Success in Life

My daughter just turned 12, and her new Young Women’s advisor and the  one other Beehive in the ward came over to introduce her to the program, give her a slew of pamphlets, and welcome her to Young Women.

After they left, I read through the Guidebook for Parents and Leaders of Youth that they had left for me. It is a nice little booklet. In the section “Role of Parents” it states:

“Your sons and daughters are children of God who have great potential. Although the Church has many leaders and resources to help them, you as their parents have the primary responsibility to help them succeed. the Church’s programs and materials for youth, described in this guidebook, are designed to assist you as you help your children develop the skills and attributes needed for success in life.”

And that sounds good. But remembering Craig’s piece Bo Knows Heaven, I have to admit that I don’t know what success in life looks like, or if success if life is what God wants most for us.

For the Young Men, there is the Aaronic Priesthood Duty to God Program.

“The Aaronic Priesthood Duty to God program helps young men accomplish the purposes of the Aaronic Priesthood. It helps them develop skills and attributes that are needed to succeed in life.”

This sounds good, but it is vague in that it relies on the unstated purposes of the Aaronic Priesthood and the formulation “to succeed in life.” A bit of clarification comes in the listing of personal goals:

“The young men set personal goals in the following four areas of development: Spiritual Development; Physical Development; Educational, Personal, and Career Development; and Citizenship and Social Development.”

I like that there are two main points of focus here: the self (spiritual, physical, educational, personal and career) and the larger community (citizenship and social).

The overview for Young Women is different.

“The Young Women Personal Progress program helps each young woman understand God’s will for her, encourages her to keep His commandments, and prepares her to make and keep sacred temple covenants. It provides ways for her to contribute to her home now and prepare for future responsibilities as a faithful woman, wife, mother, and Church leader. It prepares her to receive her Young Womanhood Recognition.”

What struck me was how much more specific the young woman’s overview was than the young man’s. It lists specific roles that she is preparing for, speaks of her relationship to God, and points her to the temple. It grounds her in her home and in the Church. Instead of the boys’ dual focus on self and community, we have for the girls three areas of emphasis: the self, family and church. The vague “succeed in life” phrase does not resurface for the girls only group.

I don’t know that one approach is better than another. The nebulous “success in life” desired for our boys may give them the flexibility to find success or it may overwhelm them as a perfect success seems unattainable. I don’t know why contributing to the home and preparing for the role of father is not included in the young men’s list. It seems that a great deal of care has gone into crafting the young women’s list. And while that speaks to the care and concern our leaders have for our young women, that specificity may feel restrictive to some. (Cue Nathaniel’s discussion on gender roles).

So like I say, I don’t know if it is better to be vague or specific in setting out these goals for our youth. I think the best approach will vary from one youth to another, and we must rely on the parents and youth leaders to address each youth individually, as a child of God.


Note: For some reason, I could not find an online copy of this guidebook, even though the title automatically popped up in the search engine. The hard copy I quote here has a copyright of 2001.

25 comments for “Success in Life

  1. “it may overwhelm them as a perfect success seems unattainable.”
    Here’s a vote for this interpretation.

  2. busracer is correct. But at the same time, these purposes, which are stated in the handbook, are not stated in the Duty to God materials. And the handbook still says that it is to be given only to members of ward counsels and not any other person (including youth or parents of youth that are not ward council members). But, given that the handbook is now published online, that restriction is probably obsolete. In fact, the church’s online Aaronic priesthood page addressed specifically to parents quotes the section of the handbook that describes the purposes of the Aaronic priesthood program.

  3. What strikes me is that there are church resources and programs on one hand, and there are parents and family resources on the other. The first may help, the second carries by far the greater burden, responsibility and power. The second is much more likely to succeed, even with the most unruly teenagers. If youth achieve “success,” (whatever that term may mean), it will be due more to parental/family support than any program we can develop.

  4. Thank you for the link. When we include the Aaronic priesthood duties, the focus on family and church becomes much clearer for the boys:

    Young men are in a time of preparation and personal spiritual growth. Accordingly, parents and the bishopric and other Aaronic Priesthood leaders help each young man to:

    1. Become converted to the gospel of Jesus Christ and live by its teachings.
    2. Serve faithfully in priesthood callings and fulfill the responsibilities of priesthood offices.
    3. Give meaningful service.
    4. Prepare and live worthily to receive the Melchizedek Priesthood and temple ordinances.
    5. Prepare to serve an honorable full-time mission.
    6. Obtain as much education as possible.
    7. Prepare to become a worthy husband and father.
    8. Give proper respect to women, girls, and children.
    Parents and leaders help young men accomplish these objectives in family home evenings, family scripture study, meetings, activities, and interviews and by encouraging them to participate in the Duty to God program (see 8.12).

    Young men should not recite these objectives in their meetings or activities.

    This is a more extensive and detailed list, and more comparable to the entry for the Young Women in the guidebook. So why not just include it?

  5. Rachel, interesting. Thanks.

    JKC, when the latest handbooks were published, leaders meetings were held (I believe there was a video broadcast). The leaders were, again, explicitly told not to disseminate the handbooks.

    Within less than two weeks the handbook 2 was online. Given that (1) the handbook clarifies church policy, so is probably not only OK, but GOOD for members to know and (2) they get published online by other people anyway, I couldn’t understand why they didn’t do this years ago.

    Whatever their reason for changing the policy over handbook 2, it’s clear that at the time of PRINTING the policy hadn’t changed.

    [P.S. “Young Women” not “Young Women’s” — somehow that just kills me!]

  6. Fixed it, Alison. I’ve only ever heard people say “Young Women’s.” I think a possessive apostrophe is appropriate if you are abbreviating “the Young Women’s Organization” (or group, or auxiliary or whatever) to just “Young Women’s.” But I can see why it bugs you.

  7. I think the best approach will vary from one youth to another, and we must rely on the parents and youth leaders to address each youth individually, as a child of God.

    Agreed. And, my guess is that is how it plays out with the youth.

    I’m busily raising some “youth” of my own. I can say without reservation that my youth don’t spend too much time worrying about the manual, for better or worse. That’s just not how they learn. My youth learn the definition of success based on the examples of the adults in their lives. Mentors.

    One experiment to test how the youth perceive success: Post various definitions (or maybe pictures) on Facebook and see how many “likes” you get.

  8. I’m nearing the end of life, age wise. It is interesting to read the list Rachel provided in #5. It is a chronological list. The list doesn’t cover aging and the associated challenges, and it shouldn’t. The list focuses on those things young men need to accomplish.

    I like #1 on list:Become converted to the gospel of Jesus Christ and live by its teachings.

    This is a effort that will extend throughout one’s life, but I’ve found it to be, by far, the most important item on the list.

    My church calling for the last three years is to the poor and needy. I meet with people (church members and non-church members) every week who failed, to one degree or another, to do those things on the list. The price that many of them pay is very high.

    There are many reasons the people I work with weren’t able to do the things on the list. But the main point I want to leave in this comment, is that I haven’t come across anyone who did the things on the list because they’re having success in life.

  9. Alison, I totally agree. There is every good reason for the policy change. My sense is that the church not only permits, but encourages members to become familiar with at least certain parts of the handbook, not only by making it available online, but also, for example, by quoting it on pages directed to parents of youth. (I should have provided a link in my earlier comment. Here it is:

    Your explanation that it hadn’t yet changed at the time it was printed makes sense to me, and confirms that the restriction is obsolete. But what I don’t understand is, why not just change that section, at least on the online version? As it stands, the online version still says (somewhat paradoxically) that it is not to be reproduced or distributed. Oh well.

  10. Interesting perspective on policy. It exists in primary, too. Boys have 2 inch thick manuals, girls have 10 pages.

    In practice: My husband is the webelos leader and they have gone on tours of the fire station, police station, a backstage tour of a play on campus, they learn the differences between rights/duties as a citizen, how to plan a family trip (traveler), natural history museum, planetarium, pinewood derbies, etc. They are being taught to act, plan, do and be leaders.

    My 8yo daughter: doll museum, craft, make cookies, learning how to set a table (manners), craft, etc. She is taught to . . . not worry about anything important? (I jest)

    What if my daughter grows up and doesn’t get married? Does she need to be prepared to participate as a full citizen and provider?

    Why can’t we prepare all children of God to succeed in whatever role they find themselves? I personally was spiritually stunted by strict teachings on gender roles. Everything comes crashing down when you think your only purpose is to make babies and then they don’t come after 10 years of trying. When I finally stopped trying to have babies, it was as if HF had been waiting for me to finally bend my will to his – and acknowledge his purposes and missions for me in this life have nothing to do with gender roles – and everything to do with the gifts and talents he’s given me as an individual.

  11. I think part of the issue, Kristine, is that we as a church have chosen to outsource the activities for our boys (at least in the US) through cub scouts and boy scouts. There is a well established program set up, that requires a lot of leaders who are screened and offered training and resources. For the girls, we do it all ourselves. So we make up more things for them, to show them that we care for them and are invested in them. The activity days girls and YW budgets generally are less than the cubs and YM, and would be even if the girls did the same things because they wouldn’t have to pay for the scout resources and awards. But without the structure and expectations of those programs, the girls often don’t get the same opportunity. It’s not an easy problem to address. Do you drop scouting? Is Duty to God enough to replace that? If Duty to God is analogous to Personal Progress, what for the girls is analogous to scouting?

  12. I have seen both programs and Personal Progress looks far more extensive than Duty to God. Presumably because the boys also have scouting awards and they would get a little swamped trying to do everything.

    As for cubs and activity days, really this is so much on the heads of the leaders and how they decide to fulfill their calling. Cubs provides a stronger template than activity days, but frankly I would have to say learning to make cookies well is probably a more valuable life skill than touring a fire station.

    The activity days program, by the way, is what we use for boys as well in places without scouting. In addition to just interesting activities, the girls are to work on the Faith in God requirements. So there is some structure. Whether that is better or worse probably is fairly individual.

  13. “Do you drop scouting? Is Duty to God enough to replace that? If Duty to God is analogous to Personal Progress, what for the girls is analogous to scouting?”

    I found this to be really insightful. It seems to me that scouts used to be the analog to Personal Progress, but the church wanted to have something a bit more LDS-specific than scouts for the boys, hence Duty to God. But I don’t think Duty to God is intended to replace scouts (though it certainly could with some tweaking, and that could be the long game, at least in countries where there is no scouts), but I think the idea, anyway, is that it becomes the heart of the LDS scout program, and the scout activities become a complement to the Duty to God program. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that they called it “Duty to God,” which is the very first principle of the scout oath. At least, that’s how I try to approach it with my deacons.

  14. Presumably because the boys also have scouting awards

    Maybe in some places in the United States; to the best of my knowledge, though, the Church hasn’t adopted any (or, at least, many) foreign Scouting programs. And even in the Church, Boy Scouts aren’t universal—they’re essentially nonexistent in Chicago, for example, at least in the three wards I’ve been in here.

    Since (again, I assume) the Church uses the same Duty to God and Personal Progress throughout the world, overwhelming the boys probably doesn’t sustain its explanatory burden.

  15. Sam,

    I recall a scout member in Portugal, but I have no idea if the two were officially linked.

    Regardless, I seem to recall that at least two of your wards in Chicago were very small, to the point where it would be understandable if scouting was difficult to maintain, especially if leaders lacked interest. Hopefully they then do some more to up the ante for Duty to God or find other ways to engage the YM, given that lack.

    “Since (again, I assume) the Church uses the same Duty to God and Personal Progress throughout the world, overwhelming the boys probably doesn’t sustain its explanatory burden.”

    This is kind of weird. Are you saying that overwhelming just U.S. saints is okay and their needs can’t justify a church decision? Or that you think that in light of the different needs maybe we need a more extensive Duty to God program (or other programs) in non-US wards?

    I guess you could check with those branches and wards and see what they think. The Handbook is pretty explicit that accommodations in local programs can be a good idea.

  16. #4 Old Man – I agree. We sometimes forget that the church programs are there to supplement the efforts of the parents/family. For that reason, I view any perceived imperfections in church programs with a bit of charity. I have plenty on my own plate to deal with as a parent. (That’s not to say that I don’t believe some aspects of church programs can’t be improved).

  17. Frank, one of my wards was really small; the other two, not so much. And Brazil certainly did not have any association with the local Scouting program.

    And I found your assertion a little strange: why privilege the U.S. experience. With 15 million members worldwide, and just over 6 million in the U.S., we aren’t the largest market, as it were. It would make more sense, then, to provide a rigorous program for the boys throughout the world that local units with overwhelmed boys could then cut down.

    I mean, I’m not sure why the experience of U.S. members should be considered the default experience, especially since the Church seems to be moving away from a U.S.-centric focus in so many areas.

  18. The BSA is here to stay (as witnessed by the centennial roadshow last fall). So I’m really hoping for more guidelines for YM leaders on how to balance Duty to God and Scouting.

  19. Having been both a YM, BSA and Seminary Leader now. I see that the Duty to God stuff is nearly identical to each student making a devotional presentation in their seminary class. You Pick a gospel topic, study it out and the present your findings in church. All young Men should have it 100% completed during their first seminary year.

    Leave the Tuesday night stuff to making scouting activities fun and appealing to less active and investigative youth.

  20. We don’t have scouting in the church here in Britain. The boys do Duty to God, and the girls Personal Progress. One of the biggest disconnects for me between the two is that the boys progress every two years, receiving a certificate as they progress through the programme, whilst the girls don’t have that progression (which used to exist in earlier incarnations of Personal Progress) every couple of years. If they want to see their progress acknowledged regularly, then they’re going to have to glut out on and complete a particular value. A funny way of doing things, and not very balanced I feel.
    Also my daughter frequently questions the introduction of the new virtue value, since strictly speaking all the values are virtues, and wishes if they’d meant chastity to simply have labelled it as such instead of abusing the English language. And even then how does it not come under either divine nature or individual worth?
    Oh and the theme reciting. Nooooooo!
    I don’t know if the boys have to recite a theme in the scouting programme where it exists, but as there is no scouts here, they do no such thing in this country. I really dislike the recitation of theme. Toe curling.

  21. Sam,

    1. If the Church decides to extend the Duty to God program, I’m A-OK with that. It is not my call. Is that something there is demand for? Just because the YW have a more extensive program does not automatically make a more extensive DtG program optimal. Apparently in your area they aren’t even doing the scouting, so I am curious if you think they would then jump in to this other program you envision.

    2. As far as numbers, the relevant figures for thinking about what should be the “default” are how many youth there are, not how many members. Given the demographics of conversion, U.S. youth may well still constitute more than half of the youth who attend a midweek activity program, for example. Even if that is true, surely it is changing, so we may see more changes to DtG in the years to come as more of the youth are outside the U.S. and have no scouting ties. The DtG program has already been beefed up once, after all. It can likely be done again.

    3. One advantage scouting has is that it is one of the areas where the local unit is most consistently asked to be involved in their community around them. A DtG program does not really foster that as well.

  22. I hope making cookies isn’t a more valuable life skill than learning about how my community works and career exploration . . . otherwise my life is an epic fail because 1) I make cookies 4 times per year, usually under duress and 2) can’t make a batch without burning half.

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