A Catholic Parent’s Guide to ‘The Talk’

As the father of nine, I am by now a veteran giver of “the talk” about sexuality, with more talks on the way, so I have been looking forward to this day for a long time. So have the parents of teens I have cornered at dinner parties.

I was blessed to be on a team of people consulted for Colleen Mast’s new LoveEd series of booklets and videos, and I have been talking them up ever since (though, for the record, I make no money from the sales of them).

Before the series, I was proud of the approach I came up with on my own — it was richly theological, all about Adam and Eve and the law of the gift and the creative power of love and the responsibility we have toward God and our beloved — and I fancied I had made a real impact on my one-person audiences.

But then I found that my talk was not quite enough. I got across information about one aspect of puberty: Sexual purity and why God and Dad care so much about it. And that is good. What I didn’t get across were whole waves of other issues that arise in puberty:

  • The hormonal changes that can turn teens into surly caustic strangers who look at their parents with either red-hot anger or ice-cold apathy and rarely anything in between.
  • The pack-mentality that grips teens and takes them over, making it seem almost impossible for them to question the standards for “awesomeness” set by the middle-school and high-school “cool” kids.
  • The way a wrong word from someone can crush their confidence and make them doubt everything, while a silly kindness from someone else can make them want to reset their whole life in a new, foolish direction.

Speaker and radio talk show host Coleen Kelly Mast is the author of the LoveEd program, and she has been doing this for a long time. The “Love-Ed” title is Mast’s answer to “Sex-Ed;” it is meant to suggest that much more than sexuality is at stake when you talk to your children about puberty.

Using the new “strong, smart and pure” LoveEd program transformed the way I approached “the talk.” Now instead of focusing on sexuality, I include that in a broader discussion of the life change the teen (or preteen! — the version I used twice is for 10-12 year olds) is facing.

The program is gender-specific and has a reading component to help put the important information in black and white for the kids, but it also includes a series of videos beautifully produced by John Severance to combine cinematic storytelling with compelling graphics.

It is, at last, now available and can be found in formats that work for parents, parishes and schools at Respect4U.com. The site is worth a visit just to see the preview video, which presents the series very well.

The series spells out in a wonderful way the difference between the “Circle of Family Love,” the “Circle of Friendship” and the “Circle of Romantic Love.”

In your family circle are people who love you, and who you love, no matter what. That is very different from your circle of friends where people’s love for you depends on how you treat them — and where you should expect, and can demand, to be properly treated. Romance is that circle which you enter in such a way that you can one day soon start a new “Circle of Family Love” on a good footing.

This concept was extremely helpful in sorting out the conflicted interests and confusing feelings of puberty — a time in life where you do have to be reminded to love your family, not to blindly follow your friends, and treat romance as a means to a family end rather than an end in itself.

It was liberating to be able to tell a child early in puberty, “You will very soon, chemically, be inclined to be angry, sullen and surly — but you don’t have to give in to that! Here’s how to push back. You are hard-wired to want to imitate your peer leaders. But let’s pick someone better to imitate, shall we?”

Using the series helped expand my discussion from sexual purity to focus on the question of what kind of the man or woman the child wants to be — and how to use the teen years to get there.

My children, their siblings, my wife, and my dinner-party companions are grateful.

Photo: Flickr, Al Lloyd

This post appeared at Aleteia.

Tom Hoopes

Tom Hoopes

Tom Hoopes, author of The Rosary of Saint John Paul II and The Fatima Family Handbook, is writer in residence at Benedictine College in Kansas and hosts The Extraordinary Story podcast about the life of Christ. A former reporter in the Washington, D.C., area, he served as press secretary of the U.S. House Ways & Means Committee Chairman and spent 10 years as executive editor of the National Catholic Register newspaper and Faith & Family magazine. His work frequently appears in Catholic publications such as Aleteia.org and the Register. He and his wife, April, have nine children and live in Atchison, Kansas.