Meet them where they are

“Let’s do a quick review of the changes that occur at puberty” I said to the group, “And then we can move on to some other material that might be new to you.”

In my mind, we would not need to spend too much time on the nuts and bolts of pubescent changes.  As I led the group in a multiple choice trivia game on the topic, I quickly realized that my original lesson plan needed to be adapted.   I was operating under the assumption that the participants were more or less at the same place with regard to their baseline knowledge of male and female anatomy and the corresponding vocabulary for terms associated with puberty.   Interestingly, the level of awareness varied considerably.   No problem.  I can be flexible. I would simply delve into the facts in more detail than originally planned.

This was a great lesson for me on a couple of levels.  1) It reminded me that I cannot make any assumptions about the knowledge an individual person possesses on a given topic; 2) Although the girls had technically gone through the same formal sex/health ed lessons at school, they were not receiving enough education on some of the fundamentals.  Until this point, the public school education consisted of two lessons during fifth grade gym class, led by the physical education teacher.  That was almost two years ago among this group of individuals.

What this particular Girls Group meeting left with me was the realization about just how much we rely on schools to teach our children about sex (in this case, the developmentally appropriate topic of puberty).   When I think about all of the ways I help my two kids make healthy choices in their lives – e.g. the amount of screen time they have or the timing and contents of a snack between school and dinner – – I know that talking about sex in developmentally appropriate ways is no different.    School districts vary tremendously in both the quality and breadth of their curricula in this area.  Many of us, as parents, benignly rely on our schools, exclusively, to share information about sex.   What a great wake up call for us all that we need to be continuously talking and checking-in with our kids.

Preparing for Girls Group #1

Time to roll up my sleeves and plan the details of how to spend the first 1.5 hour meeting of what I will refer to now simply as “Girls Group.”  Unlike health education classes at school that have a dozen or more classes in which to meet, I have to be a model of efficiency, with only five meetings expected to take place.  With so many topics I want to cover and so little time, I have to be very selective in choosing what to cover, incorporate subject matter identified by the parents as gap areas, and address what is on the minds of the group participants themselves.  A tall order but a challenge for which I am ready, particularly with the easy availability of such important resources as the Sexuality Education Information Council of the United States. Having access to the internet is an enormous asset that still amazes me, making my role as group facilitator and informant infinitely easier.  At the same time, with so much information that I know I can access but simply don’t have time to read, I have to push away perfectionist tendencies that make me want to absorb it ALL.

Thankfully, I do not have to reinvent the wheel.  The King County Family Life and Sexual Health (F.L.A.S.H.) curriculum is one example of an age-appropriate curriculum complete with worksheets, activities, and “homework” assignments for participants to engage their families.  It offers materials I can use or adapt, depending on where I think my Girls Group participants are on their sexuality education continuum.

Meanwhile, with my head buried in books and my computer monitor, my preteen son decides he is the authority on what constitutes a successful Girls Group.

“You better make it fun,” were the threatening words he warned as he saw me preparing for the first meeting.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Don’t get too serious or anything.  Just play games,” he explained.

Oh, but I was already two steps ahead of my sage boy.  And in fact, games comprised half of my agenda for our first meeting.  I knew I couldn’t launch into a presentation about what it means to feel empowered, or <gasp>, the mechanics of reproduction, without first establishing  group rapport.  If I want to engage these girls in a productive group discussion, build trust, and see them again, then I knew just what to put on the menu.  Fun ice breakers.  Not the ice breakers that sends your stomach into somersaults with worry over the thought of revealing too much personal information, but games that promote group cohesiveness, respect for individual participants, and offer an opportunity to give out small quantities of candy.  In fact, if you want to keep your group happy, I have learned that food of almost any kind is well-received.

 

Responding to a need

In response to my discovery of the need for sex education amidst my nuclear population of adolescents (the kids of some of my friends), I decided to host an informal girls’ group around the broader theme of empowerment.   I am currently in the throes of planning my agenda for the upcoming weekly meetings of this group.  Weeks ago, as the concept of hosting a girl’s group began to resonate with me, someone suggested I blog about the experience.  Blog? Me? What do I know about blogging?  Though blogging is new to me, writing is not.  In fact, communication has always been one of my strengths, most times being an asset but to some family members (and I imagine some friends as well), I am sure there are many-a-time they have wished I was not so profuse with my words.

So why blog?  My goal is to get parents and adolescent girls talking – talking with each other, that is.  I expect that the processes and outcomes from my girls’ group meetings, coupled with useful resources that I will frequently reference, and relevant topics that are in the media, will serve as conversation starters for parents and daughters to start feeling comfortable around embarrassing subjects.

I Saved You A Seat is a virtual venue for people who are looking for information that focuses on sex education and other topics which I believe are part of a larger landscape to empower girls, (middle school age, in particular).   While I am not an expert in sex education, I am passionate about public health, particularly maternal and child health – promoting healthy behaviors and the necessary education that supports it.  I hope that by sharing my own experiences and observations, it will inspire others to chime in and share their experiences as well.

Welcome to “I Saved You A Seat”

I Saved You A Seat is a concept that formed organically while a few moms chatted at a dinner party about the talks they have (or in this case, have NOT) had with their tween daughters regarding sex.  As a public health professional with a background in social work, I found this quite curious.  Upon further inquiry, I learned that talking to our adolescent girls is a lot easier said than done.  While in the back of our minds we know we want to broach the subject, finding a point of entrée poses an uncomfortable challenge for many people.  This particular group of dinner-party women represented just one drop in a bucket, barrel, sea of parents everywhere.  Recognizing the widespread need to fill the gaps of what is not taught in schools, what is not comfortably discussed at home, and what is not on the shelves of the home library motivated me to start a blog for girls and their parents.

I Saved You A Seat is a blog that addresses topics intended to empower girls to make healthy, informed decisions.  It was born to assist parents in their desire to overcome the dreaded “sex talk” hurdle,  and in fact, covers a much broader spectrum of topics.  We all want to see our children grow to be successful, independent, collaborative, competent beings.  Boosting self-esteem, teaching strong communication skills, and imparting knowledge are all components of making our girls reach their potential.  Please join us at the table; I saved you a seat.