New Primary Lesson Needed

August 5, 2009 | 29 comments
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Suggested lesson topic: What to do when you are seven years old and do not want to go to church. Yes, I finally watched the video of the seven-year-old kid who drove away in the family car to avoid going to church (see posts at Get Religion or the SL Trib for details and the video). The story coyly refrains from noting which church the kid was fleeing, but the video comes courtesy of the Weber County Sheriff’s Office, so I’m just guessing …

The “Purpose” blurb at the head of the proposed Primary lesson should explain that children should be instructed in safe methods for avoiding going to church when it just becomes too much for them. “My tummy hurts” is a nice starter, followed by “I feel like I’m going to throw up” if the first suggestion is not taken seriously. Sweaty palms are a good nonspecific symptom. Extreme measures like starting a fire or stealing the family car should be strongly discouraged and perhaps only alluded to elliptically. For adolescents, perhaps a Priests and Laurels Skip Day (modeled after the highly successful if mildly controversial Senior Skip Day traditions known to many high schools) would be the sort of safety valve they might need once in a while. Some mild form of experimental teen rebellion well short of rumspringa.

No, this isn’t really a serious suggestion, but there is a serious question in between the lines of this story. At what age does a kid get the right to decide to skip church a time or two? Eight, when baptized? Twelve, when they leave Primary? At sixteen? Eighteen? When they go to college? The obvious practical problem is that if you never give them an experimental free pass, they’re more likely to try it the first time they’re really on their own and never look back.

Maybe we should add a few points to the adult lessons, too. Don’t leave the keys in the ignition, even in Utah. Those battery-powered kiddie cars might be giving some kids a little too much knowledge a little too early. And watch out for the sweaty palm routine.

29 Responses to New Primary Lesson Needed

  1. Matt W. on August 5, 2009 at 12:45 pm

    The answer, of course, is that’s between the parent and child in that family and not any of my business. Every kid is different and has different needs. There is no blanket solution.

  2. Stephanie on August 5, 2009 at 12:57 pm

    I’m thinking of a few families in wards I’ve been in, and it seems that parents who let their kids decide whether or not they want to go to church end up with teens who don’t go to church.

  3. Margaret Young on August 5, 2009 at 2:39 pm

    Well, I just blogged about this at bycommonconsent (“Letter to my son”). For me, it is age 18. I was pleased that my newly eighteen-year-old son DID choose to come to Sunday school and Priesthood last week. I also find it interesting that my 23-year-old son, who no longer considers himself LDS, has been seriously thinking about the Peace Corps. I think something about SERVICE got through to him, even if he won’t do it as a Mormon missionary.

    And did anyone NOT think the 7-year-old kid was fleeing a Mormon church?

  4. Andrew S on August 5, 2009 at 2:57 pm

    I would agree that it’s between parent and child; every kid is different, etc.,

    My experience has been that a rather reliable way of getting kids to resent the church is giving the appearance that they *must* go. Even with free will, moral agency, if all you do is ramp up the consequences for not going, then kids are going to see through that. I did.

    I understand that parents have to establish consequences. Kids can’t just run around doing whatever…but I’m just saying that unless that 7 yr old was just experiencing a rather hilarious fluke, that’s a sign.

    Personally, I find that now, because I have divorced myself from the “consequences” of not going (like Margaret, my parents had the 18 thing), the times I do go are much more refreshing. Not saying that convinces me to believe (it doesn’t), but at this rate, I don’t “trudge” into church. If I go, it’s because I want to.

  5. Nick Literski on August 5, 2009 at 3:20 pm

    In all honesty, if a seven year old is refusing to go to church with his/her family, I’d start asking questions. I think it’s very unlikely that it has anything to do with “the LDS church” as an entity. He/she may be bored, or testing parental limits, but especially given the age, I’d be very concerned that something has taken place at church, that the child is trying to stay away from.

    Things do happen at church, that can be traumatic for a child (heck, even for an adult sometimes). There may be cruelty from peers. There may be a teacher who made an unkind (and usually just unthinking) remark, which hurt the child’s feelings. In very rare instances (thank goodness), there may be a truly serious or dangerous situation, that nobody else has been willing to speak up about. Communicate!

  6. Starfoxy on August 5, 2009 at 3:30 pm

    I haven’t thought much about this for my own kids yet, but I remember my mom’s system. If any of her kids said they were sick she would that claim at face value, but the catch was we had to behave as if we were sick. We could only eat broth and lay in bed. No TV, no snacks, no toys. We could read books, and get up to go to the bathroom, but other than that we had to be in bed.

    If skipping church was worth playing sick then we were welcome to do it. One of my sisters did this about once a month to miss school for her mental health.

  7. living in zion on August 5, 2009 at 3:51 pm

    My heart went out to the 7 yr.old. I hated primary (and still do) with every fiber of my being. As a child I hated:
    (in decending order)
    1. singing time – WAYYYYY to long
    2. sharing time – either too babyish or over my head
    3. member of bishopric speaking in primary – always boring
    4. primary president lecturing us on not paying attention- then make it more interesting
    5. practicing for the yearly primary sacrament program – always a form of torture.

    If I had known how to drive when I was 7, I might have bolted too.

    As an adult, I love nursery, YW, Sunday school, ANYWHERE other than primary, cause I still can’t stand it.

  8. Rick on August 5, 2009 at 4:10 pm

    I have actually been that kid – as an adult. Except I’ve had to actually show up at church, THEN leave. Which I routinely did before I could get sucked into Sunday School.

  9. Alison Moore Smith on August 5, 2009 at 4:34 pm

    I just put the thermometer in hot water and then shook it down to a believable temperature. You know, just over 100°. But that was to avoid school, not church.

    #6–I’m with ya there.

  10. Tim on August 5, 2009 at 6:27 pm

    I also hated primary, especially once I was 10 or 11. I always felt talked down to.
    I find myself disliking my current boring Sunday School. Boring, rarely applicable, never spiritual. I’ll leave half-way through on the pretense of quieting the baby down. Last Sunday I met with a member of the stake presidency for a calling-related meeting, and missed all of Sunday School. It was great. I find myself envying the bishopric for being able to miss Sunday School every Sunday. (I don’t envy them their responsibilities, but I do envy the ability to actually get something done during those 45 minutes). Not that every ward has a boring Sunday School–just my current one.
    I wish I would’ve had the courage to sluff primary as a 7-year-old….

  11. Derek on August 6, 2009 at 12:16 am

    The age at which a child should have the right to decide not to attend church is the age when he or she understands the consequences for not going. (Withdrawn allowance, no dessert after supper, no supper, etc.)

  12. Mark Daams on August 6, 2009 at 4:43 am

    “Sweaty palms are a good nonspecific symptom.” Sounds familiar: Ferris Bueller, anyone, anyone.

  13. gst on August 6, 2009 at 9:39 am

    Stephanie (#2), if you keep making such indisputably correct yet uncomfortable observations, you will likely be hounded out of the bloggernacle.

  14. Dave on August 6, 2009 at 11:09 am

    Stephanie (#2), if you keep making such fine comments, you will become known by name and welcomed around the Bloggernacle.

  15. Andrew S on August 6, 2009 at 1:27 pm

    re 10:

    So, Jimmy, why can’t you play on Sunday?

    “Because I have church.”

    Why do you go to church on Sundays?

    “Because if I don’t, I won’t get supper/dessert/allowance.”

    o_0.

    And what will happen to Jimmy when he buys his own supper, dessert, and earns his own allowance?

  16. gst on August 6, 2009 at 2:02 pm

    Well, Andrew, a couple of things could happen. Independent 18 year-old Jimmy might have matured enough since he was 7 to recognize that sometimes parents have to force small kids to do things that are good for them, and older Jimmy might continue those good practices on his own free will, perhaps even with appreciation of his parents’ exertions on his behalf in his early years. Or, on the other hand, he might not have matured at all, and when he turns 18 he might act just as he wanted to when he was 7.

    I force my young kids to brush their teeth. Sure they might stop doing it when I stop forcing them, but I trust that over time they will gain their own belief in the importance of the practice.

  17. Andrew S on August 6, 2009 at 3:33 pm

    re 15:

    gst, the problem is that Jimmy never gets a chance to understand *why* good practices are good. Because he is forced, he will most likely internalize that they are good because he is forced to do them (and if he does not, he will have rather arbitrary consequences placed on him from his parents).

    On the other hand, if he did things of his own will and never internalized “Do things to avoid mom and dad’s wrath,” then perhaps he might mature from the 7 year old perspective of things.

    It just seems to me, in response to comment 2 as well…do you want teens who don’t go to church, but who are not resentful and if they ever want something more in their life, they know where to look…or do you want teens who will go to the church, internalize that it offers them little but a way to escape mom and dad’s wrath, and who will be merry to leave as soon as they leave the house?

    If your children gain an appreciation for brushing your teeth, I think you’d rather them gain such an appreciation not because they were forced to and it’s a mindless habit, but rather because they realize that good breath, healthy teeth, avoided dental bills and avoided embarrassment are good reasons.

  18. gst on August 6, 2009 at 4:35 pm

    I didn’t say that carrot bribery or stick punishment were the only tools parents should use to attempt to instill a life-long habit of church activity. May I never have to use either. But I am willing to use one or both, judiciously, if it’s required, especially with younger kids.

  19. Julie on August 6, 2009 at 5:00 pm

    Interesting post and topic. I agree with#16…I would love for my children to be at church with me but finally got it through my thick head that forcing them to be at church was only increasing their resentment toward both me and the church. Everyone has to do what is best for their own family and their specific situation…in my case it involved living the Gospel (and being an example of how much happiness it brings me) in my own life and then letting go. I have been extremely blessed to have thoughtful, kind, sensitive, intelligent children who are deep thinkers. I hope they don’t lose those qualities. Sometimes I grieve when I see spiritual “opportunities” that they are missing (such as participating in blessing the sacrament, attending the temple) but I can also see how a loving Heavenly Father is mindful of them and how their freedom to choose has blessed their life. It will be interesting to see the paths they carve for themselves in the coming years.

  20. Andrew S on August 6, 2009 at 5:26 pm

    re 17:

    I fear our ends may still be opposed. I guess if your goal is to “instill a life-long habit of church activity,” then that’s one thing. But I would rather see people living happy, healthy, productive lives. If that includes church every Sunday, so be it. If it includes church some Sundays, so be it. If it doesn’t include church, or it includes a different church, so be it.

    I think the members should have enough faith to trust that the church has enough inherent value that cause people to *want* to attend (or at least *recognize* that the church is a place of value, happiness, healthiness, and productivity). With this faith, there should be no need to have to instill a “habit” or “tradition” of attendance. But I guess, if the church simply doesn’t have that value or its members cannot have faith that it has that value, then that’s unfortunate, but that’s the way the cookie crumbles.

  21. gst on August 6, 2009 at 6:22 pm

    Andrew, surely you are correct. If it’s not important to you that your kids stay in the church, then yours is a perfectly adequate way to go about it.

  22. Alison Moore Smith on August 6, 2009 at 7:19 pm

    Being a homeschooler, this discussion is reminding me more and more of the argument that comes from “unschoolers” and, to some extent TJEders. If you “force” a child to got to school, do schoolwork, learn something, read, etc., he will end up hating schoolwork and will never do it once he is “free” from his coercive parents.

    I think, generally, that the real point of disagreement is on what we mean by “force” or “require.” Does it mean drag them by their hair and tie them to the pew (or to the desk) and engage in waterboarding at the slightest resistance? The anti-coercion side (such as the Taking Children Seriously movement) tends to give this impression that this is what a requirement is.

    Yet most parents I know who “force” their kids to go to school and/or church and/or do chores and/or brush their teeth and/or not pound their siblings heads in, etc., don’t do anything remotely like that. Instead, they set a standard and then work with their kids to make it interesting, productive, positive, etc., while teaching them.

    If you take the position that requiring church attendance will turn out kids who usually hate church, then requiring ANYTHING of your kids is going to take some explaining.

  23. Kari on August 6, 2009 at 7:27 pm

    If a kid is mature enough at eight to understand and make baptismal commitments, he’s certainly capable of deciding whether or not to go to church. Why wait until he’s twelve or eighteen, or twenty-one?

  24. ZD Eve on August 6, 2009 at 7:30 pm

    For me the urgent consideration here is how to improve Primary. Sacrament meeting, no matter how wonderful it might be for adults, is rarely, if ever, going to appeal much to the average seven-year-old. That makes it all the more vital that the last hour and forty minutes of church offer that seven-year-old something he or she can hang onto, something worthwhile, something worth coming back for.

  25. Andrew S on August 6, 2009 at 8:02 pm

    re 21

    Please don’t think I’m trying to make a blanket statement. As I first wrote: I agree that it’s between parent and child, and children should be treated individually. I’m just trying to point out a perspective that may not be heard often: there are people who have to deal with the emotional (if not physical) damage of their family life with the church.

    I know too many people whose parents would first demonize them for not enjoying church, not wanting to go to church, or even leaving the church. I know too many people who are in a position where they already resign themselves to the knowledge that their parents and friends can only be happy for them as long as they are in tip-top standing within the church. And the love that these family members will show only amounts to attempts to bring the “wayward ones” back (or protecting the vulnerable from the wayward.)

    I’m not saying that everyone does that, or that everyone will become resentful. But if someone is resentful or you’re wondering what’s a good way to start, I’m guessing that that’s not far off.

  26. JES on August 7, 2009 at 11:02 am

    #22 – if you look in the bible dictionary under baptism it says that the requirements for baptism are that they are old enough to “be capable of belief and have some understanding”. I think people make far too big of a deal over how mature a kid needs to be to be baptized. If you let a child of 8 choose whether or not to go to church (or brush their teeth or take a shower or go to bed on time) 9 times out of 10 they’ll choose to stay home b/c it’s easier and more comfortable and less hassle. I’ve told my kids that they don’t have a choice right now whether or not to go to church so that by the time they’re really old enough to understand the choice they’re making (late teens, probably) they will be able to truly make a choice. How many kid who do not attend church regularly as a child in order to gain a good foundation in the gospel/church are going to choose to start going to church as a teenager of their own accord? It happens, but it’s less likely. (and just to make it clear, I wouldn’t force a child to get baptized if he/she really didn’t want to, but I would still require them to come to church unless it was emotionally damaging in a very real way – not just being “bored”.)

    And as a Primary worker, we do our very best in Primary to make it interesting and relevant. If you want to see changes, volunteer to be in Primary so you can help effect those changes, but also be understanding of the limitations we face. I’m also always open to suggestions, kindly given.

  27. Jonam on August 8, 2009 at 2:01 am

    Thanks, i got some useful information

  28. Velska on August 10, 2009 at 9:46 am

    The only time our kids (youngest is 18) have tried to buck going to Church, was when the second oldest said, as a 7-year-old, that he wants to stay home.

    We explained to him, that, living in the city, we could not possibly leave a 7-yo at home without a guardian, so he would just have to try that when he’s a little older.

    One of our kids does attend when he’s in home town – comes with us to see his buddies, but in his University town he does not attend regularly.

    I would say, that if you’re comfortable with leaving your kid unsupervised, you could basically let him/her stay home from church, at least occasionally.

  29. Kew on August 12, 2009 at 10:29 pm

    Starfoxy- My mom had a similar rule when I was in middle school. I distinctly remember suffering through the second half of school one day when I was sick because I knew if I went home I would not be allowed to go to mutual.

    I don’t know how the argument of 8 is old enough to be baptized fits in with children’s autonomy. Conveniently, I do not yet have children. I hope to have a household where things like church attendance are simply what we do. Actually, I hope we enjoy them, but I am less optimistic there. My husband, and myself to a lesser extent, had bouts of inactivity in his early/mid twenties. Heck, I wouldn’t be going to church myself this week if I wasn’t supposed to be teaching RS. Both of us has super active families when we were teens, and we were very involved then. I really don’t know what our pattern of attendance will be in 10, 15, 20 years.

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