Our kids are growing up in a world far different from the one we grew up in. They consume information in 144-character tweets, 2-second snaps, and viral sound bites. They can find answers instantly, get a “how-to” on just about anything, and create masterpieces with their fingertips. They love the real and authentic, are uncomfortable with stillness and see through “fake” faster than they can spell it. They have been taught to question, love a cynic, and often mistrust authority. Is it any wonder that getting and holding their attention for gospel related learning or Come, Follow Me isn’t as simple as we hoped it would be?
I have found that the best way to get them reinvested in the teachings of the gospel is by showing them how relevant they are to them in their everyday life, not just for their eternal salvation. When I help the youth in my home and at church understand why the gospel matters to them NOW and present it in a way that reaches them, it changes everything. Here are a few ways to do that.
- Make scripture stories current. Most of our youth have heard about Nephi breaking his bow, and they can’t fully relate to that experience, but how many can relate to trying to do the right thing and everything going wrong? Most! This story is a beautiful way to teach current, important life lessons like staying optimistic, working hard after a disappointment, making new plans, and then being blessed by the Lord. What a great opportunity to share when each of us has been in a spot like this and how we endured and relied on the Lord. We MUST liken the scriptures unto us at every opportunity and help our kids do the same.
- Understand and explain the scriptures. I have noticed that most youth really struggle with understanding the scriptures in the language they are written in. So, we have to help them! We can do this by giving a little background, summarizing what will be or has been read, asking the group what they understood or what they had questions about, and then testifying of the principles that were being taught. This requires a little extra effort on our part...we have to be prepared, so we may need extra study time or commentary, we might need to watch a video or podcast, or ask someone else for help. If we aren’t sure about what we are teaching, our youth will see right through it and quickly become uninterested. It is impossible to convert others without first understanding ourselves.
- Use current events. Youth like to know that what they are learning matters right now. If you are having a lesson on gratitude, find an article that shows how a daily gratitude practice increases happiness. Doing a lesson on wholesome media? Look for a report that shows the effects of too much screen time. Teaching about service? Find a study that shows the benefits of living a life not focused on self. Tie what you are studying into the world around you. Showing how the principles God teaches us lead to a more fulfilling life today has a great effect.
- Incorporate media. The youth today are exceptionally visual. Our leaders understand this and have worked to create endless amounts of content to help bring the gospel to life in a way that will connect with a younger audience. Use what has been created! When we don’t, we are missing out on powerful ways to teach and reach those who need it most.
- Let the kids talk. The biggest complaint I hear from youth is, “Our teachers don’t let us talk.” or “It feels like they just want to get through the whole lesson.” or “It wasn’t really a discussion at all.” Today’s kids want to be heard. They want to share ideas and opinions and if there isn’t room for them to do that, what is being taught doesn’t feel relevant to them at all. Don’t be afraid to not finish a lesson. Don’t shut down a good discussion. Don’t be afraid to be off-topic for a minute. Never treat Come, Follow Me as a lecture.
- Change it up. Most of our youth are used to frequently switching content, so if you want to keep things relevant, change the way you teach. Add in an activity, a video, or group work. Just sitting and listening for an hour is much too long for anyone to stay engaged.
- Tie in local events. Stay in touch with what is happening in the lives of the youth you work with. If prom is coming up, perhaps you can bring that into the lesson. If someone has just participated in a service opportunity, ask them to share their experiences. Is a group about to get their license? Maybe there is an opportunity to talk about following rules and laws. Stay connected with those you teach and use the spirit to help guide your discussion to what will be most meaningful for them.
- Use personal experiences. In my opinion, nothing makes the gospel more relevant than sharing your own personal experiences. Never hesitate to show how the gospel has affected you personally for good and ask others to do the same.
- Let them share. The most powerful personal experiences are the ones shared by class members or the youth in your own family. You may need to give them advance notice, allow them time to think or give them something to write on and capture their thoughts. Experiences from peers make the gospel feel real, accessible and doable.
- Address questions. One of the most important things we can do for our younger learners is to be willing to address their questions, to acknowledge when a certain doctrine or principle might be difficult or when the world sees an issue differently than we do. When we act like everything is easy and should be taken on faith, we lose relevancy and can shut down testimonies.
- Teach truth. Since youth today value honesty and realness, we must be vigilant about teaching truth. For example, people often say, “If you keep the commandments you will have a happy life.” When in reality, lots of difficult things happen to really good people and many people who keep the commandments struggle in a variety of ways. A more correct statement would be, “Keeping the commandments allows you to access the spirit and find peace and hope in happy and difficult times.” Be very wary of blanket statements that can be easily debunked. Kids see right through that.
- Give challenges. Talking about an idea or a principle is good, but allowing it to work in their lives is when true learning and conversion take place. Each time you teach, try asking them to live the principle you have taught for a week or two and see how it changes them. Remind them of the challenge and participate in it yourself. Share how it changed your daily life and allow others to share too!
As the youth you love start engaging in the gospel and begin to understand why it matters to them now, they will realize the peace it brings, the faith it encourages, the patience it teaches, and the real connection that it provides. They will slowly understand why it is called “the plan of happiness” and will begin to crave it more often in their own lives.
This workbook is the perfect companion for teens to study Come, Follow Me on their own or with the family. Weekly Features Include: "What This Means to Me" scripture pages with three scriptures from the week's reading to read and interpret in their own words; Inspired Questions pages with four questions written by a seminary teacher to help teens think through and apply what they've been reading in the Book of Mormon; Learn More and Goals pages with space for recording thoughts and questions and goal space that matches the Physical, Social, Spiritual, Intellectual goal setting from the New Youth Initiative by The Church. Available now at Deseret Book stores and at DeseretBook.com.