Teenagers and Mormon friends

We now have one Mormon kid in our high school (out of 150). He’s in the tenth grade and although I don’t teach him, he dropped by for a chat on the first day of school. He just moved here from the west coast of the US and has a great attitude, the kind one hopes for in an expat teenager. He’s understandably anxious about being in such a small school with high academic expectations, and of course being the only Mormon. Then he said something that surprised me: ‘Back home, all my friends were members.’

If he were from Utah or Idaho, I would understand that. But he wasn’t. It must have been a conscious decision. Is this something he’d been taught? I went to The Strength of Youth, a pamphlet I’ve never looked at despite years as a youth leader, and found this advice under ‘Friends’:

Choose your friends carefully. They will greatly influence how you think and act, and even help determine the person you will become. Choose friends who share your values so you can strengthen and encourage each other in living high standards.

I can see how some members, both young and old, might see that as meaning only Mormon kids can be close friends. I wonder if a teenager who has had all the lessons is able to see which values are essential in a friendship and which ones can be accepted as normal differences.

For myself, there were about 20 Mormon kids in my So Cal high school of 3,000 students. I was reasonably active and went to early morning seminary, and in those settings I was friendly with the other youth, but at school only one or two of the member kids were in my circle of friends, and they were not close. Most of the Mormon kids did hang out together, but neither my sister nor I joined them.

There was a reason for this: as the pamphlet would put it, they didn’t share my values. They were losers, and not the cool kind. They underachieved, they didn’t get involved, they seemed to do what they had to do to get by. (I could speculate on why that was, but maybe that’s another topic.) I wasn’t a perfect student, but I liked being around people that were good at what they did, and I found the church kids dull and a little depressing. There was some pressure to join the Mormon crowd — my sister felt it more than I did — but my parents supported us in our choices. My friends were non-members who respected my religious practice (as far as it went at the time) as I supported theirs; and with some notable exceptions, and despite some alcohol and drug use, I saw my school friends as my moral equals and superiors.

A few questions:

–For those who grew up with a handful of other members in their school, were the Mormon kids friends? Was there pressure from parents or church leaders to be school friends with the other Mormons?

–Does the insularity common among Mormons start with kids? Or is it a process that happens as people become adults? Or is Mormon insularity just a myth?

–For those who grew up as the only Mormon kid in a school: any advice for someone in the same situation?

Comments

  1. I attended two high schools as a kid–one in Southern California through my junior year and one in rural Maryland for my senior year (I graduated about 11 years ago). I’ve never been really outgoing and never had a large group of friends, but at both schools my friends were a mix of both Mormons and non. My school in California had a small number of Mormons, although a number of them came from the Spanish-speaking ward in my stake and I didn’t know them very well. I had one “best friend” that I hung out with, spent the night at her house, etc. She was Mormon and we were in the same ward. Most of the other kids in my ward actually attended a different high school and I mostly just interacted with them at mutual and seminary. I had a somewhat larger group of friends at school besides my “best friend” and none of them were Mormon. Most of them, however, were Vietnamese or Chinese and still had very high standards–i.e. they didn’t drink or smoke, didn’t cut class, didn’t swear, and weren’t allowed to date. I was actually kind of scared of many of the other kids in school because they did things like have sex, swear, drink alcohol, etc. They were friendly with me and things like that, but we didn’t hang out outside of school at all. Within my age group there were only two other Mormons. They were both boys and they weren’t in very many of my classes because I was in the Honors track and they weren’t. When we moved to Maryland that was also the case. There were only eight of us total in the high school (we all had seminary together). However, I didn’t hang out with any of the other Mormon kids at school because we didn’t have many classes together. I was in all the AP/Honors classes and they weren’t. I did hang out with a number of people I knew from class and we were friendly at school, but I didn’t do anything with them outside of school. I’ve never kept in touch or seen anyone from either school since graduating (my parents have since moved on to yet another city).

    To answer your questions:

    It seems like at both of my schools the Mormons weren’t necessarily friends unless they had common interests besides school. There didn’t seem to be too much pressure from leaders that I can remember, probably because in both cases our wards covered several high schools. I mainly remember them encouraging us to be friends at activities like mutual and seminary. That was hard enough for me because I was really nerdy and most kids at church weren’t into the same things I was (like I was on the Knowledge Bowl and Geography Bowl teams at school). I actually remember a number of lessons on befriending other people and inviting them to church. While I was in young women’s we had two girls get baptized who had been invited to church by friends.

    At the same time, the lessons about keeping your standards and such combined with my natural timidity to keep me somewhat isolated from most of the other students. My friend in California was rather bold and did things like giving a Book of Mormon to a teacher or asking people not to swear. I never did that kind of stuff; I even sat through a movie version of Macbeth that involved full frontal nudity without saying anything to my teacher (in Maryland where I was the only Mormon in class). So I managed to be somewhat insular and aloof while not actually sharing anything about my beliefs with others. I do think that Mormon insularity is not just a myth. We do get a bit of mixed messages: share the gospel with your neighbors, but be careful and don’t spend too much time in the world or it will rub off on you.

    I’m not sure what advice I would give to a person in the same situation I was in. I was a such a nerdy, insecure kid in high school. I also don’t think it was a horrible thing that I didn’t go to all the wild parties the “cool kids” were throwing. I guess my advice would be to realize that high school is not the be all and end all of your life. It’s good to be friends with people and you can be good friends without compromising your standards. Non members are not scary or evil, even if they do drink, smoke, or have sex. If they don’t like you for choosing not to do those things, then don’t hang out with them. Something like that. I’m not sure I would have listened while in high school, but those are my thoughts eleven years later.

  2. I attended a 2500 student high school in suburban Atlanta. Though Atlanta is now the Mormon hub of the southeast, during the mid 90’s I was largely unaware of other members that attended my school. During my freshman and sophomore years, my group of friends consisted entirely of non member kids. During the summer between my sophomore and junior years I distanced myself from some of my nonmember friends because they began to use drugs heavily. But even from my junior year on, I maintained friends both in and out of the Church. Generally my weekends throughout the school year were spent with my nonmember friends while summer breaks were spent with people from Church (Scout Camp, Youth Conference, EFY, etc.).

    With the exception of my youngest brother, all of my siblings have followed the same pattern with mixed results.

    Shortly after my mission, the Area Presidency took up residence in my stake. The president (Someone you would all recognize) gave a talk about the law of chastity. Though he did not say outright that LDS youth should not have nonmember friends, he cautioned the youth about being friends with people who did not share the same values. In some ways this sends a conflicting message to the youth. On the one hand we encourage them to share the gospel with the others while on the other hand the youth are implicitly counseled to only make friends within the Church.

    I think that as the church has grown in Northeast Atlanta LDS youth have become more and more insular. It is not uncommon for LDS youth to have an all Mormon group of friends. One High School not far from my parents house has an unusually dense LDS population as it has become fashionable for wealthier members in my parent’s stake to move within a particular ward’s boundaries.

  3. Peter LLC says:

    My high school in Southern California was a lot smaller than yours but with about the same number of Mormon kids spread between four wards.

    I didn’t really hang out with the kids from the other three wards, but three of my best friends were Mormons–we grew up in primary together–and they had other gentile friends. I knew the rest of the Mormons, but there was no gang of Mormon cholos aggressivly policing high moral standards during lunchtime and at football games.

    Two of my closest friends were non-members, as was my girlfriend, and I probably spent most of my time with them engaged in your standard high school punk band/skateboarding activities. I felt no pressure from my parents or others at church to have more Mormon/fewer gentile friends.

    In retrospect I wouldn’t change anything except maybe pass on dating a non-member, although even that was a better experience than I had with a semi-active member a couple of years later.

    Anyhoo, I didn’t experience what I would call Mormon insularity as the Mormon kids at my school seemed to both reflect and be integrated into the student body in terms of high achievers in sports and academics as well as slackers and hellions who filled the bathrooms with smoke during lunch.

    My advice to someone who is in the Mormon minority is simply to be aware that for many people, religion is not the single nor the greatest dimension of their identity. I mean, you’re not going to hear anybody say “dude, I can’t to your party ’cause I’m Roman Catholic,” so help avoid confusion and strange looks by not making your membership in the church the only vocalized reason for (not) doing a given activity.

    If invoking the institutional identity of the Church helps to tide you through temptation or other crises, so be it, but I think you will find that most people will respect your standards even without an appeal to authority (and that no one really wanted to share their pot stash anyway).

  4. Peter LLC says:

    I wanted to add that my niece, who went to the same high school I did, brought her boyfriend to church, who later got baptized and is now preparing to serve a mission. So it would seem that the Mormon membrane is somewhat porous and discussion of insularity would need to be conditioned by such (rare?) examples.

  5. Ahh, the good old days, when in HS and college there were no other members (PA and a liberal arts college in TN). My advice: do stuff, have fun, don’t fall in with the first people you meet but look around and see who the kids who are fun but will respect your values. Playing a sport–particularly a less popular one, like track or swimming or golf can often help find these people. Then, respect them and their agency, too. Don’t be preachy–go about your life, not changing things, but don’t be preachy to them, let them learn about the church through what you do.
    And know your own susceptibility to peer pressure…don’t go to a party, etc., if you think you’ll get caught up do things you’ll soon regret. For me, that meant I was fine going to most parties, (in college, frat and sorority parties as well as most other kinds), but that sometimes I would decide not to go if I expected that things would be a bit inconsistent with wider values (like the ‘pimps and hoes’ parties (can I say that here?)).

  6. There were about 7 Mormons in my high school class of about 200. I was casual friends with most of them, but they weren’t my best friends. I mostly hung out with a group of five guys of which there were two presbyterians, a methodist, a catholic, and a non-religious guy.

    There was no pressure from my parents to be friends with Mormons only, except that my parents would encourage me to be friends with the unpopular Mormon kids that were picked on by the rest of the youth in the ward and stake. I don’t remember leaders ever saying anything about it, but I do remember the mother of one of my Mormon friends blaming me for her son’s drug use and other problems because I wasn’t a better friend to him and didn’t save him from himself. The truth was, I wasn’t going to hang out with her son because he “didn’t share my values.” And besides, I just had more fun with my other friends. I do, however, remember both parents and leaders explicitly cautioning against dating non-members.

    Mormon insularity is not a myth. I think it is the natural result of the fact that between seminary, mutual, church, and scouts, you spend more time with your church friends than with your school friends. It’s also a result of the fact that Mormon parents don’t generally have that many friends outside of the church. I suppose that’s because they are generally pretty involved in church activities, so they don’t think they have time to get involved in any kind of community stuff. They might not explicitly say to their kids “don’t have non-mormon friends,” but they teach them not to by their example.

    My advice: just be friends with everyone and you’ll soon find a group that you feel most comfortable with. If that group is mostly Mormon, great. If not, great. Don’t try to hide the fact that you’re Mormon, but don’t be obnoxiously pious about it either. Treat people well and you will generally be treated well. Also, be friends with your family because you always go back to them. Even when you have a group of friends, try to go outside your social circle and interact with others.

  7. I also went to 2 high schools, both with about 2,000 and, including my siblings and I, about 5 Mormons (some from other wards/stakes, so I did not know them well). My own ward was divided between about 3 or 4 high schools, so many of my “Church friends” were strictly that: people I was friendly with at Church.

    In one of my high schools I had a Mormon friend who was a few years older than me, but we had similar interests. Otherwise, my friends were not members, shared some interests, and shared SOME values, certainly not all. Yet they did not care to change my values, and I was always provided with a lot of root beer at parties because kids thought that was funny. I was the designated driver. I learned from my friends stupid mistakes vicariously. I would not change anything about my experience.

    The pressure at Church was simply to be friendly with everyone, nerdy Mormons and others. We needed that, because there were some people at Church it was hard to be friends with.

    I would advise your student to be friendly with everyone just not to let their behavior influence his.

  8. I went to a high school of 1100 and never had another lds kid in my class growing up. In HS there were three or four of us at a time, usually one or two per class. This made having LDS friends pretty much impossible. A friend of mine from my ward did end up being my roommate and best friend in college; we were ‘buddies’ growing up and went to seminary together. I had a bunch of friends at my grandparent’s ward where I spent the summers and we stayed in touch during the school year and even visited, and they were my main LDS peer group.

    Few of my school friends technically shared my ‘values’ re: W or W or premarital sex or language, but we still were close friends and they respected my choices. I was always the Designated Driver. But they were all decent, caring and Christlike in many other ways.

    It’s funny; my in-laws are deeply entrenched in the church in their area. They came to visit us last year and were VERY surprised to learn that many of our friends aren’t LDS. They couldn’t come up with a reason why that would be such a bad thing, but were visibly shocked that these lovely people we talked so much about and clearly spent a lot of time with weren’t members.

    It doesn’t look like my kids will ever have another LDS kid in their schools (clarification to commenter number 2- SUBURBAN Atlanta might have a high concentration of LDS, but if you live inside the perimeter, they are FEW and FAR between. It’s almost looking like my 11 year old daughter won’t have much of any sort of YW program to participate in, since there are currently no beehives and maybe one Mia Maid in our ward, and they are all very transient and live on the other side of the city. I’m not sure I’m invested enough in the YW program to ‘home church’ her……

  9. I grew up in Cleveland, in a high school of about 1600, with about 5 Mormons (one of which was my sister). I’d say I was acquaintances with the other Mormons in my high school, but my “crowd” was exclusively non-LDS. I think I was very lucky in that this crowd shared many of the “major” LDS values, at least as far as the WoW. I never felt temptations or peer pressure to smoke or drink. After I left on my mission it was a different story – by then this same group of people had succumbed to the college lifestyle :-).

    I had a few fairly close LDS friends in my ward, but because it was so geographically big, they went to different HSs (and different cities) so we didn’t hang out a whole lot outside of church and YM.

  10. JKC mentions that Mormon insularity is a result of the intensive youth institutions: seminary, mutual, church, stake dances, etc. In fact, these institutions developed as ways of keeping Mormon youth separate from non-Mormons. This was a deliberate theme starting in the retrenchment era during Brigham Young’s presidency — and continuing to some extent to the present, due to parents’ and leaders’ preoccupation with putting teenagers on a track to marry a Mormon.

    When I was a teenager, ward and seminary leaders taught me to seek out friends who, for example, shared the Mormon values of not swearing, of keeping the Sabbath, of not watching R-rated movies, etc. In practical terms, that meant seeking out friends who were Mormon. I think this kind of insularity for teenagers is deeply embedded in our institution.

  11. So where does that leave the kid in the OP, and my kids, who are growing up around no/very few Mormons?

  12. JNS (10),
    Could that insularity be a local cultural thing, rather than a practical church thing? In my Southern California high school of maybe 2,000, there were probably 150-200 Mormons (maybe that’s a little on the high side; it’s been a few years and I’m not sure). My group of friends was centered largely, though not exclusively, on the musicians in the school. What that meant was that, in my group of 30 or 40 people I hung out with, two of us were active Mormons, and a third was inactive. By my senior year, 3 or 4 other Mormons had started hanging out with us, and two guys who eventually joined the Church did.

    We weren’t an exclusive crowd (we were musicians, for goodness sake, and lovers of metal and alternative rock, so we clearly weren’t an in-crowd). I don’t remember any pressure at all, from parents or from Church leaders, to hang out with members of the Church. There was nothing programmatic in Church that suggested to me that I needed to select friends who shared my religion, and my parents knew and liked my friends (mine was one of the houses we used to hang out in weekends).

    My wife’s experience, on the East Coast, mirrors mine, except that there were maybe three Mormons in her school (and she hung out with dancers and athletes). There may be an insularity embedded in certain regions, congregations, or families, but I can’t say that I experienced any such insularity as a high schooler in Southern California.

  13. Sam B., your point about music and athletics is a good one. Our children attend school where LDS are about 5% of the student body, but are represented disproportionately in band, orchestra, forensics, and sports. As long as my son is with other orchestra participants, I don’t worry very much. I mean, how much trouble can you get into when you’re hanging out with other members of the cello section?

  14. - I had friends who were Mormon (I was not). One was my best friend in 6th grade, another my best friend in 7th grade: they both took me to LDS activities. One was a stake president’s son: he did drugs and drank. One was a bishop’s son: one of the wildest kids I’ve ever known. (I married him.)

    – Mormon insularity probably happens in some places. Not in my experience, though. Most of our friends in our adult lives have either been non-members or former/inactive-members.

    I recently posted about my own teenagers’ experience here.

  15. I don’t think the insularity is, by requirement, instituted by the church, although I bow to JNS’s knowledge of history. Today, insularity in the church, of youth and adults, is a function of how people spend their time and an unfortunately limited reading of some advice from the church. Perhaps insularity among youth has more to do with how much interaction their parents have with nonmembers than anything else?

    And are those who grew up with good friends outside of the church more likely to have good friends outside of the church as adults?

  16. John Taber says:

    When I first started high school, there were a handful of members. We saw each other enough outside school (partly from living in the same neighborhood, or adjacent ones) that we didn’t do much together in school.

    Then there was an influx of members from Utah and California. Their standard seemed to be, “A member is your friend, but a non-member has to earn your friendship.” This to me seemed like a foreign concept to say the least.

  17. Norbert,
    In my experience, any insularity has little to do with parents’ interaction, or the (mis-)reading of church advice. Insularity happens because we have limited criteria by which to judge others. My friendships in high school were superficially based on being in band because we spent so many hours in band, we all listened to the same kind of music, and were roughly in the same classes. Others’ friendships were based on being on the same team, or using the same drugs, or wearing the same clothes. Now, most of my friendships are based on physical proximaty, being involved in law, or having a toddler. Not all of my friends live close, not all have a toddler, and not all are involved in some way or another with the law (and I have friends who fit in none of those three categories), but, because that’s how I spend my time and those are my interests, those tend to be the natural affinities I have.

    I can understand how a kid who digs church dances and music recorded on Deseret Books’ record label (if there is one) would hang out together; I would venture that it has more to do with communal interests, however, than it does with seeing non-Mormons as unclean. But I don’t think that insularity is any more religious than anything else. (I wouldn’t have dreamed, in high school, of hanging out with anybody who admitted to enjoying Q106, the local dance-pop-Top 40 radio station. It was dumb, but I was a high school student, who thought my horizons were far broader than they really were.)

  18. I find it a little perplexing that both Norbert and Rusch make the unfounded assumption that counseling our children to seek friends with similar values is some kind of secret code for having only Mormon friends. It is wise counsel and I can’t imagine how else to say it. Seek people who value what you value because they will influence you, and you are naive if you think that isn’t true. But as has been said ad nauseum in the bloggernacle, there are many non-LDS people out there who share our basic values of honesty, hard work, temperance and reverence for God. To extend that counsel into some kind of authoritative demand for Mormon insularity is to read more into it than is there, and it reveals more about the mind set of the one seeing that argument than it does about the pamphlet or authority giving the advice.

  19. When I went to high school in Minnesota in the 70s, I had friends at school in my choir group, but I mostly hung out with and later kept in touch with my church friends. But that was a time when a lot of my high school class was involved in drinking and drugs. There weren’t a lot of “wholesome activities” going on at parties. I felt my values were very different from many of my school peers, and even many of my church youth group, some of whom were also into drugs.

    My children went to high school in a Houston suburb where they averaged maybe 30 other members of the church at the same school (out of a school population of around 2000). Their experiences varied as to where they chose their close friends and it seemed to depend on their individual personalities,the activities they were involved in and how well they got along with the other church youth at their grade level. It helped a lot that we were living in the Bible belt and there were a lot of teenagers with similar values to the LDS kids. My oldest son was the most insulated with church members as friends. He was with a group of youth that were really tight friends and they did everything together and hung out together all the time. He had some non-LDS friends in his chosen activities, but they rarely did anything together outside those activities. My daughter had fewer close LDS friends. She had close friends from school and they had good values and were involved in “wholesome activities,” but they were not LDS. This was more because she had less in common with the LDS youth at her grade level and they weren’t as tight a group. I was a little worried at times that she didn’t socialize with church youth, but I knew she had high values and the kids she associated with were also really good kids. One of her guy-friends took the missionary discussions because of his admiration for her. As she went through college, she kept in touch with her closest high school friends. My youngest son had only one close LDS friend. This was mostly a function of the church youth his age having different interests than he did. He spent all his free time in debate and band and drew his friends from those activities. My kids are all active in the church as adults. My oldest son has seemed the one least likely to develop close friendships outside the church, but I think that’s a function of personality more than anything else. I think growing up in a place where they could have activities and friendships with young people of other faiths was very positive for them. It showed them (and me) that we aren’t quite so “peculiar” a people.

    As an adult, though my closest friends have generally been LDS, in most of my leisure and chosen activities, I’m the only LDS involved — though at times I have encouraged an LDS friend or two to get involved. I’m often surprised by people who say missionary work is difficult because they have no opportunity to meet those of other faiths.

  20. I should add that, as has been said by others above, there are some LDS people who really do not share our values and are therefore poor choices for friends.

  21. I grew up in Texas, far from the all-Mormon enclaves, and all my friends were members. I did have a non-member best friend much of elementary school, but it makes sense – you don’t necessarily make friends in class; you make them in the conversations and happenings outside of class. At church, there were several girls my age, we knew each other by sight, and I recognized them at school. It was much easier to talk to the people who I knew would at least aknowledge than to stray outside my comfort zone and venture into a conversation where the reception was unknown.

    I wasn’t being exclusive and my parents certainly didn’t instruct me to pick only Mormon friends – it was just easier and less scary and more familiar to be friends with those whom I saw six days a week (church and seminary) in social settings than to make friends with total strangers.

  22. #20 KLC,

    I agree with you one hundred percent. After I graduated in 1997 I attended Ricks College for a summer term and the fall semester. I was really lucky to have made good friends who shared the same values I did as a Latter-day Saint. After my mission I returned to Idaho and had a much different experience. My values were under attack as some of my friends from the mission started using drugs and doing things that were blatantly not good.

    We should embrace good people as our friends wherever we find them, whoever they may be. That is my ethos these days concerning the matter.

  23. As a teen I wasn’t lds, but I was very against drugs and drinking and smoking. Yet all my friends did it. The one time I considered trying it, they were all very disappointed in me and made me stick to my standards—they knew I’d be letting myself down otherwise. So for me, it wasn’t about having friends with similar values, but instead having friends who respected my values and helped me stick to them, even when they weren’t values they shared.

  24. I was the only mormon from the 5th grade on (my sister went to a different school). My catholic girlfriend’s mother was thrilled with the situation and I had my own yarmulke to attend shul with my best friend’s family.

    I wasn’t a big deal. My parents made sure that they knew our friends and had a “there is always room for one more at the table” policy.

    What I think is worse is those individuals who make it into adulthood and continue to isolate themselves in a mormon bubble and rely on the Church for their social interaction.

  25. I can see both sides, given the difference between my own background and that of my children.

    I was raised in rural Utah. In a graduating class of 223, I was aware of 1 girl who was not a member. She was Catholic, and I only knew that because she was excused from participating in a fireside concert held in one of the stake centers. My upbringing was insular simply because everyone was Mormon.

    My kids have been born and raised in Boston, Alabama and Ohio. Insularity is impossible. They are good friends with almost all (a handful) of the active kids in their schools (very good group of very good kids – kindergarten through college), but the vast majority of their closest friends are not members. The only thing we ask of them is that they let their friends know our standards and that those friends respect those standards. Almost without exception, that has not been a problem.

    Summary: It’s quite east for members who are surrounded by other members to believe in insularity; it’s a completely different animal out here in the Gentile world – and I prefer this world, frankly, as much as I loved my own upbringing.

  26. California Condor says:

    Gentile world – and I prefer this world

    Well, Ray, you have your agency. As for me and my house, I prefer Zion.

  27. My SoCal high school had about 10 – 12 Mormons among 1200 students. I was not close friends with any of them. Instead, my circle of friends represented the multicultural milieu typical of suburban southern California – 1 Jewish kid, 1 half Jewish/half Christian kid, 1 Indian kid, 2 evangelical christian Chinese kids, and 2 nominal catholics.

    Strangely, as an adult I tend to hand out with Mormon friends exclusively.

  28. California Condor says:

    P. S. Ray,

    It may be fun in that great and spacious Gentile building with everyone laughing it up and making merry, but I’m going to hold to the Iron Rod.

  29. California Condor, we’ve banned Prudence McPrude — don’t think we’re above banning another fake-named snark.

  30. California Condor says:

    Steve,

    I thought Prudence McPrude was Aaron Brown, one of the BCC bloggers.

  31. Aaron Brown’s welcome to post and comment, same as anyone else. But anonymous or pseudonymous trolls or snarks are under special scrutiny and will likely get the boot. Plus, we know your real name anyways.

  32. I grew up in Colorado. My HS had ~1400 students, I’d guess that close to 100 were members. We were a tight group, but not really insular. After seminary in the morning we would walk across over to the school and hang out in the cafeteria for 30-45 minutes before classes started. There weren’t usually a lot of other students there that early, but by the time classes started, the “Mormon” tables were only about 1/2 to 2/3 Mormon as a lot of our (non-mo) friends would join us for a few minutes before school.

    So combine seminary with mutual activities on Tuesday, basketball or volleyball on Friday, and a stake dance every other Saturday, we were spending pretty much all our time together.

    My school had (and deserved) a reputation as a party school. All of the other social groups parties were keggers (including the band – Mark IV). A lot of the non-mo kids that were trying to avoid the drugs and alcohol ended up at our dances and parties.

    I can name 8-10 people (not all of whom I knew that well) that ended up joining the church at college. For the two I knew well, they ended up at college without a social group they felt comfortable in. So they sought out the Institute programs, and got baptized.

    I’m sure that I am looking back with my rose-colored glasses on. I know that there some that felt like there was a clique and they weren’t included, but I think that is they case in virtually every social group. For me it really was an ideal situation.

  33. California Condor says:

    Ray actually knows my name as well. Hopefully he knows that I was just joking.

  34. KLC:

    I find it a little perplexing that both Norbert and Rusch make the unfounded assumption that counseling our children to seek friends with similar values is some kind of secret code for having only Mormon friends.

    You may have misread me. I don’t think it is a secret code; in fact, if one reads the entire article about ‘Friends,’ it is obvious that is not what it means at all. But it strikes me that some members seem to read it that way.

    SamB: I hear what you’re saying, but I would also argue that there is a strain of Mormon who believes they will survive spiritually by being in a Mormon bubble, socially and even academically. My evidence is purely anecdotal, of course.

  35. Currently being in high school makes these questions easier to answer.

    I’m actually pretty excited; we’re going to have 5 Mormons in our high school next year! I think I’m still the oldest and the only girl, but I’m not sure. They go to a different ward than I do, so I’m not all that familiar with any of them. I wouldn’t call us friends. We’re more acquaintences because they’re all in different grades. I do like being the oldest, and probably the most orthodox; it’s like being the older sister figure, which I enjoy. I try to talk to them and look out for them. I’ll try to do the same with the two coming in, because they’re probably freshman. Even though I don’t know them, I figure it’s the least I could do.

    The leaders in our area encourage us to make friends who can share in our values and show us the respect we deserve. We’re all pretty spread out, so they can’t tell us to be there for each other, or to find other LDS friends. Instead, they tell us to avoid the people that could get us into trouble. I like that advice better, because it doesn’t force us to focus on member VS non-member, as opposed to good influence VS bad influence. The youth of the church shouldn’t be told that these two situations are the same thing, because they’re not.

    I was never the only Mormon; but as the oldest, I feel like I have a responsibility to the youth that are younger than me, especially if they struggle with their testimony. I feel the pressure to be the example, but I don’t mind. I enjoy that my presence allows people to bring out the best in themselves at a time in their lives when “the cool thing” is to blend in.

    If there’s anything I’ve learned from being myself in high school, it’s that the most beautiful & terrifying thing (to you and others) is for you to be different; but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

  36. Steve Evans says:

    Holy crap Paradox, you’re in High School? Let me congratulate you for having such a well-thought-out and wonderful blog. Amazing.

  37. Holy crap Paradox, you’re in High School? Let me congratulate you for having such a well-thought-out and wonderful blog. Amazing.

    Scary eh Steve? And, don’t cross her, she’s a black belt! ;-)

  38. My take,

    I have never lived in the corridor (except one year at USU)

    Growing up in MN and Chicago my parents encouraged us to be friends with the local church kids and friends with kids with good values. So my brothers and I did.

    As an adult living outside the corridor I am unaware of any parents or youth leaders myself included telling local kids to only be friends with LDS kids.

    1. Its impossible
    2. Why limit yourself? Here in the bible belt there are lots of good kids with values

    I again find myself agreeing with Ray on this topic.

  39. Steve Evans says:

    Guy, I don’t deny it! It wouldn’t take a black belt to put me down, though. I’m a featherweight.

  40. What Steve said. I had no idea from reading your comments that you are in HS. How can I hook you up with my son? :-)

  41. Norbert,
    I don’t doubt for a second that there is such a strain of Mormon thought; I just don’t (also anecdotally speaking, of course) see it as being a large one.

    Unfortunately, now that we’re adults, my wife and I have fewer friends who aren’t members of the Church. That, I think, is a result of the Church being the primary social structure (outside of work for me, the neighborhood play group for her) we’re involved in. We assume that will change when our daughter starts school, at which point we’ll become at least acquaintances with her friends’ parents. But there’s really nothing like a public (or maybe private) school for allowing plenty of contact with and the chance to make friends with people who wouldn’t otherwise cross your social circle.

  42. Except for a short period living in a small Mormon town in the west, I grew up far from the Mormon culture region. None of my close friends at school were LDS.

    I do not recall my parents’ ever giving me or my siblings a talk about finding friends with the “same or similar values.” I do remember their being concerned when I started spending time with a “trouble maker” at school, but they never forbade me–they just made sure that he knew the rules of our house and I knew our family rules when I was with him. Eventually our interests diverged and we went on to different circles of friends.

    Even though my parents never talked to us about selecting friends with similar values, my friends did have similar values. Perhaps that was part of the reason they were my friends–we had similar interests and valued similar things.

    The only time we have ever mentioned anything to our children about choosing friends who “share your values” is when we have read Strength of the Youth with them. We have assured them that this is not “code” for restricting themselves to LDS friends. While our children’s friends in high school have been almost uniformly non-LDS, we have been very pleased with the character of the individuals with whom our children have chosen to associate.

  43. Kevin Barney says:

    Finding friends was totally up to me; my parents didn’t really get involved. My friends mostly fit one of three categories: Mormons, kids from my neighborhood (and there just happened to be some overlap there) and smart kids (what today they would call geeks).

  44. Mark:

    I mean, how much trouble can you get into when you’re hanging out with other members of the cello section?

    I don’t know man.

    I don’t doubt for a second that there is such a strain of Mormon thought; I just don’t (also anecdotally speaking, of course) see it as being a large one

    Sam, it’s alive and well and living here in Zion. We had a lesson in EQ a while ago where the opinion was expressed (and seconded) that allowing your kids to play with non-member kids is akin to paving their way to hell. The discussion was about grade school age kids, not high school, but I think it’s wrongheaded at any age.

  45. I remember last year when my middle-school son had three friends overnight for his birthday. Interestingly, all three of them, none of them LDS, had various restrictions as to the activity because of their (or their parents’) religious beliefs. One was Catholic and couldn’t eat certain foods (pizza or pop, I think) because of Lent, one (an evangelical Protestant) couldn’t watch certain movies or play certain videogames, and the third one I don’t remember the details. And they all accommodated each other, picking out activities/food they all liked, and got along wonderfully.

    It struck me that my son had picked his friends exactly the way he should: finding people who indeed had similar values, coming from families seeking to follow Christ. And indeed, there are many non-LDS people out there who share our values, at least the ones that count. I’m glad my son has come to know some of them.

  46. Norbert, you’re right, I did misread you. Thanks for pointing it out in such an even tempered way.

  47. Norbert, I asked my 15 year old daughter your questions. (I figured I knew how she’d respond, but wanted to get her input anyway.) In her “well, duh” straightforward manner, she said that yes the Mormon kids are her friends, no there isn’t pressure from parents/leaders for that friendship, and she doesn’t see any insularity here in our area at all.

    My favorite comment from her is: “Make your standards known, but don’t be a Nazi about it.”

    That really sums it up: be willing to know what your personal values are and to stand up for them; allow others their own attitudes and beliefs without condemning them; be friendly and respectful and you will receive the same.

  48. a) Yeah, I’m new here.

    b) My freshman year at college (this past year) there were 3 LDS students in my grade. This upcoming school year I think it’s safe to say that I’m the only member. One of the other members from last year moved and transferred to a school closer to home, and another is now inactive and “not practicing”. I count myself fortunate that I grew up outside the geographical Mormon bubble, because it taught me how to follow the guidance of being in the world but not of it. I’m not saying that I could not have reached the same end in an area more populated by other Mormons, but I think that it was much less of a shift from high school to college than it may have otherwise been (and with all the other changes going on between the two, I am grateful that I had one less thing to worry about). As bbell said, having only LDS friends in these circumstances is impossible.

    I’ll also take a moment to brag on my parents, because they helped a great deal by making it easy to have friends. What I mean is that, on top of that whole parenting thing they did from time to time, they always made our home available and welcoming. Friends have come over to talk to my mom about arguments with their parents, asking my dad for advice on just about anything, and one came to live with us after he turned 18 and his own father threw him out. They have always made it known that the word “impose” is all but nonexistent once someone enters the door, and I hope that that practice will not end with them.

    /end thank-imony

  49. Sorry to join the discussion late–
    I grew up in Denver and I went to a high school with almost 4,000 kids. There were quite a few members (maybe 75?) and most of my friends were those members. I think it was because most of them I had been friends with since I was a baby. There were about 8 of us who were best friends (guys and girls). I had non-member friends, and more non-member friends each year, but I was always with my member friends because of seminary, mutual, church, etc. it just made sense that I was closer with them. I think I was lucky that we had similar personalities. It wasn’t a conscious choice, it just happened that way. (and part of it was that, in middle school, I was a “cool kid” and was really mean. then I moved to England. When I moved back a year later, all my “cool” non-mormon friends pretended they didn’t know me. Sounds traumatic, but it was really good for me in the long run.)
    I would imagine this kid from California didn’t make a conscious choice to only have member friends. I think sometimes it’s a matter of convenience– as long as you have similar personalities with the members at your school.

  50. I’m joining in late as well, but this is a really interesting topic. I grew up never having any other LDS kids really but my sisters. Until my junior year when I moved to a Houston suburb. Suddenly, there were 40 laurels, just in my ward. There was probably close to 80 at my HS (total in junior/senior classes was about 2000). And about the same amount of priests. And they were all pretty much friends, but, not exclusively.

    I noticed, in following generations in the same ward, the parents have adopted this idea that the kids should only be friends with mormons and they have become increasingly insular. Instead of the focus being on core values, it seems to be on superficial values like movie ratings, word of wisdom, shorts and sleeves length etc. This weekend at a family reunion at the beach, my SIL (a junior in HS) asked if our cousins wife, who had a tattoo and was wearing a bikini, was a member and if they had married in the temple. (She is, and they were. Not that it should matter…) Shes obviously getting these ideas from somewhere.

    But, even when I went to that ward, it was expected that we would all be friends now with the ‘others’ but when graduation came around, good kids went off to BYU (no really, a YW leader told me it was Wrong to go anywhere else) and missions, got married, and then the ward was your life. This has been the bigger problem I have run into. In adulthood, it seems to be widely regarded that your social life should revolve around the ward. This is the pressure I have felt anyways.

  51. In my graduating class of 550 there were two other Mormons, both boys. There were none in the class below me, and one girl in the class below that (who was a close friend of mine).

    As far as the two LDS guys in my graduating class were concerned, I would have been perfectly happy to be friends with them. But as the girl on the math team and working for the school A-V department, I wasn’t precisely in their social circle, to put it mildly (one was wealthy and the other on the football team).

    Running in the nerdmeister circles, it turned out that many of my friends (including all of the guys who were interested in me) were atheists, and that probably did affect my later choices, as I explained in my post “He has his faults, such as being a perverted-democrat-atheist, but…..

  52. I went to high school in Utah, and find it interesting to read in the New Era about alternative proms stakes will put on outside the Mormon belt. My mom grew up in Wyoming, so a part of me understands why the school events might not be too desirable, if they really are drunken fests with hotel hookups afterwards; on the other hand, do we as LDS really want to be so insular as to forbid our kids from doing anything that is not in a YM/YW setting?

    A girl who moved into my ward from Alaska repeatedly talked about how great the Stake Dances up north were, and that everyone went. I, on the other hand, wouldn’t have been caught dead stepping foot into a stake dance. I went to a private school, so I didn’t know anyone in the stake outside the ward, and rich, preppy, motivated guys were a lot more to my liking than the unmotivated mediocrities of my neighborhood. (No, I don’t think you have to be privately educated to be motivated/attractive/worthwhile, or that public school atendees are losers. My point is I had no interest in the guys from my stake, and you generally go to a dance to mingle with the opposite gender.)

    I noticed a similar insularity in the Institute attendees in Paris, France. They weren’t just Church friends: they were each others’ principal friends and did everything together.

    My school was about 50/50 Mormon and not, and about 20% of my grade was the Seminary-going type. I had two groups of friends at school: the smart kids in all the AP classes (mix of both), and the Seminary Council (Mormon, obviously). It was nice to have the groups to support me in different contexts: if you want to study for an exam, it helps to have smart friends, and if you want to go do baptisms, well, you kind of have to be Mormon.

    As far as sharing similar values, one of my closest friends was Persian and Baha’i. We had interesting discussions about our respective religions, and she had very good morals as far as modesty, drinking/drugs, sex, etc., and she wasn’t Chrsitian, let alone Mormon. I’m not sure if being a member in the minority generates any xenophobia of the “dangerous” influence of non-members.

    My church friends are girls who range from a year to four older than me, and all went to college. I have stayed friends with a few of them longer than the majority of my high school friends, simply because of the fact that many of them go to BYU (as do I), and I can see them when I go home (remember, my school friends came from all over the valley and went to colleges all over the nation).

    At BYU, nearly everyone is Mormon. Many cite the potentially stifling nature of that fact, but in a way, it is nice, because that can’t be a factor in whether you are friends with someone or not. On the one hand, your opportunities for friendships with non-Mormons is limited, but on the other, you can’t just assume you will get along with someone because he or she shares your religion. Instead, the groups here fall along lines of interest, or geographic location. I feel that I have made longer-lasting and more authentic friendships here, but I would attribute that to increased maturity and not to any issue of religion. Nearly all my current friends happen to be LDS, but it is not because of that fact that we are close.

    In summary, all members won’t share your values, but I think that at least some feeling of a connection with members of your faith (whatever it may be) will help to strengthen your own personal faith. It is important to be able to realte to and befriend members not of your faith, so you can function in the real world. There has to be a balance between upholding your own convictions and refusing to be a part of anything not LDS. (I think we often ignore the first part of “Be in the world” . . .) And I think that we always talk about “values” as if they can only be religious: it is important to me that my friends share, to at least some extent, my educational, intellectual, musical, and social values, in addition to similar senses of humor and enjoying each others’ company.

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