An exchange I had with Melissa on The Passion Recut thread sparked an interesting conversation topic, which John Mansfield pointed out. I’d like to quote each of us involved (in shouldn’t be long and can be easily skipped by those familiar with the conversation) in order to set the stage before I get into the real nuts and bolts of what this thread is to be about.
Melissa: I made a commitment when I was a Beehive never to watch an R-rated movie, and I never have. While my commitment as a 12 year old may have originated from that kind of desire to be obedient, my motivation over the years to not watch R-rated movies has changed a lot.
Bob: I’m impressed by your patience with yourself, for if I were to live any part of my life completely based on decisions I made when I was 12, I’d go crazy!
Melissa: I certainly haven’t lived my life "completely based on decisions I made when I was 12" as you imply–part of what I find confusing about your comment is that many of the decisions I made when I was 12 (that I wouldn’t date before I was 16, that I would keep the Word of Wisdom, that I would stay morally clean, that I would serve a mission, attend church, and so forth) were very good decisions.
Bob: Looking back at my situation when I was 12, all the same decisions were made (that you’ve stated). But I don’t really consider them my decisions nearly as much as I consider them the decisions of my parents, which I happened to abide by due to my presence in their home. I didn’t actually make the decision to attend Church until AFTER my parents weren’t attending with me. And I didn’t actually make the decision to keep the Word of Wisdom until I was in an atmosphere where I could break it, etc. Until these circumstances were in place, no real decisions were being made on my part.
So when I think of decisions I made when I was 12, I’m referring to the way I treated others. The way I judged. The way I decided (myself) how to interact with others, etc. Thus, if I were still living by these "decisions" today, I’d be very, very disappointed in myself.
Melissa: it also seems like I had a very different experience than you did as an adolescent. When I was 12, I really did make these decisions quite on my own. Without going into particulars, none of these decisions were my parents’ decisions.
John Mansfield: There seems to be some disagreement as to whether adolescence is the beginning of adulthood or not. The varying points of view on this are seen in the disagreement over whether a young woman can at twelve make meaningful commitments to the form of her life. The value of counsel to youth also seems to be weighed according to these different views; is it meant to keep children safe, or to guide new adults in their responsibilities?
I don’t know that I would consider my discussion with Melissa a disagreement as much as perhaps a difference in upbringing and/or perspective. What intrigues me is that we both ended up making similar choices and also seem to be both active in the Church, as a result of these decisions.
Melissa began this conversation by telling us of a rather influential decision she made when she was 12. My initial thought stemmed from the fact that I can barely even remember, let alone live by any decisions I made when I was 12. She replies by stating she hasn’t lived her life this way, as I implied (incidentally, I never thought she had, I was referring to merely one part [decision] of her life, not her entire life). And as we further came to an understanding of our differences, we found that we’ve made some of the same decisions: that we wouldn’t date before we were 16, that we would keep the Word of Wisdom, that we would stay morally clean, that we would serve a mission, attend church, not watch rated R movies (yes, this was potentially a decision I made at one point, though I’m not sure that I ever made it), and so forth.
I cannot speak for Melissa and can only explain the details surrounding my upbringing. I have lived in Utah since I was 11 years old and was raised in a fairly conservative home. In our home, a parental lock was on the T.V., we did not watch rated R movies, we drank only decaffeinated soda, we did not cook with alcohol, we could not listen to certain types of music on Sunday, we read our scriptures every day etc, etc. If a local leader and/or general authority said “it didn’t matter” or offered any sort of counsel, we would automatically strive to live by it in the fullest way possible.
I do not condemn this way of living. I simply provide this information to explain my next point. Since “growing up” and “moving out”, I feel that I have finally made certain decisions for myself. I watch rated R movies sometimes, I drink Coke on occasion, I’ve been known to cook with alcohol, I listen to whatever I feel appropriate on Sunday (much larger selection than ever before), and I read my scriptures when I feel the need, but certainly not every day. Although I am appreciative toward my parents and the fact that I grew up in the Church, I can’t help but admit that I have felt liberated ever since I had the power to make my own decisions.
Now, this is not to say that there weren’t certain decisions my parents had us abide by that after reevaluation, I have stuck with. And it is not to say that there weren’t moments, mostly when I was outside my parents’ house, where I was faced with decisions without someone breathing down my neck. But again, I really have a hard time thinking of any decisions (without extreme parental participation) I supposedly made that I still live by.
It was almost thought of as compliance [obedience] and rebellion. And out of six kids, five of us (with the last one on a mission right now) are still on the “straight and narrow”, so to speak, with one “wandering” (although leaving the Church out of the equation, her path is still pretty “straight and narrow”, in other words, she’s an extremely good person for whom I have the utmost respect). So it seems that this strategy has “worked”, although if you talk to any of my siblings, most of them will attest to various degrees of liberation and/or decision making that they were so glad to have finally.
And now, of course, I think that I will be the “cool” dad who will understand my kids better than most parents. When in reality, when that time comes, I won’t be surprised if I get sucked into my-children’s-innocence-and-protection-from-the-world-out-there-is-my-first-priority mode, in which their drinking Coke while watching The Shawshank Redemption is just foreshadowing of apostasy.
So help me out, am I alone in my experience? Did I actually make life-altering (or not so life-altering but still very important) decisions when I was 12, which I’ve now forgotten? Please feel free to share similar or contrasting experiences. I’d love to understand better the nature of decisions at that age (let’s say, for the sake of discussion, 11-15), as my wife and I prepare to have our own children.
I think at the heart of this is John’s extremely intriguing question: “The value of counsel to youth also seems to be weighed according to these different views; is it meant to keep children safe, or to guide new adults in their responsibilities?”
I personally don’t know that I can answer that question directly, though I don’t think of it as a dichotomy.