Known unknowns

My training yesterday with Bill Taverner on Unequal Partners was just fantastic. The attendees are engaged, talking, and diving deep into the issues in this manual. My favorite conversation came at the end of the day, after we had wrapped up the content. I asked people to finish the sentence stem: “I feel…” Words that came up were: invigorated, excited, interested, engaged, and disappointed not to be returning for the rest of the training tomorrow. I am disappointed that participant won’t be back today too – and I’m grateful for the opportunity that I have to continue going into more depth. Below is another lesson from the manual that we won’t be talking about, but that I really like.

In my daily working life in Austin I teach comprehensive sexuality classes to middle school and high school youth through my business Unhushed. To clarify about these classes: they are publicized exclusively through word of mouth, parents must come to a meeting with me before they can enroll their teenagers, and the classes are 30 hours long. It’s a huge commitment, for both the parents and the youth. And invariably at some point during the class one of my students will say something along the lines of, “Oh my parents would never be okay with me knowing/talking about this. They’re so old and completely out of touch and want to keep me the same way.” Others usually chime in, agreeing that their parents are the same way.
Nope. Just not true.
I point out that most of their parents have paid hundreds of dollars for them to, in fact, learn and talk about that exact thing. It’s usually something of an eye opening realization.
I love activities that buck against this generational divide to encourage young people to actually have a conversation with an adult about something sexual. This activity from Unequal Partners does exactly that:
What do adults think?: Surveying opinions about adult-teen relationships
By Sue Montfort and Peggy Brick
Students will:
1. Identify adults whose opinions they respect and would like to hear.
2. Rehearse interviewing techniques so they can listen to opinions of trusted adults regarding adult–teen relationships.
3. Conduct an opinion survey, analyze the results, and discuss the implications of their findings.
One of the major problems for young people trying to learn about sexuality in today’s society is the lack of honest communication with responsible adults. Although young people are surrounded by provocative and exploitative sexual images, the majority of adults fail to talk with them about the sexual issues and decisions that confront them daily. By requiring students to interview adults they respect, this lesson encourages dialogue regarding sexual boundaries and values.
What I like most about this lesson isn’t mentioned in the objectives or rationale. My favorite thing is that it asks the students to create the questions they’ll be asking adults. What do young people want to know about adults’ opinions about adult-teen relationships? These are known unknowns. Maybe they want to know if they’ve ever experienced such a relationship and how it turned out for them. Maybe they want to know why adults are so down on them. Maybe they don’t even know what they want to know – but when pushed to consider it, they’re able to come up with fascinating questions we never would have even considered.
It’s important for us to remember, as sexuality educators, that we can’t always know what young people want to know.