|I’ve always loved working with young people. So much so that I developed a formula that engages and connects, seeing myself as more a conduit of the thousands of kids I have seen in counselling, telling their stories to help protect others. I’ve been working at the pointy end of trauma for 20 years, providing crisis and acute intervention for victims of sexual assault and medium and long-term counselling to assist them in navigating their way beyond trauma. A few years back, I realised the impact of this work on me, that vicarious trauma was not a matter of if but when. So I decided to go to the other end before trauma happens through early intervention and preventative education programs with young people in schools. Telling the truth, the reality that sexual violence is a genuine problem in their lives. That young people under 19 years make up 60% of all reported sexual assault matters. What if you are female? You have a one in 5 chance of being sexually assaulted, and it’s most likely by someone you know and trust. Overwhelmingly offenders are male. I am acutely aware that delivering this information is only one part of the story. Young people need to hear this without feeling shame or blame, despite the gender disparity. I want them to walk out of my sessions feeling empowered and excited for their future intimate relationships. I want them to have heard important content and feel brave that they have navigated this together and listened to each other, and connected as a group. I hold the space and facilitate the energy with safety and care. Telling stories of when consent goes right is really important. That the origins of the word consent means together, we feel. I talk about connection, self-awareness, and empathy. But one day, it didn’t go right for me. |
I recently delivered my workshop to a Yr 7 co-ed cohort. As I walked into the school hall, I noticed a small group of young men in the front row. I thought this was unusual as often young men will do everything in their power to sit towards the back, particularly given the subject matter. What then followed was probably the worst teaching experience of my life. I was name-called and yelled at. They talked throughout the 45-minute presentation, made lewd remarks, and did not respond to any behaviour management. I felt threatened and disrespected. It was only a group of 6-8 boys, not the whole cohort, but their presence felt like they dominated every minute of the talk and all my attention. A part of me thought these were the boys who may hurt someone. These boys have not been taught about respect and probably have not been respected themselves. These boys could not tolerate complex information and a deep connective experience. They could not be seen, and they could not feel vulnerability. They were trapped in the male box of hyper-masculinity. They needed to feel power. Maybe they had experienced sexual violence themselves and were deeply triggered. Maybe not. After the workshop, a group of young women came up to me and apologised. They said they were sorry that these young men were so disruptive and harassing and experienced this often in class and the playground. In worrying and concerning voices, they said to me, “they need to hear this information.” This is not new. When I deliver my program to single-sex schools, young women will often name the numerous boy schools they know, encouraging me to contact their headmaster to organise sessions, saying along similar lines that “they need to know this….” For several workshops later in the day, the male headteacher had to set the “tone” with the threat of punishment if the students couldn’t behave. I realised the female students did not have the power to stop them, only to apologise on their behalf, to take responsibility for them. A micro experience of the bigger picture of a culture that struggles with gender violence and disrespect. I have to reach these boys, and they need to know this information may be more than anyone else. We together have to reach these boys. As a community. As parents, educators, and bystanders.
So how do we do it?
Create space for connection, both emotional and physical
Have conversations side by side (in the car!) or walk and talk
Keep the dialogue open and curious
Keep your mind open and expansive, be ready to be challenged, and remain non-judgemental
Know your relationship with consent, and share it with them.·
Be interested in their opinion.
Use topical events and real-life stories they are interested in·
Titrate information, drip-feed, and weave it into every day rather than one big conversation now and then
Remember consent in the everyday, name it, ask their opinions on lending and borrowing from friends, how difficult they find saying or hearing no, and ask for permission to publish their photos online
Call out catcalling, victim-blaming, and sexual harassment as contributors to non-consent culture.
Celebrate consent culture.
Be what you want them to see: Respectful, connected, regulated, non-judgmental, open, and curious
Its a wrap
What a great year, delivering my Program to so many schools in the Northern Rivers!
It was a delight to meet all the kids from Corrabel, Goonengerry,Main Arm, Clunes and Bangalow and take this journey of discovery together, a journey which proved to be fun, embarrassing (for them sometimes!), informative and creative.
My framework around sexuality education is one of inclusion, openness, safety and developmentally appropriate information and activities. A teacher is always present throughout sessions. I am often guided by questions children want to know and include an anonymous question box throughout the day, a highly popular aspect of this learning which allows for honesty, flexibility and openness. My framework is directed by the NSW Curriculum and I use www.thehormonefactory.com as a constant guide and interactive tool. If your child has further queries it would be a useful resource for you to use together.
We followed this framework to discuss and learn about the physical changes throughout puberty and to look at reproduction and the body. There were lots of groans and moans when discussing and labelling body parts and functions, but I attempted to encourage these feelings as normal while balancing the importance of understanding their developing and ever-changing body. We also looked at the positives that come with puberty including independence and maturity.
My more creative work came in the form of drama and art therapy and kids trouble-shooting future stressors they identified for their teenage self, including identifying early warning signs of danger, combatting peer relationships and difficulties, and managing peer pressure. The children were amazing at being able to problem solve and remained committed to supporting themselves and their friends. I believe early identification and intervention at this age better prepares them for the future. We looked at strategies for developing a self-care tool kit and identifying internal and external resources that enable a healthy self-esteem. I encouraged kids to use the un-comfortability thermometer, which helps them on a scale of 1-10 rate their feelings, I’ve often found kids respond well to using a scale rather than identifying how they feel. It also gives them a sense of mastery around how do I get the feeling down? What helps me reset? The kids came up with an abundant number of tools they use when feeling dysregulated like reading, pets, talking to a trusted adult, going to their room, writing, jumping on the trampoline etc.
There were lots of questions in regards to reproduction, sex, contraception, bodily functions and personal boundaries. My sexuality education program includes focus on relational aspects of human connection, both with the self and each other in coming to understand concepts of consent, connection and healthy relationships. We also looked at the impact on youth culture in regards to social media, staying safe and pornography exposure.
All feedback from the anonymous evaluations was positive. Sexuality information will induce uncomfortable and embarrassing feelings for all of us , yet Adoles-sense provides a safe space for us to learn together. This age is a moment to capture engagement before they journey towards some disconnection from parents and caregivers during adolescence and the high school years.
Some feedback from Clunes:
Hi Jane, thank you for the Y5 & y6 workshops. The children enjoyed them and found it very informative. It was obvious that the children felt comfortable enough to ask you sensitive and personal questions. Well done on building such a trusting and open rapport with them. I also thought the teaching resources you used were relevant and appropriate to the cohort
Clunes PS Principal
What does 2017 look like for you?
The year is ticking over, marred by a change in season throughout the world, one of despair, limitation and fear. I hope my 2017 looks different to this. Hope and Connection are what I hope saturate my world view and seep into my soul, providing balm and strength to face the changes we cant control and even the ones we can.
When children learn about the coming changes in their bodies through my Adoles-sense program, they teach me that we can all have courage, fearlessness and humour to face all the changes that inevitably come with being human. They tell me, “Be kind to yourself’, “hang out with good people”, “trust in yourself” and they allow themselves to be vulnerable, open and congruent with their feelings. Somewhere in middle adolescence this all changes and self consciousness, comparisons to others and fear creep in like an unwelcome dinner guest who takes residence at our table for the next 20 or so years. Sometimes for ever.
How can we let our 11 year old self speak up, be seen, not leave the table?
Try and remember who we were at that time. Find a photo of yourself at that age. Put it beside your bedside table. Talk to it. What did you love to do? What inspired you? How did you show love to those you trusted? Spend a moment with your eyes closed pondering these questions, with hand on heart and feel. It is only when we go within, quieten the mind that we know our own truth. Once we can find meaningful connection with ourselves can we begin the journey to connect with others. Truly connect.
This is where we will find hope.
Adoles-sense Groups in July @ Future Dreamers
I am really looking forward to some girls groups happening in Byron at the fabulous Future Dreamers HQ (futuredreamers.com.au) in July. Groups are running every Sunday from 2-4pm, get a group of girls together to form a friendship group or just call me to book into one. These groups are aimed at Yr5 and Yr6 girls.
Groups are a one off, 2-3 hrs spent talking about all the stuff that is exciting, scary and wonderful about impending adolescence. Help your daughter be resourced so she feels equipped and ready for the years ahead. My groups help girls build confidence through learning and connecting together to share ideas and trouble shoot fears all in a safe and fun learning environment.
See Adoles-sense tab in menu for further information or contact me on 0456112214.
Cant wait, hope to see some beautiful girls there!
Recent Girls Group in Byron Bay
Wow, what a group we had last week in Byron, eight gorgeous girls all bubbling with excitement about getting to discuss things “we never talk about’ as one of them said…. We covered every topic from friendships, to boys, to social media, to learning to listen to our bodies and staying safe.
We initially focussed on identifying early warning signs and body awareness and discussed the amazing ways our body speaks to us, even though it can sometimes be uncomfortable. This was practically experienced from me popping a balloon and getting the girls to experience the discomfort and anticipation in their bodies, and we drew it in a full body outline. We also identified common early warning signs.
We then play-acted common scenarios (told to me by other girls) including dealing with friends who are gossiping about another friend, a “creepy’ guy sitting next to you on a bus and a teacher making you feel uncomfortable. The girls were great in understanding the concept of “active bystander” and looking out for your friends, and play acing these scenarios generated lots of discussion and laughter at times!
Our next focus was on boundaries and personal space, of which most of the girls struggled to be able to define their own space when friends or myself walked towards them. This can be explained as they felt comfortable within their group and the mood was light, but also gave rise to discussion around being able to say no and defining personal space for yourself even when in relation to your good friends. We talked of pressures for women and girls to be “nice”, say yes and sometimes forget yourself and asked them to think about this, again focussing on body awareness and truth.
We did street walking then, experiencing different ways we hold our bodies and how it affects how we feel, but also how we look. We identified different situations in which one would carry their body differently. Someone mentioned a funeral which gave rise to lots of talking about loss and grief, an interesting sideline which made me think how confusing it is for all of us, particularly the young, to understand, or try to , concepts such as death and finality.
Our final focus was with the delightful Sophia and Mia, (13 years) who have completed 2 years of my groups, and contributed in a profound way to answering all the girls concerns, queries and thoughts about going to high school. Both girls talked of their struggles and highlights from an interesting first year of high school as well as talking about the positives. The girls lead a strength based advice to others exercise by getting them to choose cards they believed would help them in the coming year. I love having visits from the older girls….. I believe it is one of the most important aspects of peer support and keeping my groups current and relevant. The girls receive payment for their time….a good inspiration!!
I am really looking forward to my groups expanding to Sydney this year and developing an instagram account to help our community of young women keep connected and positive messages flowing to each other…
Helping our kids together,
Informative Groups and Youth Development – Byron Bay
“The workshop was such a positive experience for my daughter and her friends. Jane’s experience and gentle supportive approach is such a gift of guidance to our next generation of young, positive empowered woman. Highly recommended to all. My daughter was so excited when I collected her. She said, ‘Thank you Mum, that was so fun and informative, it really helped.”