"No obstacles are insurmountable when God commands and we obey"
- - Heber J. Grant
November 12, 2015
Parents Who Let their Children Break Rules
by Cyndie Swindlehurst

Question:

What do you do, as a youth leader, when some of the parents in your ward allow and even encourage their children to break commandments and not follow Church standards? And I don’t mean gray areas — I mean black and white commandments and cut and dry standards.

These parents are active members who absolutely know the rules.

Answer:

What do you do? You teach the gospel. And you show them love and kindness.

Handbook 2 states clearly and repeatedly that the purpose of church teaching, programs and activities is to support families. Youth leaders in particular are supposed to support each young person in his or her family.

Sections 8.3.4, 10.3.2. And all teachers and leaders are warned that “Priesthood and auxiliary leaders and teachers seek to assist parents, not to supersede or replace them.” Section 1.4. See also 8.2, 10.2. 11.1.

With regard to standards, each young person is responsible for reviewing the standards often and evaluating how well he or she is living them. Sections 8.10, 10.5. Also, “[m]embers of the bishopric and [youth] leaders can encourage parents to study gospel standards, exemplify them, and discuss them with their [children].” Sections 8.10, 10.5.

In your case, you are frustrated because you feel that important, life-improving commandments and standards are being undermined by some of the parents in your ward. Your frustration is understandable. However, you have to organize your approach to this problem around the principle of supporting these youth and these families.

No good will come from an adversarial approach. You want to be a force for good, a weight on the scale for righteous living, not a wedge between parents and children.

You must teach what is true. But rather than try to convince these young people outright that their parents are wrong, I suggest you try to add true doctrine to whatever knowledge and experience they already have, and to whatever good things they are already doing.

Here are seven other ideas you might try.

One, talk to the bishop. A family who comes to church every Sunday, but teaches their children that certain commandments are optional, is having a larger problem. The bishop may be aware of the problem, but in case he is not, you should tell him privately.

You might say, “Bishop, Eloise Withers told me on Wednesday night that she gives Betsy a glass of wine most nights before bed to help her sleep. I was concerned, so I’m passing the information along to you.”

The bishop will be glad you told him.

Two, welcome and include the affected youth. If these young people are not keeping, as you say, black and white commandments, they will feel increasingly isolated from the other youth in your ward. You, therefore, must help them feel like part of the group.

Don’t push if they are shy or gush every time they attend. But show how much you like them by letting them talk about themselves and by expressing interest in the things that are important to them.

Hopefully, you will be able to enlist the help of your class or quorum presidencies. Be careful, however, not to make anyone feel like a project to whom you had to assign friends. Nobody likes to feel like someone else’s project.

Three, don’t call attention to the behavior you want to discourage. If these youth attend church regularly, they know how they are expected to behave, no matter what their parents allow them to do. So if a young woman goes to prom in a skimpy dress, or professes to love a vulgar book or brags about the shopping trip she took with her mother last Sunday, you need to remember that she knows perfectly well that her outfit, reading material and Sabbath behavior are contrary to church teachings.

Therefore, before you say anything to her, consider whether your words will only call more attention to the undesirable behavior. It may be more effective to ask her about something positive she has done lately.

Four, don’t neglect the rest of the youth. In every ward there are people with highly visible, deeply rooted problems. And it is easy for every talk, class, activity and leadership meeting to revolve around trying to solve (or at least manage) these obvious problems.

However, even as you try to help the people whose struggles are easy to see, you must also consider the needs of the rest of your class. Everyone has problems and concerns, and everyone needs instruction and attention. So be sure you consider the needs of all of your youth as you plan, teach and watch over them.

Five, teach personal responsibility for their own behavior. When it comes right down to it, you are trying to teach the youth in your organization that they are responsible for their own behavior, no matter what their parents allow them to do.

“My dad said I could,” will not excuse them for showing up late for work or get them out of a speeding ticket. They need to learn that it is likewise no excuse for doing what they know is wrong.

Six, share your experiences. At some point, you decided to be an active member of the Church. Why? Why did you choose this life? Why do you think it’s better than the other choices you had? What are the benefits? What things have you changed from the way you grew up?

In a few short years, each of these youth will have to decide whether they want to be active adult members of the Church, and it may be useful for you to talk with them about why you believe.

Seven, build a positive relationship the parents. Every family has good points as well as shortcomings. Just as you try to welcome and include the youth, you should make an effort to welcome and include their parents. You may learn to appreciate qualities you did not know they had. Or just to appreciate the fact that they come to church regularly, which is better than staying home.

Do you have a quandary, conundrum, or sticky situation in your life? Click this button to drop Cyndie a line, and she’ll be happy to answer your question in a future column. Any topic is welcome!


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About Cyndie Swindlehurst

Cynthia Munk Swindlehurst spent her childhood in New Hampshire and her adolescence in San Diego. She served a mission in Manaus Brazil. She graduated from Brigham Young University with a degree in English and from Duke University with a law degree.

She practiced law until her first child was born. She enjoys reading, tap dancing, and discussing current events. She and her husband live in Greensboro, North Carolina with their two sons.

Cyndie serves as the Sunbeams teacher in her ward.

Visit Cyndie at Dear Cyndie
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