In the October 2012 general conference, President Thomas S. Monson announced that young men could now be recommended for missionary service at age 18, and young women could serve at age 19. At a press conference held between the Saturday morning and afternoon conference sessions, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland invited parents “to take a strong hand in this preparation and not expect that it is somehow the responsibility of local church leaders, or the missionary department of the church or MTC’s to provide and direct all of that.” Notice where Elder Holland placed the responsibility to train the future missionary force—not on local church units or missionary training centers but on mothers and fathers!
Since parents have the primary responsibility for teaching their sons and daughters the gospel of Jesus Christ, raising the bar for our future missionaries means raising the bar for parents as well!
Over the years as a family counselor, priesthood leader, and parent, I have noticed several key mistakes that many contemporary parents consistently make. If we want to drastically improve the effectiveness of our missionary force and help our children be better prepared for the real world of “adulthood,” we must be willing to learn from these mistakes and make course corrections. Here are seven common parenting mistakes—and how to fix them.
1. Not teaching your children how to work effectively.
Even though most parents understand how important the concept of “work” is, very few parents today are willing to teach their children how to work. Ask any mission president and they will tell you: The most successful missionaries are those who have learned how to work. Most parents understand that if their children are going to become successful adults, a strong work ethic is vital to their future achievements.
Solution: Parents should spend time working beside their children. Make work fun. Wonderful family discussions and memories can be made as families weed flower beds together, paint rooms, and clean their homes. Children should have chores to do each day, and when they become older, they should secure summer and part-time jobs.
2. Teaching children that obedience is optional.
Children learn through media and other outlets that they do not have to obey teachers, church leaders, or even parents for that matter. In some cases, parents have contributed to their children’s disobedience by allowing it. In many homes, parents call, and their children don’t come; parents say stop, and their children keep going; parents have curfews, and children come home whenever they want. What are we teaching our children when they are not expected to obey? If parents do not teach or expect their children to be obedient, how will they learn later in their lives to respect and obey their bishop or their boss? How will they follow the instruction and counsel of their stake president or mission president? How will they learn to follow the prophet in these latter days?
Solution: Have your children help create some family rules. You don’t need too many rules—just 3-5 really good ones. When rules are obeyed, children should be praised or rewarded in some fashion. When rules are broken, children should be disciplined. Help children understand that obedience to rules helps to keep order and peace.
3. Protecting children from anything they don’t want to do, or anything that is hard, uncomfortable, or inconvenient.
Too many parents are overly concerned with coddling and protecting their children, instead of preparing them for the “cold, cruel world.” Consequently, children have been robbed of developing strength, fortitude, and resilience. For children to grow, develop, and mature, they must experience life’s demands and challenges—firsthand.
Solution: Encourage your children to do hard and difficult things. Help them understand that real self-worth and confidence comes from engaging in things that are difficult—not easy. Children can take challenging classes and come up with their own solutions. Parents should do hard and difficult things with their children, such as running races, hiking, swimming, and other physically demanding activities. Teach your children not to quit.
Get more LDS parenting tips in Raising an Army of Helaman's Warriors: A Guide for Parents to Prepare the Greatest Generation of Missionaries by Mark D. Ogletree, Ph.D. and Kevin A. Hinckley, MA.
More about the book:
You don't need to be an expert to be a good parent; you just need the Lord's help. Learn how to seek out the best parenting guide--the Holy Ghost--in this insightful and inspiring book. With personal stories, research, and interviews, this is every parent's must-read handbook for finding answers and keeping the Spirit in their home.
4. Teaching your children that agency means freedom.
Many parents confuse agency and freedom. “Freedom” is to allow your children to do whatever they want, without any consequences. “Agency,” is the freedom to choose, but there are always consequences for those choices—both good and bad. When our children make wise choices, we reward them with more freedom, more trust, and more opportunities. Likewise, when children make wrong choices, we teach them by taking privileges away and limiting their choices and opportunities.
Solutions: Teach your children the doctrine of agency as taught in 2 Nephi 2:27. Help them understand that wise choices lead to more freedom, while poor choices result in captivity. Parents should follow this teaching model to help prepare their children for real life experiences.
5. Teaching your children that you will be there to solve every problem.
When children learn to do things for themselves, they build resilience. Parents shouldn’t be sad when their young children to learn to climb up onto the kitchen counter to grab a cup so they can get a drink. Instead, parents should celebrate this kind of independence.
Solution: Instead of telling your child what they are going to do, ask them, “What do you think about this?” Or “How will you solve that problem?” Instead of giving your children all of the answers, teach them how to find the answers on their own. Don’t do anything for your children that they can do on their own!
6. Sheltering children from rejection and disappointment.
Years ago, there were many disappointments in life for young children. For instance, when a child lost in a sporting event, they had to learn deal with defeat. There was no trophy or party for the losers. Today, everyone makes the team and everyone gets a trophy. Consequently, children aren’t learning how to handle rejection and disappointment. Sometimes, a young man or woman’s first time dealing with rejection and disappointment is when they serve a mission. The persecution missionaries face can be relentless.
Solution: Don’t cushion your children from every challenge and trial. Instead, help them face obstacles head on. Help your children understand the purpose of opposition and challenges, as well as how to learn and grow from failures.
7. Teaching your children that they don’t need a testimony right now—it can wait until they are older.
Too many modern parents don’t require much from their children when it comes to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Some don’t encourage, or even insist, that their children attend seminary, show up regularly for church, or participate in Wednesday night youth activities for fear that forcing these behaviors will cause children to be resentful. In some cases, these children are quasi-active in the Church at best, yet their parents assume that, nevertheless, they will still be endowed in the temple and serve faithful missions. That’s not how the equation works.
Solution: Teach your children to always be where they are supposed to be, when they are supposed to be there, doing what they are supposed to be doing. Don’t let your children waste so much time in idle pursuits, such as with video games and social media. Help immerse them in activities and practices where they can feel the Spirit and strengthen their faith.
If we as parents can correct some of these mistakes, we will help our children become stronger, more resilient, and better prepared to deal with the challenges life has to offer.