By Willam E. May, Ph.D, Senior Research Fellow
The title of this article was suggested by a paper given in Spanish by Reynaldo Rivera called “Is it necessary to educate the heart?” at the First International Meeting on the Education of Adolescents on Affectivity and Sexuality held in May, 2006 in Mexico City. Rivera—and all the participants at this meeting—insisted that it is more important to educate the “hearts” of adolescents about their feelings and sexuality than it is to teach them the “facts of life.”  Moreover, didn’t Jesus tell his disciples, “A good person out of the store of goodness in his heart produces good” (Lk 7:43)?
Educating the “heart”
What does educating the “heart” mean, and how does the “heart” know? The “heart” stands for the whole person, and the “heart” knows because the person loves. Knowledge of the heart is the kind of knowledge a wife has of her husband and he of her, or that a mother has of her child. It is the kind of knowledge a virtuous person has—a knowledge many call “connatural” or “second nature.” It is the kind of knowledge that a chaste person, whether an adolescent, a young adult, whether married or single, or old and feeble has of his or her own sexuality and the proper place that his or her emotions have to play in his or her life.
The Role of the Family and Religion in Educating the “Heart” of Adolescents
Many papers given at the Mexico City meeting zeroed in on this. One of the most important — highlighted by Rivera in his paper—was a section from Dr. Patrick Fagan’s wide-ranging study: “Why Religion Matters Even More: The Impact of Religious Practice on Social Stability” .
Fagan showed conclusively that a lifelong marriage of one man and one woman and strong religious commitment and practice were major factors in helping adolescents not only avoid non-marital sexual behavior but also how to lead virtuous lives, to live chastely. A stable marriage along with religious commitment and practice, in other words, helped youth understand not only conceptually but effectively, i. e., to know in their hearts, why they ought to do this and live as virgins until marriage. His study, and many papers given at the meeting, emphasized the key role of parents in the education of their children, particularly in helping them become virtuous persons, willing to live chaste lives.
Chastity and Parents as Educators of the “Hearts” of Their Children
As noted earlier, knowledge of the heart is knowledge mediated by love and is the kind of knowledge a chaste person has of the dignity of his own body and the bodies of every human person. The chaste person not only “knows” notionally or conceptually what he or she ought to do or not do, but feels that way too, “feeling” actions contrary to chastity to be repugnant and disgusting. He does not want to touch others or be touched “offensively,” i.e, in ways that treat the human body as a “thing” to be used to gratify desires; he knows in his heart that to touch the human body is to touch a living human person, a being to be loved, not a thing to be used.
Parents are their children’s first teachers, especially of chastity. They teach their children chastity by being chaste themselves, i.e., by the way they show the profoundest respect for each other, first of all, and for their children and all persons whom they meet. Mothers, in particular, teach their children chastity by the way they “touch” them as infants, toddlers, little children; and fathers teach their sons how to be chaste by the way they touch and respect them and their daughters, and they teach their daughters how a virtuous man, the kind who would be a good husband, must act toward women.
It will be helpful to note some practical things parents can do to help their children to be “pure of heart,” to respect the dignity of themselves as persons whose bodies are integral to their being, and to avoid the debasing attitudes toward the human body and the gift of sexuality prevalent in the hedonistic culture of contemporary society.
10 Practical Ways Parents Can Teach Their Children’s “Hearts” Chastity
(1) During infancy, the “toddler” period, and early childhood, show the child that his/her body (including the “private parts”) is precious, good, and beautiful, touching it with respect and reverence.
(2) As the children move through grade school, teach them that “modesty is the moat around the castle of chastity.”
(3) During childhood and early adolescence don’t let them waste time watching t.v. programs contrary to the culture you have created in the family and tell them why. Rather, get DVDs of old Lassie movies or other wholesome family entertainment.
(4) Make sure that when they use computers they don’t get trapped into downloading any pornographic material; get devices blocking such material.
(5) During adolescence masturbation [for boys] will be a temptation. Teach them that such behavior easily becomes addictive and that it violates the meaning of their bodies, which are temples of the Holy Spirit and meant to be “gifts” given to a person of the opposite sex in marriage.
(6) Send them to academically challenging schools that teach religion and morality; consider home schooling.
(7) Show an interest in their school work and extracurricular activities, spending time to go with them to practices of sports and games.
(8) Respect their freedom and encourage them to develop their interests and skills. (9) When they learn how to drive and begin to go out with others, encourage group dating, giving them deadlines to get home and make sure that they do.
(10) Know their friends and the families of their friends and make everyone know that their friends are welcome in your home.
Contemporary secular culture despises chastity. This is reflected in the soft-pornography of many films and t.v.“sit-coms,” tv ads for contraceptives, college dorms dispensing condoms in the restrooms, and the hard porn instantly accessible via the internet. Adolescents are urged to masturbate in order “to get in touch with their own bodies,” and a college graduate who is still a virgin is considered a troglodyte. It is thus imperative for a new generation to discover, with mind and heart, that this is a lie and that chastity is a wonderful virtue, necessary for a full and happy life. And the sanctuary of chastity is the home built on a marriage between one man and one woman who are committed to be chaste and to help their children become chaste men and women.