As a youth leader, you may be one of the most important people in the life of a teenager who joins the church without her parents. While her parents should always be the most important resource for her, there will now be some things they simply won’t understand, and may not be able to help her with. As her leader, you will be the person she will turn to when she needs a “church parent.”
Be careful, in all you do, not to take the parent’s place, or to become more important than the parent. Even if the parents don’t respond to the child’s conversion the way you might hope, the teenager must always love, respect, and honor her parents, and it is in part your job to make sure she does. My bishop and my youth leaders consistently praised my parents to me and sent me back to them for those things that should be their decision. They taught me to trust my parents and to respect the way they lived their lives, and worked only to add additional dimensions to my life, not to replace the life my parents chose for me. Express appreciation often for the good things the parent has done—allowing their teenager to attend or join the church, setting certain standards that match those of the child’s, attending special events with their child. Watch carefully for things you can praise, because often teen converts are frustrated at the differences between their parents and those of their LDS friends. Help them see what is good and the same.
When the teenager does come to you for advice, be respectful of her fears, even if they seem silly to you. Perhaps it seems meaningless to you for a thirteen-year-old girl to be worrying about how her parents will react when she marries in the temple some day and her parents can’t attend, but take that worry seriously. She is trying to pull together her new LDS identity and set a pattern for the future. If you push her fears away, she may never ask for advice again and when she’s old enough to marry, she may simply decide to forego the temple. However, wise and sensitive advice today can cause her to choose a pattern of good choices now that will send her in the right direction for the future.
Help your teen student find ways to live the gospel within the confines of the rules and structures of her home. Be creative. How can she have family home evening when no one at home is LDS? How can she keep the Sabbath Day holy when no one else is?
Give your teen student a glimpse into LDS life. After my baptism, members invited me to family home evenings and other LDS family events. One family allowed me to watch their bedtime routines so I saw how family prayer and scripture study were done in an LDS home. When the time came for me to marry in the temple, a thoughtful visiting teacher answered the questions that most LDS young women knew simply by living with endowed parents. None of this, which seems so ordinary to you, is ordinary to your teen convert, who may be mystified as to how an LDS home works.
Terrie Lynn Bittner
The late Terrie Lynn Bittner—beloved wife, mother, grandmother, and friend—was the author of two homeschooling books and numerous articles, including several that appeared in Latter-day Saint magazines. She became a member of the Church at the age of 17 and began sharing her faith online in 1992.