As a virtue that entails respecting the dignity of others, modesty encompasses more than dress (see “Part 1: Matters of dress” in the January-February issue). I learned firsthand from my parents that modesty in dress, carriage, and demeanor allowed others to view me as a whole person.
One of my more vivid childhood memories is of walking side by side with my mother at a public pool, admiring the way she carried herself in her attractive but modest bathing suit. In words and by example, she taught me how to use my body language confidently, but not provocatively. I also noted how my father behaved toward other women: always respectful, never flirtatious, and always keeping a respectable personal space. My parents were of one accord when it came to rules about boys, and I felt comfortable talking to either one of them about anything. My father and I would often role-play surprise situations, such as a date with a fellow who pretends his car ran out of gas.
I’ve tried to instill my parents’ wisdom and good example in my children. I’ve taught them to take credit for their hard work, while using their talents and assets to glorify God. This means gracefully accepting a compliment with a simple “Thank you”and carrying oneself with confidence, but not swagger. For young ladies, this also means not exaggerating their “wiggle”; for young men, this also means not “strutting.” All children must be taught to keep their personal space and not touch a member of the opposite sex when talking to them.
Young people should be taught to avoid situations that involve exposure to sexuality, such as going to see racy movies and double dating with unchaste couples. It’s essential that parents read reviews of the movies their children and teens want to watch, and if they find them unacceptable, they should explain why. Parents need to be aware of who their teens want to socialize with. We often host co-ed pasta parties for the girls’ and boys’ cross-country teams at our home. These are great opportunities to get to know my teens’ friends, and see how the girls and boys interact with one another.
Recently, my entire family was exposed to a surprise encounter with immodesty, as well as a good example of how to respond with modesty. We went to a surprise birthday party where, unbeknown to us, a guest had paid a belly dancer to perform. She danced right in front of the stairwell leading to the only exit. So, we stood around and looked at each other until the performance ended. The guest of honor was very embarrassed, so he averted his eyes. He later told us he memorized the license plates on the wall to avoid looking at her. His reaction also illustrated another reason for teaching modesty: It simply makes everyone more comfortable.
Elizabeth K. Gerold-Miller is a Catholic write-at-home mother raising her four children with her husband, Kevin, on Long Island, New York. She writes the online column Long Island Motherhood Examiner and blogs about family topics at The Divine Gift of Motherhood.