Guest post by LarryD at the award-winning blog, Acts of the Apostasy
So here’s a two-part question I still need you guys to answer for me:
- How should a boy deal with the, shall we say, overwhelming physical urges, that are known to afflict young men?
- And how does a mother, or father, provide these bits of practical advice without making the boy die from embarrassment?
The going advice in popular culture is not so helpful, since it tends to run exactly counter to CCC 2352 and 2396.
I’ll have a go. Having two teen sons gives me a little cred in that department (as well as having been a teen boy, many many moons ago), and what follows is an amalgamation of things I’ve told them, things I wished I told them, and advice I will continue to give them – slightly modified for you parents.
If parenting is God’s perpetual motion machine, then the teen years take place just after the warranty’s expired. The hormones, the puberty, the emotional jiggery – it’s like the wheels are falling off, seals are bursting, and smoke is billowing out of the engine. What happened to the sweet kid who played nice, ate his veggies and talked to his parents? Civilly, without the eye rolls?
He’s still in there – there’s just a lot else going on inside that’s beyond his control, and he believes he’s the First Person In The Entire History Of The World that’s going through what he’s going through. Things aren’t breaking – they’re changing. Evolving.
So – how do we impress upon our sons that, while the “overwhelming physical urges” are completely normal and natural, they remain chaste and exercise self-control, resisting the temptation to act on those urges? And how do we do that without sounding dorky or, as Jennifer put it, “without making the boy die from embarrassment”?
Let me say that getting embarrassed can be a two-way street. And getting embarrassed is a small price to pay for the benefit of the treatment.
First things first. While the battleground is bodily and natural, the combat tactics are spiritual and supernatural. Chastity is supernatural – it is one of the twelve fruits of the Holy Spirit, fully received at Confirmation. Along with modesty, self-control, goodness and all the others. God and the Church knows what’s going on, and they know what they are doing. To have a chance to resist temptation, all the will-power and determination in the world is insufficient. Supernatural means are required, and they must be practiced, used and developed to be effective.
If you think about it, this is the *first* big battle a boy wages – and it’s a doozy, right? This goes beyond dealing with attachment issues, snotty siblings, or schoolyard bullies, or anything else. This process of physically becoming a man while having the mindset of a child is beset with temptations that grown men struggle with all the time. Mix in concupiscence and a culture that screams “Pleasure’s the ultimate good, and you have the right to feel good!” all day long; a culture that sees masturbation as healthy; a culture that sees pornography as just another choice; well, it is a tough road. The culture wants to take ownership of the boy, while we want him to stay good and pure, and to remain that way. We all know this, and we all made it through – some better than others, and most with the scars and wounds to testify. And actually, this battle never ends – but this is where it begins. How one begins the battle greatly affects how it is fought. This is when habits form, good or bad, and when attitudes towards sex and girls germinate. It’s not impossible, but it is difficult.
Maybe the best way to answer the questions is with bullet point responses, in no particular order.
- The teen boy doesn’t wake up alone. Oh, he goes to sleep alone, and he wakes up by himself, but he doesn’t wake up *alone*. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, he wakes up with “someone” staring him in the face. When that happens, his brain switches into “if you got it, use it” mode more often that not. Or it’s more subconscious that that. How do you combat that? Several ways. One, have a poster of this above his bed:
Two, you stand in the doorway until he gets out of bed. But that’s impractical. Three, don’t let him loll about in bed “waking up” – in fact, waking him up five minutes latehelps in that regard. Then he has to get moving. The best thing, though, is to encourage him to pray when he wakes up – pray for strength and courage. For gratitude for making it through the night without sinning. Or for forgiveness if he didn’t. The Morning Offering is a great prayer to use. Here’s the thing – he might not like to hear this, but…he will have to be chaste his entire life. Just as we, as moms and dads, have to be chaste. The trick, though, is don’t tell him he has to be chaste forever. He only needs to be chaste *today*. That’s it – just today. God gives us the grace for what we need today, not every day. Not the rest of our lives. So tomorrow, when he wakes up, he has to be chaste for that day. And the next day, when he wakes up, he has to be chaste for that day. And so on. Daily prayer is the bedrock on which a chaste life is built.
- The teen boy has an active imagination. Boys are funny – when they’re young, they have the uncanny ability to turn any object into a gun. When they’re teens, they have the ability to turn any female into an object. How do you combat that? One, refer to the poster idea up above. Two, ask them how they would feel if someone fantasized about their sister/mom/aunt in the way they fantasize about, say, Mila Kunis or Megan Foxx (for me, it was Charlie’s Angels – the original. Except Kate Jackson. I don’t think anyone thought of Kate Jackson in that way). Or even a cute girl from school – remind them that the cute girl from school will be someone’s wife someday. It’s okay to think the girl is cute – it’s perfectly fine to admire beauty – but it’s not okay to make her an object of his fantasy. And this leads to the next point…
- The teen boy is driven by imagery. Erotic images are everywhere you go, from the way some girls dress, to billboards, to commercials on tv. The images don’t even have to be explicitly erotic for them be stimulating. God made women pretty and curvy and nice to look at. Sometimes it can’t be helped. Stressing the fact that girls are created in God’s image and likeness, and deserve to be treated with respect, does have an impact. Here are some other helpful ideas – no tv or computer in the bedroom. If he has a smartphone, it’s in the kitchen at night. Remind your son that girls speak from their mouths, not their nipples – so their eyes should be focused north of her chest as she talks. And dads – they watch what you do. If you linger on the station where cheerleaders are bouncing around for a few extra seconds while channel surfing, guess what they’ll end up doing, too. And nothing needs to be said about the evils and dangers of porn. Talk to them about it – tell them it’s fake, unreal and degrading. And addictive. Use the “would you want guys ogling your sister/mom/aunt?” approach as well.
- The teen boy needs to be busy. This can’t be stressed enough. Idle hands, along with idle minds, are the devil’s tools. Keeping the boy busy – whether in sports, extra curricular activities, chores and more chores, or hobbies. The more strenuous the better, so that he’ll fall asleep easier. An active faith life is key here – the most important thing, actually. This is a great time to develop and strengthen the virtues. He needs to know and believe that his sexuality is God’s gift meant for another – his future wife. Masturbation is as much a preparation for marital love as picking his nose prepares him to be a brain surgeon. The joy and beauty of shared love, when it is right, far exceeds the inwardly act of self-abuse – they’re incomparable. The teen boy may not fully grasp that masturbating is selfish and will distort his view of sex – his brain is undergoing a major rewiring at this time, so the chances of him grasping anything is probably remote – but it’s still a point that bears mentioning.
Much more can be said – I truly hope this little bit is useful. Listen, you can’t pour Quickrete down his shorts when he turns 13, and give his future wife a hammer and chisel as a wedding present. You can’t do anything about the fact that God made his arms at the all-too-convenient waist length.
You absolutely cannot make him an eunuch (not a castrato – you know the difference between a eunuch and a castrato, right? On average, about 5.5″). You can’t insist that he only take cold showers.
The three best things you can do for your son are pray, talk and live by example. Pray that he resists the temptations and respects his body and mind; pray that he will treat all girls with the respect they deserve; pray that if he ever gets in trouble, God will somehow let you know (God answers this prayer A LOT). When you talk – and generally speaking, this is best handled by the dad – be forthright and lay out your expectations with good reasoning and honesty. Tell him you struggle too. Bring the subject up when it’s just the two of you. Know who his friends are, and whether they’re a positive or negative influence. Use a little humor to soften the edges a bit – personally speaking, this worked better for me. Not crude or locker room humor – but in terms he was more comfortable with. If there’s an established foundation of trust between you and your son, having these conversations are not as awkward as you might fear. Finally – show you mean it by how you live, how you pray, how you treat each other, and (for you dads) how you interact with other women, especially your wife. Sons are always watching. Always.
When you think about it, God has a strange sense of humor – He designed the human male to undergo a massive transformation when he seems least equipped to handle it. Of course, before The Fall, the plan was flawless. Fortunately, in His wisdom, He has also provided the means by which to navigate through all this – the sacraments, the gifts of the Holy Spirit, the virtues, prayer and – hopefully – loving parents who remember their own struggles, and are there to help along the way, countering the strong forces of a culture that wants to claim him as its own.
p.s. Read the companion piece to this one: “Teen Girls Need Real Love – A Talk About Chastity”, over at the awesome blog Shoved To Them. It is also posted here at Ignitum Today.
[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://www.ignitumtoday.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/larry-001.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]LarryD resides in Michigan with his wife and 2 sons. Born and raised Catholic, he abandoned his faith during his college years, and returned to the Church a decade later. When not fulfilling his roles as husband and father, he’s either blogging at the award-winning Acts of the Apostasy, spending too much time playing MMORPG’s, or spoiling a fine walk playing a round of golf. He has -zero- theology degrees, but that doesn’t stop defending the Catholic Church to the best of his meager, snarky abilities. He also has a cat of whom he’s 89% sure is plotting to kill him.[/author_info] [/author]