Growing up in the LDS Church, I had a small booklet that guided me through my teenage years. "The Strength of Youth" helped me define my standards in every aspect of my life, with more detail added in subsequent editions.
But my views have changed quite a bit since those days. I'm grateful for the guidance this book gave me, but they also led me to be judgmental, both of myself and others. They perpetuated harmful ideas about race, class, gender, and "worthiness." In my adult years, there have been times when I wish I'd had some different version of these standards--something to give me guidance without making things so black and white. I know teenage brains don't always handle nuance as well, but I'm pretty sure most of them can do better than we give them credit for.
So I decided to write my own version of "For the Strength of Youth." The kind I wish I'd had, and the kind I wish was available to youth today. Many of you may be scandalized that I'm taking something written by Church leaders and re-writing it, and I understand if your feelings are hurt by that. But it was just such a convenient format to encapsulate these ideas.
Some of the language has remained, some has been adjusted. I've tried to keep the same general tone, for simplicity.
You can read the full current "For the Strength of Youth" standards from the LDS Church here, but here are the sections:
Agency and Accountability
Dress and Appearance
Education (changed to "Education and Learning")
Entertainment and Media
Friends (changed to "Compassion and Empathy")
Honesty & Integrity (removed)
Language (IMPORTANT NOTE: SPECIFIC OFFENSIVE WORDS ARE WRITTEN IN THIS SECTION TO GIVE TEENAGERS THE KNOWLEDGE THEY NEED)
Music and Dancing (removed)
Physical and Emotional Health
Sabbath Day Observance (removed)
Sexual Purity (changed to "Sexuality and Gender")
Tithes and Offerings (removed)
Work and Self-Reliance (changed to "Financial Responsibility")
ADDED: Good Citizenship
Go Forward with Faith (changed to "Go Forward with Hope and Courage"
Agency and Accountability
Freedom of thought, speech, and action is one of the most precious aspects of being a human being. Do not let others coerce you into thinking, feeling, or being anything other than what you wish. Develop and use critical thinking skills.
Note that while you are free to choose your course of action, you are not always free to choose the consequences. Sometimes your words or actions may hurt others. When that happens, acknowledge their pain, offer an apology, and make restitution.
Do not infringe upon the right of others to think, speak, and act as they wish. If you disagree with them, speak out rather than silencing others.
A date is a planned activity that allows people to get to know each other. In cultures where dating is acceptable, it can help you learn and practice social skills, develop friendships, have fun, and eventually find a romantic companion if you wish.
Be kind and courteous when you ask for, accept, or decline a date. Never coerce anyone into a date. This is especially important for young men. Rejection is often painful, but “no” does not mean “try harder.” Learn to respect another person’s desires, especially those of young women. Young women, do not feel obligated to say yes to anything that makes you feel unsafe or uncomfortable. You may decline any dates, dances, and/or conversations that you wish to.
Be honest in your interactions with others, and do not play “hard to get.” This only reinforces the false idea that “no” means “try harder.”
Remember that dates don’t have to be expensive or elaborate. Find ways to enjoy time together in situations that are safe, both physically and emotionally.
Dress and Appearance
Your body is a powerful tool to help you accomplish things during your life on earth.
Some may have you think that the way you dress affects the thoughts and feelings of those around you, and that you are responsible for helping them maintain "pure thoughts" by keeping certain parts of your body covered. This is not true. You cannot control the thoughts and feelings of those around you. Furthermore, if the way someone is dressed affects your thoughts and feelings, those thoughts and feelings are your own responsibility. This is true regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.
In many cultures, a great deal of emphasis is placed on appearance, whether it be weight, skin tone, height, or other features. But your body’s primary function is not to be looked at. Rather, your body’s primary function is to experience life on earth. Celebrate the positive things your body can do, instead of what others may think of how it looks.
Avoid making disparaging remarks about appearance, whether your own or someone else’s. If others make disparaging remarks about your own appearance, try to have patience and compassion and remember that their opinion does not change your inherent worth.
Education and Learning
Education is an empowering force to better prepare you for greater service in the world. It will help you better provide for yourself, your family, and those in need. But more importantly, it will help you be wise and thoughtful in your every day life.
If you are able to obtain a formal education, make college a goal. If college is not a good fit or an attainable option, strive to find ways to educate yourself on your own. Seek out as many different perspectives as you can, and study even those you disagree with.
Maintain an enthusiasm for learning throughout your life. Find joy in continuing to learn and in expanding your interests.
Do not worry too much about whether or not your formal education will help you be “successful” or “rich.” Be mindful of what your life may look like in various careers, but pursue the things that ignite your passion.
Entertainment and Media
We live in a marvelous time of media—video games, television, film, theatre, dance, music, books, magazines, social media, podcasts, websites, and more. There is much that will help you gain greater empathy and understanding, and/or that will allow you a respite from your troubles.
Use wise judgement in choosing what media you consume. Pay attention to the messages surrounding sexuality, violence, culture, and the human experience. When there is violence, how do the characters experience the consequences? When there is sexuality, how does it inform the characters or plot? How does the media you consume break or perpetuate harmful stereotypes? It takes practice to learn how to answer these questions, but if you are uncertain, talk it out with others. If you feel that your empathy is lessened because of the media you are consuming, shift your use.
When using social media, be compassionate to others, even when you disagree with them. Never say anything on the internet that you wouldn’t be willing to say in person.
You may have been told to avoid pornography at all costs, and that viewing it is addictive. This is not necessarily true, but be aware that pornography is not an accurate representation of human sexuality.
Think of a high speed car chase in a movie. Because you have likely ridden in or driven a car, you know that the car chase you’re witnessing onscreen is the high-adrenaline version of driving. Pornography is like that high speed car chase. It may normalize things that are violent or unrealistic. If you are curious about sexuality, ask a trusted adult for resources.
Also be aware that there is a great deal of abuse within the pornography industry. Be as ethical as you can be in your choices of what to consume.
Compassion and Empathy
In order to participate in society, you must learn to practice compassion for those around you. Work to be patient, to give others the benefit of the doubt, and to nurture empathy within yourself. These things will help you have more meaningful connections and help you be an influence for good in the world.
These traits are also deeply important in your relationships with friends and family. This does not mean that you need to remain in situations that are harmful, or allow others to take advantage of you. Boundaries allow you to show compassion for yourself and others equally.
How you communicate should reflect who you are as a person. Use your words to uplift, encourage, articulate, and question. Do not use your words to bully, insult, demean, harass, or threaten others, whether in person or in writing. Even in teasing, sometimes using unkind words can have painful effects.
Never use words that are sexist, racist, homophobic, or ableist, or that perpetuate discrimination of any kind. For the purposes of education, examples of these kinds of words include: nigger (if you are not Black), wetback, chink, lame, fag/faggot, retard/retarded, kike, gay (when used to describe something disliked).
If someone asks you to refrain from using certain words around them, respect their request. Always use the correct names and pronouns for those around you.
Physical and Emotional Health
Caring for your body will help you enjoy a fulfilling life.
Eat nutritious food, exercise regularly, and get regular sleep. Others may attempt to convince you that if you are above a certain weight, you are unhealthy. But know that weight is only one very small part of overall health, and that you are valuable and worthy and can be healthy no matter what your shape, size, or weight.
In your teenage years, it’s important to be sparing and mindful in your use of alcohol, cannabis, and other drugs. You may be curious, but these substances can having lasting effects on brain development. It’s best to wait until you are older to consume or experiment with these things. (Do not ever “huff” glue or other household chemicals, as these practices can cause immediate death, even if you’ve never tried this practice before.)
Your brain and nervous system are also important parts of your body, and should also receive care. Yoga, mindfulness, and cognitive-behavioral therapy can all help you maintain a healthy nervous system and process your emotions. You can learn these things from classes, apps, books, or YouTube channels.
Seek professional help for prolonged/consistent feelings of sadness or anxiety, distressing thoughts, and/or unresolved trauma.
You deserve wholeness and wellness, in both body and mind.
Sexuality and Gender
Sexuality is an important part of being human. Sexual dreams, arousal, and masturbation are some of the ways that humans experience sexuality before they share their sexuality with another person, and they continue throughout one's lifetime.
How, where, when, why, and with whom you share your sexuality with others is completely up to you. However, in all sexual experiences with others, make sure you have the “three C’s”: Consent, Communication, and Contraception.
Consent is agreement to participate in any sexual activity and/or intimate touch. Consent must be given freely and enthusiastically, and can be withdrawn at any time. It may feel awkward to ask permission or check in, but it is absolutely vital, especially if you aren’t as practiced at reading body language or other social cues. Never do anything violent (such as slapping or choking) as part of your sexuality until and unless you have learned about proper consent and after-care.
Communication also takes practice, but being clear about expectations, desires, triggers, preferences, and more will help you to have meaningful experiences. You are allowed to communicate if you do or don’t like something, and you are allowed to ask for something you want.
Unless you are trying to become pregnant, make sure you use contraception to protect against unwanted pregnancies and infections. Condoms are often the cheapest and most effective options if there is a penis involved. Clinics like Planned Parenthood often have free resources with detailed information about contraception, and often carry free condoms.
Know that there is nothing you could do or have done to you that would make you “dirty,” “shameful,” or unworthy in any way. Women are often made to feel that their worth is dependent on how they experience or share their sexuality. To you young women: You are not a bad girl, or a good girl. You are simply a girl.
If you have experienced sexual assault, violence, or harassment (anything that happened without your consent), there is help for you. Reach out to a trusted adult, close friend, or hotline.
Sexual orientation is who you are most attracted to. You may be gay/lesbian (attracted to your own gender), straight (attracted to the binary opposite gender), bisexual (attracted to both binary genders), pansexual (attracted to people regardless of their gender), asexual (not attracted to anyone), or still figuring it out. People can even change throughout their lifetimes! None of these are superior or more normal than any other.
Gender identity has to do with your own gender. Many people are “cisgender,” which means that they identify with the gender they were assigned at birth, based on their genitals. Many others are “transgender,” meaning that they identify more closely with the opposite gender from the one they were assigned, or that they identify with both or neither. How you dress or speak or look can sometimes show the world things about your gender, but they don’t have to.
Regardless of your sexual orientation or gender identity, you are valued and loved. You have much to contribute to the world. Find connections with friends and loved ones who celebrate and respect you no matter what.
If you have more questions about sexuality, check out the following resources:
No matter what your financial circumstances, be honest and diligent in your financial activities. Find a good budgeting system that works for you, and practice saving if possible. If you have extra money that you do not need for yourself or don't wish to save, consider how you could use those funds to improve the lives of those around you, whether through donations to non-profits, gifts to friends, or supporting small local businesses.
Try to spend your money ethically when possible. You can “vote with your dollar” to show support for companies who prioritize fairness, equity, and sustainability.
If you live in a country where you are able to vote, register and use this powerful tool to be an influence for good in your community. Take time to be informed about the issues, both local and global, and find ways that you can contribute to the growth of humanity. Work for equity and fair treatment of all people.
Make an effort to live sustainably. You have a responsibility to help take care of this planet, and to use its resources wisely. Research and implement small steps to make a difference.
Go Forward with Hope and Courage
Each generation has an opportunity to learn from the previous generation, and then to go out and make the world better. Sometimes this is easy, and other times, it may be very challenging. But you are equipped with unique talents and interests, strengths and abilities, and you can be confident that you have something beautiful to contribute to the world.