Preparing our Kids for Tough Moral Issues

It’s overwhelming, to be honest.  

Our four kids still at home (ages 10-17) are hearing stuff about gender and sexuality on a near-daily basis in the school bus, cafeteria, hallways, and yes, even the classrooms. Their world is awash with inappropriate and confusing messages about the deepest aspects of what it is to be a human person.

With so much coming at us as parents, how are we supposed to approach these tough moral questions in age-appropriate ways? How will we find the time to brush up on the Church’s teachings, and then translate those concepts to our kids at different ages? What does “success” even look like for parents in this brave-new-world environment?  

1 | Types of Parenting
To begin, the authors outline three types of parents in the book’s first chapter, entitled “Getting Kids to Heaven”:

  • Permissive parents who ditch rules in order to be their child’s ‘friend’…who seem to operate from fear or neglectfulness”
  • Authoritarian parents who crush their children under harsh rules…who seem to operate from anger or pride”
  • Authoritative parents” who “aren’t merely our child’s ‘friend,’” but “lay down the law when necessary.” “But unlike authoritarian parents,” the authors explain, “we don’t teach our children to disdain us or be afraid of us through cold, harsh punishment.” Such parents recall St. Paul’s instruction to “not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” (Eph. 6:4) 

2 | Age-Appropriate Approaches: “Little Kids” vs. “Big Kids”
As we strive toward our ideal of being authoritative parents, we need to teach in age-appropriate ways. The authors cite St. Thomas Aquinas’ famous adage, “That which is received is received according to the mode of the receiver.” Translation: “A child’s brain can only receive what it was made to receive, and children’s brains change a lot as they develop,” the authors note.

Miller and Horn cite the Vatican’s The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality, noting pre-adolescents:

“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 the 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 information in chaste love during this period should be indirect, in preparation for puberty, when direct information will be necessary.” (78)

3 | Natural Law
OK. We’ve refocused on the type of parenting style we need. We’ve recognized the importance of age-appropriate approaches which meet the “receiver” in the best way. But now, how do we lead our children through the thickets of tough moral questions?

Miller and Horn suggest that we draw on “natural law” to convey the richness of the Church’s teaching:

  • “The natural law is simply the universal moral law, accessible to all people by the light of human reason.” 
  • “Natural law is not the same as the ‘laws of nature’ like gravity, nor is it simply ‘what happens in nature’ or ‘what feels natural to me.’ It is the law of God revealed in our very humanity, written in our consciences.” 
  • “Natural law is not an arbitrary set of rules. Instead, it is like an ‘instruction manual’ that tells us how to live according to the design of our human nature, providing our lives with meaning, peace, and joy.” 

With this framework in place, Miller and Horn take the reader through a whirlwind tour of the top issues: sex outside of marriage, same-sex relationships, divorce, contraception, abortion, reproductive technologies, modesty, pornography, and transgender identity. For each of these issues, they share “What the Church Teaches,” “Advice for Little Kids,” and “Advice for Big Kids.”

“Helping our children get to heaven is the primary task given to parents,” the authors write. “It is our choice whether to have what can be awkward, tough conversations with them about the issues [in Made This Way]. If we choose not to for those reasons, then we are placing our own comfort ahead of our sacred obligation to God and to the souls of the children he put in our charge.”

None of this is easy, and the authors conclude (spoiler alert) with three heartening reminders for every parent: 

  • Pray without ceasing. 
  • Never despair. Live out your faith in joy and hope. 
  • “When we know who we are, why we were made, where we are going, and when we act according to our nature and not in opposition to it, we flourish. 

So, as Miller and Horn encourage us: “Let’s go forth with joy and confidence into a weary world, giving glory to God in the way only humans can!”