“A Conversation with Elaine Cannon, Young Women’s President,” Ensign, Apr. 1984, 78–79
Ensign: What do you see as the challenge facing young women today?
Sister Cannon: Perhaps the greatest challenge for our young women is to learn how to resist the efforts of the adversary. Satan, seeing their potential power, tries to influence and tempt them in these critical years of their youth.
Ensign: What temptations do our young women face?
Sister Cannon: Most temptations they confront seem to stem from one thing: incomplete and inadequate information presented by attractive people asking them to make choices they are not prepared to make. There are so many self-determined authorities, as well as legitimate authorities, on all manner of subjects. Our young women hear voices from all sides calling them, and often they don’t understand which voice to follow, which voice is best for them.
Ensign: How can we as parents and leaders help them respond correctly to these voices?
Sister Cannon: We give them the information they need and try to teach them how to make the right spiritual, physical, and social choices. We teach them how to seek wisdom both through earthly channels and from their Heavenly Father. Decisions thus based on knowledge and inspiration help a young person to avoid mistakes. If, for example, a young woman has been properly taught how to make her own decisions and is with friends who are doing things she doesn’t want to do, she will be strong enough and wise enough to resist any arguments they may raise.
Our job as leaders is to let our young people know that they cannot go against God’s commandments and be happy. All their actions have consequences. We need to help them see those consequences, both the happy and the sad. Youth need to remember about laws irrevocably decreed: (See D&C 130:20–21.)
Ensign: How do the activities in the Young Women’s program contribute to gaining this knowledge?
Sister Cannon: Ours is largely a program of learning the word and experimenting upon it. We teach truths during the Sunday Young Women’s meeting. Then out of that lesson, we plan certain experiences, either vicariously or literally, to validate our teaching. For example, one class studied the matter of chastity and what that means. They discussed the sanctity of life and the sacredness of providing an earthly temple for Heavenly Father’s spirit children. They also talked of consequences they would face if they made a mistake. Once we’ve taught and discussed the concept, we plan an experience to go along with it. For example, we can watch films or have a panel discussion on how to avoid tempting situations.
And, of course, we always want to have the influence of the Holy Ghost in our classrooms. We teach gospel principles with the Spirit. And the activities that grow out of our lessons must also enjoy the presence of the Spirit.
Ensign: This sounds like an exciting challenge for our Young Women advisers. Can you give some advice to help them reach these goals?
Sister Cannon: An adviser should first remember her role as an adviser to the young women. Her role is not to put on all the road shows or to plan all the social activities. Rather, her responsibility is to teach young women, those girls between the ages of twelve and eighteen who are trying to grow in the gospel. It means that she is a spiritually mature woman who understands the gospel and can teach it to the girls.
Ensign: What are some other helps for advisers?
Sister Cannon: Flexibility and relevance. You’ll see flexibility in our new manuals. We have a unit on the role of the daughter of God, a unit on morality, a unit on relationships. An inspired teacher will go through that book and find the lesson that at that time fits the needs of the girls—or a critical need of one of the girls. Then she’ll teach it in depth, for several weeks perhaps, until the problem is resolved. As we try to meet these needs, we have to be relevant. When I say relevant, I mean we need to know what our young women are thinking. We need to be prepared to give them that truth which they are ready to receive. For example, suppose there are girls in a class who are the only members of the Church in their families. If the adviser talks about the Word of Wisdom, she may need to structure the lesson to speak of their special needs as well as those of the other girls in the class. We need to teach truths as they particularly apply to our young women’s situations.
Ensign: These days seem to be an age of selfishness, of looking only to our own needs. How are we preparing our young women to look beyond themselves to the needs of others? How are we teaching them to serve?
Sister Cannon: We often hear the word service, but I really like the word useful better. Our thrust is “Prepare Yourself So You Can Contribute to Others.” This includes more than just the traditional service project. It implies finding and developing your specific talents so you can use them to help others.
Again, one of the ways we can motivate this type of development is to give the young women experiences. We help our girls become more aware of other people by letting them interact with others. For example, if we go to a children’s hospital, very quickly the girls become more sensitive to the needs of children. Or we may take a walk through the local chapel to see what can be done to make it lovelier. Then, with the approval of the bishop, the girls can initiate projects for improving the appearance of the building.
We also try to help the girls use the gift of the Holy Ghost in their lives. We believe that when a girl becomes sensitive to the promptings of the Spirit she will want to help others, because that is Christlike. Bearing testimony, studying the scriptures, writing in journals, learning to listen and love—all contribute to this quality of character. So we try constantly to plan activities which develop spirituality within them. Once they’ve achieved that, they will be motivated on their own to serve others.
An important part of this process is making the service activities we plan meaningful to our girls. “Sharing Socks” are a good example. I know of some girls who made cute socks, then filled them with personal items. The socks were given to refugees who were thrilled to get a comb, a pencil, or a toothbrush. That’s meeting real needs. Cleaning off cemetery markers and the grounds around old cemeteries in small villages which can’t provide such care and upkeeping is also useful. Typing genealogical records for older people is a good project. These are worthwhile kinds of service experiences. And youth today are smart—they know when they are being useful, and when “service” is contrived.
Ensign: We have heard much about the three-fold mission of the Church. How does the Young Women’s program contribute to these goals?
Sister Cannon: That is an exciting question. Of course, everything we’ve talked about so far has to do with one of these goals: the perfecting of the Saints. Our whole effort is designed to set our young women on a clear course to perfection, to help them make proper choices, and to avoid mistakes. But the other two missions of the Church are important, too.
We teach girls to know the gospel so they can share the gospel in all stages of their lives. Then we help them to have experiences in our activation program. Several years ago, somebody asked me, “What’s great about your program?” My answer was quick: “We care for our members, and we consciously work to include those who may not regularly attend.” We work with our young women who aren’t fully active until they become one of the group, if at all possible.
We also share the gospel through involvement with the family. We say to the father and mother, as we welcome the girl into the Young Women’s program when she turns twelve or when she is baptized into the Church during her teens, “How can we help you?” We try to get parents involved. We encourage our girls to talk with their parents, members of the Church or not, about their goal-setting. We encourage them to ask their parents to pray with them. This is a wonderful opportunity for the parent to feel their daughter’s love, to know she honors them.
Ensign: What about the mission of redeeming our kindred dead?
Sister Cannon: That, too, is exciting. We teach our girls to be prepared to go to the temple when they reach that stage of their lives, to be worthy to do baptisms for the dead, and to be endowed, so they have the full richness of the gospel. We also teach them to be successful in marriage. And I said “to be successful in” because simply to get married, and to fail in it, is not what we want.
Ensign: Your great love for today’s young women is obvious. What do you see as their role in this world?
Sister Cannon: You know, I have a rather personal dream about our young women. My dream is to see a generation of young women who are lovingly reaching out to all who need them—to their peers who are in trouble, to their companions in life who hold the priesthood, to the world’s small children. Wouldn’t that be wonderful? Instead of the two thousand sons of Helaman, we could have five million daughters of God who see to it that love prevails, that goodness and purity reign on the earth. What a glorious world this would be.
I believe that today’s young women have just this potential.