Talking to Children When a Popular Role Model Falls Short
by Fr. George Morelli
Neither do I condemn you; go, and do not sin again (John 6:11).
Most Americans are aware of the recent pregnancy of the star of a well known Nickelodeon program. What makes this distressing to parents and confusing to their children is that the star played the role of a "moral heroine" on the show. She talked about sex in the context of committed relationships and marriage. She dealt assertively with peers who wanted her to try alcohol, drugs and the like. She was described as "standing up for her beliefs."
The media news of the falling short of the Zoey 101 star was accompanied by images like this:
The lead story on CNN news highlighted the dilemma: "Parents are struggling with what to tell their children after finding out that Britney Spears' younger sister, Jamie Lynn Spears, is pregnant." Reports on a national television show the next day said that parents who don't know what to say to their children are walking away when their children ask questions about the Zoey 101 star.
Media celebrities have an inordinate influence over the lives of children. For this reason Orthodox Christian parents, as leaders of their Domestic Churches, should talk to their children about it.
How to Talk to Children
Talking with children does not mean preaching. Adults can be preached to. Children have to discover for themselves. The best way to talk with children is to first ask them how they feel about the topic. Then see if they can make the connection to Our Lord's life and teachings. The English word "education" is derived from the Latin word "educare" which means "to draw out." Parents may have to help draw out these connections. Below are some discussion points in question format with sample answers that I think may be helpful.
Let me emphasize once again: Adults LOVE to preach. Don't preach to your child. Discuss the questions if you want your child to learn.
It Starts with God's Love for Us
The discussion should focus on the love God has for us and the love husband (father) and wife (mother) have for each other in a God-blessed committed relationship (sacramental marriage). Parents should focus on this "as the same love we have for you as our children" (Morelli, 2005, 2007a, b).
Blessed Sex is Holy
The discussion should focus on the holiness of sex, its part in God's creation
- Who created us? (God.)
- Who does God get to help him? (Mommies and daddies. Older children may want to discuss the physiology involved, parents should be unanxiously straightforward and choose age-appropriate terms etc.)
- How does he choose them? (He blesses their marriage.)
Brokenness: Falling Short and Sin
The theme of this discussion is that since the fall of our first parents, we are inclined to do what we want and not what God wants. God loves us and if we love Him we want to do what He wants, (follow His will).
- Have you ever done anything wrong?
- If you have done wrong what can you do? (Answers: ask forgiveness, repent, do better, follow God's will.)
- Have you ever done anything God would be unhappy about?
- Have you ever done anything mommy or daddy would be unhappy about?
God's Love, Mercy and Forgiveness
The child should be helped to see God's never ending love, mercy and forgiveness. The gospels are filled with examples of Jesus forgiving the sins of those whom he encountered. Parents may want to mark a few passages so they could go over them with their children. With older children, parents and children should read the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32), and the account of the woman caught in adultery (John 8: 3-11). Children should be asked for the meaning of these passages in terms of the current news story and their own lives.
- If you have done something wrong (fallen short, sinned), are really sorry, and ask God to forgive you, what will He do?
- Because you have done wrong does it mean God, or mommy or daddy does not love you?
- Does God want you to displease Him (sin against Him) again? (cf. Romans 6.)
- What is the best way to please God after displeasing (sinning against) Him? (Ask forgiveness [for older children, especially by going to Confession] and try with all our heart not to displease Him or sin against Him again.)
Connections With Others
Then a connection should be made between God's love, their own falling short, and the falling short of the actress.
- Does Jamie's pregnancy outside of marriage cause God to stop loving her? (No, He hates her sin, but not her, just as we, your parents, hate when you disobey us, but still love you.)
- Does God want you to love her?
- What can you do to show your love for her? (Pray for her, pray she asks God to give her the grace to grow in His love of Him, obey Him and do His will.)
- Because she did something wrong is it OK for us (you) to do something wrong?
- What is more important: To please God or your friends?
- What is more important: To do what pleases God or to do what you see movie stars do?
- Why not? (Because we want to love God with all our hearts and mind, so we can please Him and be with Him in paradise.)
- What do we do when we or someone gets in trouble? (Pray for them. So we should pray for Ms. Spears, and all those whom God loves, and that means all of us even the worst of sinners.)
Priestmonk Christodoulos (Angelou, 1998), biographer of Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain, said of the Elder: "He only saw the good things in life and was blind to every evil." Fr. Christodoulos also said: "I believe that if someone develops positive thoughts, ... he will not be a loser, because God, who knows our deepest intentions, will do him justice."
What a beautiful way to apply the Elder's teaching to this media event. One overheard comment that reflects the spirit of the holy Elder's words was by a woman who said, "One good thing, she decided to keep her child and not have an abortion."
Especially with older children, the choice for life over death could be emphasized. They could pray that Godly choices like this could continue to be made. This could be a starting point leading to a family discussion on abortion and the sanctity of life.
The Best Way to Show Love
The best way to show our love of God is to love Him and do what He has commanded; pray with all our heart to know, love and serve Him. Pray that Our Lord's words to the woman caught in adultery be what He would say to this popular actress and ourselves: "Neither do I condemn you; go, and do not sin again" (John 6:11).
Blessed Marriage: The Holiness and Obligation of the Vocation of Parenthood
In the Orthodox wedding service, the Holy Spirit is invoked to: "Unite them (the couple) in one mind and one flesh, and grant unto them fair children for education in Thy faith and fear ... " The spiritual goal of marriage is connected to the parental vocation. This is of Divine origin. As God loves us, we are to love. This love starts in the domestic church, sanctified and continuingly enlivened by the sharing of the Holy Mysteries in the parish community. It then abides mutually between the spouses, and spreads from there to their children and then to all those in the world. It goes out to this Jamie Spears and all of us in need of forgiveness.
Ageloglou, Priestmonk Christodoulos. (1998). Elder Paisios of The Holy Mountain. Mt. Athos, Greece: Holy Mountain.
Morelli, G. (2005, July 19) Sex is Holy: Psycho-Spiritual Reflections in a Secular World. http://www.orthodoxytoday.org/articles5/MorelliSexIsHoly.php
Morelli, G. (2007a, August 28). Smart Parenting VI: Talking to Your Children About Sex. http://www.orthodoxytoday.org/articles7/MorelliSmartParentingVI.php
Morelli, G. (2007b December 17) Smart Parenting VIII: Fighting for Christ at Christmas -- Combating Secularism. http://www.orthodoxytoday.org/articles7/MorelliSmartParentingVIII.php
V. Rev. Fr. George Morelli Ph.D. is a licensed Clinical Psychologist and Marriage and Family Therapist, Coordinator of the Chaplaincy and Pastoral Counseling Ministry of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese, (www.antiochian.org/counse...) and Religion Coordinator (and Antiochian Archdiocesan Liaison) of the Orthodox Christian Association of Medicine, Psychology and Religion. Fr. George is Assistant Pastor of St. George's Antiochian Orthodox Church, San Diego, California.