parenting, religion, sexting, sexual assault, sexuality, values

Frank Answers Briefly About Parenting

A couple of these Questions and Answers were included in “Frank Answers About More Male Body Issues” in June and July, 2021. But they are actually parenting issues and could be of interest to mothers as well as fathers. So I added them to two articles I had already written about parenting back in 2017 and created this new post, “Frank Answers Briefly About Parenting.” This has attracted other questions about parenting and I hope more will come.

As usual, I answer questions I have received if I am able to. Questions answered here are about parenting, but they also concern children. Generally, I view the primary task of parenting not as much as preparing children for life as adults (many mentors will contribute to that) as to enable them to live safe and happy lives as children. Since these Q & As are about life, it’s not surprising that they run the range from religion to sex.

Content

Parents as Models of Values – December 11, 2021

Sexual Assault on Boys – November 9, 2021

How do I know if my son is gay? – November 5, 2021

Youth Into Online Sex – October 25, 2021

Boys Will Be Naked – October 4, 2021

Boys and Nudity – July 2, 2021

The Father-Son Talk – June 8, 2021

Teens and God – December 17, 2017

Raising Godly Children – December 11, 2017

Advisory: some nude images

Parents as Models of Values

December 11, 2021

You write in your introduction that the primary task of parents is “to enable their children to live safe and happy lives as children.” Wouldn’t teaching and modeling values also be a primary task of parents?

Parents will inevitably teach and model values to their children just by virtue of living with them. Values are communicated as much by behavior and example as by verbal teaching and laying down the rules Some parents might not even reflect on how much they communicate just by their actions without saying anything.

What values might parents show their children? How do parents show love to each other and not just to the children? Following St. Paul’s injunctions about marital couples in Ephesians 5, does the wife respect her husband? Does the husband love his wife? Children sense when things are not right between their parents. This can cause insecurity which they may act out in antisocial behavior at home and in other places. Marital difficulties affect children’s happiness and sense of security.

Not everything parents model will be accepted by children as they grow into their teenage years. Examples of this can be seen in some of the questions I answered down below. One father was concerned that his 14-year old son was finding belief in God difficult as he encountered modern science. I answered that the father should show the value he places on faith in God by continuing to practice and speak about his faith and faith-experiences, and continue to attend Mass as a family. There could be a time when the son considers this witness as he has more experiences of life and grows in understanding the complexities of evolving knowledge.

In another question and answer a beloved grandpa models nudity in private situations like swimming naked in a secluded lake. The younger grandson embraces this practice; the older grandson does not. Here it is likely that the older boy’s own experiences with his peers trumps the body-positive values his grandpa communicates by example.

Our children and youth are being bombarded with values from many sources. From where and from whom did you acquired your own values? How many of the values you now hold came from your parents? When you look back on your early life, what stayed with you from your parents? What are examples of their values you have rejected? What have you appreciated anew from your parents’ examples as you have assumed parental responsibilities?

In terms of happiness: what are your most pleasant memories of childhood? What did you do with your parents or with a parent that became a bonding event that has lasted into your adulthood? In what activities and situations did your parents intervene out of concern for your safety, interventions you might not have appreciated at the time? Examples of interventions in the questions I have answered so far in this post include viewing pornography at too young an age, sexting on social media, and helping a young athlete son to be aware of sexual predators, especially in sports.

How parents intervene is not unrelated to their values. We have had a horrendous example recently with the school shooting in Oxford, MI. Ethan Crumbley’s parents are apparently strong supporters of the Second Amendment right to bear arms. They bought their fifteen-year old son a handgun for a Christmas present, kept it in an unlocked drawer, were indifferent to the evidence a teacher presented of his online search for ammunition and drawings of a person shot, and refused to take him home from school after meeting with the school administration. As a result four other students were killed and seven others were wounded and the parents also are being charged with involuntary manslaughter.

Ethan Crumbley and his handgun

But it is not just school shootings that are a concern about having guns in the home. It is estimated that some 4.6 million children are living in homes in which at least one gun is stored loaded and unlocked. There have been unintentional shootings in the home by children who get ahold of loaded guns and 40% of teenage deaths by suicide involved firearms.

Both going on a shooting spray and committing suicide has sometimes been a consequence of being bullied at school by peers. Bullying can be physical but also on social media. Bullying is a complicated issue that I can’t get into in this brief answer. But in terms of the availability of guns, parents need to watch for signs that their child is wanting to retaliate to tormentors by shooting or escape being tormented by suicide and help him or her deal with this in therapy. Bullying can be done by girls and boys in equal proportion. Male bullying is usually physical; female bullying is usually relational and really more insidious. What are your child’s peers saying about him or her on social platforms?

Don’t worry about communicating values. You are, and your children are noticing and absorbing them. What are your values? You need to take stock of them, because your children already are. Minimally your values need to take into account your children’s happiness and safety. Above all, show your children that they are loved and cared for and that you have their back in tough situations.

Pastor Frank

Sexual Assault on Boys

November 9, 2021

Dear Pastor Frank: Our son is a 17-year- old high school senior who plays on a hockey team. He hopes to win a scholarship to play hockey in college. I’ve been disturbed by the stories of sexual assault on young athletes revealed by Kyle Leach, former forward on the Chicago Blackhawks, who revealed that he was the person sexually assaulted by former Blackhawks videographer Brad Aldrich. Aldrich went on to allegedly assault hockey players at Miami University and a 16-year-old hockey player in Michigan, for which he was arrested, convicted, jailed, and registered as a sex offender. We’re concerned about our son getting into this kind of situation and wonder if you have any advice for us as parents of a young athlete.

Dear disturbed parents,

My advice to parents of student athletes is to realize what is going on generally in our society in terms of sexual assaults on youth and help your son to be aware of potential situations of sexual preying on young athletes in the sports world. He will need strategies for how to deal with these situations.

We now know from many reports that boys are sexual victims as well as girls. Boys have been abused by priests, scoutmasters, coaches, fraternity brothers, neighbors, and even family members. Of the men who report abuse, 16% of them say they were sexually assaulted by the time they reached the age of 18. More than 5% say they were assaulted during college. The hunch of those who study male-on-male sexual assault is that most incidents go unreported. I can testify to that. At age 13, I was sexually molested by my parents’ tenant who lived in the upstairs flat when I was babysitting the couple’s infant while they went out for the evening. I had fallen asleep on their sofa in my pajamas and woke up when I felt his hand massaging my genitals. I never told anyone about this incident, not even my parents, although I have recently written about it.

Note that Brad Aldrich was not assaulting older adult men. He was assaulting team rookies who were in their late teens or early 20s, including Kyle Leach, who had moved down from Canada to Chicago at age 19 to play with the Blackhawks. Interestingly, the movie Youngblood (1986), starring Rob Lowe, was about a 17-year-old boy who went to Canada to play hockey on a professional team. While there was no sexual assault, the team members initiated him by strapping him down on a table in the locker room and shaving his pubic hair and locking him out of the locker room wearing only his jock strap.

Rob Lowe in Youngblood (1986)

Hazing is another form of homoerotic assault that young men are subjected to, whether from a college sports team or a college fraternity. Here the major concern is that new players or pledges may be plied with alcohol, which in some cases has turned out to be deadly. There’s not supposed to be drinking on sports trips, but it’s been known to happen. That’s how sexual assaults take place between players and staff members. Aldrich invited young men back to his hotel room after a night of partying and took advantage of their unsteady condition. There are undoubtedly many more instances of sexual assault than what have been reported.

Even if there are homophobic attitudes in college fraternities or sports teams, hazing has a homoerotic character.

There are several factors to be aware of. First, the perpetrators of sexual abuse of children, youth, and young adults have been married men. The man who abused me was married with a child. Brad Aldrich was reportedly married with children. In one of the most infamous cases, Jerry Sandusky, who served as assistant coach with the Penn State Nittany Lions football team and was convicted of abusing 52 children over a 15-year period, was a husband and grandfather. Dennis Hastert, the former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives ,was charged with molesting adolescent boys on the high school wrestling team when he was the wrestling coach. You don’t think of married men initiating a homosexual assault. But men with homosexual desires can be married. Generally, sexual abuse of minors and young men has not been committed by men who identify as gay.

Second, in most cases the school or organization administration knew what was going on and kept it under wraps until someone like Kyle Beach blew the whistle. Kyle reported his sexual assault to the Blackhawks managers, but they declined to act on its because they were focused on winning the Stanley Cup. It was the same with the sexual molesting of female gymnasts by the now-convicted and imprisoned Jerry Nassar, who was the physician for the U.S. Women’s Gymnastic Team. In the Penn State case the whole top tier of the university administration and athletic department was terminated for allowing the sexual abuse to go unreported. There was organizational fallout in the Chicago Blackhawks and the team had to pay $2 million in damages to the NHL. You would think that schools and organizations would want to avoid the bad publicity of covering up instances of abuse by their staff, but seemingly they don’t. Expect universities and sports organizations to revert to damage control as their first response to reported instances of sexual abuse.

Third, the instances of sexual abuse are perpetrated on needy victims. You might not think of college or professional athletes as needy, but young men in their late teens who are away from home for the first time are in need of someone to take them under wing and show them the ropes. They welcome the attention of someone who befriends them. I’m sorry to say, but this someone might be grooming them for a sexual encounter. I don’t know if these situations are covered in high school sex education classes, but sex education teachers should be bold enough to discuss the signs of sexual grooming by adult predators and give counsel on how to resist a relationship with an authority figure that seems to be becoming too intimate. These instances occur too frequently to be ignored.

Parents should watch for signs of depression or change of attitude. Not that it is always the result of sexual abuse, but it can be.

It can be especially difficult for a young man if the groomer is someone in the hierarchy of the team organization, like a member of the coaching staff. The young athletes want to please the coaches and staff. If a young man picks up signals that a staff person is showing too much interest, some preventive measures can be implemented. The young man should tell a buddy what he thinks is happening and ask around to see if there have been other (unreported) instances of sexual advances on team members by this staff person. He should not go into a coach’s office without having a teammate nearby. He should not have a shower with an older man if they are the only two in the showers. On sports trips he should abide by the rules. Don’t drink and accept invitations into some staff person’s room. If there is a gathering in someone’s room, leave when the others do. If he gets assigned a room with a staff person and that man comes on to him, he should just tell the man assertively, “I don’t want to do this.” I would say that even if the young athlete is gay and would be open to male-on-male sex, he should not get into an entangling relationship with a staff member.

If an incident occurs, report it to the head of the athletic department. The young man should also let the department head know that he has told his friends, an academic adviser, and his parents. Then the director knows the incident can’t be ignored.

If a sexual assault is perpetrated by a teammate, for example, when they are sharing a hotel room on a team trip, the young man should be able to handle the situation since it’s a peer relationship. I haven’t been on a sports team, but I experienced a nocturnal assault from a roommate with whom I was sharing a bed on a college choir tour. It happens, and dealing with it is awkward. But it is up to these guys to work it out. If all else fails, the young man who is being sexually harassed by a team mate can ask for a different roommate.

I would like to think that these instances don’t happen to the majority of young athletes. But they do happen and the young athlete should not think that it wouldn’t happen to him. With best wishes for your son’s safe passage through the world of collegiate or professional sports.

Pastor Frank

Coach’s encouragement or seduction?

How do I know if my son is gay?

November 5, 2021

Dear Pastor Frank. I read with interest your Frank Answer About Gay Integrity. You spoke of you and your wife raising two gay sons. Could you share if you knew they were gay before they “came out?” My son is in middle school. He is more interested in music and dance than in sports. When he was a child he played with both trucks and dolls. He seems more interested in boys right now than in girls. How can I know if he is gay? And how should his mother and I react if he does “come out” someday? Concerned father.

Boy ballet students rehearsing the fight scene in The Nutcracker

Dear concerned father,

You won’t know for sure that your son is gay until he come out and declares it. Many boys don’t think they are gay until they get older and recognize their true feelings and sexual interests. Often that’s not until college or even later. But with the growing acceptance of LGBTQ people in our society, and discussions in school about homosexuality and gender dysphoria, gay and lesbian kids are recognizing their orientation and are coming out earlier, sometimes as early as the onset of puberty. In large high schools, gay kids can find affirmation, like my boys did, and can connect with other gay students. Gay boys might even find the girls trying to arrange gay dates for them. It’s no longer shocking that some same-sex couples attend their senior prom as dates.

Gay persons finally come out as gay when they begin to take honest stock of their interests and desires. Once sons and daughters come out as gay, parents have an “aha!” moment in which they recognize signs of their son’s sexual orientation that they have thought about all along. The problem is that behavior and interests don’t always match stereotypes. Boys can play with dolls as well as trucks, just as girls can show an interest in science and sports. One of my sons liked Snow White and also Masters of the Universe when he was a child. (Well, come to think of it, the muscular bodies of the plastic action figures probably appealed to his male orientation.) Boys can like music without being gay. Consider all the teenage boy bands there have been. Yes, a lot of male dancers are gay. So are some male athletes–football players as well as swimmers.

Jake Streder was “outed” as a freshman high school football player for the Matea Valley Mustangs in Aurora, Ill., in 2018. The episode intensified his love-hate relationship with football, and he wasn’t sure he could go back and play. But he did, and was accepted as a gay athlete and now loves football more than ever. He worked to raise LGBTQ consciousness at his high school.

Even interest in other boys among early adolescents is not a sign that a boy is gay. Young adolescents have a lot of interest in the bodies of their peers as their own bodies are going through puberty. Boys want to see the bodies of other boys, including genitals, and make comparisons. Unlike in my day when we were all naked together in showers and swimming classes and had a full view of our classmates, boys today have to be more circumspect about peeking at other boys’ bodies, especially in middle school, so that they are not tagged and bullied as being gay.

Bullying is something parents of middle school children need to pay attention to, watching for signs of it, especially on social media. Gay boys especially can become depressed as they suppress their sexuality. They may deal with this by getting into drugs. We dealt with this with one son, but not the other.

Parents also need to know who their children’s friends are. Offer to car pool kids to sports or theater practices and listen to the chatter (without interjecting!). Let your children invite their friends over to the house for parties and even sleepovers. One-on-one sleepovers is a way to know who your son’s best friend is. It’s also an opportunity for the boys to see each other’s bodies. They may hang out in their underwear and experiment with sleeping naked with each other. (I had that experience with my friend from the country when I was a young adolescent.)

There may be some experimentation with hugging and kissing best friends. Again, this is not a sign of gayness, but of affection. As adolescents discover masturbation, they may discuss it with a best friend and engage in mutual sex-play. This is not a sign of gayness either, but of boys’ natural curiosity about and exploration of their emerging sexuality. Nevertheless, it is through these experiences of intimacy that a boy (or a girl) discerns that they are attracted to the same-sex.

Your job is to constantly affirm your love and support for your children. No matter what they go through in their erratic adolescent development, home must be a safe place, and your love and protection must be a reliable refuge. Your son must know that his parents love and support him whether he is gay or straight.

In the meantime, children who discern that they are gay will watch for cues from their parents about their parents’ attitude is toward LGBTQ people. That sends signals about whether it is safe to “come out” to their parents. Especially if parents take them to church and they hear anti-gay rhetoric, they may want to know where you stand. Their antennae are out and they pick up every little signal. Be prepared for whatever happens, and best wishes.

Pastor Frank

Youth Into Online Sex

October 25, 2021

Dear Pastor Frank: I appreciated your Answer about the Father-Son Talk (scroll down) regarding pornography with a young teen. I’m concerned that my older teens (girl 18, boy 16) are involved in online sex, not only watching porn but sharing selfies. Broaching the topic is very awkward since I don’t have proof. Do you have suggestions on how I could approach the subject? Worried dad.

Dear worried dad,

If your teens have computers and iphones, there’s no question that they are looking at porn (including your daughter, although perhaps not as much as your son). They are probably not unaware of health department recommendations that during the COVID-19 pandemic online virtual sex (such as sexting) might replace actual sex (social distancing issues) and they take this as license to do it even if they are underage. So teens could be sending nude pics of themselves to girlfriends or boyfriends. Girls respond to the urgings of their boyfriends to show what boys want to see. Boys can’t resist sending dick pictures to their girlfriends, even though the girls are often turned off by it. (Boys are so clueless!)

I need to ask why you think YOUR daughter and/or son might be sexting (taking nude photos of themselves sending them to some else). Are there some signs of this activity? For example, are your kids secretive about their phones, not wanting you to see what’s on them? This doesn’t make it certain that they are exchanging nude photos, but if they are they would be anxious about you picking up their phone. Since you don’t know for certain if your kids are sexting, that means you haven’t seen a nude photo of them online. Unfortunately, that has been known to happen. It’s a heart-stopper for the parent who sees such an image.

If kids are under 18, they are not supposed to be using the social platforms that tolerate the practice of sexting. (See Frank Answers About Sexting.) If your daughter is 18, this restriction doesn’t apply to her. But you teenage children need to be inoculated with legal information about sexting. They need to know that it’s illegal to share nude pictures of others online without their consent. They can be charged with and possibly convicted of the federal offense of distributing child pornography if they distribute nude photos of underage friends (under 18), even if they themselves are under 18. According to the law they can have sex together (if both are under 18), but they can’t share nude photos of it. Remind them also that what’s on the internet stays on the internet as it circulates around the world wide web. Do you want a nude picture of yourself showing up in a search engine years later when you are applying for college or a job? They also need to be worried about revenge porn no matter what their age. Teenage relationships don’t usually last long and breakups can be painful. If someone wants to get revenge on a former girlfriend or boyfriend who jilted them by sharing a compromising photo online, that can be devastating. It is also illegally sharing nude pictures without the person’s consent.

Girl friend revenge

Having the conversation can indeed be awkward. The advantage you have is not actually knowing the extent to which your kids have been sexting, if they have. So you can’t begin by accusing them of engaging in these activities. You could begin by telling them how concerned you are about the practice of teens sharing nude selfies and explain why. Ask if they are aware of kids who are doing this and whether it is discussed in school. You’ll have to see if they’re willing to share any information. They could be embarrassed just to talk about such matters with their parents. If they’re not willing to share information, you have at least imparted valuable information about how risky this practice is and demonstrated your concern. If you’re wife is part of the conversation, make sure their mother has a chance to express her concerns also.

However, I want to advise you to be prepared to hear your kids’ point of view if they’re willing to dialogue with you about sexting. Sexting has become a normal part of what we used to call “romancing” among young adults and older teens. Especially during the pandemic, it has been a way in which they could remain connected when they weren’t able to see one another at school or socially. Not all sexting is hard core porn or even full nudity. It might just be suggestive. Those who do sexting need to learn the rules of consent before they send photos. Many young people appreciate that in asking for and giving consent they learn where their virtual partner stands on sexual issues and on their relationship. Girls don’t want to be seen as “sluts” and boys need to learn that girls are interested in more about them than their dicks.

With your daughter, you can’t stop her from sexting because she’s of legal age. Your son—if he’s sending and receiving nude images—needs to be strongly advised to cease and desist. But sending private selfies is a normal part of dating and developing a relationship, and if it doesn’t violate legal age restrictions there’s no harm in it. (See the photo below this Answer.)

End whatever dialogue you have by affirming your love for your children. Perhaps conclude with a family cuddle hug. Best wishes,

Pastor Frank

Sexy? This young man conveys the image of domesticity by doing the laundry!

Boys Will Be Naked

October 4, 2021

I was interested in the issue the Naked Grandpa had with the grandsons, one who enjoyed being naked and the other who didn’t. I have a thirteen year old boy who enjoys being naked around the house, but he has a younger sister. Now that he’s reaching puberty my wife and I are wondering what to do about that. Should we rein him in as far as being naked in the presence of the rest of the family is concerned?

Dear worried dad,

That’s an interesting question. But it can only be answered within the family dynamics. How comfortable are you and your wife with nudity? Let me tell you some stories about teenage boys being naked around the house.

Several years ago I met a college student from Finland who said that in his home in Finland the family was often naked with each other in the sauna, in the lake, and sometimes around the house. He also had a younger sister, and he would often come to the breakfast table naked after taking his morning shower, and his parents and sister accepted this.

I also heard of a family situation in which the older sister was accepting of her younger brother’s propensity for being naked around the house, even past puberty. Apparently she gave him flattering comments about his emerging “manhood,” which built up his adolescent confidence about his body.

It’s possible that your children spent time together naked when they were younger. My second son often took baths with his sister who was four years younger, and they enjoyed the experience. He also took off running naked through the house after his bath, although his older brother was more reserved about such antics. That stopped around the time the second son was reaching puberty.

It’s possible that your son may conclude as he shows more signs of his emerging “manhood” that he should be more modest in front of the family. On the other hand, there is really no reason why he needs to be “reined in,” as you say. And certainly he should not be embarrassed about his naked body. It would be a good thing for him to remain comfortable in his skin and learn, especially in his teen years, that nudity and sex are not to be equated.

However, as he becomes more physically mature and continues to be comfortable being naked around the house, you and your wife will have to reach some understanding with him about some situations. Here are some examples.

A boy’s hand will naturally go to his penis and he will start fondling it. But this could also arouse him. Should he be instructed that if his arousal leads to an urge to masturbate, that should be confined to the privacy of his room?

When company comes to the house or his sister’s friends are on the premises does he have to wear clothes or stay in his room?

Suppose his younger sister wants to join her brother in being naked around the house. Are you and your wife comfortable with that?

On the other hand, as his sister gets older, her sensitivities will need to be taken into consideration. Will she remain comfortable with her brother’s nakedness?

Sometimes he might get an erection. This is an involuntary muscular response to various stimuli, not always sexual. Male erections might have to be explained to his sister.

When he has friends over, will they be comfortable with his nakedness? That’s between your son and his friends. Some boys might be shy, but other might be happy to join him in being naked. Is it okay with you and your wife to have naked teenage boys hanging around the house?

I can’t resist telling the story about when a country friend was visiting for a week, when he mother and sister were out shopping one day he proposed that we boys, including my younger brother, get naked and have a merry romp throughout the house. Our friend was probably 13 at the time, I was 12 and my brother was 7.

There will probably be times, as your son gets older, when his nakedness will have to be confined to the privacy of his own room. But he may figure that out on his own as he matures.

Pastor Frank

Boys and Nudity

July 2, 2021

Hello Pastor Frank. I’ve followed your blog for several years, especially your posts on swimming naked. I’m a retired pharmacist living in rural Oregon. Like you, I experienced swimming nude as a youth and I enjoy sleeping naked, walking around the house naked doing morning chores, and being outdoors naked in the nice weather. My wife accepts this, although she doesn’t join me. In the summer we’re happy to entertain our daughter’s two boys (especially this summer after a year of COVID-19 restrictions). One boy is now a young teen and the other is a pre-teen. Since we’re all males except for my wife I continue my practice of sometimes being nude even with the grandsons here. They’d be welcome to join me, if they want to. The younger boy sometimes does, but not the older one. There’s a quiet lake nearby and there are seldom people around on weekdays so I take the boys swimming and rowing, for which I’m nude if no one is around. My youngest grandson will join me in this state, but not the older one. I doubt that my son-in-law practices much nudity at their home. I would enjoy it if my older grandson would give it a try, but I don’t want to make an issue of it. I’d be interested in your thoughts about why the two boys have different attitudes toward nudity.

Dear naked grandpa,

It’s hard to make any specific comments without knowing your family, but I have a couple of hunches. The younger boy has not yet entered adolescence when youth are obsessively insecure about their bodies. Perhaps he ran around the house naked as a child not so long ago and enjoyed the experience and is still closer to that experience than the older boy, if he engaged in this behavior as a child. Being older, he probably has that oldest child’s sense of responsibility, and is also looking forward to being even older than he is now. He has no adult male model who exemplifies social nudity at home. And probably no peers who are comfortable with nudity either, since boys no longer shower and swim totally naked in PE swimming classes. For that matter, your son-in-law probably had no experience of that either.

At your house, you are a model, but his grandmother is also around and as a teenage boy who is (I assume) past puberty, he doesn’t want to be naked in front of a female. But this shouldn’t be an issue at the lake if no one else is there. If you and his brother are naked in that venue, it’s clear that your older grandson is quite determined not to be.

You could allow your grandsons to invite a friend to join you for a swim in the lake, and if the friend was willing to get naked with you and your younger grandson, that might provide encouragement for your older grandson to join you. But he may also be resistant to peer pressure.

In this vintage photo of boys who had been swimming naked it seems that the boy on the right was most comfortable being nude for the camera, the boy on the left least comfortable, and the boy in the middle somewhat in between.

Since your younger grandson is happily nude with you (and enjoying your approval), you probably have a better chance of influencing him to have a more positive attitude toward the naked body than his older brother has. But even he will need more experiences of social nudity than just being with you as he gets older. If his father would join you, for example, in swimming naked in the lake, that would boost your influence. You probably need to have a talk with your son-in-law about this anyway since he is the boys’ father. You should make sure that he’s comfortable with what you are modeling for his sons.

Remember that boys growing up in the 1950s and 1960s had experiences of required nude swimming in the schools and YMCA that most of us just took in stride. The practice was waning in the 1970s and was practically gone by the 1980s. By the 1990s it was considered “gay” to swim naked. So there is that stigma to deal with also, that may linger on even today. (Ironically, in the 1950s boys who were shy about undressing in front of other boys were called “queer.”) The generations that came after ours have no social or cultural frame of reference for the practice of swimming naked at school, or skinny dipping in creeks or lakes.

The chances are that it’s a lost cause for your older grandson. I’m sure boys in high school don’t bother showering after gym class any more. The only places where nude swimming would be practiced are in secluded spots like your lake or “clothing optional” beaches (which are actually increasing in tropical tourist destinations).

Imagine two naked grandsons running to join naked grandpa in the lake.

In any case, a non-judgmental conversation with your older grandson about the issue of nudity might reveal some deeper issues. One wonders if he experienced something negative toward his body or has a self-generated negative body image. It doesn’t take much for teenagers to develop a negative body image. A chat would at least give you an opportunity to present your views about the health benefits of nudity on the basis of your own background.

As I’m sure you know that there are actual health benefits to having nude time. Obviously, walking around nude or swimming nude improves one’s self-esteem. If we feel good about ourselves, we have fewer body image issues. Being unclothed also allows the skin to breathe and gives us healthier skin. For men, airing out the genitals is a good thing. Our genitalia, unlike a woman’s, are on the exterior of the body. Tight underwear restricts blood flow to the nether region and allows bacteria to build up. Most of all, when we are nude with others it creates bonding. Our clothing is a boundary between us and others. Without the clothing we relate more freely to others, whether our wives, sons, or grandsons.

father and son

I think that if your grandson could try nudity once, he might experience it as liberating. You could also discuss with him the fact that he will at some point in his life be naked with other people, such as in a college dormitory or military barracks and eventually with a life partner. He might actually be more willing to discuss issues about sex and sexuality with you than with his father. Many youth have found it easier to discuss things with indulgent grandparents than with their overly-cautious parents.

The point should also be made that nudity doesn’t always imply sex, which he must surely see from your example of just being comfortable in your body. The naked body is how God made us. Being clothed was God’s concession to our fallen condition. There’s nothing sinful about nudity in itself, and nothing shameful about the body God created. We should enjoy our bodily selves.

Good luck on this and best wishes. If I were visiting you, I’d join you for a naked dip in your lake on a warm summer day.

Pastor Frank

The Father-Son Talk About Masturbation and Porn

June 8, 2021

Question:

Dear Pastor Frank: My wife walked into my thirteen-year old son’s bedroom and interrupted him masturbating with his computer screen open in front of him. She quickly retreated as he closed the screen. She assumes he was looking at porn. She informed me of this encounter and suggested that perhaps it is time for me to have “The Talk” with my son. I see from your blog that you are open about discussing masturbation and pornography. Do you have any suggestions for how I might approach my son about these issues?

Dear Dad,

My father never had “the talk” with me and perhaps your father didn’t have “the talk” with you either. But it’s time to break the tradition of silence around sexual issues such as masturbation, and pornography also.

If you have “the talk” with your son it will not be easy for either of you. He will suspect that his mother saw what he was doing and told you about it. But this could be the ice breaker to begin the conversation.

You should ask to see him in his room, since it’s his private space within the household. Sit down on his bed and just tell him that his mother is sorry that she interrupted him and that his parents weren’t aware that he had discovered masturbation. “My God, you’ve reached puberty and we should have paid more attention to the changes taking place in your body.” But admit that he’s of an age when all boys discover this pleasurable exertion with their penis, and the family members will have to adjust by knocking before coming into his room to respect his privacy.

If you had a personal experience of being discovered while “jerking off” (use the colloquial term also), tell him about it. This let’s him know that you also masturbated when you were a kid and can identify with his embarrassment. You might ask him if he has any questions about what he has been experiencing physically. Point out that sometimes when we’re just getting started with masturbation the mystery of sex can be scary as well as pleasurable because at first we don’t know what’s happening down there. If he has questions, answer them as honestly as you can, even about your own experiences. If he doesn’t have questions, tell him that if questions come to him, he should be free to ask them. It’s not necessary at this point to give a sex education talk. Too much information can be overwhelming. He’s probably already overwhelmed that you’re openly talking with him about his secret sex.

Cover a few practical issues, like the cum squirts all over the place (which he may have already experienced) and he should try to keep it contained. He could get naked and put a towel under himself instead of getting the sticky semen (use the word) all over his bedding and clothing. He should keep a Kleenex box under his bed so he can wipe off his hands and other body parts and squeeze the residue out of his penis. Then remind him to collect the Kleenex tissues and put them in the garbage, not the toilet. Point out that he could also go in the shower and experience what it’s like to masturbate standing up with the water running.

As for the chat about porn, your wife assumed that’s what your son was watching. She’s probably right. Thirteen-year-olds in our internet society have undoubtedly discovered porn. I wouldn’t accuse him of that or ask him point blank if he was watching porn. But you might tell him that you’d also like to have a discussion with him about the use of pornography. Admit to him that you didn’t have the internet to supply you with porn when you were his age (if you didn’t), but that boys were not lacking it in girly magazines that they used for the same purpose as those who look at internet porn: it was to masturbate. That may whet his appetite to hear more from you about your experiences when you were a boy. (You might want to look at Frank Answers About Pornography and Chastity.)

Your son has to realize that what he’s watching is not really real (unless its in sex chat cam rooms, which he shouldn’t be entering if he’s under 18). If he admits to seeing porn, Inform him that porn is entertainment, and our own sexual practices may not be that acrobatic, just like we probably wouldn’t be able to do the things done in action films. Point out that there are good reasons why age limits are placed on entering porn sites. Young teens may not be mature enough for pornographic sex, just as they aren’t mature enough for actual sex. There’s some nasty stuff on the internet that we shouldn’t get into, especially child porn (which is illegal). The internet can be a dangerous place. There are bound to be pop up ads, and it would not be safe for your son to click on those ads.

Point out that we often fantasize when we are masturbating. Fantasizing is a creative mental activity. We do it all the time, and not just about sex. We don’t need stimulating images in order to fantasize. We can touch our bodies all over and enjoy the sensations created by self-touch. Adolescent boys should also just enjoy their bodies and the pleasures they experience when they look at themselves in a mirror and see how they are growing and developing. (See the question I answered about fantasizing on Frank Answers Briefly More About Male Body Issues.)

If you are a religious family, I would tell your son that we should be thankful for the gift of our body and its sexuality. We should honor the bodies God has created. If he’s interested in looking at beautiful bodies, introduce him to great works of nude art. (I’m serious!) There’s nothing shameful about the nude body and your son should not be ashamed of his body. But we need to be respectful of our bodies and the bodies of other people.

These are my thoughts about how to proceed. The main thing is that you want to be able to keep open channels of communication with your son as he grows into the complexities of the later teenage years. You definitely don’t want internet porn to be the source of his sex education. Maybe a good discussion about sex will open the possibilities for good conversation about other topics. I hope it works for you and your son.

Pastor Frank

Shot of a happy father spending time with his son

Teens and God

December 17, 2017

Rev. Frank,
Thank you for bringing back such an important topic. I have two children, a boy (14) and a girl (11) who, while basically good, well behaved, and followers of all the rules of modern society, look upon religion as a punishment or penance that they must endure. I attend mass when possible but the two of them are aghast at the suggestion that they should… CCD is followed and attended but only because my wife and I say so… Reading and eating together (even grace before meals on occasion) are all regular practices, but…
The oldest is making his confirmation this year and is pragmatic by nature. Consequently when I asked him about God and his beliefs the response was, “there’s no evidence” . In my years I have traveled and seen more evidence than I can relate to a fourteen year old growing up in our modern society with the prevalence of lies and deceit that is our world.
How can I describe walking into Jerusalem before dawn and visiting the holy sites while the city is just waking up? Or the experience of praying early in the morning when I first wake up. Words fail me…
Any suggestions?
Thanks for your blog as it always makes for interesting reading!
MPC

Prayer upon rising in the morning

Dear MPC,

You should tell your children about the religious or spiritual experiences you have had in your life, such as visiting holy sites in the Holy Land or praying when you wake up. This alerts them to the fact that not all religious experiences are to be found in their parish church. Such experiences are as far away as the whole world and as near as home.

At age 14 your son is probably striking out on his own. But he’s not ignoring your example. So continue to attend Mass as a family and occasionally tell your family what is meaningful to you about doing so. You might tell them about how encouraging and supportive it is for pone’s own faith to be a part of a community of faith. It will register even if they feign disinterest.

Teens learn best from peers. The time-honored approach is youth retreats with group experiences and guided conversation and small group worship. Some years ago I went on a servant trip to Kentucky with a group of adolescents from our church (which included my daughter). They had a good time together engaged in productive projects that stretched their skills and it included morning and evening prayer with debriefing of experiences at the end of the day. One of the most meaningful experiences was a visit to Gethsemane Abbey where they had an opportunity to learn about Thomas Merton and talk to real monks who had devoted their lives to prayer. That got to them and generated real discussion.

Will Peterson, left, Brother Paul, and David Cable as their pilgrimage comes to a close and their retreat begins on March 29, 2017, at the the Abbey of Gesthsamani in Kentucky.

Returning to the subject of attendance at Mass: it would be good if you and your family had the experience of actively participating in the Mass and not just attending by bystanders. This includes singing and joining in processions for Communion, as well as on Palm Sunday and Good Friday and other occasions when bodily movement is in order. The more youth especially put their bodies into worship, the more they will be engaged; and the more they are engaged, the more they will take ownership of the liturgy. Catholics like rituals. So do people in all religions, more than they often admit. Children and youth like rituals. The more they can actually participate in rituals, the more they will make them a part of their religious and cultural identity.

Family bearing gifts of bread and wine for Holy Communion in an offertory procession

A step beyond this would be for your kids to put on albs (the white vestment) and serve as acolytes (altar servers). Unfortunately, some Catholic dioceses and parishes have issues about including girls in these roles. That’s too bad. But it’s a time-honored tradition for boys to serve. Being liturgical ministers puts youth into the center of the action at Mass. Age 14 is a great age to offer one’s service, if your son hasn’t served as yet. Many of us who went on to be priests and pastors began as acolytes. And many lay people remember their youthful service fondly. Your son will have to discover for himself that the evidence for God comes from having a relationship with God. But you can at least put him into a situation in which he might have an encounter with God.

My prayers and best wishes,

Pastor Frank

Altar servers at St. Mary of the Annunciation parish in the Archdiocese of Chicago

My prayers and best wishes.

Pastor Frank

Raising Godly Children

December 11, 2017

Question: We are expecting a child — a girl. What have you learned — as a pastor and parent — that are the best practices for parents to raise Godly children? And should we expect that, no matter what we teach her or how we raise her, that there will be an element of spiritual rebellion in her teenage or later years?

Note: This was the last “Frank Answer” in my weekly column on the web site of Immanuel Lutheran Church in Evanston, Illinois just before I retired in June 2013.

Young happy Couple expecting baby

Frank answers: My experience as a parent for nearly forty years and as an active pastor for forty-four, is that parenting is a matter of improvisation. No two children are the same, even in the same family. Social conditions change rapidly in our ever-changing society. As children grow and expand their horizons peer influence competes with parental influence as the child makes his or her own decisions. And, of course, children sometimes develop their own ideas consistent with the gifts they have received, who they discern themselves to be, and what calling they hear.

And don’t forget that the parents’ situation also changes over the years. Jobs and careers change. This affects the amount of time one has to be in the home and how one relates to one’s spouse and children. Child care often gets passed back and forth between parents. Given our active lifestyles and sometimes erratic schedules, parents need to remain in communication about child rearing—including if, lamentably, marital divorce occurs.

Improvisation works best when it is grounded in something basic. So here I can only commend traditional practices of Christian parenting. Christian parents have their own values grounded in the commandments of God and the gospel of Jesus Christ. Parents will communicate these values by modeling them and teaching them as the child grows in experience and understanding.

Basically, since the commandments teach love of God and neighbor, Christian parents will have their children baptized and then bring their children regularly to worship in a congregation and find opportunities to be involved in serving the needs of others as a family.

Children should be engaged in active participation in corporate worship as early as possible—standing and sitting when the congregation does, following the service in the worship book, speaking texts they can get to know from memory like the Creed and Lord’s Prayer, singing the chants that are repeated from week to week. Children learn routine rituals very easily and pick up songs very quickly.

Reading to the young child at home (highly recommended) can include Bible stories and stories that promote Christian values. Children like to be read to and have favorite stories that they like to hear over and over again.  Table prayers should not be omitted, at least at the main family meal of the day.  This becomes a family ritual that children quickly grow into.

Eating together, in spite of our busy schedules, is also an important value. Christianity began as a meal fellowship; Jesus’s followers gathered for the Lord’s Supper on the Lord’s Day. Customs of the church year can be taught in the home, often in conjunction with the meal, such as devotions around lighting an Advent wreath, decorating the Christmas tree, Lenten self-denial disciplines (fasting, almsgiving, prayer), and dyeing Easter eggs. Children like routines and these are family activities that the kids will remember fondly in future years.

But you note the element of “spiritual rebellion” in teenage or later years. Perhaps you remember your own adolescent years. Children have to strike out on their own to discern who they are as unique persons, even to the point of questioning the faith in which they were raised. Christianity endorses this with its teaching that each of us is endowed with a soul, which is what makes each of us who we uniquely are. While you can teach and pass on “the faith,” you can’t give your children “faith.” Your child has to do her or his own believing.

Adolescents are notorious for gravitating toward peer influence and away from parental influence, often making poor decisions in the process. This is where parental improvisation really comes into play. You have a fundamental responsibility as parents to protect your child from harm to body and soul. Yet you know that your child has to be weaned from reliance on the family in order to make his or her own way in the wider world. Hopefully, with a solid foundation your child will explore spiritual traditions even more deeply in the years to come.

In our society families make use of such things as summer church camps and church servant trips to give their children opportunities to be separated from immediate parental control while not being totally away from adult supervision and Christian influence. In later teenage years children will get driving privileges and you will experience the real angst of turning your child loose on society. And then she goes off to college, and, well, you know what you did in college!

The most comforting thing is that you came through the experience and are faithful to Christ and are trying to be the best disciple you can be in a world in which that isn’t easy. In our society adolescence is a prolonged experience. In a traditional society one is a child one day and assumes adult responsibilities the next by means of rites of initiation. The betwixt-and-between experience of adolescence is almost non-existent is traditional societies. But in our modern Western society adolescence can be prolonged for years as people complete higher education, find a job, and go through several relationships before they settle down into marriage (if they ever do) and have children of their own. Parental care never ceases.

Let me end with the story of St. Monica, the mother of St. Augustine of Hippo, one of the great figures in Christian history. (Monica’s feast day is May 4.) She was married to a pagan (actually an unbaptized catechumen) but raised their son Augustine as a catechumen (boys especially were seldom baptized as children in those days). She prayed for him for thirty years as he went through at least one relationship, producing an illegitimate son, and dabbled with various philosophies, including Manichaeism. Finally, at the age of 30 Augustine was baptized by Ambrose, bishop of Milan, and returned to North Africa where he was soon elected bishop of the port town of Hippo and became one of the greatest teachers in the history of the Church.

The example of Monica is two-fold: never cease praying for your child and never give up hope that God has something in mind for the children we bring into the world with God’s blessing.

And for those who are providing foster care for children whose biological family is not able to care for them—God bless you for the work you are doing in providing loving parental care to these children.

Pastor Frank Senn

1 Comment

  1. Comment by post author

    Andrew

    Dear Pastor Frank,

    I think that your suggestions to Nudist Grandpa are all good suggestions. But I must remind you that we are living in a different time now. Today I see men in the locker room their 30s and 40s, as insecure and inhibited about their bodies as adolescent boys. It is sad that they never got over it.

    When I first saw naked men as a boy in the gang shower, it was a way of teaching by example. Not one of the men tried to hide his nakedness nor showed any embarrassment. I learned that this was the proper way to shower after swimming, and everybody did it. But today, Grandpa’s son-in-law or the parents of the friends of his grandsons could see this as sexual abuse, even though it is neither sexual nor abusive. Grandpa might find himself in legal hot water over nothing.

    Today while many teenagers take nude selfies of themselves when they get their first cell phone, they feel publicly exposed and humiliated in a locker room. At a nude beach this summer, I saw adolescent boys swimming. Some were naked, some wore trunks. Why were some comfortable being naked while others were not? I think Grandpa should let his older grandson do what he feels as comfortable for himself. He might try it, or he may never try it.

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