Youth in the LDS Church

Poor Wayfaring Man

The LDS Church has developed gender-segregated youth programs to educate and socialize (read: indoctrinate) boys and girls in the Church as they reach adolescence and grow into adulthood. The programs start when they reach age 12 and generally end at age 19, at which point they join the gender-segregated adult programs. The girls’ program is called the “Young Women organization“, and the boys’ program is called the “Aaronic Priesthood“.

You may have noticed that the names of these two organizations are not symmetrical. The boys’ organization is named after the priesthood–the power authority to act for God–bestowed upon the boys at that age in a religious ceremony that the whole family and friends in the congregation attend. The girls’ organization, on the other hand, has a generic name, because girls are bestowed with nothing of any spiritual or doctrinal substance at that age. There is no formal rite of passage for girls who turn 12, or 14, or 16 comparable to the advancement in the Aaronic Priesthood organization the boys experience at those ages.

Thus, there is a subtle (and sometimes not subtle) set of messages LDS boys and girls receive through personal experience in the Church, from at least the time they turn 12. Boys have authority in the Church hierarchy, and girls do not. Boys are natural leaders, and girls are not. Boys have clear evidence that God accepts them, and girls do not. Boys have a special connection to God, and girls do not. If a girl wants any of these things, she needs to marry a boy and get it vicariously through him.

These messages (and the psychological baggage they carry) form the focus, in one way or another, of much of the Young Women (YW) and Aaronic Priesthood (YM) programs’ respective curricula and activities. Some of the messages are countered and their effects mitigated (to an extent), while others are basically supported and reinforced. I will discuss this further in future posts.


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