When Mormon was 15 years old, he “was visited of the Lord, and tasted and knew of the goodness of Jesus” (Mormon 1:15). Joseph Smith was 14 years old when he received the First Vision. He was tutored and taught during his youth in preparation for the Restoration of the gospel. Today the Lord calls young people to serve in quorum and class presidencies, to perform sacred priesthood ordinances, and to preach the gospel as full-time missionaries. As you teach the youth of the Church, remember that the Lord knows their capacity. He has placed great trust in young people in the past, and He continues to place great trust in them today.
Young people have enthusiasm and energy that can make teaching them a delight. But to teach them the gospel, you must know how to help them channel their energy in the right direction. It is important to understand them and their concerns and challenges.
To help you understand the young people you teach, think back to your days as a youth. What experiences were most challenging or painful for you? What did you worry about? How did you feel about yourself? What were your goals and ideals? What were your social and emotional needs? Who were the people most helpful to you, and how did they help? Thinking about these questions can help you teach and guide youth more effectively.
Young people face important challenges as they prepare for adulthood. If you are aware of these challenges, you can offer wise, sensitive support and encouragement. The following information can help you understand some of the challenges they face.
Physical development during adolescence is rapid. Generally, these changes begin a year or two earlier for young women than for young men. The new feelings young men and young women experience may both excite and confuse them. They may feel awkward or inferior because they do not like their physical appearance. The physical changes they are experiencing require them to make many emotional and social adjustments.
Because young people are in transition between childhood and adulthood, they may feel that they do not fit in with the larger society. This is especially true in societies in which their primary role is to get an education. Because of the changes they are experiencing, they recognize that they are no longer children, but they also know they are not yet able to fulfill the responsibilities of adults. Often they do not realize that the changes they are going through are normal, so they may feel self-conscious. They may think that their feelings are unique and that no one understands what they are experiencing.
Between the ages of 12 and 15, most youth increase in their ability to learn. They are better able to make good judgments, think logically, and plan for the future. You will be more likely to influence youth if you respect their mental abilities and learn from them as you would like them to learn from you.
Youth have a strong desire to learn from their parents and other adults. They also want adults to respect, understand, and pay attention to them. Adults, however, may misjudge them because of their sometimes immature or unusual conduct. We should follow the counsel the Lord gave to Samuel: “Look not on his countenance, … for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). An accepting and understanding adult who shows respect can make a positive difference in the life of an insecure and self-conscious youth.
You may be tempted to think that you can get closer to young people by joining them in criticizing their parents or other adults. However, this may cause them to lose respect for their parents and for you. Remember that an important part of your responsibility is to help strengthen relationships between parents and their children.
Communicate regularly with the parents of the young people you teach. Let them know about the talents, growth, and positive contributions you observe in their sons and daughters. Keep parents aware of what you are studying in class. Ask what you can do to help them as they teach their children. Direct young people to their parents, and seek to strengthen family bonds.
Some youth may try to establish an identity by wearing odd clothes or hairstyles or by expressing unusual ideas. They may do this to draw attention to themselves or to fit in with a group of peers and distinguish themselves from other groups. Generally this kind of behavior does not last long. In fact, if young people sense genuine affection from adults and are given the opportunity to express their ideas freely without being criticized, they will often feel more secure and cease acting in unusual ways.
It would be unwise to try to dress and talk like the young people you teach. Remember that you should be one with them, not one of them.
It is important for young people to have masculine or feminine role models as they prepare for the future. Be aware that you and other adults serve as these role models.
Young people spend much of their time gaining an education and preparing for a career. Encourage them to take their education seriously and to prepare well for the future. Encourage them also to think about how their schooling, their study of the gospel, and their choices between right and wrong are preparing them for future service in the Church. Help young men prepare to serve as full-time missionaries.
Young people can best prepare for marriage and family life by preparing to make and keep temple covenants. Everything you do and teach should point young people to the temple. Help them understand what is required to be worthy of attending the temple, and encourage them to establish a personal goal to do so.
The restored gospel provides the principles and standards that guide us to happiness and exaltation. Take every opportunity to help young people adopt these for themselves. Encourage them to take initiative in their own spiritual growth (see “Helping Individuals Take Responsibility for Learning the Gospel,” pages 61–62).
Youth desire to find a place among people their own age and draw strength from them. Friends play important roles in a young person’s preparation for adulthood. They help fill his or her need for acceptance. They enable him or her to practice social skills. They provide reassurance that others have similar needs and struggles, lessening feelings of isolation that he or she may feel. They allow him or her to learn about the feelings and ideas of others. They give support to emerging values. When young people with righteous values group together, they help insulate one another from pressures of those with differing values. The Church plays an important role in providing associations with friends and caring adults who reinforce wholesome lifestyles and values.
When young people feel warmth, affection, and support from a parent, teacher, or other adult, they feel encouraged to face the challenges of life optimistically. Make sure the young people you teach feel that you are available and interested in them. As you think about them and the things they must learn, ask yourself if you are doing all you can to help them progress.
When young people are expected to meet gospel standards and obey rules, they are much less likely to act in risky or deviant ways. It is wise to establish early in your teaching the expectations you have for them. Remember that being a friend to youth is not enough. You must be a good example. You must also teach true doctrine and expect good behavior so they will know how to live a faithful life. (See “The Power of the Word,” pages 50–51, and the section titled “Create a Learning Atmosphere,” pages 75–87.)
When youth feel that adults respect and listen to them, they tend to feel secure and free of the need to attract attention to themselves. Work and pray to understand the young people you teach. Reach out to them individually (see “Reaching Out to the One,” pages 35–36). Ask them about their interests, hobbies, and everyday experiences. Listen to them, and respect their ideas, opinions, and feelings.
As you teach the youth of the Church, you are helping to prepare future leaders—parents, priesthood and auxiliary leaders, missionaries, and perhaps prophets. Because young people lack experience, they sometimes have difficulty seeing beyond the present moment. As a teacher, you can give them a vision of their future and guidance in preparing for it. Encourage them to imagine themselves in the future. Teach them today the things they will need to know tomorrow.
Even though youth are often concerned about themselves, they also have a great capacity to be concerned about others. They worry about the conditions of society and are naturally idealistic. They want to belong to a worthy cause. When they know they belong to a group that has a real and meaningful purpose, they are more likely to be creative, cooperative, and self-sacrificing. The cause of building the kingdom of God is more worthy of their loyalty than any other. You can encourage their unselfish desires by inspiring them to help build the kingdom of God.