Tapestry of Faith: Families: A Jr. High School Youth Program that Explores the Diversity, Commonality, and Meaning of Families

Activity 2: Families, Emotions, And Change

Part of Families

Activity time: 20 minutes

Materials for Activity

  • Newsprint and markers

Description of Activity

Tell participants that you will be focusing on families and emotions. Start the discussion with the following prompt: What are some emotions you feel in a family? List answers on newsprint.

Ask the group to brainstorm events that change families in many ways, and list them in a single column on another sheet of newsprint. Expect and accept answers like birth, death, moving, marriage, and divorce. Youth may also offer material changes such as needing a new car. Encourage the group to include events reflecting the increasing maturity and independence of children, such as leaving home for work or college. Soon you will evaluate the list with the group and determine whether each change is positive or negative.

Next to the list of changes, draw three narrow columns with headings +,-, and +/- respectively. Now ask the group to designate which of the events on the list are positive, negative, or either. Read each item and, once you have consensus, place a checkmark next to the item in the appropriate column. Do not be too quick to make your marks. With discussion, the group may see that the answers are not always easy. Refer to the list of emotions you created earlier. Many major events can be positive or negative, depending on circumstances. In the case of an elderly person who has been suffering, for example, his/her death can be seen as positive and necessary, difficult as it may also be. Encourage participants to think about how these changes may be perceived and felt differently for different members of a family.

Next, invite participants to consider family changes in the context of particular types of family. Remind participants that each family operates with its own set of strengths and constraints. Read aloud one of the family vignettes listed below (or have a volunteer do so). Which of the changes listed on newsprint has the family undergone? Does the designation (-, +, or -/+) that the group assigned earlier still apply? Might different family members described in the vignette feel differently about the changes?

The goal of this process is to gain a deeper understanding of the diversity of family experiences. Close the activity by reflecting with participants about the common and diverse challenges that families face.

Vignette A

I'm Maya. I'm fourteen and I live with my foster family: Joe and Kevin and Kevin's daughter, Hannah, who is seven. I've lived with them for almost three years. First it was just Joe and Kevin and me, and then Kevin's ex-wife let him take custody of Hannah. It's been okay. No one in the family resembles each other: I am Irish American, Hannah is Latina, Joe is African American and Kevin is Asian American. I guess you could say we're pretty multicultural all together.

Before I came to live with this family, I stayed with different cousins for most of my life. Then my mom and I moved to this area, and there were no relatives, so I ended up in foster care. My mom has depression, and it's hard for her to get her medication. When she couldn't leave me with her family she just left me on my own, and then I ended up in foster care. That was pretty rough. She's still trying to get herself together; I see her around twice a year.

Sometimes I wish I could just have Joe and Kevin and Hannah as my family. Kevin works at home, writing, so he's always around. He helped me get into the right classes at school, so I don't feel so dumb. He even likes a lot of my music.

Vignette B

My name is Jay. I'm seventeen years old and live with my dad, mom, and two sisters-Julia (twelve) and Marjorie (fifteen). My dad works at a chemical plant and my mom works for a restaurant equipment company.

For the past four years I've had lots of fears and I couldn't cope with being in the regular school. I was afraid to go outside. I was afraid to go to sleep because I thought I might die in the night. I was afraid of getting some terrible disease, so I washed and washed my hands. My parents took me to a psychiatrist who told them it was just a stage I was going through.

My behavior made life difficult for my family. My sisters were angry because I needed so much attention. Kids my age were afraid of me because I seemed strange. I was lonely and miserable, but I couldn't stop my thoughts. I went to another doctor who said I have OCD-obsessive-compulsive disorder. I'm not crazy; I have a brain disorder that makes me have the same thoughts and keep doing the same things over and over. When my sisters understood what was going on with me, they were great. With medication and therapy things got better. I fit in at an alternative high school and began making friends. I did well there and transferred back to the regular high school. I still have to practice behavior modification to control some of my behaviors, but I'll graduate soon and I have been accepted at college.

Including All Participants

The multicultural family in Vignette A gives participants the opportunity to explore the benefits and/or downsides of living in a family where members belong to different ethnic groups. Be alert to stereotyping and prepared to gently question and explore presumptions. Be particularly aware of youth in your group who belong to historically marginalized or oppressed ethnic groups. Do not let them become the unwilling focus of discussion.