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Friday, August 27, 2010

Children, Youth, Single Adults -- Not Second Class Citizens or Members

Yesterday's posting dealt with giving youth the attention they need. In today's post I want to talk a little bit more about how we tend to treat young people in society and how that bleeds into our church culture.


Think about your own attendance in Church. Do you walk down the halls and acknowledge everyone you pass in some way or just the adults? Do you tend to consider children as just extensions of their parents? I hope not.


The example we have from Christ is clear. He valued children. He did not allow them to be marginalized or minimized in any way.


Children and youth are not second-class members. Their worth as children of God is the same as adults. In some church's their services are segregated. Young people are confined to a particular area, the balcony for example. Very young children are sometimes not allowed in the regular worship service until they reach a specific age.


As Mormons, there is no segregation in our main worship service -- Sacrament MeetingThis can make for a somewhat chaotic and noisy Sacrament Meeting sometimes. We're used to it though. The other two meetings in our 3-hour block of services do divide up members according to age and gender so that programs can be specifically tailored to their needs.


What concerns me is that generation gaps and norms that still exist in society influence our Church activity, sometimes in unhealthy ways.


I think we need to know the children's name as well as adults. We ought to acknowledge them when we encounter them in the halls, the same as we do adults. There is no reason children cannot receive a printed program of events in their own right.


So many times my siblings and I attended Church without my Mother and we were not given a program because it was only given to parents and adults. This left us badly out of the loop and feeling more lonely and isolated after my Father died.


In a small town I lived in recently a group of youth came to the door requesting donations for a good cause. Being new, I wanted to meet people and get acquainted. I asked them who they were. Not one of the kids gave me their name. They identified their parents and themselves as "John and Mary's kid." I didn't ask who their parents were. I wanted to know who they were.


I've always liked serving in Nursery, Primary or Mutual because I get to know youth as individuals and have little difficulty learning their names. Without serving in these positions I still seek to learn their names but it is more of a challenge. The Church's unit web sites make it even easier.


When I served as my unit's Web Site Administrator I tried to include pictures of everyone. Instead of taking one family picture, I took individual head shots of all family members and merged them into one photo. You can probably imagine how the adult's reacted to having their picture taken. It was the youth reaction that touched me. My approaching them for pictures seemed to have significant meaning to them. I singled them out as individuals and this gave them importance. Knowing their names and addressing them by name also made a huge difference.


Then, they served as important recruiters for me. If I asked them where a sibling or friend was they would hunt them down and retrieve them emphasizing, "Sister Cook is taking pictures."


As a youth, I felt I suffered from stigma attached to my Mother. I was assumed to be like her. What was worse, when my Dad died, I appeared to have no identity at all. I feel I got left out of some things because kids were selected for something exclusive because their father was currently serving in an influential leadership calling. Having no father, I had not identity. No one knew of my personal spiritual commitment or strength. This made me anxious to judge youth in their own right and not because of their parents.


Okay, now young adults. This is an issue near and dear to my heart because I'm so familiar with this age group having been in, and taught, college for so long. In fact, I may be better equipped to understand it than parents. When they leave home for college, I got 'em.


Just a few months after Greg and I got married we had a situation with my oldest step-daughter. I decided to stay out of it entirely because I figured my husband and his ex-wife knew the girl much better than I did and their handling would be more appropriate. They did not need input from me. Privately, I remember thinking, "I don't think that tactic is going to work on a kid that age." Well, it didn't, it backfired badly and what I thought would happen did happen. This and other events helped convince me that I had insights into this age that perhaps they did not. I exerted myself a bit more after that.


As soon as kids hits 18 I think they ought to be treated as adults for all church intents and purposes. I don't think people ought to try and communicate with them through their parents. For example, if you need to interact with a young adult don't ask their parents to have them contact you. Contact them directly yourself. This validates them as an adult, and they are adults for both legal and church purposes. Eighteen year olds are full members in Relief Society and Priesthood. Age designations in the Church largely end at that point.


Let's make certain we don't carry on antiquated generation gaps into informal interactions.

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