Teaching Teens the Truth about Sin


I never cease to be amazed by what can be included in a high school “health” curriculum these days. I was recently looking at a health course for ninth graders, which included such topics as “contraception,” “decision-making” skills, “sexual orientations,” as well as “what to know about health care facilities, costs and sources of payment.”

A Smorgasbord of Deadly Choices
Now, why would the school system seek to educate a ninth-grader in how to pay “health care” facilities? This particular school district has a problem letting the school nurse give your teen a Tylenol for a headache, but has no problem inviting Planned Parenthood in, with all their cajoling ways, to teach kids to pay for their own “health care.” Once in, Planned Parenthood happily demonstrates for the freshmen, in a co-ed setting, the various methods of contraception. As disturbing as this is, what is more disturbing is that these teens, many of whom are Catholic, will have likely been taught next to nothing about sin or the deadly effect of sin on their immortals souls. And it is precisely this ignorance that makes teens so very vulnerable to the call of Planned Parenthood’s preaching. This article is not about the fact that parents have a responsibility to know exactly what their children are being taught in “health” class — though they do. Nor is it about the horrors that Planned Parenthood has propagated on our young — great though these horrors may be. This is an article about the dire need to begin to teach teens the deadly truths about sin.

Teaching about sin is an ongoing process that ideally begins early in life. But if not begun early then there is no better time to gently begin than right now. We forget sometimes that teens are children searching for truth, and they need adults to help them discover what life and truth are all about. They may bear an outward confidence, but it’s good to remember that a mere 160 months ago, these confident beings were little bundles who could not walk, or talk or sit up on their own. Children are guided, not born, into adulthood.

Some guidance of late has been directed at helping teens make “choices” for themselves. The problem with this is not just that teens often lack the experience and discernment to be making the plethora of choices thrust before them. The problem is not just that God’s plan for their lives is often not included in this decision-making process. These problems are compounded by the fact that many of the choices thrust before today’s teens are gravely immoral. Thus some “health” classes educate teens about their sexual “preferences,” or birth control “options,” but fail to educate them in concepts of sin. Teens are thrown in over their heads and left to make decisions about choices for which they are ill-equipped to decide. Once a bad decision is made to sin, there are those in society who seem to pop out of the woodwork to help turn a teen’s bad decision into a truly dirty deed. Such individuals will happily take teens by the hand and just as happily guide them down an evil and immoral path, loudly tooting their “pro-choice” horns and ringing their “freedom” bells all the way.

The Truth That Sets Us Free

Exactly what do these bells of “freedom” mean if they are ringing for the “freedom” to commit a mortal sin? There is nothing “freeing” about sin, or addictions to it. Just ask any addict. He or she will tell you what it means to be enslaved. As Father Richard Rego, STL, points out in his book Contemporary Adult Guide to Conscience, “All sin, in some way, is addictive or habit-forming.” Society once worked to keep kids from sin. Now, instead of protecting kids from sin, our immoral media immerses kids in what our faith defines as gravely sinful: immorality, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, jealousy, selfishness (Gal 6:19), not to mention fornication, adultery and sodomy (1 Cor 6:9-10).

Teens need to be taught exactly what sin is (an offense against God; see CCC 1871), how easily we can stumble into it, and what the early church fathers and saints have taught about how to avoid it. We are all sinners of one sort or another, but there are sins of such a great magnitude that they can separate us from God and His grace, perhaps for all eternity. These are called mortal or “grave” sins in our Catechism. Over and over, Scripture mentions that people who commit such sins, and die unrepentant, will not enter the kingdom of heaven. This is not a fire and brimstone matter. It is a matter of truth. God will forgive any sin, if we only repent and seek reconciliation in the Sacrament He designed just for this purpose. This is the truth that sets us free.

The problem is that the first step towards repentance and forgiveness is an awareness of sin. If we don’t teach children about sin, then they may not know sin when they see it. If children can’t recognize sin, we can hardly expect them to avoid it, or to repent from having sinned. If they can’t repent, they can’t receive the mercy and forgiveness that God is just waiting to pour upon them.

Telling teens the truth about sin is an act of love that makes repentance, forgiveness and thus union with God possible. Withholding that truth is like not warning teens about a hidden and huge hole in the grass that is filled with deadly lions, and allowing them to nonchalantly stumble in, only to be eaten up alive. If we tell teens the truth about sin and they decide to sin anyway, that may be a grave matter. But if we fail to tell the teens in our charge the truth about sin, and they unwittingly fall into sin as a result of our neglect, then that is a horse (or a sin) of quite a different color. In the former we have done what we can to keep a child from sin. In the latter we are a culpable accomplice to a child’s sin by our own negligence. As we recite in the Confiteor, we have sinned by “what we have failed to do.”

They Have a Right to Know the Danger to Their Souls

Our culture has an unbalanced focus on “rights.” It is time to shift our focus on rights to the fact that children who are created in the image and likeness of God Almighty have a “right” to know what Section 1033 of the Catechism has stated so simply: “To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God’s merciful love means remaining separated from Him forever by our own free choice. The state of…self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is called hell.”

Who will warn teens to avoid like the plague the seven capital sins, upon which all other sins hinge — of pride, avarice, envy, wrath, lust, gluttony and sloth? Who will tell teens that we can sin not only directly but indirectly by protecting evil-doers, by “ordering, advising, praising or approving of the sins of another,” or by not hindering these sins when we have an obligation to do so (CCC 1868)? Who teaches teens that if we are aware of having committed a mortal sin, then we must not receive Jesus in the Most Holy Eucharist without first receiving sacramental Confession (CCC 1457), and that to willfully do so is to commit another and more grave sin called sacrilege?

Teaching teens the truth about sin is arming them to stand up to the likes of Planned Parenthood and similar organizations and individuals who would gladly lead them astray. The problem is that few teachers teach about sin; few priests preach about sin; and few parents talk about sin. It isn’t pleasant after all. It isn’t much fun. And it sure doesn’t “feel” very good. It is a job that few want to tackle. So who can tell teens the truth about sin? With Lent upon us, we can of course! We can take up our crosses and do the work that our Lord is calling us to by telling the teens in our charge the truth about sin, so that they may one day reach heaven, and avoid hell. We should remember that we ourselves haven’t reached heaven yet. We ought to stop acting like we were the Church Triumphant. We are the Church Militant. The battle for the souls of our children looms before us.

©2006 Mary Anne Moresco


About Author

Mary Anne Moresco writes from Howell, New Jersey.

  • Kids in public schools especially need robust religious education programs at their parishes. I am a teacher’s aide for a group of 7th-grade boys in our R.E. program, and I am shocked at the things these 13-year olds don’t know. Some didn’t know how to go to Confession; none of them have a sense for what prayer is; one kid asked once “What’s Mass?”

    A kid who doesn’t pray and doesn’t know what the Mass is, is in no position to listen skeptically to a how-to-sin talk from a representative of Planned Parenthood. He probably doesn’t have enough of a relationship with his Mom or Dad to go to them at the end of the day and ask, are those things they told me today true? He’s not getting at home the religious formation that he needs to even be prepared for R.E. classes or life in a public school.

    There’s only so much the pastor can do about home life, which is why we need to as much as possible fill in the gaps with a good R.E. program. Truly, there is little the parish does (other than celebrate the Sacraments themselves) that is more important than forming our kids.

    • mallys

      Compounding the problem is the fact that many parents themselves have no knowledge of what the Church teaches about sin, they see no need for confession or weekly attendance at Mass.

      This week, my sixth graders were asking all kinds of “why” questions about liturgy, and one of them was bringing each question back to the most basic questions, like “What’s a pew?”

      Finally, in exasperation, one boy burst out, “Dude, you’ve GOT to go to church!”

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  • ForgivenMuch

    I wish with all my heart that my parents and other adults had instructed me in the reality of sin. I was a victim of a permissive culture where there were no clear boundaries. By the time I was in my late teens, I had slid out of the Church and into occultism, drug use, promiscuity, licentiousness and all the spiritual darkness you can imagine. I kept pushing the boundaries until I was so far away from the truth I nearly lost my mind. And there were grave consequences to my behavior that still hurt to this day. It’s been a long process of shedding that darkness bit by bit and regaining my sanity. I’m 30 now, and it’s still very difficult to accept that God loves me sometimes, considering how lawless I was. But when we acknowledge the gravity of sin, far from being uncomfortable, it’s incredibly encouraging for someone like me. When I come across scripture or hear another Christian talk about the horror of sin, and how the law of God, the fulfillment of which is in the person of Jesus Christ, is meant to rescue us from that horror, I suddenly wake up from my despair and begin to grasp the radical goodness and mercy of God, and understand his role as Savior of my soul. Praise be to God I’m in full communion with the Church and practicing my faith as never before. God is able to use my experience to help others, especially young addicts to repent, but it would have been infinitely better had I not committed such grievous sins in the first place.