The Mormon Therapist on Making Kids go to Seminary

John DehlinMormon 53 Comments

I am looking for some advice. I have 3 children. My oldest is a freshman in high school. We are an active LDS Family. My daughter is refusing to attend seminary. We have begged, pleaded, bribed, punished, fasted, prayed and are out of solutions we can think of. Do we allow her to choose to not attend or do we keep trying to find ways to get her to go? I am so exhausted by the fighting but am also worried that not going to seminary will make her choice of colleges exclude church schools. She says she doesn’t even want to go to BYU so she doesn’t care. I am not sure what to do. Any guidance or direction would be greatly appreciated.
This is a great and difficult question you pose that many parents are dealing with on many different levels with all types of behaviors- not just seminary attendance. The dilemma is that the answer won’t be the same in each situation. Much of our parenting technique being successful has to do with the individual child: and different children respond differently to various rewards and discipline styles.
Here are some thoughts:

  • Begging, pleading, and bribing are usually not effective means to parenting.  I see bribing as different to providing proper, thought-out incentives.
  • The most effective tool we can use while parenting is keeping our cool.
  • The second most effective tool we can use while parenting is realizing that our children have agency, much like we do – and that ultimately, we do not have control over our children. How we respond in absence to this control is much what parenting is about. We can look towards our Heavenly Father and his parenting style to give us pointers in this process. It’s His plan after all.

Much of our anxiety around parenting resides on the following issues:

  • Legitimate fears we have for our children.
  • Non-legitimate fears we have for our children.
  • Expectations we have for our children and what we perceive will happen if they are not met.
  • Worrying about what others will think of us dependent on how our children act or fail to act.

I’d like for you to take some time and honestly assess how much of your anxiety over this issue resides in which parts of this list. This will be helpful for you to center yourself.

Here are some parenting tips that hopefully will help in your situation:

  • Respectfully, clearly and simply lay down the 2-3 reasons for your stance. “We feel that seminary is important because it gives you a doctrinal foundation of your religion and opens up doors when you decide what university you want to attend. You are in the position of being an example to your siblings and we feel you will be blessed in ways we may not always be aware if you go.”
  • If you have more than one parent in the home, make sure you are united in your stance (even if you disagree with each other). “Both your father and I feel this is important and plan to enforce our decisions on this matter.” Or “your mother and I don’t completely agree on the importance of your seminary attendance, but we do agree on the expectations in our home.”
  • Listen and validate your child’s opinion (a sure fire way of doing this is pretty much repeating what they say and wait for more input). “You don’t care if you go to a church university…. (silence and wait for them to elaborate). You don’t like getting up in the morning…. (silence…), etc.” Then make a validating statement and follow up with your boundary. “I can understand why you would feel this way and I respect that. At the same time, this is what your father and I are going to expect at this time.”
  • It is perfectly appropriate to change our stances as parents if we feel the need to do so without worrying about “losing face.” “We have thought about the points you have made and after considering it together, we agree with you…” Or “we agree with you on this but not that.”
  • Come up with some clear and fair consequences (either rewards or punishments) for the behavior in question. “Children in our home who attend seminary will have certain privileges given them.” (I personally am not a big fan of punishments for seminary attendance.  I see it more as an earning behavior.)  Then let the child decide whether or not that incentive is worth it to them. In this way, you are placing responsibility on the teen’s shoulders for their behavior and they will need to account for their choices. You no longer have to have ongoing conversations that do nothing to help you build your relationship with your child. You have stated your case, you have laid your law, you have given them a chance to express their concerns, it is now time for their choice and the end of the discussion.  “We see that you have decided not to attend seminary.  Therefore, you realize you are giving up this privilege we would otherwise make available to you.  You also realize that we are disappointed in your choice.  Regardless of your choices, we love you and want only the best for your life.”  Once this is said, you can revisit the issue every few months.  But it no longer needs to be a daily struggle that saps your energy.
  • The biggest challenges now are 1. to back up what you have stated, and to do it consistently, 2. to allow the child to make the “wrong choice” and suffer the natural consequences and 3. to decide how you will respond to those who don’t agree with your parenting style (i.e. church leaders or other ward members that believe you should force your child to go to seminary).
  • I always caution about giving punishments that are too long or that are punitive and/or unrealistic. For example, not allowing a teen to drive at all, or grounding for months at at time. If a punishment is too long, then it can feel hopeless to the child and they lose motivation to work towards getting their privileges back. This is when you engender more rebellion and get stuck within power struggles that are a lose-lose to all involved. A weekend sentence or inability to attend one special event should be sufficient for most teens.

As our children develop into teenagers, we need to look for ongoing opportunities to have them make their own choices. Even if we risk them falling, it is only through these stumbling steps that they will learn some of life’s choicest lessons. We cannot continue to make decisions for them. Understanding that rebellion is a normal, and actually healthy, part of this developmental stage can be helpful and normalizing to us as parents. Hopefully by the time our kids become adolescents, we have taught them well and have given them the tools they need to make appropriate decisions. They will still make mistakes. Adolescence is a developmental phase that brings with it many wonderful, yet scary prospects: increased independence, increased responsibility, increased peer influence, increased consequences to poor decisions, increased self assertion, etc., etc. This can be a difficult juncture for parents. If we treat these spirits who find themselves in between a child and an adult with respect, honesty, sincere advise, and clear, realistic household expectations- then we are doing the best we can.

Whether or not your daughter goes to seminary, and whether or not she decides to go to a church-sponsored school – I am sure she is wonderful. She can be successful and an asset to others throughout her life regardless. I hope she will receive this message from the most influential people in her life: her parents. As far as praying and fasting: I think all of us parents are doing that at some level. 🙂

A book I recommend for parents is:
 Scream Free Parenting by Hal Runkel
He also has a website at

MM Readers: What is your opinion and what advice would you give?

Should adolescents be “forced” to go to seminary?  What has or hasn’t worked within your own families?

Natasha Helfer Parker is a Licensed Clinical Marriage and Family Therapist and a member of the Church with 13 years of experience working with LDS members. Here she shares with us representative cases from her practice and insights she has gained from her work as a therapist.  She blogs at

Comments 53

  1. This reminds me of a story I once heard in a meeting a long time ago. I don’t remember exactly who or where, but the same principle applies. A bishop and his wife had a 16-year old son who was not attending church, so they called in a professional and asked him to give their son an argument so persuasive and thought-out that the son would be convinced to attend church without hesitation from then on. That advice, “You don’t have to go to church.”

  2. As parents, you have to pick your battles. And, in the grand scheme, seminary should not be one of them. We found that out. Forcing doesn’t usually get the result you seek. We sometimes rely on stories of miraculous result when kids are forced to do something and they “see the light.” This usually does not happen. Resentment and other behaviors typically result.

    Sure, the College choice becomes limited by that is the choice being made. It is not the end of the world. Raising a decent child means allowing them sometimes to make a choice we would not make and to live with the consequences. That is one of the hardest decision a parent must make.

  3. Our daughter started attending the first year of seminary last fall (early morning). The end result:

    – she was constantly tired
    – homework was more often than not, incomplete
    – grades slipping
    – increased dislike for anything church related
    – grumpy parents who had to try to wake her up
    – grumpy parents who needed to wake up earlier and adjust work schedules to get her there

    We had a discussion with her and let her decide if she wanted to keep attending. After a couple of weeks, she decided she’d give it a break until next year when they have release time seminary.

    We now have a happy, awake, and fully functioning daughter again. Grades picked up, homework being done,etc…

    We made the right decision for our family.

    1. As parents we must set the example and not be part of the problem JM. Your attitude towards walking up did help your daughther situattion. The early bird gets the worm. You’ll be surprise how much more you can accomplish when you wake up early. If your going to wake up early then it makes sense to rest early too, especially if your not able to function with out 8 hours of sleep. I personally think its a matter of habit and priorities. I remember growing up I would wake up at 5am just to play basketball with my seminary teachers before going to school. Eventually my body would wake up automatically even without the alarm clock because I was eager to play. Allowing our children to make choices and educating them of the consequences
      is the best thing we can help them grow. It’s the hardest thing to do but yet it’s very rewarding when they make the right choices. Let’s all remember our Savior has made the ultimated sacrifice and we will always be able to use the Atonement.

  4. No, teenagers should not be forced to go to seminary, particularly early morning seminary. There can be many battlefields between parents and teenagers, and this shouldn’t be one of them. I never (personally) really understood the concept of early morning seminary and why it was important.

    Some members of my seminary class would wake up at 5, go to seminary, go to school, go to sports practice or games after school (sometimes to 8). That makes for a long day, a very long day. This would be one clear distinction between growing up outside of Utah (with release time seminary).

    I believe there are home-study materials that are a possibility, my parents went through those with us at least one of the years I was in seminary. I don’t know if home-study is still a possibility for church schools.

    I’ve never (personally) understood the arguments that some parents make, where they say “well, I did it, so you can too). That argument doesn’t work either. I agree with the advice to pick one’s battles and figure out what is really important for one’s teen to do.

  5. I think you basically have to get over it. I know that for myself, the more someone tells me what to do, the less I want to do it. Allow her to make her own choices. Yes, maybe you can stress the importance of going to seminary, but you cannot force her to go. Force just pushes people away even further.

    Say, for example, that you made her go to seminary. She attended because she had to. She went to church, read her scriptures, and attended all church activities. These activities then become something she just has to do because her parents make her do it. Then, she goes of to college, has her freedom, and can’t decide if she really has a testimony. She can’t decide because she’s never really found out for herself – she was just doing what her parents wanted her to do.

    I believe that children/teenagers should start assessing their testimonies while they are still at home, before they are “totally free” and without your influence. If you don’t allow her to make her own decisions, she won’t be able to decide for herself. That decision is key in the gospel, so we have to be careful not to take that away.

    As a freshman, I was not particularly interested in attending seminary. Everything was so cheesy from the videos, to the music, to the lessons, and that just wasn’t for me. Eventually, I grew to like (and sometimes love) seminary, but it took me some time. My parents told me that I didn’t have to go if I didn’t want to. I decided to attend, and I’m glad I did. I know that if they forced me to go, I would not have grown to enjoy it.

    As far as the church-sponsored schools go… I say, “What’s the big deal?” There are plenty of good schools she can attend that are not church-sponsored. Perhaps she will want to go to a church-sponsored school when she graduates, and won’t be able to because she didn’t graduate from seminary (I’m not sure what the rules are…). But, at least she will know that was her choice. She chose not to go to BYU. Forcing her to go to seminary may make her eligible to attend, but I believe she will be less likely to even have the desire to go there because she associates church schools with force.

  6. We did home study seminary for the first 3 years I was in seminary (there were 6 high schools in my ward, and I was one of only 2 Mormons in mine), but for some crazy reason, they switched us to early morning seminary my 4th year. I found it completely unworkable for several reasons and quit going:
    1 – I had to get up at 5am to make it there by 6am.
    2 – I had a job working 20-30 hours that sometimes meant I got home late the night before.
    3 – I was technically not supposed to drive alone before sunrise (driver’s licenses were restricted in my state).
    4 – Road conditions in winter were sometimes treacherous before roads were plowed, especially for an inexperienced driver like me.
    5 – I frankly got a lot more out of home study, which my parents and I did together. I felt like I was getting a lot of “filler” and the teacher’s interpretation which I sometimes found objectionable.

    I made my case, and I quit going. My parents weren’t happy, but they accepted it. They explained natural consequences of not going and their concerns about me; I had asked the ward, and I was not permitted to voluntarily do home study instead. The weird thing was that the stake graduated me anyway even though I completely bailed.

    A thought about applying consequences or incentives for teens for this sort of thing. IMO, by this age, if the natural consequences explained rationally are insufficiently compelling, applying punishments or rewards is not going to be effective either.

    1. you said you did home study seminary. how do i go about getting information to do that with my daughter. any info you can give me about doing something like this with my duaghter would be fantastic. thank you.

  7. Utah release time creates a number of problems. My first hand experience was that seminary was completely non-academic, particularly when compared to my other classes – which is saying alot because public education is going down the tube. I felt like the daily experience was just a smaller dose of maudlin EFY injections, mingled with scripture. The curriculum has supposedly improved, but I’m not holding my breath. A little over ten years ago, the instructors appeared to have wide lattitude in teaching the standard works, and did so without any type of rigorous analysis. I passed the classes without learning much of anything, but I definately had it ingrained in my mind that I needed to serve a mission. I’m afraid that release time is just that, a release from one hour of education that the rest of the country must participate in. I’ve wondered if and how this might skew national statistics about Utah’s public education.

    As for forcing a child, this is a tough one. In spite of my objection, I can appreciate why aactive Mormon parents would want their child to participate. For Freshman this seems a little less ambiguous for me, but once we start seriously looking at college and/or missions, at the Junior and Senior level it becomes harder. In reality while a parent is certainly within their right to try and influence religious behavior, they might also be wise to recognize that the time of their “reign” is nearing an end. Forcing seminary, doesn’t mean you can force BYU, and many young adults are going to run straight for the gate if they feel like they’ve been forced. This time would be better spent stepping gospel discourse up to a mature level that promotes personal soul searching, as opposed to coercive indoctrination. I think kids in this age are more likely to begin responding as adults if they are treated a little (not completely) more like adults, which means religious autonomy and discovery. At this point parents should begin thinking like missionaries by leading horses to water and trying to get them to drink.

  8. It would seem that this is an example of “spare the rod and spoil the child”. If a child is not inculcated with obedience and respect to parents by the time they are eight years of age, the repercussions will not be evident until they reach the teenage years and start the natural rebellion process. Whatever your parenting style, it is most important that children not be pandered to in the earlier years in order for them to understand parental obedience in their teens.

    Three additional thoughts:

    1 – There is a reason that graduation from seminary is necessary for attendance at Church schools. It demonstrates self-discipline.
    2 – We should definitely eliminate this “release-time” crap in the mountain west. All church youth should be required to meet the same standards.
    3 – Seminary every day of the week is unnecessary. Three days a week is much more manageable.

    1. While instilling obedience is one of the major responsibilities of parenting, we all have different children sent to our home. Judging someone else’s parenting is ridiculous. Some people have children that will go with the program,and some people have children that will turn everything into WWIII. It is absolutely unfair not to mention inaccurate, to assume that someone with a rebellious child did not instill respect and obedience to their children and that they “spared the rod and spoiled the child.” If all your teenagers were always respectful and obedient when you laid down the law, consider yourself very blessed. And other people can consider their own blessings in what they learn through more rebellious kids.

  9. My husband did not graduate from seminary, but was admitted to BYU anyway. From looking at the admissions information available now on their website, it seems that seminary attendance is only one part of the holistic review of a number of criteria. So I don’t think it’s likely that it would keep her out of BYU if she changed her mind later.

  10. #9 Michael – I like the suggestion of not having a daily early morning seminary, but just doing 3 times a week or so. (Home study also had one hour a week after church where all the kids met together to review).

    The other thought I have had is that it would clearly be much better for the kids who need their sleep if seminary were an after school thing, but this would be difficult to fill teacher slots since teachers are usually doing it voluntarily/without pay before they go to work in the morning. Doing it in the afternoon would be a hardship for the adults I suspect.

  11. Lack of sleep at this age causes all kinds of problems — school districts that have a later start time for classes have better academic performance. I did early morning seminary, and thought it was great, but I have become convinced that in general it is something that needs to change.

    Hawk — I was working, going to seminary and the whole early rise and then drive in thing. Especially during wrestling season those were long days. A lot to be said for the home study materials, especially some of them.

    Eventually, I grew to like (and sometimes love) seminary, but it took me some time

    Excellent point.

    In our stake there are a number of kids who show up to seminary in their pajamas and who sleep through most of it.

    But kids these days feel a lot freer to say “no” than they did when I was younger.

  12. I think providing options for the daughter would also help. I attended a program in High School that required me to be bussed to a neighboring county and so wasn’t able to attend early morning seminary. For my parents, regardless of what university I ended up going to, Seminary was required and expected, but because of the program, they allowed me to do Home Study seminary, which only required I meet with the seminary teacher once a month or so. Requirement fulfilled, circumstances allowed.

    Alternatively, if the daughter still doesn’t want to seek other options, perhaps you could do a family morning scripture study instead. If you insist on religious education, you may have to be willing to take the time to provide it yourself. And you never know. Having to deal with despised parents and siblings as an alternative might make away from home seminary more palatable.

  13. I have mixed feelings about my own released time seminary experience and about the question of encouraging our kids to go to the only seminary option available (which is early morning). I’ve sat in ward council meetings where seminary attendance is reviewed and it was flatly stated that so and so doesn’t send their child to seminary if they had a sports event that was “away” during the previous evening.

    It seems logical to me that a late return from a road trip for basketball etc would create a situation where the child needs the extra rest. Now, however, the child is on the ward council’s concern list, which I really felt was nobody’s business but the parents and the child. I would imagine that this scenario is worse in Utah, as things like that typically are.

    Seminary depended on the strength of the teacher AND the teacher’s own level of energy for the particular day. On graduation from seminary, I lamented the missed opportunity to take one more high school class per year, as we were encouraged to leave the early morning slots for those students who were in jeopardy of not graduating.

    I’ve been told that the home seminary program has such ridiculous requirements, that almost nobody can complete the program—and perhaps this is the intention, to discourage kids from doing it. If my children don’t want to go to seminary, I guess I would get the home program and take from it what could be reasonable done and what my child would negotiate to participate in. Is going to a church school such a non-negotiable issue?

  14. “maudlin EFY injections, mingled with scripture….”


    I didn’t graduate from seminary and got into BYU anyway. (Early morning water polo & swimming, i.e. the ways of the world, won out over early morning seminary. I hate mornings either way.) It is lame that Utah kids get treated the same, for church school admissions purposes, for their easy time-release seminary, as the hapless Californians at oh-dark-thirty, but maybe that gets filed under the parable of the guy who got paid a penny for showing up to work at the end of the day.

  15. When it comes to church matters I do not believe in punishing my children if they do not go. The reason being is that church is ‘voluntary’. I have told them and testified to them that I know it is true and that they have to get their own testimony of it. If a child is punished for not going to church or an activity of the church, then they grow to resent the church besides their parents and it may turn them off church for the rest of their life.

    That being said, my oldest teen daughter loves going to church but has difficulties going to early morning seminary and also difficulties with going to school. We punish her for not going to school by saying that if she was not well enough to go to school that day then she is not well enough to go out that night. But the problem comes when there is something that she needs to do but refuses to do it. Its very easy to start taking privelages from her but then what happens? You end up with her being grounded for 5 years, no after school hockey for 2 years, etc, and still she will not do it anyway. So its not worth it in the end. The best thing I found to do with her is to place a 1 or 2 day punishment on her and to tell her what the choice she has before her and the ultimate consequences of that choice in the future – ie she has the choice to do the assignment and hand it in or not do it. The consequences are that she will graduate from school and be able to go to higher education if she hands it in; or she will not graduate and cannot go on to higher education and get a job that she wants (forensics or medicine). After that if the subject comes up again its just a case of reminding her of the consequences – as the battle was fought before, home punishment has been metted, now its up to the schooling system – and reminding her that she has made the choice, no one forced her and now she has to live with the consequence that was clearly outlined for her.

  16. Let’s all try and internalize that it is local Church/State politics in Utah that provides “release-time” for the students during regular school hours. Early morning seminaries in other regions is a makeshift arrangement to compensate for the fact that the Church’s influence would not get “release-time” approved in other states for a wide variety of reasons. Some States just wouldn’t allow it. Seminary buildings in Utah adjoin the public school properties, making travel and accomdations, etc, all reasonable and compliant with matters of practicality and Church/State. Long story short, Utah kids shouldn’t be criticized for the manner of seminary participation prescribed to them by the powers-that-be, ie, release-time.

  17. “Long story short, Utah kids shouldn’t be criticized for the manner of seminary participation prescribed to them by the powers-that-be, ie, release-time.”

    Except that the Utah kids who attend release-time seminary, but who probably would not bother with early-morning seminary, are treated as worthier of Church education than the non-Utah slackers. The former are favored and the latter disfavored for things outside their control. How can a good egalitarian countenance that? John Rawls would freak.

  18. As far as I can tell, no one has mentioned that outside of Utah parents and their kids can get involved in helping guide the seminary program locally. Although the manual comes as-is, parents can influence both who the teacher is (well, outside of Utah) and what the teacher does in the classroom. This is because all of the stakeholders want it to be the best experience it can be for the kids.

  19. Michael, you write: “It would seem that this is an example of “spare the rod and spoil the child”. If a child is not inculcated with obedience and respect to parents by the time they are eight years of age, the repercussions will not be evident until they reach the teenage years and start the natural rebellion process.”

    I’d love to know how you “inculcate” a child with obedience. I have seven children, five of them now 19 and older and two are still at home. I have not successfully gotten them to obey me through their “natural rebellion process”.

    Natasha, I think your counsel is wise. In the end, the kids will decide what they will do. Allowing a consequence for their choice in addition to natural consequences (such as not having the association with other members of the class or limiting opportunities for church school attendance) is fine as long as the consequences are tied to the decision and well within the parents’ control as you suggest.

  20. As a seminary graduate (who did not attend seminary graduation) who attended both release time and early morning, I have to say that they each have their dark side. Sure, early morning sucked. And for me, I went to seminary, then 0-hour before even my first class. When I was in a play, I would sometimes spend 12 hours away from home every day. Release time is a pain on your credits (I’m from Arizona) especially if you take something like band or choir. It’s even worse when you take AP classes that only meet in one time slot of the day and can’t get into a seminary class. At my school, kids had to beg for early morning because seminary teachers said that they weren’t willing to sacrifice AP classes for seminary. It seems like there’s something wrong with that.

    Anyway, I think that going to seminary should be up to her. Also: when will some Mormons understand that not attending BYU isn’t the end of the world. In some cases, I would recommend against a church school because of the lack of diversity there.

  21. I wonder when it is time to marry if you are out of Utah( out of state tuition) and not attending a church school if it will impact the number of choices of who to marry?

  22. #23

    Not getting married in college (especially BYU) isn’t the end of the world either. I take pride in the fact that I didn’t get married during my time there. And while I enjoyed the experience and learned quite a bit, I came to resent the Honor Code because it resulted in the same implications and resentment that the daughter would feel towards her parents if she was forced to attend seminary.

  23. #10 Dunno if things have changed, but back in the mid-1990s I had several friends at my (extremely competitive) prep school get into BYU (with full merit scholarships), and they never attended a day of seminary. Of course, they all wound up at schools like Yale, Harvard, Amherst, etc., so my guess is that the BYU admissions department knows better than to turn down academic superstars.

    That said, for students with less fancy portfolios, seminary graduation is probably an important component of the admissions decision at Church schools.

  24. I like the therapist’s suggestion to the parents to sincerely evaluate your reasons for insisting that your child attend seminary. I also wonder what the daughter’s reasons are for not wanting to attend. They may be very legitimate. All four of our children attended all four years of early morning seminary, but if I had it to do all over again, I would not push them to go. They all suffered from constant fatigue, especially our youngest, who was also very active in extracurricular activities and worked 20 hours a week. I hated seeing her so exhausted all the time.
    As for home study seminary–I was the advisor/teacher for this program in our stake a few years ago, and for those students who were motivated, it was a good program, but it takes a LOT more self discipline that attending early morning seminary and just as much time. It also requires permission from the stake presidency or bishop. I can’t see it as a good substitute in this particular situation.

  25. Wow. I never realised seminary attendance could have so much impact on education. I understand from a doctinal basis there is much value, but in terms of schools it never entered my mind. Given that I live in Australia and we don’t have chruch schools, its a non-issue. I did seminary 1 night a week with our tutor and did home study. I enjoyed it but it never impacted on my time or homework or sleep quota. And certainly didn’t impact on the quality of schools I could attend. Its a whole different world……

  26. Being a homeschooling mom, I assumed that my kids would one day do home study seminary. I’m saddened that it seems to be primarily for special scenarios. My stake has very few teens, so I could see how they’d want them there. I think early-morning seminary needs an overhaul, especially in light of research on teens and fatigue, and the importance of sleep (though my kids could just come back home and go back to bed).

    They’re young, maybe things will change by the time they hit their teens. Home scripture study as part of our homeschool curriculum is non-negotiable, however, I don’t feel particularly compelled to force them to participate in formal seminary unless they desire to do so. I didn’t go to BYU, and neither did my husband.

  27. Of all the reasons why one should attend seminary, going to BYU seems to me to be the least important. When did going to BYU become elevated to the same status as going on a mission or going to the temple? My bishop did not attend BYU, my stake president did not attend BYU — heck, I once added up all my missionary companions and discovered that not one of them attended BYU either.

  28. From reading the comments, it appears that I have a different perspective and hope that I can add something to the discussion. I have 6 children (the last of whom is beginning early-morning seminary this year) and I am an early-morning seminary teacher.

    First from the parent’s perspective: I hope and pray that by encouraging my children to attend early-morning semainary, they can be strengthened in their desire to pursue and strengthen their testimonies. We have taught the gospel in our home, held regular home evening, regular family scripture reading, etc. But I know that often our children’s hearts are touched by others. They will open their hearts and allow the spirit to enter by listening to another Sister or Brother where they may not do the same with their parents. My son announced at dinner that he no longer wanted to attend seminary. I told him that we had gone to a great expense so that he could drive. We bought a car, insurance, driver’s ed, etc. But that because the school bus serviced our neighborhood, there was actually no need for him to drive. I told him that we had made sacrifice for him to be able to drive, not because it is a right of every teenager, but so that he could drive his sister and himself to seminary. If he were no longer going to attend seminary, there would no longer be a need for us to pay for insurance, gas, etc. Silence, then a muffled “I’ll go.”

    This allows a segue in to the second point. My son did not want to go because the teacher was frankly an ass. She is a self-centered person who has set herself up as a light and wants everyone to admire her. Her class discipline was heavy handed, “If you don’t straighten up, I won’t recommend you for BYU!”. Her own daughter was allowed to roll out of bed and eat breakfast in her PJ’s in front of everyone else. The next year, we gt a different teacher. One who loved the kids and realized that she couldn;t do it without the help of the Lord. My son suddenly loved seminary. The teacher can make all the difference in whether a child wants to attend early-morning seminary or not. (Before you flame me, I said “can”. It’s my weasle word and I’m sticking by it.) I was called as seminary teacher last year. I want my students to want to come. To do that the reward of coming has to be greater than the reward of sleeping in. (“reward” not “threat”) What can I give that could fill that need? Not food, there’s not enough in my house to feed a teenage boy let alone a class of them. Not games, those grow boring after awhile. I knew that I could bring something to the class that the students would want… everyday. Something they long for. Something they would even sacrifice for. That’s the Spirit. I strive to bring the spirit into the class room every day. Teenagers want to feel the spirit. They want to know the truth. They want a testimony. To do that, I must point them to the true light, Jesus Christ. We work on gospel knowledge and testimony. And it works.

    I would write more, but I’ve got to get off to work. I have to earn money to support my avocation of teaching seminary. Less fluff, less EFYishness, more Spirit. We do have fun, lots of it, how can you not have fun with teenagers? But they also recognize that having a spiritual experience every day is the best kind of fun.

  29. Natasha gives wise advice. A related story. I was in a High Priests group recently where three of the seven participants had a member of their family leave the church because of an issue like wanting to play sport on Sunday. That person was now 45 and had no contact with the church or their family, and yet we have professional sportspeople who play sport on Sunday but are also good members.

    Another one was given an ultimatum by his mother to attend a church activity if he wanted to remaim in the family. He left.

    These are issues where we can think things are black and white, or right and wrong. If we can take a longer perspective it may be more important to have a daughter who loves us than to have a seminary student. If you are going to teach agency you have to accept that your children will not always exercise their agency in ways you would choose,and still love them. Heavenly Father and Mother have this problem too, do they try to force us, or accept our choice?

    One other thought is that we should teach our children to make decisions, taking into account the consequence in the short , long and eternal time frame. Other wise we/they can not effectively exercise our agency. This also leads to an awareness, when the consequences of our choices arrive, that they are not trials sent from on high but just the consequences we earlier chose. This awareness can lead to a completely different outlook on life. Our life is not about trials and obedience but about finding Joy, peace and generally becoming Christlike.

  30. Ah yes, the good old ultimatum. My sister ended up disowning herself because she told my dad, “Get a hearing aid or I won’t be your daughter anymore.” It didn’t work.

  31. How about holding seminary during Sunday school time with a little home study thrown in.

    Out here,in the mission field,our kids have to travel long distance for early morning study before school-kids in more outlying areas become immediate failures,and that’s the end of their church activity.No-one seems to be grappling with this,it simply becomes survival of the fittest with parents vying to hold seminary in their homes to keep their own kids on board.Likewise,those with limited health or energy become excluded,unable to match the pace.Hardly according to the capacity of the weakest.

    As for either forcing,or indeed incentivising,I think it’s important that our children learn to separate testimony from authority issues.Otherwise this can become an issue that takes years to resolve and delays the development of real testimony.

    I’d really much rather testimony and spirituality were linked to the experience of loving one another rather than any externally enforced discipline.And ,I might add,there are those who would see such co-ercion as abuse,including our children when they have the space to reflect on their experience.

  32. I don’t like this title “… Making Kids go to Seminary.” Did our Heavenly Father “make us” come to earth or did we choose? I think “making us” do anything was the plan of our adversary and is completely in opposition to the reason we are here in the first place. As with anything, we should teach correct principles, certainly express our opinions and desires as parents, and then let them choose. Punishments or rewards for seminary attendance is ridiculous. The child will receive their own consequence for attending/not attending seminary. They are not breaking a law by not attending and I certainly don’t think our children will be condemned to a lesser kingdom for non-attendance, therefore, the choice is their’s to make, plain and simple.

  33. Wow, this conversation has just blown me away. Maybe it is because of where I grew up, or when, but seminary was not something that involved ward councils, or mandatory attendance, or punishments and consequences for not going. No mention at all was made of BYU requiring seminary, or any kind of special recognition of graduation beyond an evening ceremony. It was enjoyable, spiritual, and whether people came or not was basically their own business.

    When I read things like this, “Children in our home who attend seminary will have certain privileges given them.”, I do become a little upset, though. No offense meant, but I just can’t see the point of forced religious participation. A fifteen year old (?) is certainly capable of making that decision on their own. Forcing kids to go to seminary, forcing them to go to church – that just doesn’t sound like a good idea.

    Never mind all of the associated insanity of early morning classes.

    Forgive me if I sound critical, as I don’t mean to criticize, it’s just that my experience was not so very long ago, and it was radically different from everything I have read here. Perhaps I just dodged a bullet. 🙂

  34. My child also will not attend seminary. In our Stake,it seems like the kids who go are the “good kids” and the kids who don’t are the “bad kids”. I am worried that my son will begin to identify himself with the “bad kids” since he has seperated from the seminary group. I so want him to have a testimony and was hoping it would be gained from seminary attendance. We will need to find another way to help him feel the spirit without having him feel like he is “bad” when confronted by stake leaders who want him to attend. It is a very sensitve subject. Our stake will also not allow home study. It is early morning or nothing.

  35. Thanks for your insight into this issue.  My husband and I were just discussing this.  We have a 16 year old and our early morning seminary starts tomorrow.  Our two oldest children attended seminary without contention most days, but our 16 year old plays football and practices til 7-7:30 everyday then homework, etc. We have explained to him that there have been countless other athletes that have attended seminary.  Last year, we quit battling and he didn’t attend seminary most of the year.  During his freshman year, he attended without incident. We also have a daughter who will be a freshman next year and we know that our expectations for him will affect her. I guess my copout opinion is wishing that we would go back to homestudy and meeting with the class once/week.  I know this is not the plan and I personally like early morning seminary as  I got to experience it both ways. If anyone has any ideas of what has worked for your family, please comment as we are open to suggestions.

  36. My son loves seminary but does not get along with the teacher.  He is willing to get up and wants to learn but the teacher continues to battle him about what she sees as his lack of testimony and participation.  He is a quiet boy but quiet does not mean he is not a believer.  He desires to serve a mission and is working to save money for his mission. This is his last year of seminary and I would love for it to be a great experience for him.  He keeps saying he wishes he had his first teacher from three years ago.  We lived in Utah and had time release seminary with a teacher that taught seminary all day all week and the teacher was really into teaching and building relationships with the students.
      He does not want to challenge his teacher as he says it is a calling and he needs to support that too.
    I guess the question is would you continue to encourage him to suffer through it or look into homestudy options?
    Any ideas I would love!

    1. I’m a Seminary teacher and I’ve taught early morning for several years.  Honestly, my heart grieves when I hear a story like this.  We like to think that all Seminary teachers are amazing people and great teachers, but there’s a learning curve to teaching and all teachers aren’t created equal.  Does this teacher have any idea that your child feels that he’s in a “battle”?  She may just be really clueless.  I recommend first meeting one on one with his teacher ( just like you would meet with his teacher at school) and express what you expressed above.  Then, if (and only if) your concerns fall on deaf ears, you can talk to your Bishop and he may contact the Seminary supervisor (every Seminary teacher has one) or talk to the teacher himself.  Please give the teacher the benefit of the doubt and pray for her, realizing that any teaching that gets done in the classroom MUST be through the Spirit, and if she’s really trying to be a good teacher, she may simply need to know of your concerns to realize that there is a problem.  Sometimes we get so wrapped up in the lessons, we can forget to really look into the hearts of our students and listen to the Spirit concerning THEM.  Sometimes we think our urging and encouraging is being received well, only to find out that our personality is grating on their last nerve.  Sometimes we forget that each student is unique and individual and may be sitting there in our class feeling very much alone and unloved.  Please follow through on this and although it’s been a month since your post, and I hope the problem has resolved itself, I hope that you and others may find this helpful.

  37. My son chose to go live with his non LDS father last year. before he left, he was doing well spiritually.  Now he doesn’t want to even visit me and when he does, he refuses to go to church…any suggestions?

  38. My daughter is finishing her last year of seminary and her teacher slaughters the whole concept of seminary. She expects a high regimented classroom and runs her seminary class extremely technically. This mentality has caused my daughter to think about seminary as a technicality and she does not see the significance in even finishing.  She has had her scriptures slammed shut by the teacher on more than one occasion because they were opened at the incorrect time, binders yanked from her for doodling (she is an avid doodler) instead of militantly listening, been sent out of seminary class for being off-target for looking up a footnote during reading, (told to go study in another room) and then to top it off was given an F on the devotional section of her grade.  She withdrew her BYU application out of a lack of faith that her seminary recommendation would be sufficient for admission.  She has absences due to school functions (like All-State Choir clinic) and the teacher will not assign make-up work.  It is breaking my heart watching her suffer at the hands of a what I consider an abusive seminary teacher.  I live in a small rural town and this teacher has taught for 9 years…in all reality its most likely because she is the only one willing to do it.   We are so discouraged with this last lap hurdle. She is even forcing the children to attend seminary everyday that school meets which is two weeks over the 36-week requirement.  My daughter will be finished with school two weeks before seminary is over.   My daughter says, “Why go? This is ridiculous!!”  I feel like I am sending her into a possibly abusive situation every morning. I do not have to force her one bit, she goes, but we are all struggling with this. Any suggestions?

  39. You have every right to be an advocate for your child!
     I would encourage you to be raising these concerns with your bishop and stake president.  I would encourage you to speak directly with the teacher – specifically explaining what your expectations as parents are for your child when it comes to seminary.  You can be clear that you want to support her in her position and role – at the same time, you need to support your child and make sure personality differences or teaching styles don’t get in the way of BYU applications, etc.  You can contact BYU and explain the situation to them – get their perspective and suggestions. You can move to a home-schooling system of seminary.  
    Of course, there are lessons to be learned for your daughter as far as dealing with difficult people and situations that can help reframe this experience for all of you.  You can discuss these things as a family from a wider perspective.  At the same time, you can tell the teacher that in your home, adolescents are only allowed to attend seminary for 36 weeks. 
    Seminary teachers and ecclesiastical leaders do not trump parents!  And part of sustaining our leaders and teachers involves respectful challenge and sharing of opinion.  

  40. Seminary is the stupidest shit the Mormon church has ever come up with. If your daughter doesn’t want to go to an extra hour of church every day on top of schooling, you should absolutely let her make that decision.

  41. So I’m 17 right now, a Junior, and I have been a engaged in a war with my parents since I was 14ish. Around that time I realized I did not believe in the church and that most of the church teachings did not sit well with me (for various reasons that do not need to be explained). Also around that time, the debate over church attendance started and I clearly drawed the line at seminary. But my parents refused to give in and looking back now, I see that my parents followed every step of this article and continue to do so in every church related dispute. They must have found it somehow even though it was published in 2010 or something. It would clearly explain their total lack of respect for any descision I made. Every argument I layed out was heard but I could tell they were not really hearing me at all. Their main focus was trying to convince me. They really dismissed my personal preference as teenage rebellion, so my biggest complaint against this article is that how you (addressing the author) refer to the problem. You dismiss the child’s complaints as a simple “rebellion” as if any sort of hormones had to do with it. You neglect to inform parents to have any real respect for their child whilst dealing with the situation and reinforce the idea that their child’s feelings are just a phase. My parents feigned respect but held an expectation for an authority respect. Your child can tell if you do not mean it! My parent are fabulous liars but any one can figure if someone really doesn’t respect you. This whole church thing, ( I won the seminary battle ????????, but I have yet to win the war, thank god it won’t matter soon!), especially the seminary debacle, has really driven a wedge between my mother and myself. Our relationship is completely unsalvageable at this point because of her lack of sympathy so I would advise the readers of this article to consider your relationship with your child, and decide whether or not it’s worth more than your house hold standard. I understand that you (author) are obviously more experienced and wise but consider this comment.(maybe you will learn something?)

    Please excuse any grammar errors.

    1. Thank you for your incite as a teenager going through this and seeing how it’s damaging to your relationship with your mother. I hope that you can repair the relationship. I know it will take all of you to overcome the challenges. Parents want so much for their children, and we need to let them make their own choices. It’s very hard. I have 5 children, 3 oldest attended with joy. My 4th is wanting to stop, so I thought what discussions are out there on this. I liked being able to read what others think on this matter. God bless us all.

  42. I have learned so much from your comments. I really appreciated the comments by the seminary teachers.

    Our seventeen-year-old daughter who surprised us when we found out she and her friend had decided to stop going to released seminary. The teacher had been sick and in and out, so the substitute and not been sending us the attendance notices. There was no accountability because the school had waived its right and could not tell the truant seminary goers in the parking lot anything but, “You should get back to class.” My daughter told us when we found out that her friends were not going but their parents knew and it was okay. Surprise to no one, but they did not and were as shocked as us when I told them.

    Getting to the heart of the story.

    First, our daughter has been loved, directed, and given a strong foundation since an infant. She does her chores, picked up a job and changed one on her own, typed up and handed in a notice of resignation to a “fast food restaurant,” while going to school and getting good grades. I need to mention she did this all with a sensory disability. This is not a child who has not been taught or does not know accountability. She is just trying to figure things out and discern between the voices at school and those at home. Labeling children as rebellious is only a mask and may keep parents from finding out what is truly happening in their children’s hearts.

    Second, she did not get in trouble for not going to seminary. The main issue for us was the trust she had broken in not telling us. She knows we have testimonies and our reasons for wanting her to go, so that was a moot point. It became instead an opportunity to strengthen our relationship with her and emphasize trust and love. Were their consequences? Yes, but it wasn’t a punishment tied to the Church. At least we tried to not make it that way.

    Third, she had also been given an opportunity to go to a charter school with friends instead of online. (She had struggled in large classes, so she had been working at home.) She had to get certain grades in order to stay in that school. Not going to seminary was presented to her as a failing class that she would have to make up in the summer with a good grade in order to go back to that school the next year. We provided her with a contract and options so that she could return to the school next year. She chose one of the options and signed it; amazingly she has so far fulfilled the first part of the agreement. We have faith she will keep the other part.

    My husband and I have not always been on the same page, but we have learned this is a “must.”

    Here is what is working for us:

    1.My husband and I talk together privately and make sure we are exactly on the same page first. We are “one.” That is the most important. If we have to do so we take a drive and let her know we are only talking about her in a positive way.

    2. We are striving to gently guide her through the gospel in smaller bites at the level of her ears. I grew up in a doctrine, cerebral family. Little bites are better.

    3. We even allow her to wear pants to church until we can move her differently. She hates dresses. She is going and that is the important part.

    4. We are emphasizing correct principles and not the Church as an authoritarian set of rules. We have scriptures still and prayers. My husband and I attend the temple. I play instrumental inspirational music around the house. We spend time together as a family.

    5. We do call her out but then try to move things to a higher level with fun and love. Yesterday, she surprised us and bought us all pizza while we were out, so we bought the drinks and let her choose the movie when we got home. She chose a “How to Train a Dragon” series.

    President Nelson mentioned that we should persuade our children with love, which is supported by the scriptures. Other general authorities have given talks on “behold your children” and emphasized for us to know and love and cherish our children. This is not sparing the rod and spoiling the child. This is God’s way.

    I have a sweet, precious daughter who has so much good. She does not need me to use “the rod” unless that rod is the word of God. I need her close to me growing. I am going to plant flowers with her and still talk about the need to grow a testimony and be patient with ourselves. I discuss with her how I hated one year of early morning seminary and barely passed. She needs to relate to imperfection and the concept of progress. I try to listen to the Spirit to understand her way.

    I can teach her just like the Savior did when talking to the Pharisees. He said the sabbath was made for man and not man for the sabbath. Seminary, Church, Young Women’s, et cetera are for man and not the other way around.

    I know this is a lot but I have a testimony that loving and incentivizing is more effective the negative punishing. My daughter is growing and that is all that is important to me.

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