Providing a Catholic framework on the truth and meaning of sexuality, love, and family

Parent Tips-June

Six Tips for Preserving Modesty

Each summer brings trips to the pool, beach, and lots of conversations about modesty.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church beautifully describes this virtue as what “protects the intimate center of the person… refusing to unveil what should remain hidden.  It is ordered to chastity to whose sensitivity it bears witness.  It guides how one looks at others and behaves toward them in conformity with the dignity of persons and their solidarity” (#2521).

While there is so much to inspire us in this explanation of modesty, it fails to give us exactly how many inches our hemlines should be or what to wear while swimming.  The Catechism’s lack of a specific dress code takes into account that “forms taken by modesty vary from one culture to another” but emphasize that “modesty exists as an intuition of the spiritual dignity proper to man…  teaching modesty to children and adolescents means awakening in them respect for the human person (#2524).

While there are definitely important boundaries to observe when it comes to what we wear, modesty cannot be summarized as a dress code.  Rather, it is a virtue that inspires us to treat each other with respect and not as objects.  There’s no magic lesson plan for parents and guardians working to instill this virtue in their children, but there are some habits and ideas that can be considered at every age:

Be consistent. 
Most toddlers aren’t begging to wear bikinis, but parents can establish consistency long before the teenage years.  Children’s styles have gotten very sophisticated and often the clothing selection of toddlers can mirror the pre-teen section across the aisle.  It’s easier to say, “we don’t wear halter tops” to a five year old than try to change habits in the pre-teen years.

Use caution in the photographs you take and share.
Posting photos of kids is a blessing for friends and relatives who may not see them regularly, but resist the urge to share the pics from bath time or the catastrophe that left them covered in peanut butter and nothing else. The internet never forgets, and kids (and their peers) will be googling before you know it. You wouldn’t let them go to school wearing nothing but their Pokemon undies- be sure you aren’t already sharing this with the world in your Facebook photo albums.

Set boundaries.
As soon as children are old enough to understand, set boundaries for where changing clothes or undressing is ok. When the six year old hops out of the bath tub and wants to streak around the playroom, gently remind them that big kids change clothes in the bathroom or bedroom. Other places that it’s ok to change- with your parent or guardian’s permission- are doctor’s offices or fitting rooms.

Model modesty.
In speaking about modesty with your children, as with any important topic, it’s important
for parents to model appropriate behavior. Is your neckline too plunging? Is your skirt or pants too tight? Your shorts too short? Your kids are noticing – and possibly
copying – your choices.

Shop together and give options.
When it comes to swimsuits, shop together and give choices. While online stores like JessicaRey.Com or LandsEnd.Com offer lots of modest options, department stores also offer a growing selection of swimsuits that provide plenty of coverage. When shopping with teens, offer choices and encourage them to focus on what is flattering and what feels comfortable. Only try on options that seem modest enough on the shelf (because when has anyone put on a swimsuit and said, “that sure seemed smaller on the hanger?”) and when something isn’t working, use encouraging language like, “it doesn’t look like you can move freely” instead of, “there’s no way you’re wearing that in public!”.

Make modesty an ongoing topic of conversation and affirm all the good examples you see. Consider using Pinterest or keeping an Amazon wish list you and your teen can discuss styles before they’re purchased.

Watch and discuss.
Finally, consider watching these speakers and discussing the ideas with your teenager:

Leah Darrow on Modesty

by Alison Blanchet, Family Honor Presenter