It was the boy’s first week in high school—a new school, a new town, far from friends in the large ward where he had spent the past six years.
Who would be the friends he so desperately wanted and needed? Would they include the easygoing guy who had offered him a ride home—and shown him the cache of lurid pictures hidden in the door of the beat-up old car? Or the popular group of athletes in his history class who were waiting to see if he would share what he knew during the upcoming test? Or maybe the guy and gal in his language class who quietly did their best—and encouraged others to do the same?
That Sunday in the small branch he attended, the boy found a handful of young people from high schools throughout the area. One, a priest who was two years older than he, became a friend immediately. The friendship grew through weeks and months until the younger boy eventually found himself with an example to follow as his older friend accepted a mission call.
Looking back, the man who was that lonely boy in a new high school now understands that his true friends were the ones who encouraged him to be and do his best. They included that priest who was his example, the high school classmates whose goal was growth, and two adult home teaching companions who drove many miles to serve.
Young people often drift into friendships with peers who are simply available, either in the neighborhood or in school. But they can be taught the importance of carefully choosing good friends—friends who are good for them, who help strengthen and encourage them. Sometimes, when young people don’t understand what real friendship is, parents are able to help them see that a true friend is one who makes it easier to live the gospel of Jesus Christ.
President Ezra Taft Benson has encouraged youth with these words: “Have good associates or don’t associate at all. Be careful in the selection of your friends. If in the presence of certain persons you are lifted to nobler heights, you are in good company. But if your friends or associates encourage base thoughts, then you had best leave them.” (Ezra Taft Benson, God, Family, Country: Our Three Great Loyalties, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1974, p. 241.)
More recently, the First Presidency has counseled: “Everyone needs good friends. Your circle of friends will greatly influence your thinking and behavior, just as you will theirs. When you share common values with your friends, you can strengthen and encourage each other. If some of your friends are shy and do not feel included, be particularly sensitive to their feelings and go out of your way to pull them into the influence of your strong circle of good friends. Together you can maintain a high standard of gospel living.” (For the Strength of Youth, Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1990, p. 9.)
The home affords most children the first and best opportunity to develop friendships. The friendships established among brothers and sisters, as well as children and parents, bond the family unit together. These friendships also help young people understand how to be a good friend to others outside the family.
Elder Vaughn J. Featherstone of the Seventy recalls a talk by a teenage girl at a stake conference in Canada. This girl felt homely, but a good friend told her she was beautiful. When there were dances, he would dance with her. “He was handsome and popular, and he lived his religion,” she recalls.
“It was a good thing that he was a strong member of the Church,” she said, “because I tailed him everywhere he went. I did what he did. … I cannot express the love and respect I have for him. I was not his girlfriend, but I sure loved him. He is on a mission now, and we write regularly. He still loves me and is still my best friend. He is my older brother.” (Ensign, Nov. 1987, p. 28.)
Parents teach a lot about friendship by showing a loving, helpful relationship with one another. When children see their father fix dinner so their mother can prepare for and attend an in-service meeting, or when they know that their mother is willing to get her hands greasy tuning up the car with their father, they grow up understanding that friendship involves giving and caring.
When parents extend unconditional love to children, it is often reciprocated with memorable expressions of friendship.
One Sabbath morning, for example, as a family of eight was preparing for church meetings, fifteen-year-old Eric shivered in the shower while his dad shaved. When his father inquired as to why he was using only cold water, Eric explained that he knew his dad had yet to shower, and he was conserving what little hot water was left.
Open communication that encourages young people to seek closeness and understanding within the home offers opportunities to teach about friendships and the value of true friends as youth broaden their associations outside the home.
Family rules and expectations can be established early. “No dating until age sixteen” is an example of the type of rules that many families use to help children avoid potentially harmful friendships.
Involvement in Scouting, school clubs, community service organizations, and other wholesome groups may provide opportunities for young people to establish good friendships with youth whose values are similar.
It is usually painful for parents to see a son or daughter associating with friends whose behavior, attitudes, dress, or habits might influence the child toward unwise, even dangerous, decisions.
One father and mother guided their children’s choice of friends this way. “We decided the influence can go both ways, and our family’s influence could be just as great on the friends as theirs might be on our children. So rather than saying Nathan would have to see less of that boy who uses rough language, or Elizabeth would not be allowed to spend time with her friend who dated earlier than our children are allowed to, we invited association, but on terms that we could approve.
“We encouraged our children to invite such friends often to do things with us as a family. We were not trying to make them feel uncomfortable or put them on the spot. And we weren’t trying to examine them. We just believed that if they were made welcome, they might like the way we do some things. And if they liked the way we did things, they might choose to do them that way too, or at least respect our way.” (Ensign, Feb. 1987, p. 50.)
This approach works best when adults are friendly with friends of their children, know them by name, and are genuinely interested in them and their activities. Parents who are models of true friendship through their attitudes and actions thus teach their sons and daughters what kind of friends to look for and what kind of friends to be.
The scriptures are a rich treasury of inspiring instruction and faith-promoting stories as we try to teach young people what kind of friends to be. Laban’s servant Zoram, for example, made an oath to leave Jerusalem and remain with Lehi’s sons. He kept it faithfully. Years later, Lehi rewarded Zoram for his loyalty and consistency, blessing him as a “true friend unto my son, Nephi,” and promising the same inheritance in the promised land that had been reserved for Nephi. (See 2 Ne. 1:30–32.)
The friendship of Jonathan, Saul’s son, for David, whom he might naturally have regarded as a rival for the throne of Israel, is one of the most unselfish in history. The Old Testament tells us that “the soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul.” (1 Sam. 18:1.)
When disharmony comes between friends, prayer can be a great source of strength and wisdom. It is recorded that Job “prayed for his friends” who had reviled him. (Job 42:10.) We know that the prayers of Alma the Elder for his disobedient son were effective. (See Mosiah 27:14.) During the Savior’s ministries in both the Old World and the New, he urged his followers to “pray for them which despitefully use you” (Matt. 5:44; see also 3 Ne. 12:44); and in modern times, he called on Church members to “strengthen your brethren … in all your prayers” (D&C 108:7). Both by precept and by example, parents can teach the principle of praying for friends.
Like the boy who was a stranger in a new high school, young Latter-day Saints will usually find a mix of friends, some members of the Church and others not. There may be friends either inside the Church or outside of it whose influence can build our sons and daughters up or tear them down. No matter what the background of the friends involved, the goal for a young person’s parents can be the same: to help a son or daughter learn, as President Benson has counseled, that true friends are those who make it easier for us to follow the Savior.
Ideally, young Latter-day Saints will also be trying to make it easier for their friends to know the Savior.
The First Presidency has counseled youth to “treat everyone with kindness and dignity. Invite your nonmember friends to Church activities where they can learn about your standards and the principles of the gospel. Include them in your midweek activities and your Sunday meetings. Help them feel welcome and wanted. Many nonmembers have come into the Church through friends who have involved them in Church activities.” (For the Strength of Youth, p. 9.)
Alan was the only member of the Church in his third-grade class. Robbie, who sat next to Alan, was having a particularly hard day. He could not seem to control his enthusiasm. During the science experiment after lunch, he did not stay in his seat and talked out of turn. Finally, Mrs. Wakefield became so irritated that she wrote his name on the chalkboard. The class grew very quiet. Everyone knew that Robbie would have to meet after school with the principal, and that his parents would be called.
With fifteen minutes remaining in the school day, Mrs. Wakefield took an opportunity, as she often did on Friday, to reward a student who had achieved well during the week. Today she selected Alan. She stood by his desk and reviewed with the students the many good things he had accomplished that week.
Usually the chosen student received a piece of candy or a pencil from among the prizes that Mrs. Wakefield kept in her desk drawer. As she offered Alan the opportunity to choose his prize, classmates began to offer their advice. “Ask for a Star Wars eraser.” “Go for the candy bar.” And a final recommendation: “See if she will let you leave class ten minutes early.”
Instead of heeding his classmates, Alan stood and made his way to the chalkboard. As everyone watched, and with Mrs. Wakefield’s permission, he erased Robbie’s name.
While Robbie no doubt needed to learn some lessons about behavior, his parents were so impressed with the friendship extended to their son that they sought out Alan’s family. A short time later, Robbie’s family began the missionary lessons.
Many young people have had the sweet experience of bringing a cherished friend into the Church. But not every friendship will result in a baptism, nor should we encourage young people to see their friends of other faiths only as potential converts. Instead, we can help them see friends as other children of our Father, who have the potential to uplift us just as we have the potential to uplift them. Then, if our young people are living the gospel, friends will be attracted to the Church by their example, as Robbie was by Alan’s actions.
The friendships to be most cherished are friendships with Heavenly Father and his son, Jesus Christ. If our children see us seeking this kind of friendship, and if they weigh the results in our lives, they will want to do the same.
The scriptures teach us that the servants of Christ who prove faithful and true in all things become his friends. “Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you.” (John 15:14.) The rewards of this friendship are unexcelled. “And again, verily I say unto you, my friends, …
“Draw near unto me and I will draw near unto you; seek me diligently and ye shall find me; ask, and ye shall receive; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.
“Whatsoever ye ask the Father in my name it shall be given unto you, that is expedient for you.” (D&C 88:62–64.)
The Lord’s friends inherit his kingdom. “I will call you friends, for you are my friends, and ye shall have an inheritance with me.” (D&C 93:45.) The Savior loved his friends so dearly that he was willing to lay down his life for them. (See John 15:13.)
These scriptures offer an eternal perspective that may be the key to teaching young people about true friends: If we associate with those who help us “maintain a high standard of gospel living” (For the Strength of Youth, p. 9), and if we help them to do the same, then our friendships, like our families, can be forever.