Session 1—Hopes and Concerns for Kids’ Sexual Health
NOTE to FACILITATORS: This is the first of two mandatory 90-minute sessions for groups using this small group ministry (Chalice Circle) series. Before facilitating any session in the series, please read the program's Introduction and Preface to honor the spirit and intent of the program and consider the implementation suggestions provided.
This session creates a welcoming space that invites parents and caregivers to engage with one another and form a commitment to this series of group meetings. Participants begin to share hopes for and concerns about the sexual health of their children and youth. They learn about the small group ministry format and choose topics for future sessions.
Worries related to sex and sexuality are often at the forefront of a parent’s or caregiver’s consciousness—perhaps based on behavior they have observed in their children or other children, perhaps because of remembering their own experiences. However, adult unease around a sexuality-related topic can cause children to pull away rather than confide. Adults’ communication of a fear or an expectation—whether explicit or indirect—can indicate to children that there are rules to be followed or broken. This session guides adults to recognize their own hopes and fears in order to play an affirming role in their child’s developing sexuality.
Small group ministry works by encouraging deep thought, deep reflection, and deep listening. The Spotlight activity in this session introduces this format and leads the group to agree on behavior norms to guide them through the series. Take care in guiding the group to build a covenant, which should include a plan for what to do if the covenant is broken.
- Chalice, candle, and lighter or LED candle
- Newsprint, markers, and tape
- Computer with Internet access and a projector
- Journals or paper, and pencils or pens
- Handout 1.1, Recommended Multimedia Resources
- Handout 1.2, Session Topics Ballot
- Explore the Recommended Multimedia Resources handout for this session. Update any links as needed. Expand the handout to include local resources. You may email the handout to participants prior to the session, plan for the group to visit recommended websites during the session (this will extend your meeting time), or copy the handout to distribute during the session.
- If you will not offer all ten sessions, copy Handout 1.2, Session Topics Ballot, for all participants. If you know already that you will definitely offer certain sessions, indicate this on the handout so participants know they need not vote for these. If your schedule and/or topics are set, adapt the handout to function as a schedule and copy for participants.
- Preview the video of Julia Sweeney’s TED Talk, It’s Time for “The Talk” (5:10), which humorously recounts a first parent-child conversation about human reproduction.
- Set up the computer, test the Internet connection in your meeting space, and cue up the video.
- List the session elements—Opening, Focused Check-in, Spotlight, Perspectives, Reflection, Taking It Home, and Closing—on a sheet of newsprint and post it.
- Write the Focused Check-in prompt on newsprint and post it.
- Write the Reflection questions on newsprint and set them aside.
OPENING (5 minutes)
Welcome participants. Offer an introduction practice suitable for Unitarian Universalist small group ministry, such as the Mutual Invitation model. You may use these words or your own:
Introductions begin with the leader, who holds power in the group. The leader introduces themselves, then gives away the power by inviting someone else to introduce themselves and to then invite another person to do the same. The process of self-introduction and invitation continues until everyone has been invited to speak. In your introduction today please include your name and what pronoun—“he,” “she,” or something else—you would like people to use when talking about you. Also tell us how many children you are raising, their ages, and a sentence about why you decided to attend this series.
After introductions, invite a participant to light the chalice. Read these words from Zen teacher Karen Maezen Miller, used with permission, or invite someone else to read:
First, be quiet.
Give away your ideas, self-certainty
judgments, and opinions
Let go of defenses and offenses
Face your critics
They will always outnumber you
Lose all wars
All wars are lost to begin with.
Abandon your authority and entitlements
Release your self-image
Status, power, whatever you think gives you clout
It doesn’t, not really . . .
Give up your seat
Be what you are: unguarded . . .
A victim of no one and nothing . . .
Now that you are free
See where you are. Observe what is needed.
Do good. Quietly.
If it’s not done quietly, it’s not good.
Always start over.
FOCUSED CHECK-IN (10 minutes)
Invite the group to sit in silence, taking in the words just spoken. Lead the participants in taking a deep breath together. Then offer a minute for everyone to reflect on how they might complete this sentence: “The most challenging sex or sexuality conversation that I anticipate having with my child or children will be about _____.”
After a minute, invite participants, if they wish, to share their response as they are ready, and without interruption. It is okay to have some silence while participants think about the question. Make sure each person has an opportunity to speak or to pass.
SPOTLIGHT: INTRODUCTION TO THE SERIES (15 minutes)
Affirm that this program is small group ministry, not a sexuality education class, using these words or your own:
Our Parents and Caregivers as Sexuality Educators meetings will follow a “small group ministry” or “chalice circle” format used by many Unitarian Universalist groups. You will learn helpful information here and practice talking about sex and sexuality with your children. This experience may lead your family into the Our Whole Lives lifespan sexuality education program, if you are not already involved with OWL. But this is a ministry experience, not an OWL class. We are here to bring our hearts and spirits together. As participants, you will support one another, each on your own journey of raising sexually healthy children and youth.
Explain that each session will encourage participants to expand their understanding and clarify their feelings about a topic in sexuality. Building our confidence and comfort in discussing sexuality topics is a way of ministering to ourselves, as parents and caregivers. Growing in knowledge and self-awareness will help adults interact positively and supportively with their children.
Say that each session offers time to journal about feelings and concerns that arise. Indicate or distribute the paper and writing implements participants may use. Say that they are welcome to bring and use their own journals.
Emphasize that in these sessions, and also when parents or caregivers are speaking with their own children and youth, personal disclosures are never required. Anytime there is sharing or discussion in this group, it is always fine to “pass” rather than speak. Also tell them that if an exercise or reflection makes them extremely uncomfortable, they may remove themselves from the exercise or from the room entirely, whatever they need for self-care.
If you do not plan to offer all ten sessions, tell the group that at the end of this session they will have a chance to choose future session topics. Say they will receive a handout where they can rank their choices.
Indicate the newsprint you have posted with the list of session elements. Describe the elements of this and future sessions:
Opening: introduces the topic and welcomes the group
Focused Check-in: invites everyone to consider a question and share brief responses
Spotlight: further introduces the topic and sparks thoughts and feelings about it
Perspectives: expands understanding by providing sexuality facts, youth perspectives, and/or discussion of cultural trends
Reflection: offers a few questions to consider in silence and then optionally respond to while others listen deeply, without comment or question
Taking It Home: asks participants to reflect on the session as a whole, identify an important experience or piece of information they have gained, and think of an action or practice to do on their own or with their child
Closing: includes a reading with a message to take away from the session
Invite the group to create a covenant of norms for behavior that will help each session welcome and fully include everyone. Post a blank sheet of newsprint and ask, “What are some ways we want to be in relationship with one another?” Record participants’ contributions on newsprint. Suggest these points, if others do not:
- Speak from your own perspective. Avoid assumptions and generalizations about other people and groups.
- Expect that others in the group will bring cultural backgrounds or attitudes about sexuality that differ from yours.
- Help make space for all to have a chance to share and to listen.
- It is OK to share information you learn here. Do not share personal stories outside the group that participants may share during the session.
- Own the impact of your words and actions, regardless of your intent.
- Take responsibility for your own emotional and physical comfort.
- Everyone has the right to “pass” rather than speak.
Say that if someone discloses danger to, or harm done to, themselves or others, you may be mandated to report this disclosure to the religious educator, the minister, or legal authorities. Share your state’s and congregation’s policies on mandatory reporting. Also tell participants that, regardless of law and official policy, your own ethical responsibility may guide you to voice concerns when necessary.
PERSPECTIVES (10 minutes)
Tell participants that you will all watch a video together. Invite them to notice thoughts and feelings that come up as they watch. Tell them that they can journal about such thoughts and feelings during the video and will also have time to do so afterward. Show the video of Julia Sweeney’s TED Talk.
When the video concludes, invite participants to gather their thoughts. Offer them one or two minutes to journal, as they are moved, about the video and their responses to it.
Say that parents and caregivers have a role in the sexuality education of their children whether or not they embrace the role. Say that children and youth will integrate their parents’ and caregivers’ messages and behaviors, whether explicitly related to sex or sexuality or not, into their own attitudes and choices.
Read aloud the following paragraph from the textbook Human Sexuality: Diversity in Contemporary America, 8th ed., by William L. Yarber, Barbara W. Sayad, and Bryan Strong (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2012):
The largest influence that parents and caregivers have is helping to shape their children’s most basic relationship skills during childhood through clear communication and appropriate levels of discipline. This influence carries on through adolescence and into adulthood. By middle to late adolescence, this primary influencing factor transfers to the peers. However, parents and caregivers remain in the top three influencers—the third is the media. Middle school–age youth are in a transition between parents and caregivers as the largest influencers, and peers as the largest influencers.
Tell participants that you will now share two quotes from the discussion boards on Scarleteen, a sex education website for teens. Read the quotes:
My parents have said I’m too young to be interested, but I don’t think they’d forbid me from dating. I’ve never dated and only talked about guys I think are attractive, so they haven’t had anything to really complain about yet. I’m definitely not allowed to have sex though. — 14-year-old female
Luckily, my mom let me go on the pill. She knows my boyfriend and I are sexually active, but if she suspects sex is happening in her house, she’ll run in to break it up. When it comes to sex itself, I feel pretty much supported, because she is not shaming me, but she’s still trying to protect my virtue. — teen female
REFLECTION (30 minutes)
Invite participants to reflect on the Julia Sweeney video, the Miller poem you used as a chalice lighting, the reading from the human sexuality textbook, and the two quotes from Scarleteen. Post the Reflection questions. Say that you will read them aloud and that, when you finish, you will invite participants to respond, one at a time, as they are moved, to any question or questions that speak deeply to them.
- What worries you about talking with your child or youth about sexuality?
- What expectations related to sex or sexuality are you communicating now in words? What expectations are you communicating by your behavior or actions?
- What support do you need to be a sex and sexuality guide and role model for your child or youth?
- What support will help you keep perspective on your hopes and fears?
- What would you wish for your child’s first partnered sexual experience, and how might you foster those positive outcomes?
After you read the questions aloud, allow a little silence. Then tell participants how much time each may have to speak without interruption. Ask who would like to begin.
Once everyone who wishes to has spoken, invite participants to respond, one at a time, as they are moved, to anything another participant has said. Watch the time so that every participant will have a chance to speak for a second time. If time remains after the second round, invite participants to speak again.
TAKING IT HOME (10 minutes)
Invite the group to appreciate one another and this time together. Ask participants to think about all that was shared during the meeting. Invite them to, as they are moved, briefly lift up one comment or experience for which they are particularly grateful.
When all who wish to have spoken, say you would like to invite participants to shape their “take home” learning into one action they can commit to. Ask:
- What can you do, between now and our next meeting, to open healthy, supportive communication about sexuality with your child?
Make sure everyone has a journal or paper and a writing implement. Say that this writing will not be shared. If you wish, offer these additional prompts:
- What is one sexuality topic that you might be ready to honestly discuss with your child?
- What conversation seems important to have at this time?
- What information or support do you need to take the action you choose? (For example, you might prepare for a conversation by talking with a partner or supportive adult, by researching a topic online, or by obtaining condoms to offer a youth who may be sexually active.)
Give participants at least five minutes to write.
CLOSING (10 minutes)
Share this reading from The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran (used with permission):
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
Invite a participant to extinguish the chalice.
If you will not offer all ten sessions, distribute Handout 1.2, Session Topics Ballot. Tell them that the next session will be Session 2 and remind them how many more sessions they will have together after that. If you have chosen any topics already, tell the group which they are. Ask participants to indicate their interest in possible future session topics and hand their ballot back to you. Say that you will share results with the group at the next meeting.
Thank the group for their participation. If you haven’t done so yet, distribute Handout 1.1, Recommended Multimedia Resources for participants to take home, or make sure you have everyone’s email address so you can send it to them. Remind the group of the day, time, and place of the next session.