You know what’s on the horizon? The XP3 Middle School sex series, which means a few things might start to happen.
Middle schoolers may begin to experience an outpouring of nervous energy when the topic comes up. They may act like they’re repulsed by the idea of talking about sex, yet your youth group attendance somehow seems to skyrocket during this series.
Youth pastors may feel the pressure to be culturally relevant so middle schoolers don’t think they’re out of the loop, while also balancing the developmental differences between what a 6th grader is ready to hear and an 8th grader needs to hear. They also have pressure from (some) parents to not say too much about sex. (Yes, to not talk too much about sex in a series about . . . sex).
Parents will probably either say nothing and stay distant, attempt to embarrass their kid as much as possible, or they may want to talk about everything with you directly.
With so much to balance and prepare for, I think the biggest question is this: How do we best partner with parents when it comes to such a sensitive, yet significant series for their middle schooler?
The truth is, parents of middle schoolers are usually looking for help when it comes to this topic. They want to know . . .
Can I trust you to talk about sex and dating with my kid?
What exactly are you going to teach?
How are you going to answer a question about (fill in the blank with the most awkward thing you can think of here)?
Is my kid even ready for this?
The best thing you can do as the youth pastor is to beat them to the punch. Do your best to try to answer their questions before they even have the chance to ask them.
One of the best ways I’ve found to proactively partner with parents on a topic like this is by hosting what I call a Parent Preview Night.
A Parent Preview Night is exactly what it sounds like—a night (or designated gathering) designed to invite parents into what you’re going to be talking to their middle schooler about. It gives them a glimpse of what’s to come. It can be hosted in person, or virtually!
And from my 16+ years of experience, these are the four things I have found to be most effective in a Parent Preview Night:
1. Display Questions Middle Schoolers Are Asking.
Early in my career I started doing an anonymous question box. Students never wrote their names, but I always asked them to write which grade they were in instead. I saved their questions over the years to use on nights like this one for parents. It’s an awesome visual of how questions about sex and dating evolve through each year of middle school.
At the Parent Preview Night, I would lay out the questions by grade so that when parents arrived, they could walk around and read the questions before we started the program. This helped them understand what middle schoolers are actually asking about sex and relationships when they aren’t around (and they see the questions written in their own handwriting)
2. Show The Teaching Videos.
The quickest way to build trust between your team and the parents is to show them exactly what will be taught. Talking over an outline or giving a live presentation on content doesn’t convince parents as easily as showing them a prerecorded series. I would suggest using a series of curriculum videos, or record yourself teaching all weeks of the series prior to teaching it live on stage for your students.
I learned quickly it’s best to tell parents before you begin that you are going to show all 4 weeks of videos consecutively and then take questions afterwards. This way, they get a full picture of what is covered and you don’t find yourself saying, “Well we didn’t say that in week 1 because we will be covering that in the 4th week.”
Showing parents the prerecorded teaching videos gives parents the opportunity to see and hear exactly what their students will see and hear in the series. This gives them the opportunity to prepare their kid with any conversations that need to happen prior to the series kicking off.
Bonus thought: Using a prerecorded video series is helpful to your Small Group Leaders as well. They’re going to need more training and support from you in this series than in any other. Giving them a chance to listen to the message ahead of time, and imagine the conversations that will happen in their small groups, gives them a chance to prepare for such a sensitive conversation. So invite your small groups leaders to attend the Parent Preview Night as well!
3. Share The Small Group Questions.
In addition to showing all teaching videos, it’s helpful for parents to see what questions will be asked in their student’s small groups. This way parents can be prepared to have follow-up conversations with their kids if they wish to do so. This will work even better if you give parents the small group guides before they see the videos so that they can follow along as they watch.
4. Open The Floor For Questions.
This is always the most intimidating part of the Parent Preview Night, especially when that parent is in the room (you know the one!). If you have a parent who strongly disagrees with what you’re teaching, then remind them they absolutely don’t have to send their kid to youth group during this series. Encourage them to have the conversations at home on their own or even watch the videos together and use the small group guides to navigate the discussion as a family. In my experience, there is almost always a parent who doesn’t feel comfortable talking about sex with middle schoolers, but don’t worry, there are also usually parents in the room who are very much for the series.
One thing I am constantly telling the parents who attend Parent Preview Nights is this: “You are the number one source of information in your kid’s life, and you know your kid best.”
That, my friends, is a Parent Preview Night!
It’s not the only way to do this, but it’s one way!
All of this can be adapted to be a digital parent gathering, and it could also be an email if that’s what you choose to do!
If you’re considering hosting your own Parent Preview Night, my advice would be to host it 4-6 weeks prior to teaching the middle school sex series. This gives parents plenty of time to have conversations with their own kids prior to the start of the series.
So to help you get started, let me leave you with a little to-do list for the week:
- Figure out when you’re going to do your sex and dating series.
- Back up 4-6 weeks and schedule your Parent Preview Night.
- Brainstorm how you’re going to tell parents about the Parent Preview Night.
- Decide if you’re going to use the curriculum teaching videos, or if you need to record your own.
I hope hosting a Parent Preview Night will help you connect with your middle schoolers’ parents, open the lines of communication, and build trust before such an important series!
Good luck, friends!