Small groups provide a relaxed, low-key setting for teens to honestly talk about difficult or sensitive issues that matter most to them. The topics will most likely depend on a consensus of the participants involved. Common themes will range from difficulties in relationships to ethical issues and methods for avoiding the urge to indulge in risky behavior. No matter what topic the group chooses, your role will focus on ensuring that everyone's views are heard and respected.
Organizations like the National Institute on Drug Abuse offer teaching guides that can help lead discussions on various aspects of substance abuse, such as why teens experiment with drugs. Start by asking the group to pinpoint how teens and adults handle risks and rewards. Then ask members, "How can you 'put the brakes' on risky behaviors?" The responses can provide inspiration for role-playing games, in which participants act out scenarios for resisting offers to try different types of drugs.
Sex and Relationships
To promote an honest discussion of sexuality, consider showing a film like "Let's Talk About Sex," which examines how popular media influences teen attitudes and behavior. **Using the discussion guide, encourage the group to explore the issues that the film raises. Start with open-ended questions like, "How did you first learn about sex and sexuality?" Then move on to other topics, such as, "Do you think virginity pledge programs are effective? Why or why not?"
Role-playing offers a platform to reinforce the idea of accepting people of different cultures, races or sexual orientations. One potential source is the Dr. Seuss classic, "The Sneetches," whose birdlike creatures wear green stars as signs of privilege. Ask students to read the book aloud. Then develop your own list of privileges, like extra points for tasks, but only approve them for students with green stars. Make sure all students spend time in both groups. After the exercise ends, ask students how both situations felt and discuss ways they'd end discrimination. Ask them to keep journals of their suggestions, and allow time for sharing their entries.
To counter peer pressure, outline a scenario that encourages a discussion about maintaining integrity. For example, talk about how group members should respond to hitting a parked car, states Jack and Jill of America's guide, "Teen Leadership Modules." Ask participants, "Why take responsibility for something that nobody saw you do?" Help the group identify ethically appropriate responses to the situation, and how those techniques can benefit them in their own lives.
Social Media and Sexting
Social media's unlimited reach also opens opportunities to discuss its risks. The American Pediatric Association recommends focusing on inappropriate practices like “sexting,” or sharing of explicit photos and messages. Ask them, “What is sexting? Tell you me what you think it is.” Remind them that federal law defines sexting as child pornography, which can bring criminal charges for that offense, states the FBI. Use news articles to highlight sexting's consequences and help students avoid the behavior. Ask them, "How would you handle this situation?"
- American Academy of Pediatrics: Talking to Kids and Teens About Social Media and Sexting
- FBI: FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin: Sexting: Risky Actions and Overreactions
- Jack and Jill of America: Teen Leadership Modules
- Let's Talk About Sex: Viewing Guide
- National Institute on Drug Abuse: NIDA For Teens: Topics Related to Drug Abuse and Addiction
- The Southern Poverty Law Center: Teaching Tolerance: Anti-Racism Activity: The Sneetches
- Anyone and Everyone: Discussion Guide
- Center for Advancement of Health: Confidential Discussions Are Key to Improving Teen Health Visits
- Mayo Clinic: Sex Education: Talking to Your Teen About Sex
- The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Talking With Your Teens About Sex: Going Beyond "The Talk"
- What Kids Can Do: A Guide to Creating Teen-Adult Conversations in Your Community
- WebMD: Teen Drug Abuse: Role-Playing for Teens and Parents
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