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Families are the primary influences on the faith development of their children and youth. As a program leader, you take on a special role: supporting families in your faith community as they guide their children through Unitarian Universalist faith development. By involving parents in the Amazing Grace program, you can deepen the spiritual experience of both youth and their larger families.
Involving families in the faith development of youth can be a more delicate process than involving families in the faith development of younger children. As youth attain and protect the increasing independence that appropriately comes with growth, they will insist on the freedom to develop and hold their own ideas and to pursue their own spiritual practices. Both religious education leaders and parents should respect and nurture increasing maturity and the independence it earns, even as they continue to offer solid guidance and careful oversight. Help parents to see that having youth who remain on spiritual paths through adolescence is usually cause for celebration, even if the paths sometimes lead where the parents themselves do not wish to go. The test is not whether youth agree with their families, but whether the youths' lives are positive and safe.
Each session offers Taking It Home resources that include conversation topics and other ways to extend the session at home. These include family games, a ritual, discovery projects, and journaling. In such activities, some sixth graders will be as open and sharing with their families as they were in earlier years. Others may already be moving into new views of self and fresh expressions of independence, and so be less receptive to familial exchange. As a youth leader, you may help parents and youth bridge the gap, and you may find yourself playing a useful role as a trusted and helpful adult whom youth can turn to as they look beyond their families for models and guidance. Help parents see that while sixth graders are still too young for great independence, most have already started along the way that will inevitably produce much more. Encourage parents to respect increasing youth privacy needs when doing so is safe and appropriate, while always remaining open and available for those times when their youth step back over the line for a moment of renewed family closeness and support.
Every Taking It Home section includes Mystery and Me. Written directly to youth, Mystery and Me asks them to explore their own deep thoughts and suggests they record those thoughts in journals. Help parents understand that journaling is inherently a private activity. Even if youth skip the journaling, the questions of Mystery and Me can give them something to reflect upon. If the youth do follow through, their parents may well see that experience reflected by thoughtful approaches to life in general and ethics in particular. Whether or not this is the case, treating Mystery and Me, or any part of Taking It Home, as a homework assignment requiring parental supervision will not be useful.
Invite families into your sessions. Adult or older teen volunteers can be very helpful when you implement arts-and-crafts activities and when you divide youth into small groups. Parents who bring musicianship, storytelling, or artistic skills into your sessions will help foster participants' sense of connection between their families and their religious education experience. Faith in Action activities offer ideal opportunities to engage parents and other congregants in youth projects.
The leader/parent relationship is very important and must be both welcoming and reassuring. When parents bring their children to experience Unitarian Universalist religious education, they need to feel confidence not only in the safety and enjoyment you will provide, but also in your faith leadership. Strong partnerships can foster parental commitment to providing strong faith leadership within the family. As a religious education leader, you can support and inspire parents to bring intentionality and excitement to their role in their youths' faith development.
For more information contact web @ uua.org.
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Last updated on Wednesday, October 26, 2011.
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