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?