PLANO, Texas — More than 450 youths 16 to 18 years old from eight stakes of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Dallas area came together for the 3rd Annual Priest Laurel Dating Conference earlier this year.

"Our goal is to emphasize and reemphasize what dating is as it pertains to the gospel," said Jim Lucero, Young Men president in the Plano Texas Stake, which hosted the event. "The term dating has changed from what it used to mean and we want to help the kids understand that dating is both an experiment and an experience and to value it as a way of getting to know a variety of individuals and move toward a temple marriage."

To many in today's world normal dating is seen more in terms of what was called "going steady" in times past.

“The world sees dating as having a boyfriend or girlfriend and being together all the time," said Jacob Crandall, a high school senior living in the Plano Texas Stake. "When talking about dating with my friends at school, I usually have to translate what it means to me.”

Guest speaker Brad Wilcox, a professor of education at Brigham Young University and author of several books as well as a popular speaker in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, talked to the youths about forming proper bonds. He emphasized morality and that the dating experience should be fun and leave lasting memories.

"In high school, you want to fit in. And the way he presented it just made it so clear as to the logic of why we don't lower the standards we've been taught," Crandall said in response to Wilcox's advice. "He kept it so simple and to the point."

Sophia Blankmeyer, another Plano Texas Stake senior, noted, "Sometimes we think we're missing out, but hearing a message like this helps me realize there is so much more to it and it's not worth the emotional pain."

The conference also included teen speakers who provided dating views from both a guy and lady's perspective. Daniel Acey reminded the young women that the young men are extremely nervous and to help them out by accepting when they ask them on a date. He also reminded the young ladies that guys aren’t made of money, which caused the room to erupt with applause. Michelle Adorable told the young women to keep their heads, heels, and standards high and reminded all youths of the value of shopping around to evaluate prospects.

"The youth want to date and we wanted to find a way to put them in a comfortable situation to help some of these kids get on their first date," Lucero said.

The conference culminated with a dance and the feature activity, a Mega Date to accomplish that goal.

As the teenagers arrived at the activity, they were randomly given one of five colored wristbands and were told what they were for before the dance started. At one point in the dance, the lights came on and those wanting to participate went to an appointed area in the room for their wristband. Information was collected by leaders and taken to a room where the participants were randomly paired with someone in their group. A short time later in the dance, the lights came on again and the couples were paired. Two slow songs were played to allow the couples a chance to get to know each other and set arrangements for their date.

"At first, kids were hesitant to participate, but then people started jumping in and just doing it and it was really encouraging to others," Blankmeyer said.

Overall, the stake leaders felt that Mega Date was a positive experience as more than 160 couples participated. It provided the Mormon youths an opportunity to meet someone they might not have otherwise talked to.

"This all originated from an idea to help our youth value dating as an LDS principle," Lucero explained. "We want to help the kids feel proud of being LDS in a society that seems to make us feel guilty for being different. We want the kids to be comfortable with dating and with themselves and to value dating as a way to move toward a temple marriage."

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Themes from previous years included Romeo and Juliet and a dating Game Show. Besides the Priest and Laurel activity, the Plano Texas Stake has developed activities for each age group to help ease them into the dating process.

Stake leaders recognize dating is an issue and are working to help the younger youth become become more comfortable with the concept.

Beehives and deacons participate in a cotillion where they are taught dating etiquette and basic dance steps. This is a chance to introduce good old fashioned social graces. "Save the Date" is the activity for Mia Maids and teachers where pre-dating tips are shared through various activities and a dating panel.

Megan Nylander worked for Temple Square Hospitality for five years before moving to Texas last summer.