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. 🙂
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 mormontherapist.blogspot.com.