We are their parents and Church leaders. They are the youth of Zion, a royal generation (see 1 Pet. 2:9). They rely on us to teach and lead them in the ways of righteousness. We are anxious that they will be true to the faith and lead their generation in preparing for the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. We can be a powerful team for good in their lives. Several new resources are now available to assist us: Aaronic Priesthood Duty to God, Young Women Personal Progress, the Guidebook for Parents and Leaders of Youth, and For the Strength of Youth.
“In years to come, as young men advance in the Aaronic Priesthood and are ordained elders,” says Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, “I see them coming to their elders quorum president with their Duty to God certificates in hand, saying, ‘I’m ready to serve the Lord.’”
“We want to help young men come to Christ,” adds Elder F. Melvin Hammond, Young Men general president. “The main emphasis is to develop their spirituality. It is not simply an activity program. We hope that every young man will come to appreciate the true depth of the priesthood.”
The prophet Alma’s words reinforce the new emphasis: “And now my beloved brethren, I have said these things unto you that I might awaken you to a sense of your duty to God, that ye may walk blameless before him, that ye may walk after the holy order of God” (Alma 7:22).
The Duty to God award requirements have been designed to help young men prepare for the Melchizedek Priesthood, the temple endowment, a full-time mission, marriage, and fatherhood. The new emphasis replaces the Duty to God program the Church has sponsored for almost 50 years and is separate from the On My Honor award.
The guidelines for Duty to God may be found in three guidebooks available at no charge, one for deacons (item no. 36412), one for teachers (36413), and one for priests (36414). Three achievement certificates may be earned, and if a young man qualifies for all three certificates, he becomes eligible to receive the new Duty to God award. The requirements include the completion of (1) priesthood duties and standards, including the living of ideals from For the Strength of Youth, (2) family activities, (3) quorum activities, (4) personal goals, (5) a service project, and (6) keeping a journal.
The priesthood duties consist of such personal spiritual habits as prayer, scripture reading, meeting attendance, tithing payment, and fulfilling basic priesthood responsibilities such as sacrament assignments and home teaching. Living these standards helps young men be worthy of priesthood advancement and temple attendance.
The family activities have been organized to strongly encourage young men to serve in the home and thus prepare for fatherhood. For example, deacons are to prepare two family meals, teachers are to prepare and use a simplified budget, and priests are to submit the name of an ancestor for temple work. “We’ve tried to develop the requirements based on the maturity of the young men,” says Elder Hammond.
Quorum activity requirements help prepare a young man to receive the Melchizedek Priesthood and serve a full-time mission. These goals involve each boy in discussions with his priesthood leaders. For example, a deacon must explain the law of the fast, a teacher must describe how to be a good home teacher, and a priest must expound the meaning of the oath and covenant of the priesthood to a priesthood leader.
Each young man is also to set and accomplish eight or more personal goals in each of the following four categories: (1) spiritual development; (2) physical development; (3) educational, personal, and career development; and (4) citizenship and social development, for a total of 32 goals every two years. Each guidebook contains dozens of ideas to help in setting these goals. Young men are to discuss their interests and goals with parents and a priesthood leader and record them in their guidebooks.
Each young man is also to complete quorum and Duty to God service projects. Duty to God projects are to be done every two years—deacons for at least 10 hours, teachers for 20 hours, and priests for 30 hours—before earning each certificate. Service done for the Eagle Scout Award or similar awards may also be counted toward earning the Duty to God award.
The last assignment in each guidebook is for the young man to record his spiritual impressions and feelings.
Elder Hammond emphasizes: “Our effort was to find something that would be compatible with priesthood principles and also with Scouting. Duty to God embraces Scouting, which is wonderful for our young men. I see no conflict at all between Duty to God and Scouting. Duty to God focuses more on the spiritual—bringing young men to Christ. Scouting is primarily an activity program with some spirituality as well. They are complementary to one another.”
Priesthood and Scouting leaders are encouraged to preserve and strengthen Scouting by blending the two programs. One way this can be done is to allow the completion of Scouting requirements to fulfill personal goals in Aaronic Priesthood Duty to God. For example, the activities a young man does to earn the physical fitness merit badge can also be used to fulfill a physical development goal in Duty to God. “Most young men going through the Scouting program,” adds Elder Hammond, “get their awards by the time they are 14–15 years old. After that, it becomes more difficult to excite young men about Scouting. Duty to God will help bridge that gap.” The First Presidency has said, “We desire all young men to strive to earn the Eagle Scout [or similar awards where Scouting is approved and available] and Duty to God Awards.”1
Elder Ballard has also said: “Young women who earn their Young Womanhood Recognition award will be better prepared to serve in the Relief Society. It will help them prepare for their future roles as a faithful woman, wife, mother, and leader in God’s kingdom.”
“This is not a new program,” says Sister Margaret D. Nadauld, Young Women general president. “It is simply a revision. We wanted to make Personal Progress easier to understand, more inclusive of parents, and less expensive to operate.” The following list summarizes what has changed.
The pace of progression through the goals is now controlled by the desire of the individual instead of by age or class advancement.
Parental involvement is directly emphasized.
To earn the Personal Progress certificate and medallion a young woman now needs to (1) live the standards of For the Strength of Youth and (2) complete six value experiences and one ten-hour project for each of the seven values.
Goal setting is more flexible. Each young woman now has three specifically required experiences and three elective experiences for each value; others are flexible.
Young women may now keep track of their progress with a new record sheet and emblem stickers in back of the book as well as having places for the initials of parents or leaders.
The three age-group pendants have been discontinued. The Young Womanhood Recognition Certificate and Young Womanhood medallion continue to be used. The image in the medallion has been changed from the silhouette of a young woman to the spires of a temple.
The size and length of the book have been reduced. It and a companion journal are now furnished at no charge.
One of the first changes young women will notice is that four words have been added to the Young Women theme. The insertion of the phrase “strengthen home and family” reflects a desire to encourage young women to use their influence for good to bless their families and prepare for their future roles.
As each young woman opens her new Personal Progress book (36035) she will immediately see what her parents and leaders hope will be guides along her journey to eternal happiness: a copy of “The Living Christ: The Testimony of the Apostles,” a line drawing on transparent paper of the Salt Lake Temple gently framing a picture of the Savior, and a copy of “The Family: A Proclamation to the World.” “We believe that the ultimate goal of every young woman should be to come unto Christ through the temple. This is why the book has been designed this way,” says Sister Nadauld.
A quick glance at the new requirements reveals this primary objective. A different picture of the Savior introduces each value, and the specified value experiences help young women come unto Him. For example, one “faith” value experience is for a young woman to write her feelings about faith and prayer. One of the “divine nature” value experiences is to memorize the sacrament prayers and think about what it means to take upon us the name of Christ.
Value projects help young women practice the gospel principles taught through the value experiences. For example, an “individual worth” project invites young women to help improve the living situation of someone in need, and a “good works” project is to volunteer in the community by gathering items for a humanitarian need. The final requirement in Personal Progress is to record one’s testimony of the Savior.
“Personal Progress has been structured to help young women understand and apply the seven [Young Women] values and aim them toward Relief Society as they prepare for the role of womanhood,” Sister Nadauld adds.
One of the more dramatic changes in Personal Progress is that the Young Womanhood Recognition award may be earned according to the pace set by individual young women. “The beauty of this is that while they are enthusiastic, we just let them do it. Then when they have completed the Personal Progress requirements we can ask them to mentor another young woman under the direction of the Young Women presidency. It is also suggested that a young woman could complete additional value experiences and projects, compile her personal history, and read the Book of Mormon.”
According to the revised guidelines, a young woman’s interests and goals outside of Young Women may be used to fulfill Personal Progress requirements. These could include but are not limited to school projects and seminary participation. “But she needs to plan this before she does the seminary or school project,” Sister Nadauld adds.
“We have enhanced the sections on understanding the scriptures,” says Sister Nadauld. “When a young woman does all the value experiences and value projects, it gives her a depth of understanding of the gospel.” One such “knowledge” value experience requires that a young woman spend time studying and memorizing passages from all four standard works.
Parental participation in these programs is now being stressed. “If parents will get involved in Duty to God with their sons, it will mean a great deal to their development,” says Elder Hammond.
“We are putting more emphasis on parental involvement,” says Sister Nadauld. “Young Women leaders understand that we’re here to assist parents, to be another voice for truth.”
We as parents can play a crucial role in helping them succeed by:
Reading and pondering the Guidebook for Parents and Leaders of Youth.
Obtaining and studying the Aaronic Priesthood Duty to God and Young Women Personal Progress materials.
Meeting with Aaronic Priesthood or Young Women leaders, when invited, accompanied by our children.
Working with our children in selecting the goals or value experience and projects they want to accomplish.
Encouraging our children ages 14–18 to enroll in seminary.
Holding regular discussions with each of our children.
Showing love, trust, and confidence in them.
Offering help and encouragement by asking about their goals.
Acknowledging their work by signing our initials in the appropriate places each time a goal is completed.
Attending events when our children are recognized.
Elder Hales reminds us: “It is important that the youth know who they are—sons and daughters of God. It is important that they know what they are trying to achieve in life—that is, to return back into the presence of their Heavenly Father with their families. Because the youth are so blessed, it is also important that they learn and do their duty to God.”
“You have nothing in this world more precious than your children,” President Gordon B. Hinckley has told us. “When you grow old, when your hair turns white and your body grows weary, when you are prone to sit in a rocker and meditate on the things of your life, nothing will be so important as the question of how your children have turned out.”2 As parents and youth leaders, we can make a tremendous difference in the lives of our youth. “They are our sons and daughters,” says President Hinckley. “I hope, I pray, I plead that they will continue on the [right] path.”3
Coaches of sports teams often provide players with a notebook containing diagrams of how to succeed. It is called a playbook. Team members study it and look to it for a plan of action. To help parents and leaders of youth understand the programs affecting young people, the First Presidency has provided us with a playbook—the Guidebook for Parents and Leaders of Youth (36415; no charge).
Elder Robert D. Hales of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles has said: “I hope parents and leaders will understand that the young men and young women for whom they have responsibility have been prepared to come to earth at this particular time for a sacred and glorious purpose. I hope they will do what they need to do to help the youth accomplish that purpose.”
Parents will be particularly interested in the “Responsibilities of Parents” section and the detailed explanations of the other new publications being provided to their youth.
Youth leaders should review the “Responsibilities of Leaders” section as well as the new instructions on Mutual and on teaching leadership principles to youth.
Like any team, parents and leaders of youth need to be unified. The Guidebook for Parents and Leaders of Youth is a resource that helps parents, bishoprics, stake Aaronic Priesthood committees, stake and ward Young Men and Young Women presidencies, and seminary teachers and leaders execute the game plan with precision and power.
When players dash onto the playing field for a game, unless there have been regular and useful practice sessions to prepare them, they will not perform well. These sessions, held at the same time and place each week, are where players learn how to apply instructions coaches have introduced for the upcoming game.
Mutual is as important to our youth in preparing for life as a practice is to the players on a team. It gives youth an opportunity to meet in a social setting, apply gospel principles taught on Sunday, strengthen their testimonies, give service, develop wholesome relationships and communication skills, and reach out to less-active youth. “If Mutual is not properly in place,” says Elder Cecil O. Samuelson Jr. of the Presidency of the Seventy, “our efforts are more likely to fail.”
The new Mutual guidelines provided in the Guidebook for Parents and Leaders of Youth emphasize the following:
Mutual functions under the direction of the bishopric and is overseen by Young Men and Young Women presidencies.
It is to be convened at the same time and place on the same day of each week unless travel or other restrictions preclude it.
Opening exercises should be held each meeting.
Some Mutual activities that involve the entire family could be held.
The activities should help each young man and woman accomplish goals and earn the awards offered in the achievement programs of the Aaronic Priesthood and Young Women.
Combined Young Men and Young Women activities are normally held once per month.
Each Mutual may also include time each week for practice or social activities, including sports and games for young men and women together. The Activity Book (31455; U.S. $3.00) contains more than 300 activity ideas that reinforce priesthood purposes and Young Women values.
A new feature of Mutual is an annual worldwide event and theme to be sent from Church headquarters each year.
Imagine the confusion and frustration players would feel on the field if they never or rarely practiced. Our youth need and deserve well-planned, practical, and spiritual activities that prepare them for the game situations they will face during life’s journey as they strive to come unto Christ.
The Ensign spoke with Elder Cecil O. Samuelson Jr., executive director of the Priesthood Department, about the changes made in the re-released For the Strength of Youth (item no. 36550; no charge).
Question: Why has the Church revised this resource?
Answer: The youth today are stronger than they have ever been. But we live in an increasingly difficult and complex world. Our youth have many tough decisions before them. It is hoped that the new For the Strength of Youth will give them an even clearer sense of what they need to do and what they need to think about to live the kind of life that our Heavenly Father wants.
I also think that over the years our young people have come to understand the “whats” without much attention to the “whys.” I think it helps for our youth to understand why. In addition, it gives our youth many wonderful tools to frankly explain the “whys” to their friends.
Not long ago I had a conversation with some young women about the new standard of no more than one set of earrings. Our discussion centered on the plan of salvation and why we have a body. There was a neighbor girl present who was struggling to understand why the Church had taken this stand. I asked her, “Do you think it’s because President Hinckley is old-fashioned?” She was a little embarrassed but answered yes. We talked about why we come to earth, why we have a body, and how important our bodies are. She then said, “I can see why moral cleanliness is so important to you.”
Q: What has been added to the revised edition?
A: New material has been added that focuses on what President Hinckley is saying. Both “The Living Christ: The Testimony of the Apostles” and “The Family: A Proclamation to the World” have been included. The inclusion of these documents not only communicates that their messages are important but also emphasizes that we have living prophets to guide us.
There is a new First Presidency message. Scripture verses and scripture study references have also been added, and there are seven new topics: Agency and Accountability; Gratitude; Education; Family; Tithes and Offerings; Service to Others; and Go Forward with Faith. There is a contents page for ease in finding and referring to topics.
Q: Why is relying upon the Holy Ghost being emphasized?
A: I don’t think this important, unchanging doctrine has ever been discounted, but too many of our young people are underutilizing the power of the Holy Ghost to purify their lives. We should all rely more on the Spirit and live so that the Spirit can influence us.
Q: How much does the new For the Strength of Youth deal with real-life issues and situations?
A: It is a doctrinal document, but it is also very practical. It is hoped that youth will not only want to learn what the standards are but will want to apply the sensible ideas given to help them keep the standards. It is not intended that these ideas be unduly prescriptive, but youth should carefully consider how to apply the doctrine. For example, under “Dress and Appearance” we say, “Someday you will receive your endowment in the temple. Your dress and behavior should help you prepare for that sacred time.” It is hoped that by making this suggestion youth will be guided and strengthened as they decide what clothing to purchase and wear.
As another example, under “Entertainment and the Media” there is no specific mention of any rating system. This is not to be interpreted that the Church approves of R-rated or any other inappropriate movies. It is simply a recognition that there is increasingly great risk in tying ourselves to any rating system. Those that have been historically safe to use are not so anymore. Rating systems are constantly in a state of flux. Second, the rating system used in the United States does not apply to all parts of the world. As an international church, our people need to be taught principles they can apply no matter where they live.
There has been a general coarsening of media standards throughout the world. In my home there are many shows on television that we simply do not watch. In writing the new section on media, it was decided to give the youth something that allows them to make the judgments for themselves.
Q: How would you describe the overall tone or feeling of the guidelines?
A: The gospel of Jesus Christ is a positive message. Sometimes young people think the Church is always focusing on what they can’t do. What we want to point out are the happy and wholesome aspects of life, that if we’re involved in doing things that bring true happiness, true progress, we will be much less likely to get caught up in the harmful and distracting aspects of life.
We have tried to phrase the standards in ways that are more encouraging. There are more “do’s” than “don’ts.” For example, in the section on the Sabbath day, you won’t find a list of forbidden activities. What you will find are statements of principle, explanations of the blessings available through obedience, and suggestions for activities that would be appropriate.
These guidelines are consistent with the tremendous emphasis the Church is putting on the family. It is very clear that the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles want more attention given to the youth, and they want it done in a way that supports the efforts of parents.