A friend explained that a number of years ago she attended a fireside for both parents and teenagers. A local leader spoke and explained that as a junior high school student, he learned that a longtime, close friend of his had joined with some other junior high students who had managed to get hold of cigarettes and smoke them. He went on to explain that he had an important decision to make at that time and ultimately he decided that he would no longer associate with that boy. He advised the young people in attendance, if faced with the same choice, to follow his example.
This was a good and well-intentioned leader but his advice broke my friend’s heart. At the time she had a daughter that was dabbling with drugs and alcohol. My friend and her husband were doing all they could to encourage their daughter to discontinue such activities. My friend knew that, as most teenagers do, her daughter longed for friends. They also knew that if faithful Mormon teens turned their backs on her she would seek friends elsewhere. Her parents desperately hoped that friends her age who chose to avoid drugs and alcohol would reach out to their daughter. This leader’s advice seemed to my friend to encourage young people to end all association with others, like her daughter, who were struggling with obedience to gospel principles.
What to do, what to advise, under such circumstances is a dilemma that is not easily resolved. Parents who are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints understand the importance of good friends. LDS Church leaders have counseled youths in the church to choose friends wisely and carefully. Some teenagers have the ability to stand strong when associates pressure them to break the commandments. Others are more prone to be influenced by those disobeying commandments and might be more easily pressured or tempted to join with them.
As a parent when we see a teen, other than our own, who is struggling with testimony, with obedience, who is making poor choices, what might we suggest to our teenagers? Prayer and scriptures are, ultimately, any parent’s best resource.
With that said, there is in scripture Jesus’ well known parable, the Parable of the Lost Sheep:
"What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it? And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and neighbours, saying unto them, Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost.
"I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance."
Simply and powerfully the Savior extols us to reach out to those who struggle, to those who have strayed from the gospel path.
Perhaps, when faced with what to advise, parents might consider counseling their teenagers to carefully choose where they go and what they do, but also encourage them to reach out to those who struggle by inviting them to join with their children and with others who strive to obey the commandments, to invite and include them in wholesome and uplifting activities, to go out of their way to say “hello,” to find ways to show genuine interest and concern for those who do struggle. Perhaps encouraging our teenage children to snub and break all ties with other teens who are not making the best choices pains our Father in Heaven, who loves all his children with tender regard and with a love that supersedes anything we might ever imagine.
Not every struggling teenager will respond to such an outreach. Not every struggling teenager will be dissuaded from making poor choices. Amazing however, what love and concern can and often will do.
Although most of the other young people in her ward turned their back on my friend’s daughter, there were a few who did not. The kindness of those few youths and the love and devotion of a few leaders and adults in her ward continued unabated. She never doubted that they genuinely loved and cared about her and their love stayed with her, even after her behavior worsened.
And their outreach and love was critical to her return, to her being sealed to her husband in the temple, to her children being born in the covenant, to activity and devotion to the gospel of Jesus Christ today. What joy there will be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth and what joy there will be in the hearts of those who reach out to the lost sheep.
Kristine Frederickson writes on issue-oriented topics that affect members of the LDS Church worldwide in her column “LDS World."