I admit that I was shocked to learn that many (most?) young and not-so-young Catholic moms in my Facebook book club were unfamiliar with what the Church calls "the latency period." We were going over the first three chapters of Raising Chaste Catholic Men, and I discovered that this was a new term to most of the women who commented. I decided, and was encouraged, to put this in a blog post, so here we are!
An excerpt from Chapter Three, "When They Are Little":
Most of what you need to know about chastity and your sons’ [and daughters'] early years can be summed up in two sentences:
1. Respect the latency period.
2. Don’t freak out about stuff.
The latency period, or what St. John Paul II called the “years of innocence,” spans from about age 5 to puberty and is easy enough to understand. From The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality [Guidelines for Education Within the Family]:
This period of tranquility and serenity must never be disturbed by unnecessary information about sex. During those years, before any physical sexual development is evident, it is normal for the child's interests to turn to other aspects of life…. So as not to disturb this important natural phase of growth, parents will recognize that prudent formation in chaste love during this period should be indirect, in preparation for puberty, when direct information will be necessary. [#78]
Our Church tells us to respect the latency period of children, which would ideally last until the child hits adolescence; however, we live in a society that does not respect a child’s innocence. In fact, the world around us seeks to destroy innocence, by design. The educational establishment, advertisers, books, movies, television, and video games — all push to sexualize children at a young age. In fact, entities like SIECUS and Planned Parenthood, which have routine access to public schools, believe that children should be immersed in secular, relativistic sex education from birth.
What to do when the latency period is violated? We must step in. Again, from the Church:
A further problem arises when children receive premature sex information from the mass media or from their peers who have been led astray or received premature sex education. In this case, parents will have to begin to give carefully limited sexual information, usually to correct immoral and erroneous information or to control obscene language. [#84]
Okay, obviously there is more information from the Church about the protection of the latency period (read the entire Vatican document, as I did many years ago), but there you have it. What many moms and dads have intuited actually has a name: The latency period.
Everything in this culture wants to violate those "years of innocence," so be aware. Don't freak out, and all is not lost if your little kids are exposed to too much, too soon, but there should be a certain level of "sheltering" going on, for sure. That is part of your job as a parent.
What is your young, pre-adolescent child learning about if he is not learning about sex? Again from the Vatican document:
During those years, before any physical sexual development is evident, it is normal for the child's interests to turn to other aspects of life. The rudimentary instinctive sexuality of very small children has disappeared. Boys and girls of this age are not particularly interested in sexual problems, and they prefer to associate with children of their own sex. So as not to disturb this important natural phase of growth, parents will recognize that prudent formation in chaste love during this period should be indirect, in preparation for puberty, when direct information will be necessary. [#78]
During this stage of development, children are normally at ease with their body and its functions. They accept the need for modesty in dress and behaviour. Although they are aware of the physical differences between the two sexes, the growing child generally shows little interest in genital functions. The discovery of the wonders of creation which accompanies this phase and the experiences in this regard at home and in school should also be oriented towards the stages of catechesis and preparation for the sacraments which takes place within the ecclesial community. [#79]
As in the first years of life also during childhood, parents should encourage a spirit of collaboration, obedience, generosity and self-denial in their children, as well as a capacity for self-reflection and sublimation. In fact, a characteristic of this period of development is an attraction toward intellectual activities. Using the intellect makes it possible to acquire the strength and ability to control the surrounding situation and, before long, to control bodily instincts, so as to transform them into intellectual and rational activities. [#86]
How beautiful and amazing! Unlike what the culture tells us, not everything is about sex! And children can and should retain their innocence in their pre-pubescent years.
Imagine that. :)