Kathryn Davis has been teaching seminary full-time for almost four years and so, in preparation for an All In interview last week, she asked her seminary students a simple question: “Do you think your parents know what you face when you walk down the halls of school?” Their answer? A resounding no. So what are our teenagers facing each day and how can we help them combat the daily barrage they encounter? Davis, the host of the new Magnify podcast, shared her thoughts.
The following excerpt has been edited for clarity.
Morgan Jones Pearson: I wondered, Kathryn, for you, what have you found to be the biggest challenges your teenagers are facing that maybe those of us who don't have teenagers yet haven't even considered?
Kathryn Davis: I actually asked some of my classes that today. I said, "Do you think your parents know what you face when you walk down the halls of school?" And they all were like, "No, I don't think they have an idea of how hard it is."
Literally, I feel like these teenagers are like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. And they are thrown into the fire when they go into school, the things they face, the pressure, like with social media, with everything, they are in the fire. There is pressure that we, that I never experienced: pressure about the future, pressure about fitting in. I think they are generally overwhelmed. They are generally stressed and things are coming at them nonstop. And I think we don't understand the need or the stress or the weight that it takes for them to fit in with friends and to have friends and to feel like they belong. If we could truly understand that when we send them out they are going into the fight, then [we would know that] when they come back we have to love them and heal them and help them be safe from that.
I think there's also a general lack of motivation for everything. I don't know if this is because of COVID and post COVID, but there is a apathy and a lack of motivation. And maybe that comes with the expectations and the weight of it all that sometimes the motivation is low. Does that make sense?
Morgan Jones Pearson: As you were talking, I found myself having this very unexpected emotional response. Because I just feel like, even for women, and I think you'll find this with Magnify, I'm amazed by how often social media comes up as being something that weighs heavily on people, and feels overwhelming. So you think about somebody, I mean, a teenager is half my age. And so you think about somebody that age, having to then deal with something that feels overwhelming for somebody twice their age, and I just...that hurt, it feels heavy.
Kathryn Davis: And their brains aren't fully developed, right? They're still learning and growing. And they know that social media can be harmful. They know, they talk about all the time that we they only see the good and the expectations. And I think a huge part of social media is FOMO—is they see that their friends are doing something and they're not invited, and then it hurts, and they can take it personally, I think that's a big part. And so many of my students, and my children, have seen that people can be pretty mean. On social media, it's really easy to say something mean, or to do something mean and hide behind the screen. But the people that it affects—[the reality] is that you're not hiding behind the screen, like it is real and is hurtful. And the fact that our teenagers are dealing with that every day in areas and forms that we don't even know and understand. I mean, just your heart breaks for them. You're right. There's so much compassion and so much understanding and so much it fills me with the need [to help] even more.
I said this at the beginning, that when they come into my [class]room, it has to be a safe place. Because for some of them, it's the only safe place that they have. When they are bombarded with images and messages that they are not enough, skinny enough, smart enough, popular enough, athletic enough, whatever, whatever, whatever, they crave a safe place, Can we as adults and as women, and as members of the Church, embrace them and create a safe place for them where they are enough. Because them plus Christ is enough. We're not enough on our own. But with Christ, we are.
Morgan Jones Pearson: So Kathryn, you told me that you feel like the best gospel conversations that you have with your kids are spontaneous. I wondered, how do you create a space to even have those conversations happen spontaneously?
Kathryn Davis: That's a great question. Because, for me, it has never been sitting formally in the family room or around the kitchen table. [Well,] a lot of times it's around the kitchen table, but it's never in a formal setting.
Typically, where we have great gospel conversations is always in the car. That has always been kind of a go to where my kids ask questions. And it's also—here's what I've learned is that crucial conversations are never convenient. I don't know what it is. But teenagers come up with like the most inconvenient times to talk to you about something, whether it's like you're just getting into bed and you're really tired, or you have a lot to do, that's when a question will come up. And so I always think just take a deep breath, and realize that this is the moment and don't shy away from those inconvenient times.
And I think it has to be at a time where you're open and you're willing to talk about questions. It comes because you ask questions; you talk about questions you have with the gospel, and how you're trying to find answers. If if your teenagers know, "Oh, look, mom and dad have questions, but that's okay." We're supposed to have questions. I say all the time, "I love questions. I love questions. Let's talk about questions. What questions do you have?" And even asking them and telling them questions you have and then giving any opportunity to talk about that.
A lot of times that might be in the car and one of my kids will say, "Oh, so and so this happened or that happened," You know? They went to this party and this was there, or my friend got a tattoo or, or this or that, or whatever it is, whatever question they have. That's an awesome time to just sit back and say, "Oh, like, what do you think about that? What do you feel about that?" And get them talking. And then as they start sharing, you can have a beautiful conversation about hard questions—and we have to talk about hard questions. We have to because if you don't talk about it with them, then they're gonna get questions elsewhere. In fact, one of my favorite quotes is from Elder Ballard, when he was speaking at An Evening with a General Authority when he was talking to seminary teachers, and he said this, "Gone are the days when a student asked an honest question, and a teacher responded, 'don't worry about it.' Gone are the days when a student raised a sincere concern, and a teacher bore his or her testimony as a response intended to avoid the issue. Gone are the days when students were protected from people who attacked the Church." Those days are gone. Right? And we have to be willing and able to ask hard questions and talk about hard questions. And that starts with us in our home. And I couldn't think of a better place for my kids to ask me a hard question than sitting in the car.,
My son came home a year or so ago from a dance and we were just sitting on the floor in the foyer. And he was like, "Mom, how do you like know that God is even answering your prayers?" And we just talked about it till, you know, one or two in the morning, and I was tired. But that was the time where he needed to talk. And so I think my kids know that [when it comes to] hard questions, that it's a safe place, that there's no question off limit. I always tell them, the harder the better. And let's talk.