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One of the most disturbing issues that surfaced in recent weeks involved a Maine school system’s plan to make birth control pills available to middle school students without parental knowledge or consent through on-site health clinics. There are a host of reasons to oppose a plan like this, but most of my favorites center on the notion that parental authority and the structure of the family ought to be respected and strengthened, rather than undermined and assaulted. It frosts me that in one office a school guidance counselor could be reporting parental neglect, while down the hall a school nurse could be preventing a parent from taking an active and responsible role in the life of his or her child.
The outrage that this story engendered across the nation brought a great many things into the light of public scrutiny. First, numerous states have been dispensing oral and other forms of contraception to minor children without parental notification or consent for quite some time. In Massachusetts, a minor can’t take a Tylenol -- or even a vitamin -- at school without parental permission. A child under 18 cannot get her ears pierced without the consent of a parent. But when it comes to sexual activity, the world turns upside down. A child of any age can obtain an abortion without her parent or pediatrician ever knowing. Those who love her best and are most responsible for her and to her, are kept from her when she most needs them. An isolating veil of silence and deception like that can damage a person’s family relationships for a lifetime.
Second, parents who want to be involved are finding it increasingly difficult to get past the societal gatekeepers that seem to have taken their place. When I was a kid, everybody’s answer to an invitation to play or even to take a piece of candy was, “I’ll ask my Mom.” We were all expected to ask without any expectation that the answer would be what we hoped. If our mothers or fathers weren’t present, we would go home, ask, and then come back with the answer. Sure, there were abusive and neglectful parents then as there are now. But parents on the whole were generally trusted, not held in suspicion. And there were much higher expectations for them -- as well as for children -- than there seem to be now. The overwhelming majority of them seemed to meet those expectations too.
Third, we are all being sold a bill of goods about the value of teaching chastity and abstinence. We are told over and over again by those who promote condoms and contraception that it is worthless to teach sexual continence to kids. In other words, it is a waste of time to teach our children basic Christian moral virtues and values. (Of course, these virtues and values are not exclusively Christian either, but are shared by most religions.) Our modern cultural gurus tell us that no matter what we do or say, kids will have sex. They say this despite the fact that “everybody” isn’t “doing it,” and that study after study has confirmed that parental involvement makes a difference, and teaching chastity does delay sexual activity in children.
But what bothers me most is that the people who keep saying that abstinence education is futile when it comes to sex, are often the same people who tout the success of abstinence education when it comes to smoking, alcohol and drug abuse. Smoking has declined dramatically over the years, due in large part to the influence such educational campaigns have had on how society views smoking. The truth has the power to convince people to make different choices, even to change long-term and habitual behaviors. Remember “Just Say No”? Remember all those photographs of smokers’ lungs? It’s amazing that the same parents who are currently called their children’s “anti-drug” are considered problematic and irrelevant when it comes to sex.
I just keep asking myself what people who propose things like school distribution of the birth control pill to little girls could possibly be thinking. Do they really think that the health of a child can best be served by giving her medication without the knowledge of her own doctor? Do they sincerely believe that helping a child to lie to her parents is somehow in the best interests of that child? Are they completely ignorant of the medical risks posed by the pill? And too, are they prepared to treat these children for the sexually transmitted diseases they may well contract as the result of promiscuity? Somehow, rational thought and sincere belief seem very distant from what motivates the activists of sexual license.
In the end, most of us know and nearly all of us suspect that the only way to live a happy and full human life is to live it as God created it to be lived. He does us the favor of not keeping what that means a secret. Genital sexual activity is not a pre-requisite for all human happiness. It is possible, and not necessarily difficult, to find meaning and contentment in life without it. What is difficult to find is meaning and contentment in sexual expression when you have never been taught the truth about human love at its best. We ought not allow our educational establishment to place a pill or condom or elective abortion between parents and their children. Instead, we should encourage parents to teach their kids that love is designed to be and can be a faithful, lifelong and life-giving communion of persons.
Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a wife and mother of eight children, and a disciple of the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales. She is an author, speaker, musician and serves as Faith Formation Coordinator at St. Maria Goretti Parish in Lynnfield.