Teens Are Teaching Themselves!

Teens learning from themselves: Relationship and sexuality education gets updated!

To support young people in accessing comprehensive education on both what it means to have a healthy relationship and on the important biological aspects of how sexuality and reproduction work, there’s Teen Council! This is It is ART that overcomes taboos.

The Teen Council is run by and for Teens. This is peers teaching peers, youth teaching youth.

The point is to ensure that some of the most important relationships in life – romantic and sexual partnerships – are both positive and well-informed. Teen Councilors teach themselves and others comprehensive relationship and sexuality education, helping overcome old taboos that have had very damaging consequences.

Despite being formative, relationship and sexuality education is rarely done well. If offered at all, it is rarely comprehensive. And too often it’s not even accurate. In fact, a 2020 United Nations Population Fund report found that around the world almost half of pregnancies are unwanted. This translates to a failure at the most basic level of relationship and sexuality education. It means too many children entering the world to mothers who may be depressed and uncaring. This does not bode well for children to feel unwanted in an already overpopulated world, or for women who become sad or for society at large to deal with the repercussions and loss of human creativity.

How to take action?

Teens become teachers to themselves and others. They can bring personal development to society’s development! Riane, a member of Teen Council, explains the heart of their peer education program:

“As a member of Teen Council myself, I’ve seen the effects of inclusive relationship and sexuality education. Issues such as consent, open communication, and forming healthy relationships help prevent coercion and assault. Beyond elementary school young people are becoming familiar with their changing bodies and starting to form new kinds of relationships. Supporting ourselves and one another in developing healthy relationships through setting and respecting boundaries is super important. Perhaps even more important is that all students have the right to be treated with dignity and respect, no matter their identity. Our hope with our peer education is to create a future where healthy relationships and sexuality isn’t a taboo topic. This takes collaborative team work, and continuously improving informal and formal education systems. A future of useful relationship and sexuality education should not remain out of reach for anybody in 2022.”

In the following video snippet, we see a quartet of teens discussing why peer to peer works, the advantages of working in a team, and how they keep their information accurate. 

As part of Teen Council in Portland, Oregon, they are part of a growing group of teenagers who are all too aware of how little useful information exists on what may be their most important partnerships in life. They meet every week to discuss new related topics then pass these lessons on to their peers, but now as the teachers. Their conversations have rippled out more formally to peers in local high schools with whom they meet by zoom and sometimes in person, with teacher and other adult support.

Listen in as they reflect on their work. They focus on…

  1. how different personal connections to the topic culminate in a diverse group of interests that can teach even more effectively together
  2. the unexpected skills gained that apply to an even broader spectrum
  3. last but not least, how their program and work can still be improved

In contrast to formal school based curriculum, this peer program has answered thousands of anonymous questions that students have admitted they wouldn’t be comfortable asking teachers and parents. Hundreds of lessons about consent, communication, and contraception have been given, which help greatly reduce unwanted pregnancy rates in high schools.

Editor’s comment

The Teen Council is a form of emancipation in the tradition of action research. We see the embrace of “decolonization” in the teens’ move from patriarchal protocols (no sex please!) to learn and teach more about important facets of lived experience today. This is ART that overcomes taboos; it is feminist and empowering of all genders. It encourages those affected by relationship-related misconceptions and misinformation to learn more information themselves. This sets up a virtuous cycle in which the good spreads through those involved out to others in need. The teens’ work simultaneously strengthens a community and everyone’s future within it.


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