Growing Up Knowing is dedicated to improving sexual health among Mississippi teens by opening the lines of communication.
Given the brazen sexual content our teens see and hear every day through social media and the internet, it’s easy to assume they learn most of what they know about the subject from peers. But Dana Larkin begs to differ. She’s the executive director of Growing Up Knowing, a Jackson-based nonprofit focused on engaging young people and their parents/caregivers in real conversations about sexual health – and how to stay safe in today’s society.
“Research from the website Power to Decide: The Campaign to Prevent Unplanned Pregnancy shows that teens say their parents most influence their decisions about sex, love and relationships – not their peers,” Dana said. “We not only educate young people, we give parents the knowledge and skills they need to support and communicate with their children.”
The “My Body, My Boundaries” program is designed to pre- vent abuse and bullying. It’s targeted at families of elementary-age children, while “Get Real” offers sex education for middle school youth and their parents. “We provide the knowledge and skills young people need to make informed decisions about sex,” Dana said, “and delay risky behaviors that lead to unintended pregnan- cies and sexually-transmitted infections.”
Growing Up Knowing will benefit tremendously this year from its association with Wells Church of Jackson. All proceeds from the annual WellsFest celebration late this month — including the golf tournament and Art Night before the festival – go directly to the organization. Dana said they will put the funds toward purchasing updated resources and materials, and developing and implementing a more specialized facilitator-training program.
“The committee felt the funds raised would help keep the Growing Up Knowing ministry strong and vibrant in its vision to improve the quality of life for youth in Jackson by helping them make good choices regarding their sexual health,” said Charles Williams, chair of the WellsFest selection committee. “We also like how they involved the parents throughout the process. Allowing open communication is critical in discussing topics affecting youth today.”
A challenging aspect of reaching young people is earning trust, and it’s an area where Growing Up Knowing strives to make early contact. “Trust comes into the middle school program during the first of our four sessions,” Dana said. “We treat the youth and their par- ents with equal respect. We do not allow par- ents to inhibit their children’s responses and participation. We answer any and every ques- tion. We are clear to participants that we are in the business of saving lives and encouraging healthy life decisions.”
In addition to finding great personal re- wards in what she does, Dana says the Growing Up Knowing data is very positive. “With our middle school program, fifty-four percent of our parent participants were teen parents wanting to stop the cycle in their own homes,” she said. “Upon completion of the program, eighty-seven percent of our youth and one hundred percent of the parents are more comfortable talking with each other about sexual health. They report the open communication, directness of the subject matter, interaction of children and useful information as being very beneficial to their family.”
“Our programs are beneficial for all youth, whatever their race, economic status or gender. I have seen firsthand the benefits of children and parents learning together and supporting one another. I know that as we continue our work, we will see real change with the participating families as we work to reduce the number of teen pregnancies, sex- ually-transmitted infections and child abuse cases in Mississippi.”
Find Growing Up Knowing on Facebook, and visit bashbrothers.com/portfolio/growing-up-knowing to watch a video about the organization. For information about WellsFest, visit wellschurch.org.