Catholic Activity: Dealing with Problem-Playmates
Parents often have to deal with playmates who are a negative influence. Mary Reed Newland recounts her own experience with such a situation.
These are the two most serious, and difficult, steps in initiating a child to sex instruction and purity. Remember, however, that while you are making earnest, prayerful efforts to teach your child what he must know about sex from God's point of view, a host of children they rub elbows with every day at play and at school are picking it up from the grapevine. And they pose no small problem. We have a standard answer to give to children who introduce the subject in conversation or play: "I can talk about that all I want with my mother, and it isn't very nice to talk to anyone else about it." So far, thank God, they have consistently used it.
This does not mean, however, that watchfulness about playmates and off-limits playing can be abandoned. It is a fearful thing, this suspicion that among their acquaintances there may be some who are not quite so wholesome as they look, and it has to be handled very carefully. The best time to check on the attitudes and interests of playmates is during the long, confidential chats mothers and children have from time to time about things in general. Children will rattle on endlessly over bread and butter and peanut butter after school, and it is during these gushings forth of school gossip that you can trace the personalities of their playmates. What is Mary Jane like? Nice? Well — yes, but...But what? Well, sometimes she isn't so nice. No? How is that? Well — sometimes she says kind of bold things....
As carefully as you'd unravel a thread, you slowly unravel the thread of Mary Jane's "bold things," what she talks about, what she likes to play, and so on, all the while being as casual as possible. Finally, if there is something to be told, it will be told — and you can throw yourself into the business of shoring up your child's moral values — but still very casually.
"That's too bad, isn't it? That Mary Jane doesn't understand that saying such bold things, and suggesting such games, are very offensive to God. Poor Mary Jane — she doesn't know about her soul and how much the Holy Trinity wants to live there and shine in it as bright as the sun. Do you tell her it isn't nice to talk that way? That's good. Next time you must remember to tell her, as gently as you can, that she is hurting Our Lord very much when she acts like that. He wants her to love Him, and be very pure so He can live in her. You remind her that unless she remembers that purity is thinking sweet, clean thoughts, and respecting her body very much, she won't be able to please Him. Tonight when you say your prayers, ask Blessed Mother to help you to be pure, and to help Mary Jane to be pure too."
All this will help, slowly and surely, to develop that instinct for things pure with which the soul is so marvelously endowed, so that a child can sense what is unwholesome in a situation that has not even been identified as unwholesome. I remember one summer day when some of the neighborhood children came up to play "show" under a big maple on the edge of our pasture, rigging up a stage with two sawhorses and a large plank. Because they are children who go frequently to the movies, "show" consisted of doing imitations of what they saw at the movies. Looking out the window from time to time, I was suddenly startled to see a visiting twelve-year-old do an amazingly accurate imitation of a burlesque dancer — complete to the last detail. My own daughter, then seven, was watching, fascinated. When it was finally her turn, she climbed up and, in the most pathetically clumsy way, tried her best to imitate the imitation. I could have wept. Inwardly I raged. It is like a knife in one's heart to see a child who is pure of heart tricked into doing a caricature of all that is hideous and ugly, flamboyant and blatantly impure.
After they had all gone home, she came in the house.
"What were you playing?"
"Oh, we were playing show."
"Oh? And what did — — do in the show?"
"A kind of dance, I guess. She said they do it in the movies. I was trying to do it too." She thought for a few minutes. "You know what? I don't think it was a very nice kind of dance."
"I don't know. It just didn't feel nice."
"Well, I'll tell you something. I just happened to be looking out the window and I saw you all playing show. And you are quite right — it wasn't a nice kind of dance. I'm glad you could tell. It doesn't look, or feel, like the kind of dance to make a pure and holy body do, does it? Dancing isn't bad. It can be very beautiful. It can tell exciting, beautiful stories, if it is done well. Even stories about God. Although it doesn't have to all the time. But what dancing must say is that the body that is dancing is good, and knows its dignity, and knows that all its movements and energy and rhythm are gifts from God. When you dance, thank God that He gave you a fine supple body that can do all kinds of good things, even dance."
Activity Source: We and Our Children by Mary Reed Newland, Image Books, 1961