When AFE was required to attend a Relationships & Abuse Prevention talk with her teen in her church, she was quite happy that, after years of Alaska being the dumping ground for predator clergy and bad eggs, that the church was going to take steps to fight the abuse. AFE was expecting the class to be more geared toward the psychological side of abuse, i.e.: the psychology behind predatory behavior be it from people in authority, intimate relationships and friendships, and giving the attendees a deeper understanding of what actions to look for and how to get out of these relationships before they progress, delivered by someone who could connect with the youth as a role model. She was disappointed on all accounts.
If this were only a workshop on waiting to have sex until marriage, AFE would call it a “fail” because it should have never been presented in a co-ed fashion between teenagers. Sexuality should be private and shared with people one trusts, not in an entire group, and let us not forget that girls and boys interact differently in group settings, and that sex is very different for men and women.
Since this was a talk on abuse prevention, AFE gives it an “epic fail” because it degenerated into a lecture about waiting for sex.
The session, which was required for all to attend, was lame because it degenerated into another anti-sex teen talk where the teens seemed to be speaking for their parents. From my perch in the back of the room, when the girls spoke, they looked around at the boys before they said things. The boys were animated at times, and the moderator, a pediatric nurse who works with survivors of abuse, who herself was of middle age (most likely late 40’s) seemed to have little experience working with groups of young adults.
We started out being told the acronym for LIFE: Love, Infatuation, Friendship, and Exploitation. The exploitation topic was probably where the church feels that they are preventing abuse and to give them credit, they spent a lot of poorly spent time on the topic of exploitation. We were gathered into mixed groups of adults and girls and boys, and were told to write on cards our “pearls of wisdom” on each of the words in the acronym. After we wrote down our pearls, a group speaker was chosen to read the cards and we were told to guess who had written them. AFE mentioned to the moderator that telling us to guess who the speaker was might not be a good idea since we didn’t know ahead of time that they were to be read and the moderator told the groups to be respectful of privacy. Each group read theirs and then each group was to choose their favorite quote and read it to the entire gathering of people. The moderator, with no respect for privacy, would then ask after each statement, “Who wrote that?” We were never asked to talk about what we chose to write or why we said it, and the knowledge of who wrote something contributed nothing to the learning.
We discussed scenarios with Fred/Freda and Ike/Ida with how we would interact with friends vs. romantic interests. The purpose of the exercise was to discuss boundaries and AFE felt that this should have been expanded into another character of Mr./Ms. Jones and how one interacted professionally with someone, be they a teacher, a clergy member, a lawyer, a landlord, or a coworker.
The moderator was, in the opinion of AFE, a poor choice to be presenting the workshop. She’d have been fine working with younger children, but when it comes to getting in the minds of the teenagers, it is of the opinion of AFE (and Hollywood) to package message with someone who the teenagers want to emulate. As the good nurse hammered the idea of, “If it’s infatuation, don’t! If it’s love, wait!” AFE wondered if the teenagers would be thinking of this well meaning but frumpy presenter when they were unmarried and hyperventilating with their partners. AFE would wager a million dollars that the presenter (and her message) would be out in left field while they were rounding the bases, ready to make a home run.
Had this been a workshop on actually understanding and avoiding abusive relationships, a male of the detective variety, a Joe Friday, if you will, who oozed a certain level of je na sais quoi, who could hold the attention of everyone in the room in the palm of his rough, gentle hands, would have been a brilliant presenter. He could talk about what happens when relationships get sexual and some of the stupid things people do and are willing to tolerate, he could discuss some classic moves and lies of predators, and tell youth and parents to watch out for in their friends and children. This would be the kind of workshop that wouldn’t need mandatory attendance, the topic and the speaker would advertise itself.
The workshop was concluded with the presenter telling the participants to go home and to talk about what they learned. AFE and her teen talked about it, but the laughter was more along the lines of mockery as in, “How stupid do they think we are?”
It is an embarrassment when you attend a workshop of this variety expecting to learn something, only to find yourself wondering what the presenter was thinking.
Before doing a presentation of such magnitude, the church has to seriously think about who is delivering the message, and what, exactly that message is going to be.