Junior Ganymede
We endeavor to give satisfaction

The Young Women’s Program of the Mormon Church

January 21st, 2014 by G.

father-and-teenage-daughter-using-laptop-at-homeA good man I know has been investigating the Church. He has daughters who are getting close to that age. One in particular is going on twelve. So he asked me about the church experience for a young woman. Because its a concern of his, he especially asked what his daughters would be taught about chastity and marriage. Here is my response. For readers with knowledge, please add anything you see fit in the comments. Readers with questions on the subject are welcome to ask them in the same place.

Brother X, excellent questions. Like the man said about being hanged, I find that the prospect of having your daughters’ grow up focuses the mind wonderfully. I have four girls myself, so its something that I think about a lot. When I was the ‘Young Men’s President,’ i.e., maybe comparable to a youth pastor for the boys ages 12-18, that was something I thought about a lot, about teaching them to be men like the kind of man I would be happy for my daughters to marry. It is one of the main reasons why I hate Game so much. Though they teach a lot of truth and sense, they bottom line is that I wouldn’t want one of those guys within a hundred yards of any daughter of mine. They’d be about as welcome as a plague bacillus. By their fruits shall ye know them.

By the same token, what girls know and learn is life-changing. If a girl is socialized to peddle herself, she could be mired in misery for the rest of her life. Taught right, her feet are set on the path of abundance in this life and for all the ages of the life to come.

couple-SL-temple-in-distance1

So, on to your girl. When she’s twelve, she’d join the Young Women’s program. Normally its split into three age levels, Beehives ages 12-13, Mia Maids ages 14-15, and Laurels ages 16-17. Depending on the size of your local congregation, though, it may just be combined into one group.

Leadership would nominally be provided by the girls themselves. At each level, the Bishop would call on one the girls to be the president of her group. She would then be expected to call two counselors and a secretary, to meet the normal Mormon pattern for a presidency. She would be formally set apart by the Bishop. She would then nominally be expected to lead the meetings of her group on Sundays, do planning for activities, and coordinate and conduct outreach efforts to members of her group who aren’t attending services or who otherwise have some spiritual need for help. In reality a significant portion of this would be done by the women advisors who were assigned to work with the Young Women’s program, especially at the younger ages. This girl would also be expected to meet with the bishop and with the presidents of the other Young Men’s and Young Women’s groups once a month to discuss how the youth in their congregation are doing. It is very likely that at some point your daughter would be either the president of her young woman’s group or one of the counselors. The advisors would be several adult women, organized as a “Young Women’s Presidency,” often in their 20s or 30s, who typically form a pretty close relationship with their girls. My wife still keeps in touch with her Young Women’s president and had a very formative experience when they went as a group of girls to the Mt. Timpanogas Temple as it was being built and wrote promises to be married within the walls of the temple which were then literally placed in the unfinished walls of the temple’s bridal room and sealed up there.

Your daughter’s young woman’s group would meet for one hour every Sunday as part of the three-hour block of meetings we do (1+ hour for congregational worship, what we call the Sacrament meeting, where we do the equivalent of communion, sing hymns, and have sermons; 1- hour for Sunday School, segregated by age but not by sex, and 1 hour for Young Women’s, Young Men’s, Relief Society (the adult women), and Priesthood (the adult men)). In that hour she’d recite the Young Women’s theme with the other girls and have a lesson on a gospel topic. If able, at times she would be expected to present all or part of the lesson depending on her capabilities and how shy she was. At least one of the woman advisors would be present to smooth things out and help and guide the lesson/discussion. The topics of the lesson would include discussions on marriage and family and injunctions to stay chaste until marriage. See the August lesson topics for example. She would also be reminded that Virtue, including chastity, was one of the Young Women’s values. It would not be unusual for the bishop to give a chastity talk to the Young Women’s once every year or so. If not him, one of the woman advisors almost certainly would. While this talk is unlikely to be grossly anatomical, it would not be unusual for the talk to include a flat statement that sex, stimulation of the genitalia, touching of genitalia or of breasts, whether above or under the clothing, kissing of the neck, and masturbation are sinful, and that the testing the waters with some of the more minor sins, like masturbation or kissing or touching, unleashes powerful feelings that are difficult to control and likely lead to more serious sin. The level of directness would be calibrated to the age of the group. They would certainly be told that if they have done any of these things, they must and can repent by discussing the matter with the bishop. They will also be told that any of these sins will prevent them from attending the temple or from being married in the temple until they have repented, and that sexual immorality can be a prolonged and painful process to repent of, though ultimately very worth it. The individual teaching these truths will be trying to strike a difficult balance between encouraging anyone who already has sinned to repent and discouraging people from taking sin and repentance lightly.

Your daughter would also be given a pamphlet called “For the Strength of Youth” that she would be asked to review and carry with her. It contains a number of Church standards, including on sexual purity, dressing modestly, limiting music and dancing to exclude degrading versions of those arts, and dating. She will be encouraged to date, but not before she turns 16, and then preferably in groups and not exclusively or seriously until they are older. (The wise parent may also wish to advise their daughter that they shouldn’t be expected to be asked out the moment they turn 16). Likewise, she will be encouraged to avoid making out. Sweet Sixteen and Never Been Kissed is a good thing. The standards in this pamphlet will be discussed and amplified perhaps at a special evening presentation called a Standards Night, but certainly in the Sunday lessons and at other opportunities. The amplification would consist of, for instance, putting some clarification into what constitutes modesty. While that can vary from region to region, depending on local circumstances, in the West a typical standard would be encouraging the girls to only wear clothing that would be consistent with wearing temple garments, which they don’t wear yet but should be prepared for. In other words, no bare midriffs, no plunging necklines, nothing sleeveless, and shorts or dresses that reach at least to the vicinity of the knee. They will also be told that the prophets have warned against tattoos, extreme hairstyles and extreme hair coloration, and multiple piercings.

In her Young Woman’s time, she will be explicitly told that the object of the program is to prepare her for marriage and motherhood, and possibly a mission, but certainly marriage and motherhood, which is her divine destiny.

Besides the Sunday hour, her young women’s group will meet about once a week for an activity. This can range the spectrum from, say, rock-climbing to make-up tips to volunteer service to practicing being a missionary. The activities should be adjusted to the interest and abilities of the group. Once a month, this activity will be with all the other young women and the young men. Occasionally this “joint actvity,” as it is called, may be something quasi-date like, such as a dinner they are expected to dress up for and practice manners and etiquette.

Depending on the number of Mormons in your area, there would typically also be a dance every month or so for the youth ages 14 and up from your congregation and from several nearby congregations. There would be lots of chaperones, strict standards for modest dress, and controls on the music played. The youth will occasionally complain that the dances aren’t much fun as a result.

There would also occasionally be a “fireside,” an evening chat/seminar/presentation with the youth from the congregation or with the youth from several congregations, led by an adult, and addressing some spiritual topic. The Standards Night I mentioned above is an example.

Depending on how close you are to a temple, your daughter and the other youth in your congregation would go to the temple to be baptized vicariously for the dead at least once a year or so. Before they do, they would be interviewed by the bishop concerning their personal worthiness. They would be asked a fixed set of questions, the same ones the adults are asked, regarding their belief in God, Christ, the restored Gospel, and regarding their moral behavior, including whether they ‘live the law of chastity.’ As a rule, bishops handle these matters very sensitively. They don’t press for details and once the confession is made focus on testifying to the penitent of the power and reality of the atonement, showing love and consolation, educating on the commandment that was broken and the blessings associated with it, and of exploring ways and means of avoiding future sin.

Once a year, your daughter and the other youth from the congregation and nearby congregations will do a ‘Youth Conference,” which is something like a several day Mormon summer camp without necessarily staying the night. There would be speakers on spiritual topics, service opportunities, a dance or two, fun activities and games, icebreakers and get-to-know-yous, and so on. I don’t recall for sure, but I think this may be only for the youth 14-and-up. In recent years its been pretty popular to substitute a handcart reenactment trek for the Youth Conference. Our stake (as you know, a stake is an ecclesiastical grouping of several local congregations, very roughly equivalent to a diocese) has done two in the last decade. I highly recommend the experience.

Your daughter will also be told about an achievement/award program called Personal Progress. If she meets the requirements, she is awarded a Young Women’s Medallion at the end of her time as a Young Woman, in front of the whole congregation. Many Mormon women wear theirs with pride. The program focuses on the virtues that are part of the Young Women’s theme, so part of her Personal Progress work will include studying the doctrines of chastity and marriage and setting goals and writing in her journal about them, stuff like that.

Finally, you, as a parent, would be expected to have some participation with her. There would probably be a daddy-daughter date every year or so, there would probably be a yearly kick-off and recognition event that the parents would be expected to go to, you would probably be asked to help with the occasional activity or dance or temple trip, and you would be expected to assist your daughter in preparing for the lessons she is supposed to teach or participate in, in enforcing the LDS standards in your home, in taking the lead on teaching her the doctrine and standards (church teaching is conceived as a supplement to the parents’ instruction in the home), and helping her get to her activities and to church.

This is all from my own experience in several different LDS congregations around the United States. Local circumstances may make for some changes, especially if your local congregations are smaller and more spread out. The LDS handbook for running a Young Women’s program is online here and looking at it I see that a lot of what I’ve said is just a simplification of what is said there. I also notice that I overlooked girls’ camp, which is a memorable experience for lots of Young Women.

My general impression is that our world today, in the guise of helping women, actually makes it hard for them to lead happy and fulfilled lives. The Church’s programs offer outcomes that are light-years betters.

Comments (12)
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January 21st, 2014 15:44:41
12 comments

Lon
January 21, 2014

The only thing I would have added would have been to bring up the opportunity to speak to the entire ward(congregation) on a schedule whose frequency is also dependant upon the number of youth in the ward.


Adam G.
January 21, 2014

Good point, Lon.

Unless you have a huge ward with a massive number of youth, your daughter will certainly be asked at some point to deliver a short sermon (5 minutes or so) during the sacrament meeting. It won’t be as intimidating as it sounds, because she will have seen most of her peers do it to.


Jelaire
January 21, 2014

I grew up LDS, and the friends I made in the Young Women program had a huge influence on my life and my decisions. At that age, they meant almost everything to me — especially at that crucial time in my life when I was seeking guidance and direction, and was starting to get to that point where I didn’t want to ask my parents their thoughts on things, or share with them my innermost thoughts. That group of girls basically became my go-to friends for problems because I knew they weren’t going to pressure me into doing anything I (or my parents) would regret. They became my lifeline, in a sense, especially during my high school years.

Your daughters will be in great hands, with the leaders and girls she’ll meet. Those girls will be thrilled to have a new friend in the group and will open her with open arms! I remember when I was twelve, we had a pretty small group of girls — about 6 or so. So the group of us prayed and fasted (where you abstain from food/drink for 2 meals as a way of asking for a special blessing from God) for more girls to move into our ward (congregation within geographical boundaries). Well, one month later, a family with four girls moved in — and the ones around my age even played soccer — which made me even more excited! :) We had lots of chances to learn about leadership in many of the activities we did at Church, and during the weeknight activites. We felt like a big ol’ family! Even today, we still call and keep in touch with each other, room with each other at college, go to each others’ weddings, ask for advice, and visit each other when we get the chance.

As for my most favorite part of the YW program, I’d say it was our annual Stake Girl’s Camp. It is a 5- or 6-day-long camp for all the young women in the stake (or sometimes just your ward), which was about 150 girls for our Stake. We stayed in cabins, and weren’t allowed to have electronics. The week was filled with a mix of learning outdoor Boy Scout-type skills (firebuilding, CPR, orienteering), fun outdoors activities (archery, rifle shooting, canoeing, rock climbing, hiking), and little devotionals every morning or night where one of the girls or leaders will share a verse from the scriptures and how it has helped them. One of the nights is a talent show where the girls get to show off their funny or serious talents. One year, my friend and I sang a popular pop song while inhaling helium balloons! One of the nights is also a testimony meeting, where we’d all sit around a big campfire, and it was open mic night for any of the girls who wanted to share their convictions about God, or how they came to know he was real, or that he answered their prayers, or on any other gospel principle. Those testimony meetings at Girl’s Camp were pivotal in my firmly deciding to stay on the path God had for me, rather than venture off onto paths that many of my other friends from school were exploring.

In short, I think your girls will become better friends, better sisters, and better future wives and mothers for their experiences in the YW program.

Good luck, and let us know how things go for you and your daughters!


Nick Galieti
January 21, 2014

I want to start out saying that while I am a father of five girls, none of them have made it to the age of “Young Woman.” However, one will be entering the program around September. Aside from making me feel old, my daughter entering this program gives me a comfortable support system that I don’t know where else I could find something similar to the Young Women’s program of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In a time and world where shifting values and an decrease in responsibility for one’s actions, even a decrease in individuals being self-motivated in many aspects of life, I see the Young Women’s program as a way to be a second witness to what I try and instill in the home to combat such influences.

It is hard enough for some teenagers to feel part of a society and culture, to have an identity that is good and upstanding, and to not feel like they are the only one wanting to live a moral life, or even picked on for keeping such standards. Young Women’s programs can be just such a place for my daughters to feel like what they might see glorified on TV or movies isn’t necessarily the best way to live life. I haven’t spent the last 11 years of being a parent to take a chance on their difficult teenage years. I see my daughter’s inclusion in the Young Women’s program as an essential part of her progression into womanhood, into independent spirituality, and into upstanding citizenship.


Geoff B
January 21, 2014

I have two daughters who have gone through the YW program, and they enjoyed everything about it. Most of all, it is nice for them to see other young women who do not get their moral direction from the Miley Cyruses of the world but instead get their moral direction from positive role models who concentrate on school and making good moral choices. My girls love girls’ camp, they love all of the stake dances, they love the friends they have made. What a huge advantage it is for young women to have this program as they grow up.


Joyce Anderson
January 21, 2014

A word about Personal Progress. I am currently redoing this, as a 40-something year old woman. It is a very insprired program designed to help establish gospel habits of prayer, scripture study, and church attendance. Each of the 8 Young Women values has an associated scripture and theme, so that there is a focus. I love the focus that the program creates and establishes. And it is quite something to earn the Personal Progress medal. (IMO, way more work than an Eagle Scout award). I think Personal Progress, more than anything, teaches young women how to be godly women, instead of worldly women, and that is so important. And, parents are encouraged to work on the program with their daughters, so there is an opportunity to grow together. Your friend should get a copy of the Personal Progress book and look thru it. Good luck!


Kathryn Skaggs
January 22, 2014

As I look back on the years that my own three daughters went through the young women’s program, it’s clear to see that so much of who they are today (all married with children of their own), was solidified during the time they spent engaged in the program.

During that time, the values and beliefs that my husband and I taught them from the time they were little, were continually challenged by their peers and I know that the support they received within the program, from both leaders and other girls, helped them to turn towards the things they knew were right, avoiding much of the heartache that many teenage girls experience. Not that there weren’t challenges along the way, but I think the knowing that they had a better option, in the girls, activities and leaders who loved them, they were less vulnerable to outside, negative influences, which teens today must deal with on a daily basis.

Each of my daughters have fond memories of their time in the young women’s program while growing up. In fact, each of them have had opportunities to serve as advisors within the program and they love working with the girls and feel like they can related to where they are and what they’re going through.

I’ve served as the Young Women’s President, and oversaw two different groups of girls, 12-18, at two different times, and have served as a counselor to various groups of girls, more times than I can count. So, I’m very familiar with the overall program, at every level.

What I’ve been most impressed with, is the genuine love that leaders have for girls, and girls have for leaders, and the ability that the girls have to bond with each other because of their common beliefs and values, which are rare in today’s world. They need each other for strength and support.

As a parent, I can’t tell you how many times I have thanked God for the YW program, as I felt supported as a parent in knowing I could trust the adults working closely with my daughters, to guide them similarly to how I was, when at times mom was the last one they wanted to listen to – if you know what I mean. Parenting is difficult, and it’s wonderful to know you can trust that your children are being guided to live a righteous life and make good choices that will bring them happiness.

Because really, that’s what parents want for their children: to be happy and safe. And helping them to see how the choices they make affect their happiness, is a key component of the YW’s program, as they are taught the blessings that come from keeping the commandments of God, increasing their desire to do so as they move toward their adult lives.

The YW program, within the church, is a tremendous blessing to both the girls and their families – and ultimately, society, as these beautiful girls, over time, gently become women, prepared to contribute and serve others, become mothers, and develop their unique gifts and talents with clear purpose.


Michelle
January 22, 2014

You’ve already had so many great responses with great information that reflect the benefits of and personal feelings about the Young Women program.

This past Sunday, I was wishing people could have seen and felt what I saw and felt as a young woman spoke to our congregation. The light in her eyes, the confidence in her voice, the excitement she radiated about her faith — it was all very powerful. And I thought about what an amazing thing it is to see youth with this kind of strength. There is a reason that pamphlet Adam talks about is called what it is. There is such *strength* in the standards we preach and seek to live. And there is nothing in the world like watching and listening to and learning from a young woman who knows who she IS. That sense of divine identity is life-changing.

My current responsibility (my “calling” as we call them — our rotating assignments in various organizations and roles within our Church) is to work with the young women. I LOVE it. I especially love to hear what the young women share during our lessons on Sundays. I also love to watch when they take opportunities to serve each other and other people.

This week, we get to gather together and hear the young women talk about what each of the Young Women values — Faith, Divine Nature, Individual Worth, Knowledge, Choice and Accountability, Good Works, Integrity, and Virtue — mean to them. They will be doing this for the young women who will be entering the program this calendar year. I look forward to hearing what the young women will share. Invariably, the most rewarding part of working with the young women is learning from them and feeling the strength of who they are. In the Young Women program, that is what it’s all about — it’s learning to recognize their divine worth and to live according to that knowledge. In today’s world where there are SO many forces working to degrade women and undermine the truth about their worth, I can think of few things that are more powerful than being bathed in truth weekly (and daily in their personal lives through scripture study, prayer, and Personal Progress efforts) about God’s love and plan for them.

It’s just a remarkable thing to watch these young women grow up in the Lord and learn to serve and love each other.

I also really loved what Nick said above. The blessing of having these programs to support our roles as parents cannot be overstated. There are things that peer groups and other adults can do in our kids’ lives that we cannot. It really does take a village, and I’m grateful to know there are others who are invested in my girls (and my son, too, through the Young Men’s program).

But the bottom line for me is that our faith is ALL about finding God at a personal level. Children and youth learn to seek Him early. My faith in God has grown so much as I have watched my children have their own experiences with God and with their faith.


Michelle
January 22, 2014

I also just wanted to say something a bit more practically-minded about the standards of sexual purity, dating, etc. This is something my husband pointed out to me a couple of years ago.

The youth program is structured so that young men and young women are interacting and having group activities starting at age 12. They have opportunities to work, serve, plan, and have fun together. At 14, youth conferences are added to the mix, which allows youth to have dances together. Our leaders encourage youth not to date before age 16, and even then to focus on group dating. Once in a while, LDS youth will have a dating activity where they can practice that one-on-one social interaction in a safe environment with someone they know. They may learn social skills like etiquette or conversation skills. Young men learn about respecting young women (and they usually hear this a lot), and sometimes activities allow young men to show this respect and service.

Through all of this process, youth learn to develop healthy relationships with members of the opposite sex, to respect each others’ standards that they share, and to learn how much fun can be had through simple social interaction — learning that good friendships are a lot better than emotional drama and especially better than getting into sexual activity.

Again, in a world where sex is so often the center of teenage relationships, LDS youth learn not only the standards to save sex for marriage, but they also have many opportunities to discover the value of good, clean fun while preparing in simple ways for later, more serious dating that could lead to courtship as they move into adulthood.


Michelle
January 22, 2014

” Because its a concern of his, he especially asked what his daughters would be taught about chastity and marriage. ”

As I wrote my last comment, I was reminded of a story of a young woman in Boston whose life was completely changed by the knowledge of the law of chastity. The account of that girl’s changed life is told by another young woman named Sarah. I shared it here (with her permission):

http://diapersanddivinity.com/2012/09/21/sacred-powers-by-michelle/

I get in a lump in my throat when I read this story.


Bookslinger
January 22, 2014

My two cents, which applies to the boys’ program as well as the girls':

The extensiveness of the LDS Youth program (boys and girls) should not be taken by parents as an excuse to abdicate any of their responsiblity in both setting the example, and consistently and actively teaching gospel principles to their children.

From my (admittedly limited) observations: The “magic” of the church’s Youth program (ages 12-17) and the Primary program (ages 3-11) before it, often does _not_ work when the parents fail to do those things that the church teaches as necessary when raising children.

These things that parents are encouraged to do also come under the heading of what many call “Sunday School answers”, because they are the primary or basic things expected of all adults as a matter of course. IE, make sure you get these basics down before trying fancier stuff, and… if you don’t do these basics, the fancier/higher stuff isn’t going to work anyway.

The core of those parental things are: weekly Family Home Evening, daily family prayer (plus daily couples’ prayer and individual prayer), consistent (daily is preferred) family scripture reading, Sunday meeting attendance, Home Teaching (by male adults and male teens) Visiting Teaching (by adult females), and fulfilling of callings in the church.

When children see their parents do those things, ie _live the gospel_, and actually live the “Sunday School answers” it is mutually reinforced by the teachings they get at church.

On the other hand, if the children don’t see their parents do those things, then the things they hear at church on Sunday become not only mere theory, but far less important. Why should a child hold something to be important if it’s not important to the parents? It then becomes a Sunday-only religion.

As evidence that too many parents had abdicated the religious upbringing of their children to the church, I point to a major course correction that the Brethren started to implement in October of 2002, which has come to be known as “Raise the Bar”. In his conference talk that month Elder Ballard said that the time was over for sending young men on a mission to gain a testimony, or to get converted; that they now had to have a testimony prior to departing; and that there were to be no more “repent and go” missionaries.

Along with all that was a renewed emphasis on local leaders and especially parents to be more involved with their children and do more to _actively_ prepare them for missions and adulthood.

I think that course correction worked. And as evidence I point to the change in minimum missionary age from 19 to 18 for men, that was announced in October 2012, exactly 10 years from Raise the Bar. In my opinion, the timing was not a coincidence, as the 18 year olds in October 2012 had then been living under Raise the Bar the entire time since their baptism as 8 year olds.


the Jr Ganymede
March 31, 2014

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