So, if you were a Mormon, what would your church and your family be teaching you? The study we’ve been talking about says Mormons do a great job of teaching their teens what their faith community expects from them—but what is that?
The author of the book, Kenda Creasy Dean, says too many churches are just teaching kids a watered-down version of religion, all feel-good stuff and no substance. No one expects anything from them. The Mormons think their teens are smart, brave, and strong and they know the teens can handle whatever is thrown at them as long as they get some support from family, leaders, and friends.
So Mormon teens get it all. We expect a lot of our teens and we don’t waffle. The rule isn’t “Dress modestly when it’s convenient.” The rule is: Dress modestly.
Yeah, the Mormons have a dress code. It’s not a uniform or anything like that. Mormon teens shop at a lot of the same stores you do, although they do tend to have a harder time finding appropriate clothes. They need shirts that cover them up, with no stomach showing and their shoulders covered with at least a cap sleeve. Dresses, skirts, and shorts have to go to the knee. Boys have to wear their shorts that long, too, and can’t have droopy or baggy pants. Both boys and girls are taught to dress modestly, to show respect for the body God gave them.
Going along with that are strict rules about morality. Mormon teens are taught not to drink, smoke, use drugs, swear, or violate the law of chastity. They don’t find these rules keep them from having fun. Mormon teens join school clubs, have hobbies and hang out with their friends, just like anyone else. They listen to music and go to movies—but they choose them carefully to make sure the stuff they’re reading and watching is up to their high standards.
Their faith community also tells them they need to be serving others. Life isn’t all about them. It’s about God and what He wants, and one thing God wants is for us to take care of each other. Mormon teens get a lot of opportunities to do service projects as a group or as a family, but they’re also taught to keep their eyes open for chances to serve other people on their own.
The teenagers know they’re expected to participate in their congregation and their religion, not just show up. The Mormons have a lay church. That means no one gets paid to do all the work, so everyone pitches in to help. Teen boys go around the building after the meetings emptying the trash cans. They also have important roles to play during the service. Both boys and girls can often be found helping single moms with their babies during church, cleaning the church building, or washing the nursery toys. From ages three to twelve, children can be asked to give talks (like little sermons) in their children’s meetings. Teenagers are asked to give talks in the regular service. There isn’t a minister who gives the sermon every week. Members take turns speaking for a short time. Teenagers are asked to speak at least once a year for about five minutes, and all the adults listen and learn from them.
Participating in this way makes them a real part of the church family. When things look nice and are running well, the teenagers know they helped to make that happen. In the same way a teen who helps at home takes pride in his part of the family’s success, Mormon teens also take pride in their part of the church’s success. Just like adults, they pay tithing (ten percent of their earnings) to the Church to carry out God’s work. They go without food or drink for twenty-four hours once a month (missing two meals) and use the time to pray and to grow closer to God.
They’re expected to do more than show up and have fun. They’re expected to be as much of the spiritual community as are their own parents. This is one reason Mormon teens have a stronger commitment to their religion.
Next, we’ll learn what the author has to say about getting a testimony.