Tender is an arts charity actively engaging with young people to prevent domestic and sexual
violence using highly interactive workshops.
What was the purpose of the lesson?
Arts charity Tender uses drama workshops to create a safe space for children and young adults to demonstrate the importance of strong, healthy relationships. By helping young people to understand how healthy (and unhealthy) relationships can look, they are given the tools to navigate problematic situations and “red flags” that might arise in their future
This session empowers participants to explore the difficult topic of violence prevention through creative subjects as drama and develop empathy for others. Students are taught the early warning signs of abusive relationships (such as excessive jealousy, or influencing how you dress) and how to seek support.
The Pressure Bottle activity is a great example. A student volunteer or facilitator stands in the middle of the room holding a bottle. Their role is to keep the bottle while everybody else tries to persuade or pressure them to give it away. Students come to understand that coercive behaviour can take many forms – from blackmail (“Give me that bottle or I’ll tell the teacher that you text in lessons”) to guilt-tripping (“Give me the bottle – I helped you with your work yesterday”). Participants are left with the ability to identify these behaviours not only in others but also in themselves, and to understand healthier means of interacting with others.
The sessions are catered to the different needs of different children, and their facilitators are specially trained to tailor sessions according to their group. For younger (primary school) groups the sessions focus more on building the foundations for healthy friendships, personal space and bodily autonomy, whereas 13+ sessions focus on intimate relationships.
How does it work?
Educating about abuse involves a lot of nuance. A common challenge is exploring gender equality and how inequality impacts on both heterosexual and LGBTQ+ relationships. It can be difficult for boys/young men to take this on board without feeling that they are being criticised. There may also be participants who have grown up in environments where abuse is excused, so they are challenged by the idea that behaviours they’ve seen or exhibited are abusive or coercive.
Tender facilitators are very skilled in unpicking and understanding young people’s opinions without shutting them down. When faced with what might be considered a problematic opinion, they discuss it with the participant and explore how it can be unlearned.
A common example of this crops up during an exercise called Temperature Line, in which students place behaviours on a line of “healthy” to “unhealthy”. These can include kissing, laughing and “stopping you from seeing friends”. Tender facilitators note that their participants often rate cheating as a more unhealthy trait than hitting in a relationship – which can then become the base for discussion, unpicking and learning.
Why does it work?
Using drama raises levels of self-esteem and communication – skills that themselves can be key to building relationships based on respect and equality. Theatre helps participants to empathise, equips them with understanding their right to healthy relationships and stops them from becoming victims or perpetrators.
Using outside organisations for interactive sessions rather than their everyday teachers naturally encourages students to be more open to discussing difficult topics. Tender facilitators are specifically trained, actively practising inclusive qualities and setting a great example.
Report by Katie Lee