The benefits of the youth program

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The benefits of the youth program

Post by azflyer » Thu Dec 21, 2017 8:35 am

Last night, I went to pick up my son from his Young Men scouting activity. The scoutmaster had all the deacons seated in his driveway around a fire pit. I only caught the last 10 minutes of the evening. The scout master had given all of the young men the opportunity to share whatever was on their mind. Most of the comments were related to bullying and how it can really hurt people and what each of them can do to better care for their friends at school.

Two of the boys tearfully shared how they had cousins that had attempted to take their own lives (one successfully, one not). They both broke down crying as they talked about this. I was very impressed with the courage these two 12 year old boys both displayed in front of a group of their peers and their leaders as they tearfully pleaded with their friends to make sure they can find a way to show love and respect to everyone, even people that do things they don't agree with.

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Re: The benefits of the youth program

Post by Jeffret » Thu Dec 21, 2017 9:35 am

The Mormon youth program can be pretty impressive and effective, when it works right. Not a lot of other churches have anything like it. Or other secular groups. Though there are some reasonable comparisons.

The Catholic parish that hosts my scout troop doesn't have anything like it. Our troop operates as a scout troop, which serves anyone including members of the parish. I think we do a pretty darn good job of scouting, but we're not a religious arm of the church. When filling out the Eagle Scout application, one of the entries is for a religious leader who can give you a letter of recommendation. When going over this recently with one of my scouts, who happens to be Catholic, he and his dad couldn't really think immediately of someone to fill that role. As his dad said, "We're Catholics. We go to mass, we sit there for a while, and then we leave. Nobody really knows my son individually."

The Presbyterian church that hosts our Roundtable, the BSA Order of the Arrow, and other things, provides tons of community outreach and supports community groups. They do have a youth program, but it's nothing near the dedication and involvement of the Mormon youth programs.

The UU congregation I attended for a while does have a youth program and dedicated advisers and ministers. It doesn't necessarily have the same level of involvement and dedication as Mormon youth groups. One big difference is that Mormon groups tend to be inwardly focused whereas the UU groups tend to be more outwardly focused. They tend to have more engagement in the broader community and in issues of the day. Another big difference is highlighted on the local UU's website, "Our programs for middle school and high school are focused on fostering leadership and spirituality with youth, and building communities wherein all youth are affirmed, empowered, and spiritually nourished."

The Mormon programs are great when they work right, and when they work right for the particular youth. The discussion on bullying that azflyer recounts is powerful and great. But there can also be a lot of institutional and social bullying in the Mormon church, if the youth doesn't fit the required mold. If they're gay, lesbian, bi, or transgender, or if their parents are, they can be subjected to lots of institutional and social bullying. Or feminist. Or female, for that matter. Or a number of other things.

But, when they do work right, there is a lot of valuable community power in the Mormon congregation and the Mormon youth programs. The fact that our scouts choose to participate in our troop gives us some good advantages, but the fact that everyone in the ward is expected to participate provides some advantages in Mormon youth groups. And some big disadvantages. The support for the youth groups by the Mormon community is substantial. There are significant aspects of that which are almost impossible to replicate in non-Mormon troops. (But still I much prefer the non-Mormon ones.)

In some ways, we've missed the Mormon sense of community, especially for the youth. It can give you a sense of belonging and people who care (at least nominally), which can be powerful, especially for the youth. In some ways, we particularly miss not having the community support for our kids. But, overall we're very glad we separated ourselves and kids from the demands and expectations of that environment. Our kids aren't expected to bully and despise people who are different or to be subjected to constant teaching that boys are superior and dominant and girls are submissive. And other community groups are not as dedicated and intense, but they're more welcoming of differences and challenging to the status quo.
"Close your eyes, for your eyes will only tell the truth,
And the truth isn't what you want to see" (Charles Hart, "The Music of the Night")

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