5 Ways Parents and Leaders Can Tackle Tough Social Issues with Youth

brick-wall-891312-galleryFor the past decade, I’ve had the opportunity to work with youth and their leaders in a variety of Church callings in both North America and overseas. Through this, I’ve found that one of the greatest concerns they have is how they can help their youth understand doctrine and eternal truths in relation to current social issues—including the really difficult and often confusing ones. Here are a few things we might want to consider as we are teaching the rising generation how to stand strong against the world:

1. We can relate eternal truths to current social issues and trends. Don’t shy away from teaching the doctrine (even if it isn’t “politically correct”).

We live in a time when the adversary is using false doctrine and confusion to undermine our youth’s ability to progress spiritually.  With the rapid growth of alarming social trends, we need to teach the doctrine clearly, concisely, and without apology.  It is critical that parents and leaders keep up to date with current social issues and trends in order to understand what the youth are dealing with at school and online. We have to be better prepared and willing to talk to them about tough issues openly and candidly—without tip-toeing around the doctrine. The youth and young adults can handle it! They want to talk about these things! They are craving our guidance and direction on these tough issues.

In speaking to the youth regarding those in the world who promote false doctrines, Elder M. Russell Ballard said, “I hope none of our young people will be foolish enough to accept those sources as authority.”[1] We can certainly hope our children don’t accept false doctrines mixed with elements of truth, but if we aren’t teaching them doctrine in relation to specific, real-time examples, they may fall for the philosophies that make sin look reasonable and justifiable.

I think we do our youth a great disservice if we shy away from boldly teaching truth or apologize for the Lord’s standards and commandments. Remember, Satan is bold and unapologetic in teaching youth his false doctrines—and he’s not the only one who is hastening his work.

2. Teach them to really understand the doctrine of the soul and the body.

Much of the misunderstanding youth have about their bodies and human sexuality comes from not fully understanding the sanctity of the body and its connection to the soul. In fact, I don’t know if any of us fully comprehend or appreciate this crucial doctrine. There is so much to learn about it. The Doctrine and Covenants teach us that “The spirit and the body are the soul of man” (D&C 88:15; emphasis added). If we can help our youth understand that our bodies are sacred, that we must respect the sanctity of the body, and that our bodies are an essential part of our soul, we can better help them discern truth amidst the very confusing messages they receive from the world.

A fantastic place to start this conversation is with Elder Jeffery R. Holland’s “Of Souls, Symbols and Sacraments.[2] It’s a powerful discourse on the doctrine of the soul and human sexuality. If the rising generation (and their parents and leaders) were to take some time to utilize and internalize this talk, it could be the turning point in the fight against the adversary.

3. Teach them to refuse to be manipulated by the media and pop culture.

These days, we aren’t always the most careful and critical consumers of media. Our youth are being bombarded by messages from the media that are filled with half-truths, misleading headlines, falsified studies, and all types of immorality. These things are hitting them at an alarming speed and are coming at them from every direction. Some are obvious, while many are subtle and require a great deal of discernment. We need to better equip them to question the things they learn from the world—especially those things that contradict gospel teachings. Our youth need to develop more confidence in the gospel than they have in pop culture, the media, and even some of the philosophies in academia.

Yet sometimes I think we’re just a little too timid when teaching the youth how to recognize the philosophies of a very real and very manipulative Satan. Of this manipulation, Elder M. Russell Ballard says:

“Brothers and sisters, refuse to be used. Refuse to be manipulated. Refuse to support those things that violate traditional family values. We may be a small voice to begin with; nevertheless, let us speak out.” [3]

Satan’s attacks are directed against everything that The Family: A Proclamation to the World stands for. Parents and leaders need to have a testimony of this prophetic and revelatory document in order to help the youth tackle these issues head-on—and to speak out when necessary.  Don’t just assume they will somehow get the drift of these beliefs on their own. As President Spencer W. Kimball once taught, “The evil one knows where to attack. He is going to attack the home. He is going to destroy the family. That’s what he wants to do. … Let us make up our minds he will not do it in our families.”[4]

Knowing there are very real attacks waged against our children of all ages, let’s better arm them with all of the tools they need in order to discern between the world’s teachings and the Lord’s, and help them to “stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places” (Mosiah 18:9).

4. Teach that there are moral absolutes and eternal doctrines that come from God—no matter how much society drifts from the truth.

Our youth and young adults can easily fall into the trap of believing that truth is only relative, or that popular messaging or societal pressure creates truth (or at least can change it to fit popular trends).  Each day they face moral relativity among their peers, in their high schools and universities, and in the media. Of this, Elder Dallin H. Oaks has said:

“There are many political and social pressures for legal and policy changes to establish behaviors contrary to God’s decrees about sexual morality and contrary to the eternal nature and purposes of marriage and childbearing. These pressures have already authorized same-gender marriages in various states and nations. Other pressures would confuse gender or homogenize those differences between men and women that are essential to accomplish God’s great plan of happiness. Our understanding of God’s plan and His doctrine gives us an eternal perspective that does not allow us to condone such behaviors or to find justification in the laws that permit them. And, unlike other organizations that can change their policies and even their doctrines, our policies are determined by the truths God has identified as unchangeable.” [5]

And, in the words of President Dieter F. Ucthdorf:

“There is indeed such a thing as absolute truth—unassailable, unchangeable truth. This truth is different from belief. It is different from hope. Absolute truth is not dependent upon public opinion or popularity. Polls cannot sway it. Not even the inexhaustible authority of celebrity endorsement can change it.”[6]

5. Master the art of teaching them both love and the law.

An increasing number of our youth are getting confused about how to judge righteously and understand the crucial connection between both love and the law. Through scriptures and the teachings of modern-day prophets and apostles, the Lord has clearly set the standards of morality. We can consistently teach them that we cannot lower our standards to embrace or tolerate popular social trends that go against the commandments of God. We need to teach them that they are not being judgmental or un-Christ-like when they adhere to God’s standards. As Elder Dallin H. Oaks has taught, “A person violating commandments asserts that love should override the commandments of divine law. … If a person understands the teachings of Jesus, he or she cannot reasonably conclude that our loving Heavenly Father or His divine Son believes that Their love supersedes Their commandments.” In his conference talk on tolerance and love, Elder Russell M. Nelson taught that “real love for the sinner may compel courageous confrontation—not acquiescence! Real love does not support self-destructing behavior.” [7]

The teaching of both love and the law, including the wise use of righteous judgment, must be done so clearly and so correctly that it cannot be misunderstood. Social trends that go against God’s commandments will often appeal to our compassionate side, with the world focusing solely on love and ignoring moral laws. In the words of Elder Jeffery R. Holland:

“Christlike love is the greatest need we have on this planet in part because righteousness was always supposed to accompany it. So if love is to be our watchword, as it must be, then by the word of Him who is love personified, we must forsake transgression and any hint of advocacy for it in others. Jesus clearly understood what many in our modern culture seem to forget: that there is a crucial difference between the commandment to forgive sin (which He had an infinite capacity to do) and the warning against condoning it (which He never ever did even once).“[8]

Paraphrasing the words of Elder Holland, we need to teach our youth to be strong; to live the gospel faithfully even if others around them don’t live it at all; to defend their beliefs with courtesy and with compassion, but defend them. A long history of inspired prophets, apostles, parents, and leaders can point them toward the path of Christian discipleship. In courageously pursuing such a course, we can help the rising generation forge unshakable faith, find safety against ill winds that blow, and feel the rock-like strength of our Redeemer, upon whom if they build their unflagging discipleship, they cannot fall.


[1] Boyd K. Packer, “Covenants,” Oct. 1990 General Conference, Ensign, Nov. 1990.
[2] Jeffery R. Holland, “Of Souls, Symbols and Sacraments,” BYU Devotional, Jan. 1988.
[3] M. Russell Ballard, “Let Our Voices Be Heard,” Oct. 2003, General Conference, Ensign, Nov. 2003.
[4] Spencer W. Kimball, “Teachings: Spencer W. Kimball,” Chapter 19.
[5] Dallin H. Oaks, “No Other Gods,” Oct. 2013 General Conference, Ensign, Nov. 2013.
[6] Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “What is Truth,” LDS.org, Broadcasts, CES Devotional, Jan. 2013.
[7] Dallin H. Oaks, “Love and the Law,” Oct. 2009 General Conference, Ensign, Nov. 2009.
[8] Jeffrey R. Holland, “The Costs and Blessings of Discipleship,” Apr. 2014 General Conference, Ensign, May 2014.

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