Helping Children Who Have Transgressed

"Parents should talk to them. They probably have problems and feel like their parents don't care about them. Parents should calmly talk to them and understand how they feel. They should let them know that they care and want to help. " (Teenage boy.)

There are no guarantees when working with our children, because they have desires, minds, and wills of their own. Occasionally, in spite of everything that we do, some children end up making poor decisions, and a few lose their chastity. It is important in these situations to realize that all is not lost. There are many things we can do to help our children find their way back again.

To help us imagine how we would feel in this difficult situation, I have included some insights from a good Latter-day Saint couple who had to face this problem with one of their daughters. The couple was kind enough to share how they felt when they first found out that their daughter was pregnant and some of the feelings that followed during the next few weeks.

MOTHER: When the doctor came in and said that my daughter was pregnant, it still hit me real hard, even though I thought that she might be. I was just numb, and I couldn't say anything. When we got into the car I started to cry, and I bawled all of the way home. My daughter was crying also, and we didn't say much. Finally I asked her, "Why didn't you tell me?" She said that she just couldn't. It was really hard! She felt really sorry at the time and, when we got home, she went right to her room and stayed in there and cried.

FATHER: Although I just knew that she was pregnant, the whole day while I was waiting, there was still that hope that I was wrong. I didn't want to accept it. When my wife told me that our daughter really was expecting, I quit work and started home. My feelings became worse and worse until I didn't want to face anyone. By the time I got home, there was no way I wanted to go into the house, because I was afraid of what I would do and say. So I simply started walking, and I walked for two or three miles. It was cold, and I didn't have a jacket on, but I didn't really care. I would just as soon have died. If I could have opened up a hole and crawled in and pulled the hole in over me, I would just as soon have done it. My daughter had turned against everything that I had ever taught her.

MOTHER: My husband handled it really well. I was proud of him. He walked and walked, and our daughter was afraid for him to come in and talk to her. When he finally came in, he had been thinking and praying. He came in, put his arms around her, and reassured her that he loved her and was disappointed that this had happened. I was really proud of him because I knew that he was upset and angry inside.

FATHER: If I had gone into the house right at first, I probably would have hit her, because that's what I really wanted to do. I wanted to take out my frustrations on her. It was hard for me when the boy came over to decide about the marriage. I found myself wanting to hit him when he stepped through the door.

MOTHER: We cried all night the first night, and it was hard for a long time to go to church and hear people bear their testimonies about their families and hear them talk about temple marriages that they had attended.

FATHER: My first reaction was to get them married and out of the house, and I struggled with these feelings for several days. I didn't want to speak with anyone, especially my friends and relatives. I was mad and thoroughly disgusted with everything, but talking to relatives and friends helped me get over these feelings.

MOTHER: We first thought that we would not give a nice reception but just a small open house. Everyone thought that we would lose them if we did and that they would never forgive us and be close to us. They told us that a nice reception would show them that we still loved them and build our relationship so that we could teach them. We really wanted that, but we felt very uncomfortable.

FATHER: I just couldn't figure out why. Why would she let her standards down? She had never given us any real problems.

MOTHER: We really felt like we had taught her chastity. We were constantly sharing ideas and concepts with her in an informal way. I kept telling her that she needed to have Heavenly Father's help when she dated and ought to pray before she went out on dates. I could feel her shutting me off, and I knew that she wasn't praying. That really worried me because I felt that she wasn't receiving the help that she needed from the Lord.

It was really worrying us that she wouldn't pray. When she turned fifteen or sixteen her attitudes changed and she wanted to be popular. She didn't feel that it was the popular thing to be really religious. She didn't want to study the scriptures with us anymore and developed a poor attitude about having family home evening with us.

FATHER: You listen to your children pray when they are young and it's just a child's prayer. Her prayers had begun to mean something as she grew up. When she became fifteen, her prayers, instead of becoming better, started to go right back and become just words.

MOTHER: We really blamed ourselves. You can't help but blame yourself when this happens, and you're just devastated. We tried to do all the right things but somehow we failed. We failed!

FATHER: We thought, "Where did we go wrong? What did we do wrong?"

MOTHER: Maybe self-esteem? Maybe we didn't praise her enough and love her enough. We thought that we had, but we blamed ourselves anyway. I think that we feel better about it now, but at that time we really blamed ourselves. Everyone kept trying to tell us, "You can't blame yourselves--it happens to the best of families. All you can do is try to do your best."

FATHER: I had seen other people that had had these problems, and I could see that they didn't hold family home evening or that they were not very close to their kids. When it hit us, I just kept thinking, "What did we do wrong?" It was just really hard for me to accept. I think it was harder for me to accept than it was for my wife. I asked to be released from my Church position--how could I be an effective leader when I had failed with my daughter? The bishop refused to release me. Thank goodness for that.

MOTHER: We started to worry about our other children and what they would do with the gospel. If our one daughter did this, what would happen to them? It's still hard occasionally when parents talk about going to the temple with their children. When you have that goal for so many years and then this happens, it's hard.

These parents reacted as many of us would react under similar conditions. They did many things to help overcome the problem. Their comments reveal several important principles that can help any of us if we are faced with this problem. These principles are discussed below.

Review Past Conduct

We will feel better about things if we review the good things we have done in the past to help our children stay morally clean. These same things will also help our children repent. It is never too late to start doing these things with our children.

1. Study the scriptures and pray together.

2. Teach modesty and the facts of life and continue to discuss these areas openly and honestly.

3. Do fun things together as a family.

4. Support our children in their activities.

5. Hold personal interviews with our children.

6. Set an example in our choice of entertainment and reading material.

7. Spend lots of time with our children.

8. Express love in our speech and actions.

9. Listen to our children and respect their opinions.

10. Establish dating guidelines and standards consistent with the teachings of the Church.

Pray

The father of the girl who had been immoral took a walk and prayed before he approached his daughter. Our Father in heaven knows what our children need to hear, and it is critical that we pray and ask him for guidance and self-control before we approach a child with a moral problem. This will help us control our emotions and want to help the child rather than show our anger.

Show Love and Support

The couple in the example didn't criticize their daughter; they made every effort to show her that they still loved her. An extra effort needs to be made to demonstrate love, both in word and in deed.

Listen and Understand

Young people who have lost their chastity are faced with numerous emotional problems, and we need to let them know that we are concerned about them. Too many parents give the impression that they are more concerned with their own reputation than with the problems their teenagers are facing.

Only when we have come to understand how our teenagers feel are we in a position to offer much advice or direction. They could feel extremely sorry or not sorry at all. They may feel bad because they have lost their chastity, or they may feel bad because we have found out. They may feel repentant, or they may feel that there is no hope. We will never know how our children feel until we listen.

As we listen to our children, we cannot afford to act shocked, to criticize, or to stand in judgment. We must simply and honestly try to understand how they feel.

Help Them Determine Their Goals

After we have come to understand how our children feel, we might ask them, "What do you want to do now? What do you really want out of life?" Too many times we impose our own goals and wishes upon our children. We need to help them clarify what their future goals really are. They may then come to realize that they really do want the blessings of eternal life and the opportunities that the Church offers. They are then in a much better position to repent and do the things necessary to regain the Spirit and have full fellowship in the Church.

Help Them Repent

Once we know how our children feel and what they desire, we can advise them on what they need to do to repent. If they don't want to repent, we need to love them, pray for them, and stay close to them so that when they are ready we will be there.

Although children who have transgressed need to confess their sins to the bishop, we can help them realize that forgiveness comes from the Lord. The key to repentance is redeveloping a relationship with our Father in heaven and with Jesus Christ. This is done through prayer, study, and gospel living.

As they meet with the bishop, he may impose some restrictions on them. This is to help them realize the importance of chastity and the responsibilities that come with membership in the Church. They will need lots of love and support through this difficult period of their repentance. We can pray for them and with them and help them to repent.

Sometimes our children don't respond at the rate that we would like them to. Occasionally they don't seem to respond at all or even seem to retrogress in their relationship with us and the Lord. We need to patiently pray, show love, listen, try to understand, and look for ways to help them understand the gospel. Sometimes it takes years, but the Lord won't give up on them and neither should we. Most people cannot resist a spirit of love and concern over a long period of time.

We can't afford to be pushy. We need to give them room so they can grow without backing down or losing face. Most of our children will eventually respond and, if not, we need to keep in mind that each of us is responsible for his own actions and not blame ourselves for the decisions of our children. We will then be in a much better position to help them and others because we will feel good about ourselves and our relationship with the Lord.

Following are comments from teenagers about what parents can do when their children have been immoral:

1. Love them! Show them that you care and want to help them. Don't shut them out. Keep in mind that the Lord still loves them and wants you to help them get back to him.

2. They have to try to become best friends and love each other so they can talk freely without feeling embarrassed and low.

3. Tell them that they will help them get their lives back together, and be on their side. Go to a counselor if they feel that their son or daughter needs it.

4. Show them that they still love and care about them and that they understand and want to help.

5. They should talk to them. They probably have problems and feel that their parents don't care about them. Parents should calmly talk to them and understand how they feel. They should let them know they care and want to help.

6. I think the best thing they can do is support them. I think that they should stand by them no matter what they have done. They also need to forgive and forget, not bringing it up all the time, because what is done is done.

7. Talk to them, let them know that they want to help them, and give them guidelines to repentance.

8. Try to understand their children and show that they really do care. Parents can explain not just that the children chose wrong but why it was wrong, and gradually lead them into the steps of repentance.

9. Forgive them, love them, still accept them. Try your best to trust them. Don't tell them what they should have done--they already know. Just be there so they have a shoulder to cry on.

10. Parents can understand and give their children as much love as possible. They can talk them into talking with the bishop and repenting.

11. Understand what they've done and not get mad at them. Direct them to the bishop but don't force them.

12. Talk to them and reassure them. Don't act like they are humiliated or embarrassed. Act like it is your problem too. Ask the children if they want to change. Maybe they don't! If they don't want to change, just let them go and keep praying for them.

13. Talk to them. Show them what they are doing with their lives. But don't be pushy, because young adults don't like pushy parents. They have to try to be as understanding as possible.

14. Not rush them, but not be real lenient about it either.

15. Let them know it isn't too late. They can become clean with time, but they must try really hard.

16. They can talk to them about what they did and why they did it and pray with them and help them talk to their bishop.

17. Don't smother them, but let them know that they still care about them. Let them know that they are not mad at them. Most of all, don't center everything around it.

18. Try to understand and don't get embarrassed or angry. Come closer to them instead of disowning them.

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