Catholic Activity: Preparing Your Child for Puberty
While it is usually wise to wait until your child asks about sex before you volunteer information, you should take the initiative in preparing for puberty.
At about the age of twelve, girls begin to menstruate. Unless they have been told what to expect, the first flow of blood may cause severe shock. You should make your daughter proud of these physical changes when they come, for she is taking an important step toward womanhood. Considerably before the first menstruation is expected, explain the exact significance of the process. She should know that God has planned her body so that blood is stored each month, ready to carry food to a baby if a new life should begin, and that the blood is discharged after a certain period if no baby has been conceived. Here, too, the emphasis should be on the Divine plan. It should be pointed out that God has forbidden the use of the organs to anyone who is not married.
Mothers must avoid indicating that there is anything terrible or shameful about this biological function. Nor should they stress the pain and sense of depression which some women feel on the days before menstruation. They might calmly explain that while such symptoms sometimes exist, medical science has appropriate drugs to ease them.
Boys attain puberty at about thirteen years. Well before this time, their fathers should tell them that they will soon release semen in their sleep — a manifestation that they are arriving at manhood. Of course, they are not morally responsible for these natural emissions, even if dreams of an exciting nature accompany them. A boy should be advised, however, that he should neither assist nor prevent the discharge of seed.
Moral teaching regarding the touching of his penis in order to obtain pleasure should be explained. Regardless of the means used, any deliberate effort to induce a discharge is a serious sin. However, it is often necessary to clean the penis, and on such occasions no sin is involved if some unintended pleasure results. Any prolonged handling of the organ beyond the time necessary for reasons of health and cleanliness is sinful. Fathers should advise their youngsters of the importance of habits of chaste thought to overcome temptations to commit solitary sins of thought or act.
In instructing your pre-adolescent son, you might make use of one or more of the excellent pamphlets written to supplement your teachings and to give him a spiritual insight into the opportunities, challenges and temptations of his approaching manhood. Such publications may be found in the pamphlet rack in the back of your church or in Catholic bookstores. You should read each pamphlet before giving it to your child, both to familiarize yourself with the contents in order to answer questions based on his reading, and to make certain that it suits his particular needs.
When boys and girls reach puberty, parents should advise them that contacts with the opposite sex might lead to sin. The emotional and physical reaction of males and females differ greatly. A boy has an intense physical drive, and kissing or other contacts may set up a fierce desire for sexual relief; with a girl, on the other hand, a kiss may merely express her companionship. A girl who does not know that a boy may be deeply stimulated by her kissing may make it difficult for him to keep his thoughts pure. Boys should be taught to respect girls because they are God's chosen vessels for the creation of new human lives and should not be despoiled in any way. Boys who learn to respect womanhood in their childhood will translate this training into respect for the girls they know.
Also make sure that your daughter understands the importance of modesty in dress. It is apparent that many girls do not realize what a source of temptation they really are when they dress in an unbecoming way and reveal parts of their body which arouse impure suggestions in boys' minds. Short skirts, low necklines, dresses that reveal every curve, sweaters that are too tight, artificial bosoms — all are age-old devices to stimulate male passion. A girl who resorts to them may cause great harm not only to boys but to herself. Many a young miss, heavily rouged and painted and wearing the most provocative styles, cannot understand why boys seem interested only in her physical attraction and not in her as a person. Her way of dressing advertises her to the world as one who seeks this kind of attention.
Some mothers object to giving their daughters information about the different natures of men and women, because they fear that the girls will lose their innocence thereby. This is an error, for ignorance and innocence are separate things. When the angel appeared to the Blessed Virgin to reveal that she was to give birth to the Messiah, she indicated her knowledge of the ordinary facts of life by asking how could this be so, for "I know not man." Her knowledge did not prevent Mary from being the most innocent of humans. Giving your daughter such information will, in fact, protect her innocence. She will be guided by her knowledge to avoid situations which might be occasions of sin. In this vital matter, it is better for parents to instruct a year too soon rather than a minute too late.
Activity Source: Catholic Family Handbook, The by Rev. George A. Kelly, Random House, Inc., New York, 1959