The Mormon Adolescent: Roles and Responsibilities

During my early years in Young Women’s, I was not given many leadership opportunities.  I don’t remember if I ever served as a councilor to a class president, but I do remember that I wasn’t called to be a class president until I was in Laurels.  This caused some anxiety for me, a shy and awkward girl who was really trying to do the right thing.  Why hadn’t I ever been called, when other girls had?  Had I done something wrong?  When I was called to be the Laurel’s class president, I really saw myself as a role model to the younger girls and tried hard to make them feel welcome and safe in Young Women’s.  I was able to focus on them, instead of my own shyness and awkwardness.  One of the best experiences I had was serving as a youth leader at girl’s camp.  It was my sixth year attending camp and the leaders put me and the other 6th year completely in charge of the 3rd year girls.  During camp, we planned all their activities and taught them everyday.  I slept next to my group of girls in our cabin and could see that they really looked up to me.  I felt proud of the responsibility I was given and while I didn’t consider myself and adult, I saw myself moving toward a more adult role.  

While serving as a youth leader at camp is a more orthodox way for a young woman to serve, I had two more unorthodox experiences while I was the Laurel’s President.  We were having some kind of joint young men and young women’s meeting and the adult leaders asked me to conduct the meeting.  I was asked to welcome everyone, and announce who was giving prayers and speaking, etc.  Being still somewhat shy and soft-spoken I was nervous about this responsibility and I even fasted the day of the meeting in preparation.  Things went well and I was glad that I had been able to pull it off.  Another experience I had was that an adult member of our ward got the youth together on several occasions to practice a special musical number.  Midway through the practices, the director approached me to ask me if I would direct the choir during the sacrament meeting.  I was really nervous about it, but agreed.  He had me conduct several times during practices and I was able to conduct the joint YM/YWs choir during sacrament meeting.

While these were two small experiences that might not seem like a big deal, they made a big difference to me.  The message that was communicated to me through these opportunities was, “We see that you have potential and want to help you develop your abilities to lead.  We trust you enough and care about you enough to give you leadership opportunities.”  Reading Neylan McBaine’s recent Fair talk has got me thinking about these experiences I had as a young woman.  In the talk she specifically addresses how many parents have to explain to their excited daughters that only boys pass the sacrament.  I don’t think these discussions are about passing the sacrament per se, but instead they are about young girls not feeling like they have a vital, systematic, and important role in their institution.  (Also check out this excellent post on the topic).

A number of months ago, I attended a Priesthood preview that was organized by our ward.  When the Young Men’s President got up to speak he emphasized the fact that the Lord puts great trust in young men.  He then listed all of the important things young men are able to do (pass the sacrament, bless the sacrament, baptize).  When he started talking my first thought was, “Does the Lord also put great trust in young women?”  I have imagined approaching him with this very question in order to see how he would respond.  In my head the response is something like, “Yes, He puts great trust in young women because he trusts them to be mothers.”  I would then reply, “I don’t see many young women who are mothers, do you?  What vital role do young women play in the church?”

This is what I see as the essential problem.  Young men go through a series of steps that slowly give them more responsibilities and prepare them for later roles they will hold in the church.  In addition to this preparation, their roles are seen as vitally important to the congregation as a whole.  You can imagine the pride that comes from being able to serve adult members of your congregation in this way.  Also, there are many more opportunities open to young men than young women.  Almost all young men have the opportunities to bless and pass the sacrament and baptize.  Young women, on the other hand, spend most of their time preparing for future roles (wife and mother) instead of fulfilling an important role while they are an adolescent.  Furthermore, while young men follow a very distinct age progression through their roles, young women have no idea when or even if they will ever become mothers.  We need to do better for our young women.  We need to give them an important role that they can play in the church while they are adolescents that will give them opportunities to develop their abilities.  We need roles that are available for all young women to participate in at the same time.  As adults, we need to communicate to young women that they are valuable through given them these opportunities instead of through only telling them they are valuable.

What do you think?  How can we give young women more opportunities to prepare for adult church responsibilities?  Can this be done within the current church structure, or are significant changes within the structure necessary?


  1. Our stake just had a stake youth conference which culminated in a youth-conducted meeting at the stake center. The YW who conducted also spoke last before closing the meeting (with the stake presidency sitting next to her), and she did a fantastic job.

    In my experience, the leadership opportunities for YW are basically the same as for the YM, and perhaps greater. YW seem to mature faster and are generally capable of more at a younger age, so maybe that’s why their presidencies seem more involved than the YM’s.

    Obviously, what the YM have over the YW is specific priesthood responsibilities and ordinations for advancement. Every boy has a responsibility, not just the presidencies. That’s what YW are missing. I think something may need to structurally change, but I don’t know what to suggest.

  2. I’m female, 62 and have been serving in the church since I was 12, when I was called to be the pianist in YW. I have 5 daughters ranging in age from 41 to 29 and I have 10 granddaughters. I wonder if this is a problem with the adolescent girls or their mothers. All of my daughters can lead, preside and conduct with the training they received in their youth. I expect that my granddaughters will receive enough to do the same. In fact my 3 teenage granddaughters are perfectly competent.
    My suspicion is that the mothers of today are unhappy (at least many of the ones I read on the bloggernacle) and therefore their daughters maybe also.
    Everyone in the church is supposed to be a servant, from prophet to nursery leader,. with no weighing of callings and responsibility as to our place in our Father’s kingdom.
    I feel that many have mistaken the Lords theocracy for a democratic government of some kind.

  3. Honey,

    I appreciate your thoughts and am glad that your daughters have had good experiences. One thing that you said that stood out to me was,

    “Everyone in the church is supposed to be a servant, from prophet to nursery leader,. with no weighing of callings and responsibility as to our place in our Father’s kingdom.”

    This was part of the point that I was trying to make. Everyone should have an opportunity to serve and feel like they are an important part of the Ward. However, other than the girls that are called to the YW presidencies, the rest of the young women don’t have a calling in the ward. In contrast, all of the YM have a calling in that they pass and bless the sacrament and collect ward fast offerings.

  4. Not everyone has the blessed experience that you do, honey, of being content with the structural inequality of church leadership. Particularly younger women more often feel unnecessarily constrained in the church, perhaps because they didn’t grow up having their boundaries circumscribed by society, but instead operate in the world at large with many of the same freedoms and expectations that men have.

    It’s also helpful to remember that the church is not a perfect theocracy, though we try our best and have wonderful direction from the D&C; it is still governance by men over men, women, and children. Though we have high aspirations and proceed with the premise that the Lord is in charge, I’m pretty sure we have far to go before we can say that this is the way the Lord himself would run things if he was making the policy decisions. He allows priesthood-holders to be administrators with the expectation that it be done according to his policies of love and spiritual growth for all, and the details are left to the discretion and inspiration of the mortal leadership.

    It’s not a bad thing, when someone is unhappy, to try to understand why they feel that way. This is a growing problem in the church. You may want to read this to get a feel for why this is so:

    I enjoyed the original post; well done, Beatrice. I am old enough to be able to find ways to be at ease with the status quo, but my daughters have not, and because of that, I mourn when I see younger women in turmoil over these issues. And I wait to see them properly addressed.

  5. I always felt bored with the YW program when I was in it. I was one of the few that was excited to get into RS and “really” start serving in the church. Maybe my heart was not in the right place, but YW felt a lot like primary for me and I wanted to serve like the boys/men and adult women did. One idea I have always wondered about is if we could include YW in visiting teaching just like the YM and home teaching. Moving straight into a singles ward after getting in RS, visiting teaching just felt awkward for all of us.

  6. My hardest struggle this entire time has been that my ‘service’ to the church is all dependent on whether or not I have a calling. YM automatically get to serve as long as they’re virgins by passing the sacrament. I have a temple recommend, I also have a baby. I see women who are in my exact same shoes with time consuming callings and I have none.

    There are members of the church who assume those that do not have callings are not righteous enough to serve. When an adult woman does not have a calling it leaves them in a place with nothing to do outside of VT (and since EVERYONE is assigned a VT/HT role no one sees it as a calling) when every week thousands of YM perform our most sacred ordinance without any regard. When those YM grow up, they get to serve–calling or not–by preforming blessings. Their service is not tied to someone else suggesting a role, it is already built into place.

    Parenting is not a church service, and should not be viewed as. I should not be solely labeled by my role as a mother any more than my husband is to father. Lets be frank, you don’t hear talks about how great becoming a father is–you hear talks about how great having the priesthood is.

  7. I have two adult daughters. One is very active and has served in numerous leadership roles. The other had terrible experiences in the Church as a teen-ager and as an adult has chosen to have her name removed from Church records.

    Church leaders need to listen deeply and carefully to the concerns raised by women in the Church. When young women see women marginalized, mistreated, and even abused, they may work within the system to correct it as my older daughter has done or they may leave the Church completely as my younger daughter has done.

    Some Church leaders, including bishops and stake presidents, use their authority to demean and abuse women. Patriarchy fosters this behavior, and Church leaders need to understand that the Church organization needs to be restructured so that all of the members are valued, respected, and honored equally.

    The Savior’s example of honoring and respecting women does not translate in our Church today. Women serve is a subservient role at the discretion of men, who are often insensitive at best and cruel at worst. Those who speak up, as Lavina Fielding Anderson did, are excommunicated.

    The problem is so serious that the Church needs to form a committee that reviews the grievances of members who have been abused and then finds a way to address and correct these abuses. Any absolute, unmonitored power in any organization is a dangerous thing, but when it occurs in a Church setting, many lives can be damaged or destroyed.

  8. Chris,

    I think your comment illustrates clearly one of the main points I wanted to make. YW’s (and often adult women’s) experience in church is much more variable. It is up to the discretion of local leader to decide if YW will have experiences to conduct and grow in leadership capabilities. The opportunities that I was given were not really part of the official program, but just things that the local leaders asked me to do. It is also up to the discretion of local leaders whether or not they include and listen to the input of YW and adult women when decisions are being made.

  9. One problem I noticed with both YM/YW presidencies when my kids were growing up is that the same kids are called as presidents and counselors every year.

    I understand that advisors want to choose presidents who are capable, but many kids are left out who need the growing experience of being called as leaders.

  10. I have noticed that as a parent I can choose to use the church as a part of my children’s development and education. It is a mistake to simply hand a kid over.
    For instance, I decided it would be a good idea for my daughter to have connections with adults and little children plus earn money and learn responsibility so I carefully drummed up babysitting business for her. I knew what young moms were like, they dont have money, it is a hassle to go pick up babysitters, and they aren’t sure what teens are capable of. So I told them I could drop my daughter off, I told them my daughter was happy with a low wage (I even offerred rebates), and I told them I would consider it a big favor and service to me and to my daughter if they would give her a chance to work.
    I did this for people at school too and got my daughter a part time job for 8th grade for $5/hour with a nonmember family.
    It is a mistake to wait for communities to come up and hand our kids perfect growing opportunities. They are there if we can find them, they are there if we can create them.
    My son is a boy (different set of opportunities) and he is a completely different person with different needs and challenges than my daughter. I have to adjust his world a little differently to try to give him the opportunities to learn to work, learn to be capable, etc.
    So we can talk about boys vs. girls, but really no ward, no community is going to be able to serve up the perfect learning opportunities for every single kid. We need to look around and find opportunities where we can when they are appropriate for our individual children.
    I know there are kids whose parents can’t do this, don’t know how to do this. Just like there are parents who don’t read to their kids and don’t help them learn to read. They hope the school takes care of that and then hope their kids pick it up on their own. This can help a kid build survival skills, but I prefer to choose a balance between throwing a kid in the deep end and creating age appropriate learning situations for them.

  11. Nice post, Beatrice. I particularly like this follow-up comment you made:

    YW’s (and often adult women’s) experience in church is much more variable.

    This is such an excellent point that captures so much. Lots of women in the Church have good experiences and are handed power to actually make decisions, or they had good experiences in YW and actually got to lead, but this isn’t how the Church is really set up. It depends on local leaders as you said so well. What we need is to have authority and leadership experiences made a structural part of the Church for YW and women like they are for YM and men. That way, they can’t be swept away at the whim of a bishop or stake president.

    So we can talk about boys vs. girls, but really no ward, no community is going to be able to serve up the perfect learning opportunities for every single kid.

    Certainly this is true, jks. But this sounds like you’re just trying to ignore the very real difference between YW’s and YM’s average experience by stepping away to a very abstract level. You could use the same argument to say we shouldn’t look at any inequality anywhere because the world is never fair to everyone.

  12. It’s fascinating to read about others’ experiences in the church’s youth programs. I was called both as Beehive president and as Miamaid president, I strongly suspect because I fit someone’s idea of the role. Even as my emotional and spiritual life was crumbling and I was failing classes, no one seemed able to see past the straight-A good girl they had already decided I was. The callings weren’t good for me or for anyone else largely because I was in such a desperate, miserable state that I couldn’t manage to do anything I was supposed to. By the time I hit Laurels my leaders had gotten smart enough not to call me to leadership, which was a very good move.

    Particularly as I imagine my daughter as a teenager, I do wish the church entrusted the YW with some significant responsibility in the way they do the YM. I’m already scheming to find something for her–Brownies, maybe–that’s something like an actual equivalent of what boys are offered in Cub Scouts. It’s one thing to endure the gender disparities myself; it’s another thing entirely to subject my daughter to them. I’m hoping against hope I can find ways to mitigate them.

  13. At my most recent stake conference, an area authority spoke about how we can know if we are on the “right track.” If you are an adult, can you qualify to renew your temple recommend every two years? If you are a young man, can you qualify to advance in the priesthood every two years? He did not mention any way for a young woman to verify her worthiness. Young women are left out. I think structural change is necessary to include them.

  14. I don’t think there is anything in the church structure at present that NEEDS the young women. That being said, I’d be annoyed to be “patted on the head,” so to speak, and given arbitrary tasks so that I could feel “important” or “needed.”

    It just occurs to me that I like not having built-in leadership responsibilities (including visiting teaching, which I avoid completely) because it means I have less interference with my relationship with God. I can think and commune with Him without going through my mental checklist of whether or not I’ve completed my duties.

  15. That being said, I am fully in support of everyone who wishes they could assume more responsibilities at church.

  16. Thanks for the post, Beatrice. I have now served in YW for about a year and I have felt many of the same things you expressed. It all kind of came to head for me when I was having a conversation with my brother, who was a newly called bishop in another town. I asked him how the young women gave meaningful service in his ward. He had no real reply. I started thinking and digging, trying to find meaningful ways that my Beehives could serve our ward – not just visiting widows or other smaller service projects, which of course are important – but bigger things that could be seen and felt in the whole ward. The young men in my ward get recognized and praised every Sunday for their service in blessing and passing the Sacrament. I wanted my young women to be able to serve in a way that they were also recognized and praised. I came up with two things: making the Sacrament bread and doing the ward newsletter. For eight weeks we provided homemade bread for the Sacrament. This was a meaningful service that was also visible. I was quite disappointed that the Bishopric only mentioned it the first week or two. In fact, the last week our bread was used it was a fast Sunday and since the Bishopric would not recognize the service my girls were doing for the ward, I stood up and talked about it in my testimony. I had several members of my ward come up and comment about it after. (Interestingly, they were all members of the Relief Society). My other project was doing the ward newsletter, where the girls helped collect the information and helped in handing it out.
    In looking through the YW manuals and comparing them with the Aaronic Priesthood manuals I have found a disproportionate number of lessons in the YW manuals emphasizing that young women are important and loved daughters of God. If the young women had meaningful, visible service opportunities in the ward they wouldn’t have to be told so often that they are special.


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