A child’s brain can only receive what it is made to receive, and children’s brains change a lot as they develop. The littlest kids (toddlers and preschoolers) understand right and wrong as a matter of avoiding punishment or receiving rewards. As they get older (elementary school), they understand moral concepts like “fairness” or “justice” (consider how they protest an “unfair” rule).
During the “age of innocence” before puberty (also called the “latency period”), a child’s mind is not made to receive graphic or explicit truths about the tough moral issues, especially regarding sexuality. That’s why the Pontifical Council of the Family’s document The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality (TMHS) says of preadolescents:
This period of tranquility and serenity must never be disturbed by unnecessary information about sex. During those years, before any physical sexual development is evident, it is normal for a child’s interests to turn to other aspects of life. …So as not to disturb this important natural phase of growth, parents will recognize that prudent formation in chaste love during this period should be indirect, in preparation for puberty, when direct information will be necessary (78).
…Being an independent adult is not just about being able to hold a job and balance a budget. If your child hasn’t developed those skills by adulthood, then he might end up in some lawyer’s office filing for bankruptcy – which is bad but isn’t the worst thing in the world.
What’s worse is your child becoming an adult and not knowing the difference between good and evil. Or, if he does know it, not having the maturity and the will to choose what is good. If our children aren’t developed in those areas, then they might end up separated from God for all eternity – which is the worst thing in the world.
If there is one underlying truth I have found in forming my own teenagers, it’s this: they will accept and embrace a worldview that makes sense to them – even if that worldview is difficult to live out in our culture. They are made to receive not just rules of Church teaching, but reasons that support those teachings.
Excerpt by Leila Miller and Trent Horn, from Made This Way: How to Prepare Kids to Face Today’s Tough Moral Issues (El Cajon, California: Catholic Answers Press, 2018), from Chapter One “Getting Kids to Heaven,” pp. 16-18. www.madethiswaybook.com
LEILA MILLER is a revert to the Catholic faith, working in advertising before marrying and raising eight children. She’s been widely featured on TV, radio and print media, and wrote several books including Raising Chaste Catholic Men. She and husband Dean now have several grandchildren.
TRENT HORN is a staff apologist at Catholic Answers, specializing in teaching Catholics to graciously and persuasively engage those who disagree with them. Each week on the “Catholic Answers Live” radio show, he dialogues with atheists, pro-choice advocates, and others. He is adjunct professor of apologetics at Holy Apostles College, and author of numerous books including Why We’re Catholic: Our Reasons for Faith, Hope and Love.