In a book about teens and religion, author Kenda Creasy Dean, who is not Mormon, argues that the Mormons are on to something in the way they treat their teenagers. She found Mormon teens were, as a whole, more connected to their religions than other teens.
One point made was that teenagers need to have goals. The author said many teens are confirmed around age twelve and then, having finished the last goal, they can drop out. Mormon teens are confirmed at age eight, but then they have a long list of goals they still need to finish, goals lasting an eternity.
Teen boys have Boy Scouts, so they have a lot of goals to fulfill. The girls have a special program created just for them that also has goals to complete each year. When the girls finish, they’re asked to work with younger girls to help them through the program. They check off what they accomplish and can even work with their mothers, who can also earn the award with their daughters. The daughters and mothers can sign off on each other’s accomplishments. These goals help them learn to live their religion and to prepare for adulthood.
But high school doesn’t put an end to the goals Mormon kids are expected to meet. Young men can go on two year missions at age nineteen and women can go on eighteen month missions when they are twenty-one if they aren’t married. They go at their own expense as volunteers and spend the time teaching others about their religion and serving as needed in the communities where they are sent. For the length of their missions, they don’t date and they stick to a strict schedule, and yet they usually find it is a highlight of their life, a time when they really grow up and gain a testimony. They begin preparing for this long before they go, and most teens are working hard to become someone who is morally clean and hard-working enough to be allowed to go on a mission.
And there is more. Mormon teens are asked to begin preparing for marriage. To do this, they agree to stay morally clean in their personal lives and their relationships. They learn the skills they need to take care of a home and children. They learn how to be a good husband or wife. It’s hard work to get ready for adulthood, and it takes most of your life to do it well. Since you cannot marry in the temple unless you are morally clean and marry someone else who is Mormon and morally clean, they must gain their testimonies early and make choices that are different from those their friends might be making.
All of this requires them to decide how much their religion means to me and how much they are willing to give God. Are they going to treat Him like an elderly relative you have to visit every Sunday and forget about, or are they going to put Him into the center of their lives? Mormon teenagers have a lot asked of them—they are considered mature and responsible enough to gain a testimony and to act on it. It is so much easier to do all those things when you have a testimony and know, really know, that what God has promised you in exchange is worth it.
Some goals Mormon teens are asked to set and carry out are meant to help them succeed during their lifetime. Others are meant to help them make it back to God and to have a great eternity. Eternity is a long time and most Mormon teens want it to be as wonderful as possible.
If you want to learn to set your own eternal goals, first think about who you want to be when you stand in front of God. Do you want to be a shallow, self-centered person who spent her mortality having fun and “feeling good” about yourself, or do you want to be someone who spent her life developing her talents, serving others, and learning to have self-control? Those things can be fun and can make you feel good about yourself, but they are focused on God and on other people, not on yourself.
Once you know who you want to present to God, decide what needs to change in your life to make that happen. If you spend a lot of time having fun in ways that don’t matter in the long run, add one new meaningful activity to your life. If you don’t treat your family well, set a goal to spend more time with your parents and playing with your younger siblings. If you find you aren’t doing well in school, set a goal to study harder and to get help as needed. Pick one goal, the most important one for becoming more Christ-like and then set smaller goals.
If your big goal is to get along better with your family, you’ll need more specific goals in order to get it done and to get it done right. You might set these three goals:
- Every day I’ll spend at least fifteen minutes telling my parents about my day and every week, I’ll ask them for advice on something that matters to me.
- I will play with my little sister every evening before she goes to bed.
- I will take over making dinner every Tuesday so my mother can have a break.
These are very specific goals that outline how often you’ll do something, when it will be done, and what it will accomplish. The more specific the goal is, the more likely you’ll be to carry it out.
Don’t forget to plan goals that help you be an active around-the-clock Christian, such as praying or reading the Bible. Take time to get to know God. The better you know Him, the more you’ll long to make Him proud of you.
Mortality isn’t just about you.