Michelle Martin

Age of reason

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Years ago, I remember learning that the “age of reason” is 7, or thereabouts.

I wonder if the people who came up with that ever spent much time with any 7-year-olds, because reasonable just isn’t in the cards for most of them.

Teresa is 7, and I can report that she is far more rational than she was at 2 or 3, but she’s a long way from applying any sort of detached logic to the situations in which she finds herself. One day this summer she came home from day camp saying she had a horrible day and never wanted to go back.

Asked what happened, she said that her best friend at camp had bullied her.

Upon further questioning, she said her friend had been playing on the slide, and refused to stop playing on the slide, even when Teresa told her she wanted to do something else.

“And I don’t want to ever forgive her,” Teresa said.

It took a lot of gentle conversation to get the point across that what had happened was a disagreement, not bullying, and there was no reason to forgive someone for wanting to play on the slide, and that perhaps Teresa owed her friend an apology for trying to make her stop doing something she had every right to do.
“But I stopped playing what I wanted when she told me to,” Teresa said.

That was nice of her, and a perfectly good decision if she wanted to play with her friend more than she wanted to do whatever it was she was doing, I explained. But it didn’t give her the right to boss her friend around.

The next day she came home from camp and reported that she and her friend had forgiven one another and everything was fine, so I suppose it worked. And, yes, I suppose she eventually demonstrated the use of reason.

She will be getting ready for first confession and first Communion this year. The two sacraments usually come around age 7, with the thought that they are old enough to understand right and wrong, the need to confess their sins and the meaning of the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, according to the Catholic Encyclopedia.

From my experience with my older children, and from talking to catechists who work with children preparing for first confession, I expect there will be lots of teaching moments, explaining what sin is and isn’t. (Spilling your milk accidentally is not a sin; it’s a mistake. Even though you should still help clean it up, and an apology is probably in order. Pouring your milk over your brother’s head on purpose? That’s another story.)

The other side of the coin is that young children, when they come to understand that they have, knowingly and intentionally, done wrong, often feel terribly guilty and don’t know how to move on. That’s what confession and reconciliation are for, and an understanding of mercy.

So maybe this is a good time for those sacraments after all.