Sunday, January 15, 2017

Parents, do you know what the latency period is?

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 my book, 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.   :)


  1. Excellent! Sharing! Thank you for writing this post so I can share it! :)

  2. Our kids are under incessant assault by what child psychologists have now rightly recognized as 'corporate pedophilia'. Way too many corporations are run these days by Godless, dirty old men (and women), and their titillating advertising campaigns devised directly by the weirdest proponents of the sexual revolution. I've had occasion to be privy to their (the media campaign managers') strategizing; it boggles the mind how coldly crass they are in matters of the dignity of the human body, and indeed, of the human being.

  3. Thank you for posting this article.

  4. Very timely post, Leila! Thank you for continuing to blog: I am also hugely indebted to you and many of the stalwart commenters for providing a much better grounding of my faith.

  5. Interesting. I wasn't aware of the JP II document but I will definitely put that on my reading list now. The latency period as a concept is something that Freud theorized as a part of sexual development. I am not sure if the concept originated with him or he borrowed it from someone earlier.

    I know one real issue with sex-ed in schools is that for unknown reasons, the onset of puberty is coming earlier and earlier in life, especially for girls, and that is one reason why there is pressure to present the 'facts-of-life' at an ever earlier age.

  6. Munchie Mommy,

    Regarding the phenomenon of earlier onset of puberty in girls, a while ago I read a scholarly article (by sociologists in the UK, I think) conjecturing/claiming that this is occurring due to the increasing rate of absentee fathers in (broken) homes, which makes children, especially young girls, feel more unprotected/vulnerable - what with constant bad/intimidating news everywhere these days, not excluding the persistent and even increasing scourge of social/school bullying. Young female bodies are thus, apparently, transiting more rapidly into adulthood, as a coping/compensatory mechanism... Sounds like a reasonable deduction to me. And terribly, terribly sad, as the "sins of the fathers are visited upon their children" robbing them of the carefree days of youth.

  7. Another interesting finding, a couple of years ago, again in the UK: Children and young teens were asked to rank their fears in a list of 10 threats. Their greatest fear, it transpired, ahead of all the others, including terrorism and the like, was that their parents might not stay together in the future.

  8. I think that if the girls are reaching puberty earlier, the schools would still be able to teach biology (the "changes" and menstruation, etc.) without teaching little girls and boys about sex. It seems a distinction that adults should make, even educators. But unfortunately, I guess the thought is that if the girls are developing, they will be tempted to have sex? I'm not sure what the reasoning is, but it does underscore how lacking is adult protection, and how the protection of healthy, whole (intact) families is missing. So, so sad!!

    Francis, that is terribly sad. In the UK, it seems especially true that marriage is quite passe. Seems like single motherhood and "partners" are more the norm, not marriage, and especially not marriage for a lifetime.

    Thank you Sebastian, Tracy, and Cassandra! :)

  9. In fifth grade in our school district they have a company come in and teach about reproduction with the children together. While in years past the local
    Diocese supported this talk, they have changed their stance on this talk. Then the school has a separate discussion were the genders are divided and discuss menstruation with the girls and wet dreams with the boys. They told the parents that this meeting is about hygiene. It wasn't until I probed further that I found out what specific topics were being discussed. I kept my son home from both of these meetings. I feel if a parent allows the school district (SD) to educate their children, those children will then see the SD as a resource on this subject. While I understand why the SD does this, it makes me very sad that parents allow this to happen. I think it is another indicator of the lack of responsibility parents take when having children, especially when they have the greatest influence in children's lives.

  10. sissybee, you make a good point. We have to wonder how our mindset got to this place. It's not what would come naturally, in a healthy society.

  11. I wonder what JPII would say about us that live on farms?? ;-)
    Although it is much more natural for kids to learn these things from regular observation of life going on around them on a farm, then some strange program behind closed doors at school.

  12. I heard the earlier onset of puberty in girls is due to the spike of hormones in our food/diet. Don't know if it's true, but somewhat plausible.

  13. The earlier onset of puberty in girls could be due to good nutrition, compared to most other eras. The majority of Americans get 3 meals a day. It would be interesting to do a study on poor American girls and others that get 3 meals a day + vitamins and other things very poor people cannot afford. It would be interesting to see when menses starts for them. I was poor and was not eating 3 times a day, and even when I did eat my food was poor. I didn't start my period until age 14 and I had no interest in boys/men until I was 21! It took a long time for me to reach that kind of maturity. I think nutrition plays a huge role.

  14. I knew a girl who got her period in 1st grade. I knew several who got their period in the 3rd and 4th grade which was before our 5th grade talk. I have been out of elementary school for decades so this early onset for some girls isn't new. And you can talk to those girls about their cycles without having to give them the full "talk" yet. As most girls will tell you, the start of their cycle is not the same as the start of their interest in boys. This push to have the school or group talk to kids about these things because of the "early onset" is just an excuse.

  15. I totally understand wanting to protect the innocence of children. I think there is something really special about raising kids like that in a society like that. But it is a bit more complex. By virtue of living in a sinful, corrupt world, everyone is exposed to sexual things from an early age whether they like it or not. And sometimes to protect people from being exploited you need to keep them informed. It's kind of a twisted logic unfortunately. I think basic sexual education starting in HS isn't too unreasonable.

  16. How is it that no one is seeing what seems to me to be the quite obvious correlation between early onset puberty, especially in young girls, and the escalation in the use of hormonal birth control? We've not only polluted two to the generations of female bodies, but or water supply as well.


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