Today in Sacrament Meeting my ward's Young Women reported on their experiences at Girl's Camp. These kinds of programs used to bother me. I mean, it's twenty or so teenage girls all getting up saying the same thing, but trying to make it sound different. I've never doubted that the girls mean what they say, but they sometimes seem not to know what to say after the third or fourth speaker. Some of the two-minute talks are enjoyable - even inspiring - but by and large it used to feel to me like a huge inside joke minus the humor. You kind of had to be there to get it.
Then I realized that the purpose of doing this was not just tradition, but to cement in the girls' minds, in a real-life setting, the lessons they had learned while in a very unrealistic environment. The purpose was to take those tear-inducing tweaks to testimony and turn them into something more enduring: a firm commitment to meaningfully change something .
Of course, that didn't give the meetings any more variety, but it made them easier to approach and learn from myself.
So that brings us back to today. All the Young Women got up and testified. Then they sang (of course). Then the leaders spoke. This is generally the best part of these meetings for me. The adults have more time and talk about things that most likely wouldn't occur to the youth. They also are better at articulating the same things the girls all fumbled tearfully through and at making them meaningful for the whole congregation. There are still plenty of tears, but they come from broader experience, and so are easier to relate to for me. After all, I've never been to Girls' Camp.
But today was different. One of the leaders talked about how the theme this year was something about "happily ever after," and that the speakers and activities all had to do with princesses and fairy tales. In this leader's mind, this was a fabulous thing because it took the Gospel and its principles and brought them "down" to the girls' level - that low plateau of mental function where even teenage girls can grasp the basics of a concept, so long as it's presented simply enough.
I hear people talk about bringing the Gospel down to kids' levels all the time, but this leader really emphasized and extended the word "down." Then she continued on this concept. I don't know how anyone else felt, but if I had been a young woman listening to that, I probably would have been a bit offended. These aren't toddlers we're talking about. These are mid to late teens. Some of them are out of high school.
It seems to me that this is the age where we ought to start feeding them more meaty things. We ought to start trusting their intelligence and expanding their knowledge, not reducing infinitely complex principles to a paste, freezing it, and serving as a fruit smoothie. These girls are past the age where the Disney-approved version of the Gospel is meaningful or appropriate for them.
We are blessed with a gospel that can be comprehended by any child, but is also so richly textured that we can't possibly grasp all of its depth within the brief period of a mortal life. It comes down to us distilled, but even the distillations are in some ways beyond our reach. When kids at this age act out and reject the things we've taught them, it is more likely to be a result not of giving them too much to think about, but of not giving them enough. Teens are faced with the same complex issues as adults, and they're learning to parse those issues like adults. Their brains are becoming capable of understanding things at multiple levels. Indeed, they're expected to understand things more deeply in school and family life. They are supposed to be capable of earning trust, and should be given opportunities to do so.
So why are we still reducing things to princess level? This leader claimed that among the "new" ideas presented to these Young Women was that stories can actually mean something. What!?! You're kidding, right?! A fairy tale has a purpose beyond making me aspire to be some beautiful creature wrapped in pink ribbons? A story can have *gasp* morals? But only one, right? No more than one moral per story? And no meanings aside from morals, either? OK, I think I can handle that.
Is this the way YW leaders throughout the Church look at their charges? As little girls who just need a simpler version of things in order to make the right decision? Just a catchier nursery rhyme? If so, it's no wonder immorality is spreading among LDS youth.
Youth leaders of the Church, hear this: teens need a Gospel that is as complex as the world they face when they're not at church. They need to know that there are answers beyond the ones they memorized in Primary. They don't need to be taken back to Primary. They need the tools to successfully navigate the difficult challenges they encounter daily - tools that are nuanced enough for their personal experiences. They don't need blander milk. Meat is what they're getting from every other source: tasty, varied, enticing, stimulating, challenging meat. Also, some rancid meat. Make sure they get the good stuff too. Respect their intelligence. Use yours. Don't make them feel like you're condescending to their level from on high. These are some of the choicest of the choice. They're meant to make a difference while they're young. Realize that. Act accordingly. Give them meat.
If you don't they will leave.