Theology of the Body For Teens: Middle School Edition

The Catholic Company very kindly sent me a review set of the Theology of the Body for Teens: Middle School Edition bundle. Okay, so I begged for it.  They sent an e-mail out to all the reviewers (they are still accepting new reviewers) asking who wanted it, and I gave it my best me-me-me-meeeeee! and made the cut!  Yay!  And then I told my DRE, who explained how she was busy trying to finagle a copy on loan from another parish.  Because yes, it is that good.

What’s in the packet:

  • A student book.  Eight chapters of substantial, readable lessons.  Upbeat format.  Rock solid teaching.  You will need one of these for each student.
  • A teacher’s guide.  It’s the student book page-by-page, with helpful teaching notes.  Includes some lesson-planning ideas, answer keys of course, additional information about the Theology of the Body, and supplemental material on difficult topics.  If you are teaching this as a class, you need this book.
  • The parent’s guide.  This is a small book (75 pages, pocket-size) that explains what students are learning.  It is more elevated, adult-level content, focused on how to parent middle-schoolers — it is not a re-hash of the student guide at all.
  • The DVD collection.  There is a set of videos for each chapter of lesson, plus additional material on difficult topics, and a show-this-to-the-parents chapter that explains what the course is about.  The videos are fun, held the interest of my small test-audience of adults (me) and kids (mine), and add significantly to the content of the course.  You would want these if you were teaching this as a class.

What does the course cover?

Well, the focus is John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, but it comes down to: How do I live?  What will make me happy?  And what do I do with this body I’m growing into?

Most of this is not about sex.  It’s mostly about virtue, identity, and love.  How do I love and respect myself and others?  How do I build good relationships?  How do I know what God wants me to do?  It’s a serious, useful, substantial set of lessons that really teach how to be the kind of person God wants you to be.

–>I read the student workbook first.  I found it helpful for me, personally.  To the point that in my opinion, parishes would do well to offer the course to both teens and their parents.  As in: I myself, a grown-up, NFP-using, CCD-teaching, cave-dwelling bona fide catholic dweeb lady, found this to be a course that pushed me to grow in my Christian life.

What Age Student?

The books are targeted towards middle-schoolers — grades 6th to 8th.  I may be under-estimating his maturity, but I felt that my own 6th grade boy, who lives a fairly sheltered catholic-homeschool life, and is not one bit interested in girls, he was not ready to fully benefit from the program.  I held onto a copy of the student book for us to use at home, and when my parish offers it next year (please God), I will send him then.  But for girls (who mature earlier), and for boys and girls who are more fully immersed in our sex-saturated culture, this is about on target for as young as 6th grade.

Sex-related topics are taught in a wider context.  First students learn how we use our bodies to communicate, how we must make an effort to grow in virtue and purity, and how we should not use others for our own gratification, within the wider context of regular life.  It is only after these essentials are thoroughly explored, many weeks into the course, that students are shown how they apply specifically to sex.

Sexual topics are dealt with directly but modestly.  If you don’t know what porn is, all you’ll find out is that it is “the display of images for the purpose of arousing lust”.  (Lust is “a vice that causes people to view others as objects for sexual use”).   So this is a step more mature than earlier-grades catechesis, where the details of “impurity” are left entirely to the reader’s imagination.  If your student is not yet ready to learn about the existence of pornography, sexting, and fornication, hold off on this course for now.

Difficult topics are not presented directly to teens.  There are some video segments the instructor can choose to present depending on the maturity of the group, as well as supplemental teaching material in the teacher’s manual.  One teaching technique I found very helpful was a script where a teacher reads a scenario (young people gathering in the alley behind a movie theater), but the actual misbehavior is not specified.  The teacher then asks: What do you think was happening there?  It’s an opening for students to share the kinds of things they know are going on in their community, which the instructor can then address as appropriate.

I’m cheap.  Or poor.  Do I need to buy the whole nine yards?

The materials are made to be used together.  For a knowledgeable parent wanting to teach at home for the minimal investment, purchasing just the student book would provide a substantial lesson for the least cash outlay.  Note however: The other items do add to the overall content of the course. This isn’t a case of the videos just repeating what the book says, or the parent book being a miniature version of the student book.  Each element contributes new and useful material.  If I were teaching this in the classroom, I would want the whole collection, no question about it.  As a parent, I would want my children to view the videos.

Is it Protestant-friendly?

It’s a very Catholic program.  (Don’t let the “Pope John Paul II” thing fool you.)  You’ll hear references to saints, to the sacraments, the Catholic faith.  BUT, keep in mind, this is all just normal healthy human life.  Love, virtue, modesty, chastity — these are for the whole human race.  The message is right on target with what any Christian youth program would want to teach.  So if you are comfortable with Catholic-trappings,  you could work with the whole course as-is, and just explain to your audience that it was made by Catholics.  If not, you may want to get the materials for yourself, and use them to train yourself how to teach these topics to your teens.

Summary:  I give it a ‘buy’ recommend, if you are responsible for teaching a young person how to act like a human being.  Thanks again to our sponsor The Catholic Company, who in no way requires that I like the review items they send, but would like me to remind you that they are a fine source for a Catechism of the Catholic Church or a Catholic Bible.

14 thoughts on “Theology of the Body For Teens: Middle School Edition

  1. Based on your review, I can’t imagine any of the boys in my 6th grade class being ready for this, and at most only one of the girls.

    On further reflection: none of the girls either.

    • You have a lovely parish, then. Which is good. As it should be. I would not have a student take the class early.

      My own childhood experience is that 6th graders were pretty sheltered because we attended elementary school, but by 7th, kids were skipping school to stay home and have group intercourse. My husbands’ experience was that porn was circulating among the boys by mid-elementary school, and by 6th grade some students were sexually active.

      –> Neither of us would therefore say that a course like this ought to be offered preemptively. But I imagine there are parishes where some of the 6th graders do need this info.

  2. Thank you for the detailed review. I am a DRE looking to start something this in my parish, and have been trying to find just such a review before plunking out the change for the program! Blessings.

    • I’m glad it was helpful! Good luck! Have you had a chance to look in at Family Honor as well? familyhonor.org . They would be worth contacting for ideas, and to see if their programs (somewhat different — much more “Catholic Sex Ed”) are what you are looking for. It’s going to depend on what is going on in your parish, and what your specific needs are. [I think the two are very complementary.]

    • I attended their weekend conference about 7 years ago (there’s another one coming up this summer, I beleive). Excellent event. Worth sending a couple people from your parish if you can scrape together the funds. Heavy on TOTB, so fits right in with the curriculum from Ascension.

  3. Hi! Our public school gives parents the option to exclude our kids from sex ed. Each year, I do my best to teach my child the necessary content at home. This year, along with teaching my 7th grader details regarding puberty, I was hoping to follow up with TOTB. I’m not sure how to go about it…. Do I need to read all the books cover to cover and view all the videos before starting? What would be the most effective way to prepare and present TOTB to my child?

    • I think you could probably learn along with your child. Watch the videos together, and the both of you read the chapter and discuss it. If you were going for the very minimum cost, just the two of you and one copy of the student book would cover the essentials. The videos are great, and that’s the second thing I’d invest in, because they are fun and do bring something new to the topic. Honest mom thought? Sometimes I have the kids do the reading first, get their opinion, and *then* read it myself. It sort of helps the discussion, for them to be the “expert” challenging me to see what *I* think.

          • Hi Jennifer! I just thought I’d let you know that my son and I did go through the student book and DVD together… It started off well and then after awhile it got to be a lot of reading… so we started dividing up each section into a couple of sessions. For a single mom, it was nice to have these men present and praise the Catholic view on sexuality, dating, etc. to my son. It’s been a few months since we’ve gone through the “course” and he still says that he got a lot out of it and would recommend it to other faithfilled youth.

  4. I have a 7th grader and after reading the above information with the exposer to the internet she (and her classmates) are indeed ready for this course. Middle schoolers today are moving too fast and need correct information quickly.

    • Sadly, yes, that is often the case. I’m glad it’s there for the kids who need it. I think it’s a great program to use at home, because then you can really use it to help communicate with your teen, and take advantage of how well you know your own child and his or her needs.

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