A 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.
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.