'My 14-Year-Old Son Is Very Curious'
am a single mother of a 14-year-old son. His father, who is remarried, is still
a womanizer and uses sexual innuendo in his language and gestures. Because he
lives at a distance, I have the full parental role. I work hard to present the
goodness of his father, yet closely supervise all visits.
Until recently, my son has been satisfied with basic biological
information and descriptions of reproduction. He also attends our parish youth
group where male/female relationships are sometimes addressed.
Two weeks ago, I discovered that my son was searching the
Internet for sexual information and had discovered some pornographic sites.
This had been going on for a few weeks.
I restricted his Internet access to when I am in the room.
We also talked about his curiosity regarding sexuality.
Can you recommend materials on sexuality, appropriate for
high school students? I need help in guiding his spiritual and moral development.
Also, how can I deal with his father on this issue? He says
that pornography helps our son deal with his "needs." His father visits twice
a year for a week or so and keeps in touch by phone or e-mail.
A: Thanks for writing. Before I answer the two questions
you posed, I must ask, "Does your son have regular contact with many adults
whom you would describe as healthy, male role models?" The situation you describe
calls for male mentoring—as well as practical measures like supervising your
son's Internet use.
What is at stake here is not simply information, which you and your
son's school can provide, but rather basic attitudes about sexuality. All too
often, people reinforce those without accepting the consequences for actions
likely to flow from those attitudes.
What your son accepts as healthy or normal attitudes will shape
whether he becomes a man respectful of women and able to develop a mature relationship
with them or whether he becomes a manipulator, taking what he wants regardless
of the cost to others.
You might say to him that Internet pictures of nude or mostly nude
women present them as objects and not as persons. If your son always wants to
be treated as a person (and you know he does!), then he needs to get in the
habit of treating other people the same way.
Abusive relationships of whatever type flow from someone's decision to treat
someone else exclusively as an object and not as a person.
Internet pornography promotes a cyber-intimacy that is fundamentally
opposed to the generous, self-sacrificing love of husband and wife. The attitude
of "Sexuality means whatever I want it to mean" never works for anyone—whether
the person is 14, 49 or any other age.
Pornography promotes a pseudo-relationship with the person or persons
pictured. Unfortunately, it also encourages a pseudo-relationship with classmates,
neighbors and relatives.
Sexuality already has a profoundly sacred meaning long before people
are old enough to talk about it. Sexuality does not wait for people to decide
what it means.
How do you deal with your son's father on this issue? Don't run
him down in front of your son. Although healthy, male role models for your son
will not replace his father, if your son has such models, eventually he will
see whose attitudes about sexuality are more healthy and reliable: his father's
or those of his mentors.
Your son's father says that this 14-year-old "needs" the pictures
he finds on porn sites. What your son needs most is people to tell him the truth
about life. Internet pornography does not provide that truth.
We publish Youth Update, a monthly four-page newsletter
on topics geared to teens. Go to www.AmericanCatholic.org
and in the "Search for Articles" box type "Sexuality: A
Gift With Strings Attached." You will see that newsletter's
August 2001 issue.
If you repeat that process but instead type "It's Not Enough to
Oppose Pornography," you will get our March 2002 editorial on this subject.
Joseph Moore's book When
a Teenager Chooses You—As Friend, Confidante, Confirmation
Sponsor: Practical Advice for Any Adult
(St. Anthony Messenger Press, $4.95) can be helpful
for parents, too.
How Do People Use God's Grace?
Q: I know that grace is a gift
from God. Does everyone have grace? If so, do they feel
it and use it? How do people use God's grace?
A: I think cooperate is the word to associate most
with God's grace. God shares life with us through grace. We are not, however,
forced to accept it. In that sense, Mother Teresa of Calcutta cooperated very
generously with God's grace and Adolph Hitler did not.
I hesitate to say that anyone can "feel" God's grace. That expression
could suggest that I also "feel good" when I cooperate with God's grace. We
know that people do not always "feel good" when they do the right thing (cooperate
with God's grace). Even though other people may object strongly, doing the right
thing is still the right thing to do. That is the case with people martyred
for believing in Jesus. When Jesus describes the "hundredfold" received by those
who follow him, Jesus slips the word persecutions into the list (Mark
Talking about feelings tends to concentrate on the person and his/her
desires. Talking about cooperating with God's grace always draws us in the direction
of serving others.
Should I Have a Spiritual Director?
Q: What are your views on having
a spiritual director? I think it is very helpful, but someone
else told me they are nothing but trouble, that they step
in and take over.
A: The advice you cited sounds as if it came from someone
who had a bad experience with a spiritual director. Nothing should be judged
by its abuse.
"Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom," said St. Paul
(2 Corinthians 3:17b). Spiritual directors exist not to reorganize people's
lives but to help them discern what God may be asking of them at that moment.
A spiritual director might question or challenge someone's perception of "God's
will," but that is far from stepping in and taking over.
Your nearest retreat house may be able to recommend qualified spiritual
directors in your area. There needs to be a "fit" in this relationship just
as you need a "fit" in any professional relationship.
Spiritual direction focuses on God's grace, our freedom and the
most generous ways of responding to that grace.
Why Ask St. Anthony's Help for Lost Objects?
Q: I know that for many years St. Anthony of Padua has been
associated with finding lost objects, but I have no idea why. What's the story
A: When St. Anthony was preaching in southern France and
teaching Scripture to the friars in Montpellier, a young Franciscan decided
that he did not want to continue being a friar. He also stole the handwritten
copy of the Psalms, the only copy that group of Franciscans had. This rare and
difficult-to-replace manuscript included Anthony's notes for teaching.
On learning of the young man's departure and theft, knowing
the time plus the expense of replacing that copy of the
Psalms, Anthony prayed that the young man might have a change
of heart. The young man brought the manuscript back and
resumed his life as a friar. People have been asking Anthony's
help in finding lost objects ever since.
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