Thanks for all of your comments. I found many of them helpful and thought-provoking (and some, cringe-worthy).
A few things I should clarify: I led the same discussion twice, first with all the 12-year-old boys AND girls AND their parents, then with all the 13-year-old boys AND girls AND their parents. I think having a) those younger ages b) with both genders c) with parents d) in a pretty large group made for a pretty unique situation that I would have tackled differently if it had just been girls, or just boys, or no parents, or a smaller group.
I'd been thinking a lot about what it's like to be 12 or 13, the 6th/7th/8th grade crowd, very sweet and very fresh-faced, many of whom are the only members in their grade and/or school. They aren't too cool for church yet and still get excited about participating (sometimes). So many of them were very sweet and truly "without guile." I figured the sex-is-great-that's-why-you-wait conversation was better suited for the older crowd and kept this discussion away from the nitty-gritty and more focused on what virtue means and why they should care.
Anyway, I'm sure you would have done it differently (and likely done a better job), and feel free to skip it if you're not interested, and judge all you want, but I've gotten a few questions about what I ended up doing, so here's the gist of it for those who have asked and perhaps someone out there in internetland finds it helpful.
- Think of a time you've felt really proud of yourself, a time you felt like you could do anything, just really confident and like you wanted to high-five the world. We listed them on the board, and in both groups, the participation was really endearing: "When I made the honor choir!" "When I tried out for 7th grade softball!" "Grades!" "Being in jazz band!" "When I gave a talk!" "When my first piano recital was over!" "When I help my brother with his math and we both figure out hard problems!" "When I finish reading a good, big book!" and so forth. I chimed in with a few, e.g., finishing law school, or giving birth two weeks ago. I then said that everything on the board and anything that is truly rewarding in life usually involves (1) preparation and (2) commitment and how this was also true for virtue. We went over the list and I asked them to keep that feeling in mind, and to remember what it's like to feel confident and empowered and like you can handle anything life throws at you, and how today we're going to talk about "the courage to be chaste and virtuous" which, in part, means learning how to be confident about choices we make and confident in God's presence.
- Alma 38:12: "Bridle your passions, that ye may be filled with love." This worked out well bc in both groups there were kids that were really into horses who explained how a bridle works and how a horse doesn't know where to go without it, how a bridle doesn't suppress but just focuses the horse. We talked about where they want to go both short- and long-term and how self-control is the ticket and being your own boss and deciding what you will do (and won't do) is part of growing up.
- Virtue is a prerequisite for feeling the guidance of the Holy Ghost. We talked about what "prerequisite" means (apparently, in junior high you have to take Global Studies before you can take American Studies, Geometry before Algebra, or whatever; it was really sweet how excited they were to think up examples of prerequisites) and how being virtuous allows God to help us and show us what to do.
- Virtue is a pattern of thought and behavior. I asked them to explain what a pattern is (they mentioned repeating designs, or 2, 4, 6, 8, etc.) and it's basic but seemed to work okay in helping them understand that we do what we're used to doing, so right now is a great time to start a pattern of thought and behavior to last them for the decades to come.
- Developing virtue is a process. This is the part I liked best. There is an awesome section on Virtue in Preach My Gospel (that I made into a really basic handout), from Chapter 6 about Christlike Attributes. At the end of the chapter, there is this "activity" where you're supposed to rate yourself on a scale of 1 - 5, 1 meaning never and 5 meaning always, as an opportunity for self-reflection. I found the section on "Virtue" really fascinating bc I usually think of it as code for virginity, but this brought a more positive, more nuanced discussion.
I am clean and pure in heart. (Psalm 24:3–4)
I have no desire to do evil but to do good. (Mosiah 5:2)
I am dependable—I do what I say I will do. (Alma 53:20)
I focus on righteous, uplifting thoughts and put unwholesome thoughts out of my mind. (D&C 121:45)
I repent of my sins and strive to overcome my weaknesses. (D&C 49:26–28)
I feel the influence of the Holy Ghost in my life. (D&C 11:12–13)
We read and discussed each scripture. I wasn't sure where this would go, but we ended up talking a lot about the first statement (how clean hands and a pure heart means clean on the outside AND the inside), the second statement (how when our hearts change, our desires change) and the fourth one ("put unwholesome thoughts out of my mind" means it's okay to HAVE unwholesome thoughts and the key is to not entertain them). It worked out well to just see what they responded to and run with it.
- Repentance is real and WE CAN CHANGE. I mentioned this might make more sense to a lot of them later in life so invited them to put it in their back pocket until they needed it, but that if they ever feel like it's too late or things are too far gone or all hope is lost, that. is. a. lie. God cares way more about our direction than about our past and the miracle of the gospel is that we can change. You don't have to wait for anything. I told them about my friend who once, in a moment of clarity, threw a CD out the window of her car bc she knew she shouldn't listen to it. If it's holding you back, THROW IT OUT. On the way home from this activity, you can tell your parents, "I've been looking at stuff I shouldn't online, will you help me?" or you can tell your boyfriend or girlfriend, "You know what? I'm 12 or 13. That's too young to have a boyfriend or girlfriend." We don't have to be the same tonight as we were this afternoon.
- A number of the youth made very, very sweet comments about what they want out of life and how they want to play certain sports in high school or go to a certain college or make the honor band next year and we talked about how good choices allow them to stay in the driver's seat and be in charge of what they do.
- God gives us commandments because He wants us to be happy. Finally, at the end, I just told them that my life is not even close to perfect but that every good thing in my life--my husband, my mission, my education, my freaking awesome kids--everything good in my life is from God, and how happy those things make me, and how I want that for them and how God wants that for them.