What can leaders do to help young men and women feel accepted?

    “What can leaders do to help young men and women feel accepted?” Ensign, Jan. 1993, 60–61

    As a youth leader, I see some youth shunned by Church members for their rebellious appearance and behavior, yet I know that these young people are struggling and need acceptance. What can leaders do to help young men and women feel accepted in their wards and branches?

    Glenn Jorgenson, Gospel Essentials teacher, Monrovia East Ward, Arcadia California Stake. Regardless of our age, we’re all vulnerable to the criticism of others, both verbal and nonverbal. We’re also all influenced by the love and support of others. But teenagers are particularly sensitive to others’ feedback. Consequently, the positive support of even one adult can have a profound effect on the life of a struggling teen. Adults should never underestimate this power.

    One way, then, that you can help youth feel more comfortable at church is to help them feel more comfortable and at ease around you.

    However, as you work to help youth, you need to keep in mind a few things. Remember that gospel principles are always easier to talk about than to live. This is true for young and old alike.

    Judge not unrighteously. One of the most common human frailties is the urge to find fault with the actions of those around us. Visit a kindergarten class, and you’ll see children tattle with gusto. Visit a high school class, and you’ll see that young people no longer tattle, but they do criticize each other for even little things that go wrong. Visit an office, and you’ll see that the problem even exists among adults.

    The Savior has given us some guidelines to follow in establishing and maintaining good interpersonal relationships:

    “Judge not unrighteously, that ye be not judged: but judge righteous judgment.

    “For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.” (JST, Matt. 7:2–3.)

    So, what is unrighteous judgment? Being critical of others’ shortcomings, mistakes, and weaknesses, or complaining about what others do or do not do.

    What is righteous judgment? It is diligently watching for those things others do well and then openly and generously acknowledging those efforts. Allowing others their imperfections. Striving to positively influence all with whom you come in contact. It is also responding to your conscience and making wise decisions about right and wrong.

    Be a positive influence. We cannot control other people’s lives; all we can do is try to influence them. If we are wise, our influence will be positive. It requires careful planning and deliberate follow-through to avoid criticizing others, either openly or in our minds.

    I remember that when my oldest son, Eric, was a teenager, it was difficult to get him to do yard work. One day I badgered him into mowing the lawn, and before he was through, I went out and pointed out practically every blade of grass he had missed. I considered it my fatherly duty to look for my child’s mistakes, tell him how to correct them, and then get behind him and push him to do so.

    As a result, Eric was convinced that he couldn’t please me. He was absolutely right! About this time, I was involved in teaching some seminars that helped me to reevaluate my attitude. After the lawn-mowing incident, I asked myself, “How would you like to trade places with Eric?” I decided that I wouldn’t. Actually, Eric was doing remarkably well under difficult circumstances. My teaching methods left a lot to be desired—and I was alienating my son. I had to change.

    From then on, instead of pointing out what Eric hadn’t done, I began commenting on what he had done. Three things happened. Our relationship improved greatly (after he recovered from the initial shock), I became a happier person, and Eric began looking for “missed blades of grass” on his own.

    Follow the Golden Rule. Another of the Lord’s guidelines is known as the Golden Rule: “Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.” (Matt. 7:12.)

    One way to use this powerful principle to improve relationships is to make a list of ways you like to be treated by others. A typical list might include: I like to be treated with patience, respect, good humor, honesty, generosity, compassion, acceptance, and affection. Next, make a commitment to yourself to treat others according to this written list.

    Correct Youth Kindly. One of the most difficult challenges you will probably face in dealing with youth is the task of correcting their negative behavior. Certainly, disruptive or irreverent behavior must be corrected quickly—but it can be done kindly, with respect, and often with humor. Put yourself in the position of those with whom you are working, and ask yourself how you would respond to various methods of correction. Try to determine the most positive and uplifting method.

    As you strive to incorporate these principles into your life and to share them with other adult ward leaders, many of them will follow your example. As that happens, fewer people will focus on the behavior and appearance of youth. Instead, people will begin to adopt a more positive attitude toward them.

    Photo by John Luke