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Imagine children of a particular age level with their parents in the school cafeteria or parish hall for sessions of one to two hours (shorter for the younger children, longer for the older).
The facilitator of the sessions leads the family groupings in age-appropriate activities that help parent and child to discuss positive loving relationships and, in that context, relationships that are harmful and abusive.
The activities at all levels are conducted in an atmosphere of respect, joy, seriousness, and family involvement. All sessions include scriptural readings, prayer, and blessings of the children by their parents.
The basic framework of these sessions is a gradual understanding by the parents and their children of the difference between the four kinds of human relationships represented by the acronym L.I.F.E. -- Love, Infatuation, Friendship, and Exploitation. Sexual abuse is presented as a severe form of exploitation.
Pre-school and Kindergarten
Grades 1 & 2
There are two sessions for very young children, one for pre-school and kindergarten and one for children in grades 1 and 2. In both of these sessions all presentation of sensitive sexual content is done by the individual parents talking to their own children, following a very specific process and handouts explained by the facilitator. The focus of these sessions is helping the children to realize that their bodies are gifts from God to be loved and protected, to understand that some parts of their bodies are private and special, and to be aware that there may be some adults or older youth who might not love and protect them. The meaning of the L.I.F.E. acronym is presented to the parents, but not discussed with the children. Both sessions end with a prayer and a blessing of the children by their parents.
In the grade 3-4 session the family works together to name what is special about their family and the individual members in it. The facilitator introduces the concept of respect and helps the children to understand that they must show respect for others and that they have a right to be treated with respect by others, even adults. The word abuse is introduced as the opposite of respect. Under the guidance of the facilitator, the parents then tell their children about various types of abuse -- physical, emotional, and sexual -- and discuss how to protect themselves from abuse. Bullying is then presented as the kind of abuse that some children do to other children. The families create a small banner meant to remind them as a family to respect themselves and each other. The session ends with a prayer and a blessing of the children by their parents.
Grades 5 & 6
The grade 5-6 session begins with the family groupings engaged in fun activities that introduce the four kinds of relationships -- Love, Infatuation, Friendship, and Exploitation – in ways that are understandable by middle school children. The children then come to the front of the room for a presentation by the facilitator on the sensitive material concerning sexual abuse -- what it is, who might do it, how you can protect yourself, etc. The parents sit behind the children and are given a handout containing the key points of the presentation. After the presentation, the children return to their parents who review with them the material just presented by the facilitator. The children create a poster containing The Big Three rules: “Say no. Get away. Tell someone you trust.” The children then grade themselves on a Family Love Report Card. The session ends with a prayer and a blessing of the children by their parents.
Grades 7 & 8
The grade 7-8 session begins with facilitator-led activities that help the young people to discuss aspects of the four kinds of relationships with their parents. This is followed by a presentation by the facilitator to the children, with their parents listening in the background, concerning the developing role of sexual relationships in their lives. The presentation warns the young people about possible perpetrators of sexual abuse, and shows them how young teens themselves can sometimes become involved in sexual activities that are exploitative and abusive. The children then return to their parents to discuss the content of the presentation. The next activity looks at the character strengths and virtues the young people should be developing now in order to prepare them to move into the high school years. The session ends with a prayer and a blessing of the children by their parents .
The L.I.F.E. program offers two high school sessions, one for students who are new to the program, which includes the core content of the grade 7-8 session, and an alternate session for students who have already participated in the grade 7-8 session. Both sessions engage small groups of teens and parents in discussing the characteristics of the four kinds of relationships. The facilitator then explains to the young people that a teen romance is usually a combination of Infatuation and Friendship (The Big IF) and shows how the signs of affection in such a relationship can be a true expression of deepening love or can become exploitative. The presentation emphasizes that all sexual touch and sexual intercourse are to be reserved as the signs of love in a marriage relationship. The teens then discuss with their parents ways that the family and church community can help them to live up to this ideal. The session ends with a prayer and blessing of the young people by their parents.