Faith Forum: How do we help children in an oversexualized culture
Rajan Zed posed to our panel of religious leaders of the region the following question:
Our children and youth are growing up in an oversexualized culture where pornography is just a Google away.
Do you find this trend of sexualization and commercialization of childhood dangerous? Should we, as religious leaders, play a role in protecting the young and making them aware of the potential dangers or leave it to parents and teachers? If yes, how can our scriptures help children navigate this complex landscape of growing up faster than earlier generations and push to sexualization? Here is what they have to say:
A GIFT TO USE WISELY
Nicholas F. Frey, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints area public affairs director
The media seldom present a balanced, mature, loving marital relationship, and pornography certainly does not promote such relationships. While sexuality is a beautiful power given to mankind and marriage the most glorifying and intimate of all human relationships, one can miss the delicate and sanctifying harmonious sex life involved in marriage and, instead, encounter sorrow and heartbreak if sexuality is left unchecked by morality. A great problem in this, as in all other aspects of marriage, is selfishness. The scriptures teach the need for unqualified and unconditional love that persuades us to think more of another than of ourselves. Children do not grow to full physical stature suddenly. Lessons about the proper place of and timing for sexuality must be learned over time. The home is the most important and effective place to teach and learn these important principles. Religious leaders teach and should encourage parents to teach their children.
MODESTY IS BEAUTIFUL
ElizaBeth W. Beyer, Temple Beth Or rabbi
The unfortunate trend of sexualizing children has received serious attention from the American Psychological Association, which found young boys and girls who view themselves as sex objects experience poor self-image, eating disorders, depression, academic failure, low self-confidence and an increased likelihood of engaging in sexual activity at a very young age. Sexualization of children is rampant in video games, TV, movies, lyrics, magazines, clothing and toys.
The remedy for oversexualization can be found in the Jewish value of modesty (tzniut). “Walk modestly with your G-d.” (Micha 6:8) Our Sages say, “There is nothing more beautiful than modesty.” (Tanhuma, Rashi Ex. 34:3, see also Ps. 45:14) Modesty is a spiritual value that applies to our appearance, our conduct and our speech. It is integral to holiness. We are to avoid public sexual display. Parents and religious teachers must teach modesty, the value of inner beauty and protect children from sexualized environments.
DESIRE TO GOOGLE GOOD
Stephen Karcher, St.
Anthony Greek Orthodox Church presiding priest
Ours is a dangerous world, and it’s our duty to protect our children. The values of our “oversexualized culture” neither glorify God nor promote the dignity of men and women. The source of good principles is God’s will, revealed to us in Orthodox Christian teaching, where we learn humility, obedience, repentance and love. The Apostle Paul wrote to the Philippians that despite living in the midst of a “crooked and perverse generation,” they were seen as lights. Their distinctive qualities were a noble spiritual disposition and a blamelessly clean and chaste life. Just as those early Christians, we’re also living in an age of shamelessness and perversion. We’ve got to recognize what’s good and then do it, teaching our children the same, especially in their early years as their character forms. Our generation is no different than any other; we must learn to choose and do good rather than evil.
SEXUALITY: A SPIRITUAL LOW-WATER MARK
Bradley S. Corbin, Bahá’í teacher
The media has unleashed a multibillion-dollar industry of films, television programs, magazines and music that glorify sexuality. We are experiencing a spiritual low-water mark regarding the question of immorality and overemphasis of sex, and the problems related to it. Sexuality has assumed far too great of an importance in the thinking of present-day society. Elimination of stereotyped images of girls and women and portraying them in egalitarian relationships with men is a must. Sex education is a delicate matter, requiring wisdom and good judgment. Parents, educators and doctors can sensitively impart information to our children and answer their questions in accordance with the stage of development of each child and the degree of his or her understanding. Sexuality is a subject that needs to be placed in its proper context of the spiritual and emotional development of individuals, the nature of the family and the purpose of human life.
Stephen Bond, senior pastor of Summit Christian Church, Sparks
Sexually explicit material is accessible to anyone with a smartphone, computer or cable TV. Nudity and sexual images commonly understood a decade ago as “morally filthy” are now viewed daily by millions of adults and children.
This week’s question implies that sexually explicit materials may be dangerous for children but are acceptable for adults. But the Bible strongly objects to this! God’s will is very clear that he wants all of us to remain morally pure. “But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality or of any kind of impurity ...” (Ephesians 5:3) The best way to teach children moral purity is to model purity ourselves.
God designed sex as a beautiful expression of love between a man and woman united by the covenant of marriage. Experiencing sex God’s way is awesome! But any expression of sexuality outside of marriage leaves us empty.
SEX & RELIGION
Kenneth G. Lucey, UNR philosophy/religion professor
It has always been the case that children are intensely interested in understanding their own bodies and how they differ from one another. This interest takes the form of playing doctor, or “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours.” This process has perpetually been a cause of concern or denial to parents, which then gets translated into a source of embarrassment or guilt in their children. Contemporary media and liberalizing sexual mores have made far more information readily available to modern children. Historically, religion has frequently been a source of sexual repression and misinformation. Religion’s greatest contribution to this situation would be to be supportive of school curricula that include as much sexual information as possible, including material on birth control and sexually transmitted infections. Obviously, such teaching should be adjusted to the appropriate grade level of the students.
RESPONSIBILITY OF PARENTS
Matthew Cunningham, Roman Catholic Diocese of Reno chancellor The nature of human sexuality is such that Catholics hold that one of the most serious duties of a parent is to provide age-appropriate education to their children about this matter. I do believe that our culture endangers children by the blatant sexuality in movies, TV and on the Internet; therefore, this duty is more important today.
Our role as religious leaders is not necessarily to be responsible for the direct education of children. Rather, it is to assist parents in fulfilling their obligation in this regard. Human sexuality is complex, having physical, psychological and spiritual components. Parents sometimes need support and assistance in presenting some of these areas of human development. However, no one should presume to supplant the parents in this role.
The scriptures provide a wealth of information about our created nature and what it means to be male and female in the image of God.
NOT MISUSING SEX
Jikai’ Phil Bryan, Reno Buddhist Center priest and meditation guide
Buddhism relies on family and community. A core precept is “Not misusing sex.” Buddha said, “Those families dwell with the holy ones where the parents are respected by the children ... And why? ... They bring them up, feed them and show them the world.” Buddhist parents must protect, warn and educate their children over the dangers and inevitable suffering that will follow if their young lives are misused or misinformed. Parents and the Buddhist community can use many Buddhist scriptures for firm guidance in protecting and educating their children. Buddhist sutras teach the virtues of mindful and moderate lifestyles, maintaining good associations and avoiding foolish behavior. That means teaching our children to avoid the deceit and temptations of pervasive sexual commercialization. The world is filled with such junk today, so it’s not easy, but parents and community must do everything possible to protect their children. It’s their job.