By Laraine L. Thompson
Louis Sponseller, former member of our stake and past president of the Portland Stake held many parents and youth leaders at complete attention at a recent adult fireside sponsored by our stake presidency. Using a power point presentation, he skillfully described the often overwhelming challenges faced by today’s youth and conversely, the parents of those youth. It is no dark secret that the youth are more challenged than ever before. The adversarial powers have combined to make their lives unbearable at times. Young women have been told for a quarter of a century now that they can survive quite independently without the companionship of man. Young men, as a result, are confused about their care giving, protective roles. As a result, they are adrift; floundering in a world that somehow no longer needs them. Talk about frightening! He told the story of a father who arrived home one evening only to find his teenage daughter sitting alone in a darkened living room. When he realized that she was crying, he asked her the reason. Through her tears, she sobbed, “Home is the only place where I can feel safe!” It was fortunate for her that her home afforded her that sort of comfort. What a pity for many more youth, even those within our church, whose homes do not provide them much, if any safety—particularly spiritual safety.
The cover of the March Ensign with a headline reading, “Home—A Sacred and Safe Haven” echoes the words of President Sponseller. Inside the reader finds a selection of art from around the world that embodies the power that is ours as parents if we will but fully embrace the gospel of Jesus Christ and live it genuinely, fully, and lovingly within the walls of our homes. The result of not doing just this is taking a staggering toll on our youth.
President Sponseller repeatedly referenced two important books, Restoring the Teenage Soul: Nurturing Sound Hearts and Minds in a Confused Culture, written by Margaret J. Meeker and Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers by Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton. He described that President Gordon B. Hinckley himself had, upon occasion referred to these books as well. They are difficult to find in local bookstores but are available through Amazon Books at very reasonable prices. Citing statistics from Soul Searching… it would seem that Latter-day Saint youth are doing well in understanding and living their religion. The temptation to be smug emerges, but then we realize, we must check those impulses! We know that we can and must do better.
We learned as we already knew that as our children grow and become more independent, we hug and kiss them less and less. It seems a natural thing for us. After all, they begin to pull away from us and almost seem embarrassed by our affections. We want to accommodate their burgeoning maturity, but we may be doing them a disservice. A mere touch to the face or the stroke of a teenager’s hair sends a powerful signal to them that they are loved, that we are still there to continue to protect and nurture them. Mother Teresa knew well that this simple act could provide miracles in the lives of touch deprived orphans in India. With all that she did to mend broken hearts, touch was her primary weapon against a cruel and wicked world. Such a simple act….no matter the age of our children, touch we must, hug, we must, affirm, we must.
President Sponseller shared a video in which President Gordon B. Hinckley in a worldwide leadership training broadcast a few years back emphasized the critical importance of maintaining our relationship with our youth and particularly our young women. He said, “When you save a girl, you save generations!” What an astounding thought! It invigorates our imagination, our determination; it prompts us to increase our efforts as parents and leaders.
Time of course was its usual thief. We had precious little to explore the critical truths shared with us by President Sponseller. He left us hungry for much, much more. This subject is very near and dear to his heart. He will willingly share it again and again—in a ward setting, in another stake setting. Truly, it was a night that those of us who attended will not soon forget.
Photo source: LDS Media Library