My wife subscribes to the local Catholic homeschooler email list, and although I don’t usually dip into the innumerable messages that pour in (most of them more lifestyle and education focused, so far as I can tell) I occasionally read a thread that catches my eye.
This week there’s been much discussion of an Envoy magazine article about how a mother took her twelve-year-old in for a check up and was shocked and angered when the doctor asked if he could speak to the girl privately for a few minutes, and during the course of that asked the girl if she was sexually active and if she needed a prescription for birth control. The moms on the list exchanged similar stories, and were indignant not only that birth control was offered but that their teenagers were routinely asked if they did drugs, had sex, etc. Why, everyone wanted to know, would any reasonable doctor ask to speak to a teenager alone about these topics? Surely a mother should always know everything there is to know about these topics.
Needless to say, I’m not crazy about the idea of my three daughters being offered birth control and quizzed about their experiences when they become teenagers.
But at the same time, I think the outrage is overblown. As Catholics we often talk about how we are counter-cultural. And we are. But when you’re counter cultural, you can hardly be surprised when the fact that you do not fit in the mainstream culture is often thrown into relief. It ill befits us, I think, to act like the Muslim parents whose stories are gleefully fun by a certain stripe of website when they sue over pictures of Piglet (Pigs are dirty! How could you offend my child by showing one?) or dogs.
I recall fielding these questions myself as a youth. I too a certain amusement in the doctor coming in with her multi-page questionnaire and long explanation of how all this would remain confidential, only to have her ask. “Are you sexually active?” “No.” (flips two pages.) “Have you experimented with illegal drugs?” “No.” (flips two more pages.) “Smoked?” “No.” “Alcohol?” “Only wine with my parents.” “Well, that was quick. Do you have any questions you want to ask me or should we invite your mother back in?”
It’s indeed a sad commentary that starting to ask kids if they’re using drugs and having sex at age 12-13 is reasonable, but given a culture in which the majority of kids have had sex with multiple partners by age 17, and many kids experiment with drugs and alcohol in their mid teens, it’s hardly surprising.
Perhaps I’m overly idealistic, but I don’t think many children who are otherwise well brought up in the faith will be corrupted and fall from grace as a result of a few embarrassing questions from a doctor. Though it does certainly serve as a reminder of something that our children will be well aware of anyway — that they live in a different world from that of many of their peers. And for many children in the wider culture, whose parents do not know half of what their children are doing, a few words from a doctor about the risks involved in their actions may be all to the good.
One hopes that some day our culture will come to its senses enough that it will no longer seem reasonable to discuss these topics with boys and girls in their young teens, but in the mean time we can hardly congratulate ourselves on being counter-cultural without feeling the strong current of the culture flowing against us.