Being Sensitive

Like anyone else, young people of faith don’t like to be embarrassed, pressured, ‘shown up’ or put on the spot.

So, as we do a lot of our education about sex and relationships in groups we need to think of ways to do it sensitively, in ways that minimise these things.

While some professionals struggle to get over their own embarrassment in handling the language of SRE [1] others are willing to elicit if not initiate group talk using slang for body parts. Although this may help to connect with some students it can be at the cost of legitimising the values implicit in much slang and alienating others who reject those values.

being-sensitive

For many people of faith this is both embarrassing and an offence against modesty – a concept that covers language and attitudes as well as dress. Many others of faith would agree that it is an incorrect assumption that speaking at the level of the child is synonymous with using the language of the street.” Perhaps the perceived need for this would be decreased if teaching about body parts were done effectively and early.

SRE group work can also be a place of pressure. Firstly this may be on those who hold a minority position and if asked to state their views and values either experience ridicule or fear it. Secondly the way the adult speaks may unwittingly place pressure on young people’s values. Compare "You’ll need to know where the Sexual Health Clinic is." to "If you or a friend ever need it, the Sexual Health Clinic is …".

Similarly some teaching about the age of consent at 16 can reinforce an attitude that 16 is the age at which it is expected for young people to be sexually active rather than an age set to protect  young people from predatory sex. This can leave some young people with an inadvertent pressure to be having sex at 16. Again, while it is important for teens to know that they can get free and confidential sexual health advice under the age of 16, it is important that this message is delivered in a way that doesn’t encourage underage sex.

Young people can feel ‘shown up’ in different ways in SRE. For example when asked to explain and defend points of view that they have not had to think through previously. They may feel that confidentiality about their behaviour has been breached. They need to feel safe – so, for example not sharing personal stories in groups. In looking at family life they need to feel that their family situation is not excluded by the way materials are presented – (single parent, extended families, foster – parent(s) , lesbian and gay parents).

Young people can feel they have been put on the spot when there is something in their life that the questioner doesn’t know about. This might include asking a young person who has had an abortion to express their view on abortion.

[1] Hannah Frankel Let’s talk about sex TES Magazine 3 December, 2010 found at http://www.tes.co.uk/article.aspx?storycode=6064895