Are LDS Teens Different?

I just spent the weekend with 1,300 teenage boys and girls at a Latter-day Saint youth conference. I am exhausted. I also feel ancient after trying to be hip while hanging out with 16-year-old girls and boys. I felt especially decrepit after Justin Timberlake’s song “Bringing Sexy Back” came on the car radio and one girl yelled, “Oh yes, a classic! This takes me back to 7th grade.”

Really? A classic? Oh man, I’m old.

It was also fun, though, to hang out with teenagers for a weekend while the youth practiced for a dance festival that incorporated more than 10 complicated dances. It was hot. It was a lot of dancing, and there were plenty of reasons to complain.

But, these teens didn’t (at least not loud enough for me to hear). In fact, I think I grumbled more than they did. The theme of their performance was “Arise. Stand. Shine,” and these LDS boys and girls did just that.

I am constantly hearing of how disconnected the teen generation is and how entitled and disaffected teenagers are. But this group of LDS youth shook that stereotype. Of course there are tons of non-LDS teenagers who are wonderful as well, but here’s the traits I found most impressive about these Mormon kids:

  1. They are polite. They say thank you and you’re welcome. They even thanked me for nagging about sunscreen and hydration.
  1. They got the job done. These teenagers didn’t quit, even when the dress rehearsal was a total disaster and it looked like the show was going to bomb. They pushed through even when it wasn’t fun to make the final performance a hit.
  1. They smile. So often I see teenagers looking down at a phone, thumbs a-flying. Or they are looking up, but only to meet me with a glare or a “what-are-you-looking-at?” head tilt. But these LDS youth smiled at each other, at me, at total strangers. Their faces had a light to them that made them appealing and attractive.

Right now I am in kindergarten mode in my house. The teenage years seem far away. But they will come all too fast. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t scared — mostly because if karma has anything to say about it, I have a lot of slammed doors heading my way. So I’m crossing my fingers that my daughters fall into the same category of youth from this weekend. I hope they smile. I hope they say thank you to adults and appreciate leaders who serve them. I hope they stick things out even when it’s tough.

Mostly, I hope my daughters associate with other LDS youth who have the same standards  even when it’s not popular. I hope they arise, stand and shine as happy, grateful youth.

Do you think LDS youth stand out from average teenagers? How? If you have teenagers at home, how do you help them shirk the rude teenager stereotype?

11 comments

  1. Jana Parkin

    I had the exact same experience at Girls Camp this summer. I don’t serve in YW, but was brought on as the camp cook. I was pleasantly surprised, and often amazed: Our girls were happy, helpful and grateful. Girls came up and hugged me and thanked me after every meal. I also noticed what natural leaders they are and how capably they stepped up to whatever was required, whether helping a first-year camper feel comfortable, teaching a lesson, or organizing an event. Not only did they smile, they looked out for each other. They were kind and inclusive.

    I do have teenagers at home, and trust me, they have their teenager moments. But those moments are far outweighed by the good things they do and the good times we share. I have great hope in the rising generation.

  2. Shawnm750

    I don’t feel that LDS teens/kids are any different than those of other faiths (or no faith even.) But, I believe that the LDS church (and others for that matter) understand that to bring out the good traits that Erin highlighted, they have to be engaged personally. They have to be reminded and shown, sometimes with a little prodding, that there’s more to life than their cellphones, what’s on TV and the latest online gossip. Above all, they need to be shown that there are people who care about them, besides their parents. As I’ve worked with youth, I’ve found that entrusting them with some responsibility, and validating their accomplishments is when you really see them shine.

    So are they different by nature? No. We’ve all got the same potential. The difference is the dedication to them by church leaders and members (and of course their parents too.)

    • Shelley

      Well said Shawnm750. These youth face the same challenges that every other teen faces, but because of the love, leadership, great examples that encourage them to “arise, and shine” above the ways of this world and continual redirection they tend to shine brighter as the light of Christ radiates in their eyes. I am thankful for the adults who take the time to encourage them to be their best selves, and see their great potential. As a mother of two teens, and two more coming up, thank you for taking time to be with these great youth.

  3. Day80

    I am LDS, and I have seen the exact teens Erin is talking about. I hope my boys will be that respectful when they grow older. But I don’t think it is JUST LDS, I think it is more a child that is solid in any religion and family. They know there are consequences, they know there are rewards and they know where they can find joy and love. I saw a boy at the free school lunch thingy the other day, by himself, bow his head and say a prayer before eating. I would love to say he was LDS, but I honestly have no idea. LDS or not though, I hope my kids have the faith, love and courage to do what he did.

  4. Paul Vogelzang

    I spoke at a recent YC event, and had numerous follow up emails, chats, texts, etc., of “thanks” for my comments! Very impressive! So polite, attentive, lots of questions, and pleasant.

  5. Mariangel

    I have 2 teen girls at home still. They are a light in the storm for sure. Only the occasional obligatory sour face. When my 16 yr old had her 1st date it happened to be with a non LDS boy. I told her ok only if he comes with you to a church or family activity, not the other way around. So he came with us to a movie, sat in front of me and her little sister! All went just fine. But after, on facebook, he started pressuring her to come to his house to make out. Boy did she get an eye opener! A. Mom immediately found out about the pressure, B. He would do that (pressure her) after she had told him up front she didn’t do those thing. SHE doesn’t WANT to date “any more non-members!” btw, Mom found out about the original disclosure also.

  6. lillittlefield

    I agree with Shawnm750. We as a church are very much engaged with our youth. But I have to say that yes our youth are are just a little different from the rest of the world. Living in the midwest, my teenagers even noticed the difference. Yes, there are many, many youth from other religions that were strong, faithful, caring, and engaged in good works. Many even abstained from tobacco and alcohol. My teenagers were very lucky in finding friends from all walks of life who were much the same. But the one difference is that our youth know the direction they are heading, 5, 10, even 15 years down the road. Not all youth have that direction. Many good youth know that they need to finish high school, then college, but it gets a little murky after that. Our youth are given guidance not only from parents, but youth leaders, Bishops, Stake Presidents, General Authorities, and the First Presidency. They are given an eternal perspective that sometimes eludes people of other faiths. Not only an eternal perspective but very specific guidelines on how to achieve happiness, peace, gratitude and a love for their Heavenly Father. I think it is this “how to” guidance that sets our youth apart.

  7. Texan

    On the one hand, yes. I do believe LDS youth are very special and they do have a light the shines from them. On the other hand, I have also noticed that about youth who are engaged in a good cause or who are engaged in something that requires hard work and dedication on their part–something they are proud of. I have served as a volunteer in my daughter’s high school band and those kids are also very polite, very grateful for anything you do for them and quick to say so, they are also quick to do whatever you ask and many of them are quick to volunteer to help when they see it’s needed. I think a big part of it is, that like our youth, they have parents who are dedicated and band directors who invest a large amount of time in their success.

  8. Ted

    I personally feel that the difference between an engaged, confident, cheerful, respectful teenager and one who is not, comes from the investment their parents make in them, and the principles they apply in that investment. The reason I believe some find an anomalously high percentage of “good kids” among LDS teens is because their parents are more often more invested in them, and they’ve got the support of other adults in their congregations. It’s a formula that would work anywhere, but it’s applied more often in the LDS community…I believe.

  9. Shannon

    I agree with many of the things shared. However, LDS youth will always be different because they have the gift of the Holy Ghost to guide and direct their decisions. There are many factors that makes a person who they are but this is something only righteous church members have.

  10. Morgan

    I certainly hope that you don’t think that “LDS Boys” won’t ever pressure your daughter to make out just because they are active in the church. That is extremely naive. Your type of attitude is what makes it so difficult for non member youth to feel accepted and valued in this community. Nice boys and girls come from all kinds of faiths and backgrounds. So do bad boys and girls. I’m surprised at how judgmental members can be considering that the church teaches us to be the opposite.

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