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Image via LDS.org.
There they are, clustered in the hallway. The girls are wearing floor-length chevron-print skirts, and the boys are in another cluster, ties unevenly knotted around their throats. They’re all texting.
“Hi there, Sister Jones,” you say to one of the young women. She looks up and smiles, then goes back to her phone. “Good morning, Brother Smith,” you say to a boy. And you continue on to class. Nice group of kids, you think. Growing up fast.
And it’s true. Before you know it they’ll be off to missions, college, and marriages. At least you hope they will. You’re pretty sure their leaders and parents are doing their part.
But what’s your part? Well, I did say hello.
Let me tell you about two teenagers I recently learned about. Their single mother moved with them from a very small, rural area to a larger town. And the biggest adjustment the teens had to make was to realize that adults in this new, larger ward, never greeted them by name. The teenagers felt invisible.
I am convinced that the greatest good you can do for the youth in your ward is to learn their names. Not their last names, their first names. Every kid knows that when you call him “Brother Smith” it’s because you don’t actually know his first name.
I have felt particularly guilty in this regard, since I’ve been serving in the Relief Society for several years, and haven’t dealt directly with many youth. But this is my Autumn Resolution. Let’s face it: I’m too impatient to wait for the New Year.
When someone greets us by our first name, a barrier comes down. We know that they’re aware of us, and have taken the trouble to find out who we are. There’s an immediate sense of their caring. It feels inclusive. And it’s especially true of young people.
When the youth know that adults in their ward actually care about them, something marvelous happens. They rise to your expectations. They know their circle of friends goes beyond their peers, and they sense your watchcare over them. They smile back, they start conversations with grownups, they grow and mature. They begin to sense their part in the whole picture, and even improve their behavior.
Real conversations can happen when you know someone’s first name. The “How are you doing?” becomes a real question instead of a greeting as you brush by. We find out about someone’s ballgame, tests at school, music recitals, social life. We may even attend some of their big events. We may discover a young person going into our field and be able to mentor them. We can encourage them in their goals, and be another source of strength as we reiterate the gospel standards they’re learning at home. We can laugh with them and build a real friendship.
I once heard that kids need at least two outside sources of value-teaching, beyond their mom and dad. I used to joke that kids think, “If mom said it, it can’t be right,” and therefore need other adults to echo your standards before they’ll really listen. This isn’t always entirely true, but those extra voices certainly help. How much more influence can you have if you know a young person’s name?
It’s often hard to figure out which kid goes with which parents, and remember who’s whom. But it’s an effort all of us should make. Here are ten ways to ensure that we all know these youths’ names:
- Start with the families you Home Teach and Visit Teach, and make sure you know every family member’s name.
- Someone could have a ward assignment to make sure there are photos with every name in the ward phone directory. Then look them up and study them.
- A poster of family photos with names could hang on a bulletin board.
- Simply ask them. Admit you get two sisters confused, and have them clarify it for you. Then practice by using their names when you see them again.
- Stop to talk for longer than a passing hello. You are more likely to remember someone’s name when you can associate it with additional information.
- Pray for help with remembering their names. And then pray for specific youths.
- Makes notes, if necessary. Ask leaders for a list of their names, and then study it, putting two and two together.
- Get involved in their YM and YW activities. If there’s a need for an adult to volunteer in some way, do it.
- Ask their leaders if you can invite them over for a pizza party or an ice cream social, following one of their activities.
- Attend Young Women in Excellence and Scouting Courts of Honor, and get to know these kids and their achievements.
I can only think that our wards will be stronger and will have more unity if we know each other’s names. In this day of so much temptation swirling around our youth we need to rally to let them know they’re loved and cared about. And, while learning their names isn’t always easy, it’s absolutely worth it.