Caren McLane has a Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree in Community Health Education from BYU. She met her husband, Todd, in her freshman year while at BYU. They are the parents of 5 children and live on a 4-acre “hobby farm” with chickens, cows, and dogs. She volunteers at the library and hospice and has blogged since 2014. Caren has served in a variety of callings in the Church and is currently serving as the JustServe coordinator in her Montana Ward.

Enter Caron…

I grew up in the 80s as a rule follower; it felt comfortable and safe to know exactly what was expected and where the lines were. Our booklet of standards was a source I could turn to with confidence for answers about behavior and conduct and dress; easy, concise, not up for debate.

But as I became a mother, I aligned my parenting style with a more “think for yourself” philosophy. I never wanted to impose a set of rules even with things as straightforward as bedtimes and to-the-minute curfews. We whole-heartedly embrace Joseph Smith’s idea to teach correct principles and let them govern themselves. So the revised “For the Strength of Youth” booklet resonates with us; it’s what we’ve tried to teach and lead with our whole time as parents.

The ”Why” Behind the Doctrine

I believe kids want doctrine and to know the “why” behind the things we’re asked to do. Just as I believe they want autonomy, freedom of expression, and to be able to choose for themselves. There’s talk these days about fence laws, and I feel like that’s what previous standards were. But without having this idea explained, focus inevitably remains on the do’s and don’ts rather than the principles.

The new booklet is clarifying in that regard, reminding us of the “higher laws,” including the Ten Commandments, that will help us be safe from unnecessary hardship and pain. His laws are always given in love from a perfect vantage point. But we need to teach and remind our children not only what they are but why they are.

A Social Foundation

In my mind, this guide is a to provide a solid foundation and to prepare us for life. Not every situation we’ll face today and, in the future, will have a clear answer or a rule, and not every family or even child needs the same fence laws because our personalities, backgrounds, situations, and circumstances are so different.

This new way of teaching is an excellent exercise in learning to respect others’ decisions and conclusions and in being ok with everyone doing it a little differently. I so appreciate the confidence our leaders are showing in us by blessing us with the autonomy to think for ourselves, to govern ourselves, to break away not necessarily from old-fashioned standards but from having the thinking done for us.

God’s Has Not Changed His Mind

I actually don’t believe God has changed His mind on any of the previous standards. I think He would still encourage us to wait to date until we’re older and in high school. I know He still would like us to dress in ways that create confidence and reflect who we are. I know He wants us to be intentional with our entertainment and relationships, of course.

But I know He is eager to interact with us individually. Not only because the details of our lives vary in a worldwide Church, but because He desires that we have personal and direct experiences of our own.

Feeling Empowered

The phrase “inspired choices” feels like He wants to be a part of our decisions, that there are some very personal issues He’d like to weigh in on. I’ve loved the discussions with our daughter about formal dresses, suggesting she pray to find those that will work for her. “I already have,” has been her common refrain, and as parents we honor that. I’ve prayed as I’ve worked to make alterations we can both be satisfied with, and she’s felt heard, validated, and free to work through it with her own discretion enhanced by the Spirit.

I feel how empowering that is to both have the freedom and the accompanying responsibility to communicate directly with God about whatever questions, concerns, or issues they might have. And I love the idea of making Jesus our standard, of asking ourselves what we can do to more align ourselves with the way He lived and to show that we are His followers.

Engaging With the Spirit

In making this transition from specific guidelines to now opening it up to personal inspired discretion, how do we teach?

I believe our leaders—and our Heavenly Father—want us to engage with the Spirit, to take the Holy Ghost as our guide. But we can help facilitate that as we teach principles and the “whys” behind what our personal and family guidelines could be.

Inspired Conversations

Family Home Evening, Sunday discussions, dinners, and travel can all be times to discuss pertinent and current issues. Use current youth firesides, magazines, conference talks, messages from our general leaders, and videos to augment or begin conversations.

Share real scenarios from school, activities, work, the news, and your community and discuss how to discern the situations, how to decide how to handle what’s going on.

Parents can have kids weigh in regarding their own questions, helping them see how God’s standards still pertain and guide them even as they grow up and into adulthood, which is why we can’t have a booklet describing every situation we may encounter. Discuss current issues, future consequences, and blessings, and how today’s decisions can affect us so much longer than we can see.

For good or bad.

Discuss what might be behind our leaders’ and God’s directives.

  • What’s the science behind the admonition to wait until teens are a little older to date?
  • Why is it important to be more mature?
  • What about exclusive pairing off?
  • What is the purpose of dating?
  • What are our leaders hoping for us?
  • What are they cautioning us about?
  • Why is that?
  • What are they seeing that maybe we might not know at our younger age?
  • How does who we interact with or what we entertain ourselves with affect us long-term?
  • What do studies on the brain tell us?
  • Why do we refer to each other as brother or sister in the Church?
  • How does that impact our relationships?
  • How should we treat others and show respect with that reality about our identity in mind?

How Does the Holy Ghost Work

Teach them that He will give them specific ideas, even websites, names of people, where to look for jobs. Even when it feels like their own idea, teach them that’s how He works, to act on it. Teach them to seek that which uplifts, inspires, and invites the Spirit. Teach them to pay attention to how they feel. Do you question what you’re wearing, watching, reading, attending, or listening to? Why do you think that is? Could the Holy Ghost be nudging you to make a change?

Teach them to consider the future. How do today’s choices impact future choices or abilities or happiness? Is something we’re doing today going to  limit tomorrow’s experiences? Why are we counseled to keep our bodies healthy and pure? Why is it so valuable to gain an education and training?

The Peace of Aligning With God

Focus on the peace, security, steadiness, power, and true happiness that comes from aligning ourselves with God. And share your experiences with this. Remind them that He knows everything. He knows exactly how to have the most fun, the least amount of worry and pain, the best relationships, the healthiest situations. He knows what it feels like to be a teen in today’s world and what the temptations, distractions, and challenges are and will be.

Choosing True Happiness

But He also knows that with the Holy Ghost, our youth are able to navigate these years with confidence and joy. He wants them to know He trusts them. That He is their ally, their confidant, their Father. Teach them how you’re learning these things, how you’ve been blessed by aligning your life with the teachings and life of Christ. Share with them the true joy you’ve experienced as you’ve trusted in and relied on His strength. And how by choosing to have Him as our guide, we are choosing true happiness.

How do we help leaders

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