How social norms take the “genuine” out of service for young adults.

In Utah, the culture of the LDS church permeates almost every aspect of the everyday lifestyle of most Utah residents. Simply stated, everyone, adherent or not, is Mormon “by association.” This means that most people know the general ins-and-outs of the religions quirks and follies.

One thing that is unique to the religion itself is the volunteer missionary service performed by the churches young adults.

The practice of putting two years aside for church service can be mistakenly seen as a rite of passage to Utah Mormons. Meaning that is seen as something that is expected, rather than encouraged. This can lead to some negative results among the church youth who might go for the wrong reasons because of the social norm.

Many parents groom their children to be missionaries, like a Spartan parent would raise their child to be a warrior. This makes it tough for a teenager to let their family down, so some go anyway. They do so with the wrong motivations in mind, causing more harm than good. An acquaintance of mine observed this in his high school friend, who, he said felt pressure to go because his girlfriend would only marry him if he served a mission. He went, but ironically, she left him anyway.

In contrast, most effective missionaries have parents who led them to go on a mission, rather than micro-managed their spirituality until their 18th birthday. Instead of threatening with negative consequences for not going, they taught by example, through patience, love and effective teaching. They didn’t have to ask their children, their children volunteered.

It seems that the key in these situations is for parents to let their kids know that whether they go or not, they’ll love them no matter what, but affirm that they know the mission is the right thing to do. There is a big difference between coercion and guiding.

This problem isn’t only within the LDS church. There are parents in other religions who pay their children to go build schools in third world countries, hoping that they will change. But frankly, this is flawed thinking. All they learn is that their parents will pay them to do the right thing. LDS or not, many parents need to get their heads out of the clouds and focus on the day-to-day work that inspires the children they lead to do the right things for the right reasons. The donkey becomes an “ass” when its only motivation is to follow the carrot dangling from a stick; it doesn’t even notice it is making a difference.

Let me know what you think over Twitter! @Caden_Damiano

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