Teen Apathy

October 20, 2004 | 25 comments
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Now that I no longer teach Seminary, one of my biggest challenges is getting my daughter to Seminary on time. She has a driver’s license and would be happy to go on her own, but we can’t spare the car. So I am up at 5:30 (or so) every morning, just like last year. This morning she was stressed because we were running a little late. Not late for class, mind you, but late for her. She likes to arrive a early to write messages (jokes) on the Seminary chalkboard. These jokes often become a topic of conversation with the other youth when they arrive, and I appreciated having them when I was teaching last year. Her teacher this year also has nice things to say about them, but now I am getting off track.

As we drove to the chapel, where the Seminary class is held, I was marveling at my daughter’s concern over the time. How did I get so lucky as to have a child like this? Although I was not a member of the Church during my high school years, I expect that I would have been a lot more like the young person described by Rusty. Teen apathy is a big problem in the Church. We covered this a bit in our lengthy discussion of Scouting v. Personal Progress, but I am interested in hearing thoughts specifically about Seminary (Rusty’s issue) and Sunday School, the classroom experiences. Are we doing the best we can by our youth?

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25 Responses to Teen Apathy

  1. Times and Seasons » A missed opportunity? on October 27, 2004 at 3:28 pm

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  2. Times and Seasons » Coming out at BYU on October 28, 2004 at 4:30 pm

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  3. Julie in Austin on October 20, 2004 at 8:12 pm

    Is this really a youth issue? Our Enrichment night has stooped to having a door prize for people who arrive on time.

  4. clark on October 20, 2004 at 8:21 pm

    Having seminary at 5:30 or even 6 in the morning *sucks*. I hated it and was usually far too tired to get much out of it. I much preferred the weekly class they had for a while due to being unable to do morning seminary in my area.

  5. Bryce I on October 20, 2004 at 8:22 pm

    I have no personal experiences to relate, just a fairly obvious observation, which is that our kids are less likely to take gospel study and church service seriously if we fail to do so in our own lives. I know I’m guilty of occasionally complaining about having to go to meetings in front of my young children. I’ll try to be more careful.

  6. Kevin Barney on October 20, 2004 at 9:40 pm

    I think we severely underestimate the capacity of our kids. They are bored to tears with the lessons they get at Church; they’ve heard it all dozens of times before. I am sympathetic, because I remember feeling the same way when I was their age. If we insist on teaching incredibly boring Sunbeam catechism lessons to our youth at Church, why should we be surprised when they finally bail? Always teaching only to the very lowest denominator is a practice that has serious consequences for the kids who are even halfway bright.

  7. Kevin Winters on October 21, 2004 at 12:36 am

    I agree with the other Kevin–the monotony of it all has been the underlying catalyst for my attempting to find ‘good’ alternatives to going to Sunday School/Gospel Doctrine. Thus, I usually take a book with me (something that I learned is common enough, having spoken with others who have similar issues and who use a similar alternative). Now, I will be the first to admit that I am not the most ‘sensitive’ person when it comes to feeling the Spirit, and I understand that such might negatively affect my enjoyment of SS/GD, but I all too often feel like I’m going through Seminary for the 10th time…it does not help to motivate me.

    Now, we cannot demand that our Seminary and SS/GD teachers become scholars, but there’s gotta be something that can be done to make things more interesting while still sticking within doctrinal bounds…maybe asking the teachers to prepare for more than 24 hours? ;o)

  8. John Mansfield on October 21, 2004 at 7:53 am

    I read a book recently on the history of adolescence from colonial times to the present. One point was that before the 20th century, youth were a productive part of society. They were inexperienced, apprentices or one sort or another, but fully interactive with other adults. We’ve structured society now that to become productive involves a long, boring, stifling period of preparation shunted away from adults. (How many times did you hear college students talk about a “real world” that they apparently didn’t feel they had lived in yet?)

    James Faust’s recent conference talk about the priests who filled in for missing men touches this problem in the Church. As I recall there are specific policies that youth are not to teach Primary since it would take them from their own classes.

    Beyond the youth, an apathy source in the Church could be that our group activities are a lot of talking and little doing. Doing seems to be an individual responsibility. My barely-a-member father had a bishop’s storehouse calling that he enjoyed and performed faithfully. It’s almost the only duty he ever carried out in the Church. For those who aren’t teachers or organizers, there is not much to do in the Church.

  9. diogenes on October 21, 2004 at 2:04 pm

    I think we severely underestimate the capacity of our kids. They are bored to tears with the lessons they get at Church; they’ve heard it all dozens of times before.

    Or worse. At our house we are doing damage control from a YW lesson on chastity last week that was handled very, very badly — an excruciatingly embarassing melange of every possible hackneyed cliche, euphemism, and simile that has ever been tortured into a YW “standards” night. (Something along the lines of: your body is a temple that you shouldn’t let camels poke their nose into when you leave chewed gum by the side of the road. Say what?)

    This kind of thing has largely obliterated any enthusiasm our daughter ever had for the YW program.

    The only upside to a lesson like this is that it makes the parents look positively cool by comparison.

  10. John Mansfield on October 21, 2004 at 9:41 pm

    In seminary, a step against apathy is to put some of the responsibility back on the students for what is happening in class by assigning open-ended tasks. One such would be 20 minutes in class writing about a gospel principle or chapter of scripture. (If what’s written is boring, whose fault is that? Also, reading their papers gave me added appreciation for those students.) Having the class act out a narrative they have read is good. It gets the students out of the chairs and the teacher out of lecture mode, and again, the students become responsible for the quality of something happening in class.

    A difficult thing with those stuck in apathy is that it is easier to get them to do easy, boring things (Sit there and listen to me.) than to get them to put forth the effort needed for class to become interesting.

  11. Gordon Smith on October 21, 2004 at 10:24 pm

    How long has the Church curriculum been based on a four-year cycle featuring each of the Standard Works? I think that part of the reason classes seem so repetitive is that they are repetitive. Teachers cannot cover the whole of any book, and most attempt to do a lesson by offering superficial coverage of many chapters. As a result, the classes often appear as a highlight reel of the scriptures, without much time to discuss other parts of the game.

  12. Jim F. on October 21, 2004 at 11:09 pm

    Gordon: Why do teachers usually assume that if there isn’t time to cover a whole book, the solution is to give highlights? Is it perhaps because they don’t believe that their students have read the material and they are worried that they won’t get something? If the students haven’t read, then the teacher has to tell them what is in the material assigned. However, if students were reading, teachers could focus on one part of the asignment and do that part well. And if they did that and did it consistently, I would bet (if I didn’t think betting is forbidden) that students would begin to start reading because the teacher would have shown them that it was worth doing, that there is a lot of interesting stuff in the scriptures. Teachers who just teach highlights and students who don’t prepare just reinforce each other. It is almost as if there is a collusion between them to avoid taking the scriptures seriously.

  13. Kevin Winters on October 21, 2004 at 11:41 pm

    Jim: I can agree with that. For the short stint I had in teaching Gospel Doctrine (I think the most enjoyable calling I ever had), I *never* got through an entire lesson, and I never expected to. I tended to take the approach of reading through the text and discussing things as interest came up (or developing interest through questions). I honestly think that this approach scared some away (I think the other teachers were ‘safer’ than this sometimes obscure philosophy student’s ramblings), but I also had a hardcore number of people who were always there and always ready/willing to contribute, which for me more than offset those who didn’t come. Personally, I’ve always loved the classes where the teacher would step away from the manual, which was opened more for some than the scriptures themselves when they taught, and the class moved naturally from topic to topic (or those blessed times when the teacher has to refuse comments because the class is so engrossed in the topic under discussion, but they need to move on). Now that I think about it, I think actually stepping away from the manual has been a central ingredient in every GD class I’ve thought is excellent.

  14. Rusty on October 22, 2004 at 12:02 am

    Gordon,
    Thank you for posting about this here. It’s a difficult problem that doesn’t have an obvious or clear solution. You are definitely blessed to have the daughter that you do with so much zeal for seminary. That will surely translate into a stronger testimony.

    One of the problems of asking this question is that each student is different and responds to the Spirit differently, has different priorities, has different schedules, has different life paradigms and have different family situations, etc. Of course that is where the Spirit plays such a crucial role in the lives of all teachers (actually, anyone with a stewardship).

    Jim,
    Thanks for your comments. I try my best to not hit the highlights, but rather focus on the important teaching from each lesson. Sometimes if I feel that a specific point wasn’t sufficiently covered from yesterday’s lesson, then I will talk about it the next day as well, not worrying about what I’m missing that day. In fact, I think I’m quite behind in my schedule, but I’m not so concerned with that right now. To me, that kind of teaching is more of a history class than a Gospel class. I think your suggestion that the students do their reading consistently sounds wonderful, but extremely difficult to actualize.

    I agree, as well, with the comments about the general teaching within the Church and it’s problems. This topic has been well-worn on T&S, but it’s still always nice to hear that those thoughts are not all just in my head, that many have similar thoughts.

  15. Carrie on October 22, 2004 at 6:51 pm

    Funny. I was about to comment that I couldn’t think of anything rewarding from my four years of waking up at a nearly impossible hour to go to seminary, and then I read John Mansfield’s comment. My last year of seminary, my teacher had me teach a lesson to make up for the embarrassingly large number of classes I had missed or been late for. I absolutely loved teaching that lesson, and I can sincerely say that I got more out of that one lesson than the hundreds of others I attended.

    So I agree that giving students more of an ownership of their seminary classes will, at least for some students, be an effective way of helping them get something out of seminary. Holding seminary at a more natural hour would, however, be the best way.

  16. Silus Grok on October 24, 2004 at 11:59 am

    John Mansfield:

    Do you remember the title of the book you mention (RE the history of adolescence)?

    Could you post an Amazon link?

  17. Bryce I on October 24, 2004 at 11:50 pm

    I’m substitute teaching the Seminary class this Wednesday, and all of a sudden I’m a lot more interested in this thread.

    Any suggestions for a one-day only lesson?

  18. Jack on October 24, 2004 at 11:56 pm

    Bring refreshments.

  19. ken on October 25, 2004 at 9:47 am

    When you all get this apathy thing figured out I would like to know the real true answer. To say that it is just the kids is wrong tho.
    I was ward clerk for a number of years and I figured out that just about half the ward was active in church. I did a lttle research and found this to be true church wide. Why is this?
    People are excited to be baptized (in the case of converts) and they go through all the process it takes to get baptized, and then somewhere along the line about half of them quit going. ( I always said it was because they come to the conclusion that the church consists of 99 per cent white middle class republicans) with little acceptance of anyone different from them. I’m still not too sure I was wrong.

    As far as children? I’m still trying to figure that out.
    I have seven of them. All but the youngest are married. Four are very active, one is partially active and two completetly inactive, and my wife and I are the same parents of all of them. So it must be something in the fact that they have their agency and they use it

  20. Jack on October 25, 2004 at 10:36 am

    Sorry, Bryce. I wasn’t being very helpful.

    I think the youth need to have their potencial the future validated. But the trick is to do it without condescending to them. We want to be careful not to drown them in praise. There are many youth who feel terribly inadequate and poring it on too much will only intensify the dichotomy that they feel exists between them and other more “worthy” youth.

    I think part of the trick is to help them have a good experience with the scriptures. Duh! Isn’t that what seminary is all about? Yes, but I think all to often well meaning teachers import extraneous material with the hopes of dazzling their students. I don’t think this is necessary. Of course there’s nothing wrong with supporting the core material with visual aids or object lessons etc. as long as they help in driving home the point of the scriptural discussion.

    IMO If the student can walk out of the classroom with the feeling that living the teachings of the scriptures is within their reach, it will have far greater power in edifying them with hope than a long list of sickly sweet reminders of how special they are. (though a dash of sickly sweetness maybe necessary on occasion)

  21. Jack on October 25, 2004 at 10:40 am

    Ken, the inactive “white middle class republicans” are, therefore, left without excuse.

  22. Bryce I on October 25, 2004 at 10:52 am

    Jack–

    Actually, the “bring refreshments” comment was what I was looking for. I’m not going to be establishing a deep relationship with these kids — I’m filling in for one or two days.

    Thanks for the follow-up.

  23. John Mansfield on October 25, 2004 at 2:22 pm

    Silus Grok, the book was The Rise and Fall of the American Teenager by Thomas Hine. Here is an Amazon URL:
    http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0380973588/ref=lpr_g_1/103-2119431-7331860?v=glance&s=books
    The writer does a nice job of carrying his themes through nearly four centuries of American youth. Sometimes the writing is repetitious, but I enjoyed it overall. There are points about labor, education and culture that I found worth thinking about.

  24. ken on October 25, 2004 at 10:40 pm

    Jack, I quess what I meant is that I as a father probably should have done more to encourage my children to stay active in church, and I think that as a church we need to be more accepting of people who are new to the Gospel and try our best to make them feel loved and welcome in our Wards. I have to say that I was a closet Democrat for years. Actually Politics never was important to me but I realized that I was definitly in the minority. It was when Bill Clinton came into office and I saw the really nasty attitude a majority of the people had toward him and for that matter to all Democrats that I realized a lot of people wouldn’t stick around and be treated like second class citizens in that situation. And so I theorized that that might explain why so many people leave the church or go inactive.
    I’m sure there are many other reasons too but whatever the reasons we have a responsibility to do our best for our brothers and sisters in the Gospel and remember, we are ALL Gods children.

  25. Jack on October 26, 2004 at 1:16 am

    Ken, I agree. As a conservative who is in many ways a closet liberal, I can’t stand the conflation of politically conservative ideologies and the gospel over the pulpit. (I can’t stand it when liberals do it either, but it happens to a far lesser degree in the area where I live)

    That said, let us not forget that the over zealous right-wing buffoon who preaches hard-line party-line doctrine in chuch settings is also a child of God.