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Participants (Families)

The content and processes of Families is designed to meet the developmental needs of youth. Adolescence is a time of tremendous physical, psychological, and cognitive growth and development. Typically, adolescence marks the start of reflective thinking—an ability to think about thinking. Self-consciousness and awareness of others are heightened. Adolescents feel autonomous, but are still dependent on the network of others who care for them.

Early adolescence sometimes marks a period of diminishing communication between youth and their caregivers. At the same time, adolescents are considering their identity: who they are and who they wish to become. The process of identity development is intimately tied to youths' families. Although family relationships define young children's identities, adolescents embark on the journey of navigating independent, relational identities. Tensions from change—both internal developmental changes and external changes, such as death, divorce, remarriage, and inclusion of new family members—often arise. While adolescents may rebel against or even rebuke families, they need and depend on them. Belonging to a wider shared community, such as a faith community, can support adolescents and their families.

This curriculum is designed to provide space for youth to begin to look at their families. Understanding begins with attending and listening to each other's descriptions of their own realities. This program offers opportunities for those processes to occur. By understanding their own families, learning more broadly about families, and representing a range of healthy families, youth will gain a greater sense of family functionality and their own efficacy in contributing to it. Thinking about who serves the functions of family in their own lives may broaden youths' visions and move them toward broader notions of family health and identity.

By participating in the curriculum, and especially the photo-documentary project, youth are able to be congregational leaders. This shifts adolescents from the margins to the center of congregational life. Young adolescents are capable of profoundly abstract thought, but are sometimes uninterested in activities that are primarily verbal and/or intellectual. They need outlets that allow them to move about and to learn through experience rather than through a talking heads approach.

Developmentally, adolescents are ready to have some authority and autonomy. Creating and sharing artistic representations of families in the photo-documentary project, youth influence the congregation and act as leaders. In their work, youth may identify themselves as artists, and that enriches their emerging self-concepts and identities. The congregation also sees itself differently. The photo-documentary project serves as an interpretive mirror. Youth and the greater congregation are mutually served.

Some characteristics of the young adolescent include:

  • Seeks support for self-esteem and body image as she/he transitions into an adult body
  • Engages in abstract and hypothetical thinking
  • Concentrates on self and other's perceptions of the self
  • Engages actively with peers and social relationships
  • Tries to reconcile the inner self with the outer self
  • Explores gender, racial, and ethnic identities through affiliations
  • Expresses criticisms of self and others
  • Seeks belonging and membership and is concerned with social approval
  • Takes on others' perspectives and understands that sharing perspectives does not necessarily mean agreement
  • Expresses interest in religion that embodies values
  • Sustains faith development by engaging with a community that allows questioning
  • Seeks love, understanding, loyalty, and support

In older adolescents you may witness:

  • An increase in independent functioning
  • A firmer and more cohesive sense of identity
  • A greater ability to think through ideas and examine inner experiences
  • Conflict with parents beginning to decrease
  • An increased ability for delayed gratification and compromise
  • Increased emotional stability
  • An increased concern for others
  • Work habits becoming more defined
  • More importance placed on one's role in life
  • Development of more serious relationships
  • A greater capacity for setting goals
  • An interest in moral reasoning
  • An increased emphasis on personal dignity and self-esteem
  • Social and cultural traditions regaining some of their previous importance

The Families program offers ways to support the younger/older adolescent:

  • Promote healthy body image and self-esteem
  • Affirm and support the adolescent's many physical, emotional, and cognitive changes
  • Model respect
  • Be flexible and responsive
  • Provide opportunities for complex thinking and the pondering of big questions
  • Respect and take seriously the adolescent's self-consciousness
  • Recognize that challenging authority provides an outlet for new cognitive skills
  • Maintain clear expectations enabling adolescents to make independent decisions
  • Keep some routines or rituals that provide continuity from childhood to adulthood
  • Be a sounding board for youth's exploration of ideas
  • Encourage involvement in multiple settings
  • Actively support the adolescent's exploration of identity
  • Encourage participation in a faith or religious community
  • Provide outlets for questioning faith, religion, and creed
  • Facilitate youth's work in the community
  • Celebrate both change and continuity

By adapting activities or using alternate activities, you can help ensure that every session is inclusive of participants with a range of physical and cognitive abilities and learning styles, food allergies, and other sensitivities or limitations. Below, you will find general guidance on adapting the activities along with some resources for implementing inclusion.

As you plan your sessions, be aware of activities that might pose difficulties for youth who are differently abled. All spaces, indoor and outdoor, need to be accessible to anyone who might be in the group. Check the width of doorways and aisles, the height of tables, and the terrain of outdoor landscapes.

Find out about participants' medical conditions and their allergies, particularly to food, if you plan to serve snacks.

Each session mixes active and quiet, expressive and listening, and whole-group and individual activities, along with alternate activities that you can substitute for core activities if you feel they better suit a group. As you begin to recognize different learning styles among the participants, let this information guide your selection of activities for each session.

Some activity descriptions mention specific concerns or suggest adaptations under the heading "Including All Participants." Feel free to devise your own adaptations to meet any special needs you perceive. As the leader, you will know best how to provide a fully inclusive learning experience for the group.

In the Teacher Development section of the UUA website, you will find descriptions of a helpful resource Sally Patton's Welcoming Children with Special Needs.

For more information contact web @

This work is made possible by the generosity of individual donors and congregations. Please consider making a donation today.

Last updated on Thursday, October 27, 2011.

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