Create Safe Spaces

Martha McCormickSocial JusticeLeave a Comment

During the year I taught school in the early 1970s, some of the kids in my 8th grade homeroom became good friends, and often stayed after school to talk. A couple years later one of them, Sammie, joined the 4-H teen programs we were starting–helping with the newsletter and planning programs. We took the kids on campouts, held workshops on everything from drama, the arts, feminism and juvenile justice to the American Indian Movement.

Eventually Sammie came out to me, admitting to be gay. I doubt that I responded appropriately; it was my first experience with such a confidence and I didn’t know where to find resources for handling it. We continued to talk about what was going on for several years and eventually, I had to visit Sammie in the psych ward after a suicide attempt. It broke my heart; unfortunately problems like Sammie’s are still so common today. We have a long way to go.

I’ve worked in the field of sexuality education for a long time; along the way I found out I had to examine my own attitudes before I could help anyone else. I’m very proud of my stepdaughter, Denise Stapley, who is currently the ONLY AASECT Certified Sex Therapist in Iowa. I like to think that the book I conspicuously laid around the house–What’s Happening to Me? back in the 1980’s may have had something to do with her choice of profession!

This post highlights some resources to help us take next steps toward a more supportive, helpful society where teens can trudge the path to healthy adulthood with courage and grace. Love Your Body is an earlier post that has a bunch of links you’ll enjoy.

I’ve developed a number of programs over the years–

  • Creating Safe Spaces, a video that offers helpful ideas for showing kids you’re a safe person. Use the ideas here to communicate your trustworthiness and willingness to listen. The video addresses things to do, posters, arrangement and self-disclosure. It includes several examples of safe spaces as well.
  • Challenge for Healthy Relationships is an adventure-based program I originally created to bring boys and young men into the conversation about sexuality and teen pregnancy prevention. The idea was that if they were involved in physical challenges, it would be easier for them to talk about feelings. We also found many activities that worked well as metaphors for decision making around sex, sexuality and pregnancy.
  • The Pleasure Meter is a way to start discussion; it helps people get to know and can help you learn about your group and how the participants define sexual behavior.
  • This post links to Go Ask Alice which has reliable information for when kids come to us with questions about sex. The site is a a Health Q & A Service of Columbia University.
  • I developed this post in the summer of 2009 when textual harassment was in the news. Bullying is still a big problem not only among kids, but in the media and on the highways. This video about what might happen if you talk to your parents, counselor or boyfriend about “textual harassment” is pretty funny, and a good example of how NOT to listen to kids talk about sex!

This morning I came across Doctor: Teen girls misinformed on body image, sex in USA Today, and it describes some indicators and guidelines for sexual education. As a woman and mother, this is a most baffling issues in raising healthy children. The article makes some great points about realistic expectations for sexual activity, establishing a relationship with a gynecologist, and reviews the book by Dr. Jennifer AshtonThe Body Scoop for Girls: A Straight-Talk Guide to a Healthy, Beautiful You; it sounds like a great resource.

You’ll find a review here in the Comments section as soon as I read it!

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