trust that the job will be well done, and in a sensitive and age-appropriate way.
The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment in Ireland are conducting a review of Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) in both primary and post-primary schools. They asked for submissions from interested parties including parents. I had a look at their website and the research paper which aims to “support participants who wish to contribute to the review”.
Reading through the paper by Dr Seline Keating, Prof. Mark Morgan and Dr Bernie Collins, I didn’t find much that was in keeping with the Catholic vision of sexuality with its focus on helping children to become mature adults who are developing a deeper Christian understanding of human relations and the meaning of love.
One section in the research paper on the NCCA website talks about how “listening authentically to the voices of children and young people is central to the development of programmes that provide positive and relevant experiences of RSE”.
It goes on to quote from various sources which suggest that “what can be forgotten in the battlefield which is sexuality education is the voice of the student: ‘the voices, the desires and the pleasures that young people want to explore’”.
Parents seem to be painted as not quite up to the job or hampered by “dominant cultural ideologies”. Another observation on parents is that “research in the area of parents and sex communication provides evidence of a traditional, heteronormative and stereotypical approach in the home context”.
What the research article has no reference to is the right of parents in a Catholic school to expect an RSE programme that’s in line with Gospel values and the values of the Catholic faith. The Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference have excellent guidelines on RSE education in Catholic schools. It’s an education that is inspired by Jesus Christ and is person-centered with its focus on “developing the full potential of each person”.
All those imparting Relationships and Sexuality Education in a Catholic school need to be guided by some basic principles. At the centre of these principles is the belief in the unique dignity of each human being and how sexuality is intimately connected to love, mutual self-giving, unity and fidelity.
Parents are the primary educators. Despite trends which can sideline us, we are the ones who are entrusted with this important task and should be involved and consulted on every step of this developmental journey. I was talking to a friend recently whose son got a note home about an RSE programme being delivered in his school by an outside speaker.
Being a very involved and interested parent, she did a quick internet search of the website and social media pages of the proposed speaker. TheTalk.ie didn’t in any way fulfil the criteria for the sort of RSE education she was hoping for for her young son; In fact, it was the opposite. She was extremely concerned, as were other parents, when they viewed the speaker’s online posts and videos.
Fortunately, on this occasion, parents were proactive and the speaker was cancelled. I had a look at the sites myself; one video had a list of suitable topics for nine-12 year olds which included contraception, the morning-after pill and STIs with reassurances that “nine- to 12-year-olds are well able for all this information”. A shared post on her Facebook page was about an online course in “consensual non-monogamy” and the general vibe is one of sex being a fun activity and not much more.
The insistence that children should deal with an onslaught of information on sexuality at a young age contradicts the Catholic schools’ guidelines which advise that “the methods as well as the content must show the importance of sensitivity to the feelings of others, of courtesy, of self-restraint and of respect for the dignity and the privacy of other people”.
Thinking of my own children, I can see the wisdom of this. Each one varied enormously in their maturity and readiness to hear and process some aspects of education on sexuality and love. I think what’s really lost if faith and the love of God is erased from the picture is a pretty empty substitute. Sexual intimacy is the language of total self-giving.
Our children and young people need to hear messages focused on the truth about sexuality, love, marriage and family. The pastoral letter Love is for Life describes sexual union as a man and woman saying to each other: “I love you. There is nobody else in all the world I love in the way I love you. I love you just for being you. I want you to become even more wonderful than you are. I want to share my life and my world with you.”
Our children deserve to hear about the joy and wonder of the Christian vision of love. It’s a good news story that as Catholic parents we have to be willing to defend and impart before those with a very different image and agenda get there first.