Most of us, if asked, “Are you smarter than a 5th grader?” would not deliberate very long before responding, “I sure hope so,” or “I’d better be.” On the other hand, if we were asked, “Are you smarter than a prophet?” our response would likely be, “No chance. The prophet has God giving him the answers.”
Therefore, it is confusing when good, active Latter-day Saints deliberately implement a plan that is in defiance of a prophet. If a prophet said, “Take the Eastern path up the mountain or you’ll encounter an avalanche,” and for some reason I got stuck on the Western Route, I’d have a panic attack. There is so much safety in following a prophet, it’s a true dare-devil that tackles the Western Route.
Recently such dare-devils have asserted they know more than the prophets do about teenagers and dating. They claim, “Sure the prophets have told us not to let our teenagers go steady, but I think it’s better for teenagers to be tested when they are still living in their parents’ house. This way their parents can influence them, monitor them, and be there for them if they make a mistake.”
Youth typically push the boundaries we set for them. When the speed limit is 55 mph they go 65. If the speed limit is 75 they will go 80. Therefore, the lower we set the speed limit, the safer their behavior will be.
If parents believe they have the ability to influence their teenagers not to “mess up” (a euphemism for breaking the law of chastity), why don’t parents believe they can influence their teenagers to avoid steady dating relationships? If we truly have influence, why are we so afraid to set the speed limit at a nice safe speed?
Sometimes parents think they have influence but what they really have is power. The ability to punish isn’t influence, it’s power. While a child truly will respond to a good influence, he will often try to circumvent power. Parents who exert power to elicit compliance will find than when they no longer have power, their children will no longer comply. The child will find ways to break the rules without getting caught, rather than complying with the rules because he understands and respects them.
If a parent truly has influence when a youth is living at home, he will still have influence when he moves out. Just because our children don’t live with us anymore doesn’t mean they suddenly think we are clueless. A parent who truly has the ability to influence his children while they are living in his home will still have that ability after the child is gone from under his parents roof.
The Effect of Monitoring
Monitoring a child to make sure they don’t make mistakes takes the responsibility for good behavior off their shoulders and puts it on the shoulders of the parents. While this is certainly necessary when a child is young, parental monitoring should be less and less necessary as the child gets older so that by the time the child is an adult and leaves the home (usually at age 18) the child has the ability to monitor himself.
Parents cannot be everywhere, and by the time a child is a teenager, they can find an infinite number of ways to circumvent a parent’s monitoring. There is no way to corral a teenager who refuses to monitor himself. They are too smart, too clever, and too capable. By the time a teenager is old enough to date (at 16) you better hope he doesn’t need constant monitoring, because there is no possible way to provide it.
The idea that a parent can keep his teenagers from breaking the law chastity by monitoring them is naive. If a teenager wants to disobey he will find a way. The surest protection is to help the teenager set his own goals and give him the appropriate tools to reach his goal. He may desire to keep the law of chastity, but unless he knows that physical intimacy leads to emotional intimacy, he will not have all the tools necessary to reach his goal.
The chances of our teenagers “messing up” if they avoid steady dating relationships are miniscule compared to the chances when in a steady dating relationship. This teaching is a vital tool for helping a youth reach his goal.
Catching Those That Fall
Of course parents want to be available to help their youth if and when they make mistakes. But why assume that certain mistakes are inevitable? Why design the rules so that the youth will fall, and will need to be picked up?
We must have the faith that if we follow the prophets it will protect our youth from falling. President Hinckley, President Benson, and President Packer are just a few of the prophets who have specifically counseled our youth not to go steady prior to their missions. Elder Larry Lawrence of the Quorum of the Seventh said in 2010 October General conference, “Parents can prevent a lot of heartache by teaching their children to postpone romantic relationships until the time comes when they are ready for marriage. Prematurely pairing off with a boyfriend or girlfriend is dangerous. Becoming a “couple” creates emotional intimacy, which too often leads to physical intimacy.”
Sometimes we have more faith in our own parenting then we do in the word of God. Because we think we can influence our youth, and because we monitor so thoroughly, we become dare-devils and scale a mountain against prophetic advice.
It is dangerous to try and second-guess the prophets, as we might not know all the reasons they provide certain counsel. We may think prophets counsel youth to avoid steady dating specifically to avoid immorality. However, the counsel to avoid steady relationships in high school is about more than avoiding immorality. It is about helping our youth avoid bad relationship habits, habits that are inevitable when youth that are too young to be in exclusive relationships, enter one prematurely.
The parents who allow their youth to learn from their own experience while still in their parents home, somehow believe this will protect the youth from having bad experiences once they leave their parents’ home. Research has shown that bad relationships lead to bad relationships. Good relationships lead to good relationships. It makes no sense that bad relationships lead to good relationships, even if the parents are there to pick up the pieces when they fail.
In addition to having faith in our prophets we need to have faith in our youth. They are capable of doing great things. We need not be afraid to raise the bar. Our youth will do great things if we expect them to, and they will struggle if we don’t believe in them.
We can help our youth believe in themselves, believe that they, indeed, can do great things, when we show our faith in them.
JeaNette Goates Smith is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and the author of Unsteady Dating: Resisting the Rush to Romance and UnSteady: What Every Parent Absolutely Must Know About Teenage Romance, both available at www.amazon.com