Experiencing DO YOU

Walking into a room for the first time, not knowing what to expect or who will be there—these are feelings participants have used to describe what it is like–annoyed, angry, and tired [from being in school all day]. Yet, because they were either court-ordered, referred by the school or based on assessment results, made to attend, they were one of the first participants of the Action Alliances new teen campaign: DO YOU, being held at OPTIONS in Culpeper, Virginia.

OPTIONS is a program designed to serve less serious offenders in an effort to reach teens before they become entangled in such things as negative peer relationships, substance abuse, and criminal activity . In 2013, OPTIONS was selected as one of our pilot sites to evaluate the effectiveness of DO YOU, a prevention initiative to address youth violence by confronting its root causes and enhancing protective factors to promote positive development and healthy relationships using creative expression. There are two components to DO YOU.  The first phase, consists of 10 sessions in small, similar gender groups of 8-10 teens. The second phase is DO SOMETHING which is a cumulative community level strategy designed and executed by the teen group members.

The success of DO YOU is so reliant on the facilitator/participant relationship, that the Action Alliance devotes two full days to train facilitators interested in implementing this program.

Wanda Anderson, the facilitator at OPTIONS was one of the first facilitators to become trained and certified.

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As the one at OPTIONS who is called on when youth are “having a hard time” adjusting to family or school life, Wanda knows firsthand how important it is to develop this relationship right from the start. Knowing the resistance she would face, Wanda set the tone for group participation by providing snacks and drinks, playing upbeat music and displaying a colorful array of art materials used throughout the program to illicit some curiosity about what this group will entail. As the teens relaxed their defenses a bit to enjoy the snacks, Wanda engaged them in light-hearted conversation while also talking up the program to alleviate some of their worries.

Once everyone arrived and it was time for the first session to begin, the teens were engaged in a group ice breaker activity by completing such statements as:

  • A strength or talent I bring to this group is…
  • Something I’ve always wanted to try is…
  • My all-time favorite movie is…
  • Something I wish people knew about me is…

Wanda further connected with each participant by validating their responses, asking open ended questions and sharing some of her own experiences- including some of her favorite parts of a movie mentioned. Initial feelings of discomfort were soon replaced by laughter echoed throughout the room.

20130207_180537The teens were more engaged and after completing the YOU-niverse activity, became more comfortable with each other based on commonalities that have been presented through volunteer sharing. What could initially be regarded as inhibition and resistance over the course of a couple of hours was turned into “connectedness” and “thought provoking and sometimes difficult” conversations that continued for the remainder of their time together in DO YOU.

After completing both phases of DO YOU, the teens described their experience as fun, having changed how they communicate with others and the realization that they were not the only ones dealing with stuff. While our male identified participants in other pilots needed a little more encouragement to engage in the art process, this group, which was comprised of self-identified females, all loved working in their ‘zines—. This was evident as they each took pride in showing off their finished product at an art exhibit held as part of their DO SOMETHING event. When I asked the teens about their facilitator, Wanda, the teens had nothing but good things to say. However, it was the response from one particular teen that defines, to me, what it means to be a great facilitator: ” Mrs. Wanda noticed things about me, like…if I changed my hair….or had on a different pair of shoes…it’s like…she saw me.”

20130207_180809When I asked Wanda about DO YOU, she immediately responded “It’s awesome! The teens are awesome!” She stated that after participating in DO YOU many friendships have developed-some positive and some negative, and, she adds, some of the teens still stay in touch with her and she is amazed to see the growth. She stated, ” they all seemed more confident and ready to tackle whatever lies in front of them.”

I have no doubt that this is, in large part, because of the relationship that was formed on day one with the facilitator. A relationship that was grounded in respect, honesty, and trust.

If you are interested in attending the next DO YOU Facilitator Certification Training being held in July 2016, please visit our website:  DO YOU Training. For more information regarding DO YOU contact Leslie Conway at lconway@vsdvalliance.org

Leslie Conway is the Prevention Coordinator for the state of Virginia. Prior to working at the Action Alliance, Leslie gained experience coordinating primary prevention initiatives at a local program and developing a peer educator program in the local high school and faith community. As someone who understands the lasting consequences of witnessing the trauma that comes with domestic violence, she is committed to finding ways to resist and prevent all forms of violence.

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Joining the Action Alliance adds your voice to making change in Virginia. Start your membership today or call.

To inquire about submissions for blog, please check the submissions page for requirements or email colson@vsdvalliance.org

Healthy Teen Relationships: A Youth’s Perspective

As president of feminist club one of my responsibilities is to arrange meetings and guest speakers. Last year I brought in a battered women’s counselor to talk to us about healthy teen relationships. I knew the red flags, I had heard them before, but I like most people did not want something bad to apply to me. My friends told me that I was in a bad relationship, but as I heard the counselor list off the red flags, it became reality.

Her talk about unhealthy teen dating felt like a description of my relationship. At the time, I was not spending time with friends or traveling for fear of making my then boyfriend mad, he kept trying to pressure me into things I made clear that I was not ready for, yelling, blaming, threatening, endless fighting over nothing. I had many wonderful, supportive friends during this time, but I had others that did not deal with what I was going through as well. Being on the receiving end of the advice and support taught me exactly what works and what does not work. It has been said many times before, but it is so incredibly important that I want to say it again: the most important thing in these situations is to be there for the victim of an unhealthy/abusive relationship. Some of my friends dropped me or got mad at me for not spending enough time with them. It was not  that I did not care, it was that I knew he would be mad.

Other friends tried to pressure me to leave him. I understand how this would make sense, but for someone in a controlling relationship, the last thing I needed was to be controlled by someone else. The other thing is, however simple it may seem to an outsider, leaving an unhealthy relationship is incredibly hard. This can be because one believes their partner can change, they truly love them, or the partner threatens that something bad will happen if they do break it off.

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Picture courtesy of Diana Kabbani

Once I finally did leave my ex-boyfriend I finally felt free. My friends were there for me after I broke it off. One of the best ways I was able to get over it was blocking his number and social media. People with controlling personalities like that are manipulative and will try to get their partner back with lies and empty promises, that is why cutting off communication is essential. Everyone deserves respect and happiness in their relationship. We all have a duty to do what we can to help victims of unhealthy relationships and I hope this blog post is helpful in doing so.

Diana Kabbani is a student and President of her school Feminist Club. 

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Want to learn more about building teen resiliency? Check out The DO YOU program. DO YOU addresses youth violence, dating and sexual violence, sexual harassment, and bullying by confronting its root causes and enhancing protective factors (also referred to as building resilience) to promote positive development and healthy relationships for age 13-16 years old. The UnCurriculum (the facilitator’s guide for DO YOU uses primary prevention principles and creative expression in a strategy intended to prevent violence before it starts.

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Joining the Action Alliance adds your voice to making change in Virginia. Start your membership today or call804.377.0335

To inquire about submissions for blog, please check the submissions page for requirements or email colson@vsdvalliance.org

“No one does that”: Teens and the challenge of teaching consent

 

“That’s not realistic. No one does that,” assessed my (then) 14 year old daughter when she previewed the rough cut of Ask. Listen. Respect., the Action Alliance’s new video to teach teens about consent.

Her comment stung, but she had it exactly right.

We had developed the 1-minute video to be the centerpiece of a new statewide sexual violence prevention messaging campaign. The object: illustrate to young teens a set of concrete examples for how to ask for consent, what enthusiastic verbal consent looks like, and how to respond to “no” respectfully.

The Action Alliance prevention team had decided to focus on consent and negotiation after collaborating with the brilliant minds at Force: Upsetting Rape Culture, who assisted us in conducting a field scan. While the consultants at Force conducted online listening experiments and analyzed the data, we reviewed best practices, consulted with other prevention experts, and held discussion groups with young teens to learn about their lives. The void became clear. Negotiation and consent, two essential building blocks of healthy relationships and (in later, more mature relationships) joyous sexuality, were concepts unfamiliar to young teens.

During the middle and high school years, teens experiment with new identities and new relationships. Every relationship, no matter now short or casual, is a rich learning opportunity that lays the groundwork for future adult relationships. And yet, teaching and talking about the skills necessary to engage in negotiation and ask for consent rarely happens. In my daughter’s words: no one does that.

When we asked middle school boys what consent means, here’s what they said:

  • “I’ve never heard that word, like, in a relationship.”
  • “It’s like, you have to have parent’s consent to order that movie, so like permission?”
  • “Talk about it?”
  • “I don’t know I’m as confused as you!”

Perhaps even more concerning: teen boys explained that their friend/partner saying “no” to them was something they took personally. A rejection.

The Ask. Listen. Respect. video speaks simply and directly to young teens. It shows two teens (about 14 years old) practicing consent. They negotiate how they spend time together (“Want to watch a movie”? “Shoot hoops?”), each hearing a “yes” or a “no” respectfully. In the final scene, one teen asks if the other would like to kiss, and the teen responds with an enthusiastic “yes”. As they lean toward one another, the camera pans behind a tree, the scene ends, and the teens voice over: “Don’t worry about it being awkward, just say what you want…and ask first”.

Parent discussion guide COVER

photo from DO YOU discussion guide

We developed two discussion guides to accompany the video and promote conversations about respect, boundaries, and consent: one for parents, the other for facilitators of teen groups. All materials now live on our brand new Teach Consent microsite to make the materials most accessible to parents and facilitators.

The practices of consent and negotiation are essential to equitable, fulfilling relationships, regardless of a person’s age, regardless whether the relationship is romantic or platonic. Where physical intimacy is involved, these skills provide healthy counterweights to our culture’s pervasive narratives that intimacy “just happens”, and that coercion is sexy, while clear communication is not.

Teaching consent debunks the notion that we all magically just know what our partner wants, what feels good, what turns them on.

Where teens are involved, teaching consent and negotiation gives them tools to build empathy, deepen connection and trust, and helps prepare them to be responsible, respectful partners in future relationships.

To be clear: changing individual knowledge and behavior is one piece in the complex and layered puzzle of preventing sexual violence. Larger oppressive cultural forces related to power and agency, for example, shape individual experiences and choices. And while communication and negotiation are everyone’s responsibility, if a person chooses to move forward without getting clear consent from their partner, what follows may veer quickly into coercion and/or assault. The responsibility then lies solely with the person who advances. No one else’s.

Consent is the non-negotiable, bare minimum we should expect from our partners when it comes to physical intimacy. As such, it is one of the first and most essential concepts that should be taught. Precisely because it seems so foreign to teens at an age when they are experimenting with how to relate to their peers, precisely because many teens are entering into their first romantic relationships which set the tones for future relationships. Precisely because, at least at this point in our cultural evolution, “no one does that”.

 

Kate McCord is the Communications Director for the Action Alliance, a member of the Action Alliance prevention team, and a proud, grateful (and sometimes harried) mama of two truly incredible kids.

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Joining the Action Alliance adds your voice to making change in Virginia. Start your membership today or call804.377.0335

To inquire about submissions for blog, please check the submissions page for requirements or email colson@vsdvalliance.org