Decisions We [May Have] Made When We Were Younger

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.


  1. Bob,

    Some interesting thoughts here. I’m reminded of so-called Chastity Vows that kids throughout mainstream Christianity have been making in recent years. The effectiveness of such covenants is very much in question, which makes me think about the efficacy of making lasting choices as a youth.

    I must say, though, that my decisions not to smoke, drink, etc. were made when I was young, and I don’t regret those. I also chose to be baptized — was I too young to make that choice, at 8?

  2. “I do not condone this way of living.”

    Do you mean “condemn”?

  3. “I also chose to be baptized — was I too young to make that choice, at 8?”

    Yes! Were you old enough to choose to join the Moonies or Christian Scientists instead?

  4. D. Fletcher says:

    I was never younger, of course, than I am right now. I certainly don’t hold myself to commitments or promises I made when I was EIGHT.

  5. Bob Caswell says:

    “Do you mean “condemn”?”

    Crap! Thanks, Ben S., fixed now.

  6. Bob Caswell says:

    “I also chose to be baptized — was I too young to make that choice, at 8?”

    Steve, I don’t know the answer for you specifically (or for pretty much anyone, for that matter). But I can tell you that I struggle with supposed intrinsic value of having baptisms at the arbitrary age of 8.

  7. Bob,

    Well, it’s certainly a step up from eight days. Cf. Mormon’s letter on the topic.

    If not eight, when? There is a line-drawing issue that arises, and it’s hard to know when is the best time.

  8. Bob Caswell says:

    Kaimi, I don’t see why “line drawing” has to be involved at all. Maybe we should baptize people on a case-by-case basis with no predefined age of accountability, which fails to acknowledge the differences in souls as they are developing. But this is just a side issue that I hope we won’t focus on too much; I’m not really lobbying for change in baptismal procedures within our Church. There are plenty of other things, which are more important to me. Give me some other feedback outside of Steve’s spin-off.

  9. It seems pretty clear to me that we make decisions when we’re young and we constantly re-evaluate those decisions. Melissa made the decision when she was 12 to avoid R-rated movies (maybe because she thought she was following the prophets). When she was 16 she was still living that rule and realized that the prophets aren’t all in unison on this issue, but it’s still a pretty good idea to continue to avoid them because she they portray things she doesn’t want to be exposed to. At 25 she doesn’t mind so much the violence, nudity and swearing anymore, but she has now made a new decision to avoid them because she doesn’t want others to know that she watches R-rated movies. (I’m not saying those are her reasons, this is hypothetical). So she makes the decision at 12, 16, and 25, but it started when she was 12 so she attributes it to the original decision.

    Of course, then she is living by a decision she made when she was 25, not 12.

  10. Bob Caswell says:

    Interesting, Rusty, but careful with Melissa, from my experience, she does not like anything in regard to her decision analyzed, hypothetical or not. I’d actually love it if she graced us with her presence on this thread because I know she would have quite a bit too add from her experiences.

  11. Bob, don’t bait Melissa. Rusty’s point is interesting on its own — that it is the repeated decision to recommit to those values that matters. I like that idea — it jives with my understanding of progression and of the atonement, in particular the need to re-take the sacrament.

  12. Bob Caswell says:

    Whatever you say, Steve. I agree with you; Rusty’s point does make perfect sense.

  13. I’d like to think that Rusty’s example really is the way people go about it. I’m sure many do, and I have no reason to doubt that Melissa is one of those thoughtful ones. In many cases, though, I think people just stop analyzing their decisions and their habits after a while. Pretty soon, we end up doing what we did (or not doing what we didn’t do) when we were teenagers just because we’ve always done it that way. Often our initial reasons for thinking a certain way have changed even though the decision hasn’t.

    For example, maybe you thought homosexuality was the worst thing in the world when you were 18 and you were stirred by someone telling you that Republicans tried to protect us from that scourge, so you voted Republican based on that deep conviction for 10 years. As you grew older, maybe you decided that you didn’t care who gay people slept with as long as it wasn’t with you, and that homosexuality issues don’t factor into your political decisions at all. Yet you still vote Republican because you remember really feeling that it was right back then.

    This is just a simplistic example, of course, but I think we have a lot of habits that just sort of take on a life of their own. And I know that the vast majority of what I thought when I was a teenager is just garbage now. I’m sure there are people out there who are much more mature as teenagers than I, but even they can only hang on to so much from those years, I’d think.

    The point is, I’m not so sure that in every case it’s necessarily — as Steve says — “the repeated decision to recommit to those values that matters.” I think just as often a reevaluation and changing of our decisions and values is what’s called for.

  14. John Mansfield says:

    It seems that many posting feel that adolscence is the beginning of adulthood in that it is a time to begin making important decisions. That those decisions may be superceded by additional knowledge later is true of decisions made later in life as well. Mormon is an interesting case of someone who made promises and then changed some promises and did so with integrity.

    There is something to allowing revision of our promises. Our missionaries encourage others to forsake those previous commitments that are incompatible with discipleship. I’ve taught my children that they should not follow through on a promise to do something that is wrong.

    There is also a meaning and power, though, in a commitment, in the willingness to choose a course and carry on. It is a protection against temptations, and it allows people working in concert to depend on one another.

    Many or most of us in the Church work with the youth to some point. My observation is that most 14-year-olds and some of the 13-year-olds have begun adulthood and are capable and responsible.

  15. I can agree with that, John. 13- and 14-year-olds are generally capable of making real decisions, even if many of those are likely to be modified as time goes on. And also that decisions of any age are similarly open for review. Just as I live my life by very few of the decisions I made when I was a teenager, I imagine things I think are important to me now will seem less relevant as I get older.

    Interesting to me, then, is the seeming implication in your remarks that an age closer to 12, 13, or 14 might seem more appropriate for baptism. While I haven’t made it an issue of fasting and prayer, at first glance that might seem right to me.

  16. Bob Caswell says:


    Homosexuality is a great example (at least for me personally), as at one point, I was taught – and thought – this was one of the most horrible things on the earth. As I continue to learn more about it outside of the hefty sphere of influence within my parents’ home, I find that it’s a complicated issue not so easily dismissed.

    John Mansfield,

    “My observation is that most 14-year-olds and some of the 13-year-olds have begun adulthood and are capable and responsible.”

    Interesting, John. My observation from experience with youth is that each adolescent is completely different. I have been amazed by 14-year-olds. And I have been not surprised by them, as well. And last but not least, I have been disappointed at times. The point is, it’s difficult to say when one starts adulthood (and/or is capable and responsible), as it’s different for all of us, not to mention the difficulty of wading through the differences of each our preconceived notions as to what constitutes “adulthood”.

  17. Bob Caswell says:

    “And also that decisions of any age are similarly open for review.”

    Very, very true. If the possibility existed for the Bob of even three years ago to jump forward to today and represent the Bob of today for a week, as I sat back and watched with no power to intervene… My goodness, I’m sure I’d find a way to kill that Bob the more I saw him open his mouth (o.k., so this is a little extreme, but you get my point).

  18. You know, Bob. I’m inclined to feel like you do. Pretty much anything I think and do now is open for discussion later on (however unlikely some things are to change). Off the top of my head I have a hard time thinking about having “a commitment, [and] the willingness to choose a course and carry on” (as John Mansfield said) that I’d keep even if I decided later that it wasn’t so relevant for me.

    I wonder if I’m misunderstanding what the appeal is of keeping a commitment for its own sake, or if I’m missing out on something great by my ignorance.

  19. John Mansfield says:

    The choice to have joined with another in marriage is probably not well served by continual reevaluation.

  20. Bob Caswell says:

    Whoa, John! That’s a loaded comment. I think for some it could be true, but for others, it may be exactly the opposite.

  21. That’s an interesting example, John. Perhaps marriage isn’t something that is served by “continual reevaluation”, or disregarded simply on a whim. But there are circumstances where marriages should be ended, and sometimes people stay in miserable situations longer than they should. Obviously there’s a lot to take into consideration in the case of a marriage, but I don’t think even marriages are entirely above examination.

    I don’t mean to say (and I don’t think I have) that we should treat any of our important decisions lightly. But I think we should be willing to evaluate — deeply, if the nature of the decision calls for it — all of our commitments and decisions.

  22. I believe it goes without saying that we are in the midst of an eternal progression. Certainly things will change. I grew up in an atmosphere of trust. We had rules, and my parents were good examples, but they trusted us to make good decisions on our own, and to learn from the bad ones. It worked for us. I have been exposed to my share of temptations, and with each circumstance and decision, I learn a little bit about myself and what is good. And so my decisions evolve.

    The baptism issue. We are considered accountable starting at 8 years of age, no younger….IF we understand the commitment we are making. I understand the baptismal commitments better at 25 than I did at 8. And will more so at 60 I’m sure. I remember my baptism, my interview, and taking it all very seriously. I also know that there were children taught in my mission willing to be baptized that we had wait until they could grasp it a little better. That line is difficult to draw, as we are always learning and progressing, and so I trust the Lord’s guidelines set forth for this time.

    In reading here, I was reminded of President Hinckley’s comment while being interviewed by Jack Cushman of the New York Times:

    Q. How should members of the church respond to efforts of some other religious groups to convert them to other beliefs and religions?
    A. Well, I say this: We don’t downgrade any religion. We recognize the good they all do. I say to those of other faiths: ‘You bring all the good that you have and let us see if we can add to it.’ Now that’s our attitude reduced to a very short statement, and it works.

    Yes, this is pertaining to missionary work, but that is how I see it. We can make decisions, hopefully good ones, and as we grow in understanding, experience and maturity, other good things can be added and we can better apply and/or modify our decisions of the past.

    Progression, progression, progression.

  23. John Mansfield says:

    Sorry, Bob, that I didn’t express myself well. I used the example of marriage because that is a commitment that nearly everyone does value highly, and I hoped it would illustrate the general value of commitment. I didn’t mean to suggest that anyone writing here takes his marriage vows lightly.

    Going through my mind was these words from a talk Jeff and Pat Holland gave: “Of course, some days are going to be more difficult than others, but if you leave the escape hatch in the airplane open because you think even before takeoff you may want to bail out in midflight, then I can promise you it’s going to be a pretty chilly trip less than fifteen minutes after leaving the ground. Close the door, strap on those seat belts, and give it full throttle. That’s the only way to make a marriage fly.”

  24. Okay, John. In that light, I completely see what you’re saying, and I appreciate you pointing out that committment as a highly valuable one.

  25. Matt Jacobsen says:

    Perhaps we can determine the staying power of adolescent decisions by how often we refer to those decisions later in life. As a simple example, when I was a teen and out with a friend I happened to casually throw some trash out a car window. Of course, I had been taught not to do this and usually didn’t, but not this time. My friend simply said, “You sure are a litter bug, aren’t you?” I felt so embarrassed that at that point I determined that I would never be seen as a litter bug again.

    Now almost 20 years later I have the almost automatic habit of never littering, but I still think of that experience whenever I’m tempted. Then I find the nearest trash can or use my pocket. I still haven’t found any reason to change the commitment I made. There are other areas of my life, whether dealing with my wife, kids, work, or church, where I can say that I am going to do such-and-such because I determined way back when that I am going to do it and nothing has convinced me otherwise.

    I’d say that because Melissa still thinks of avoiding rated-R movies as a decision she made when she was 12 means that she really did make a lasting commitment at that time. How’s that for circular? She hasn’t felt a need to replace memories of that initial decision — even if she had experiences to strenghten or weaken her resolve when she was 16 or 25. The fact that a commitment was made long ago also gives it that much more power as we remind ourselves that we’ve been true to our decision for X years.

    Enough of these defining experiences occurred when I was 11-14 that I fall into the camp that believes kids that age can make life-steering decisions and stick to them. Of course, most of my currently active commitments have been made more recently.

  26. Baptism at 8 when you are in a family of members is a different question than baptism at 8 as the only member in your family. In any case, while baptism is important, it is also just a first step and in the LDS faith it isn’t very useful without subsequent steps taken at a later age.

  27. I wasn’t raised in the church, but I often wish I had been. I made some choices in my teen years I wish I hadn’t, and I’m sure if I’d had the gospel in my life I never would’ve.

    My kids are getting to be teenagers now, and I’ve been thinking lately that I definitely approve of the whole decide-beforehand approach. IE, decide now that you won’t do drugs, so when the situation arises you’ll have that decision already made. I’ve taken it a little further with my kids and talked to them about potential situations they could find themselves in, and discussed how best to handle it.

    For instance, once as a teenager I got into a car with a driver who was tripping on LSD. I didn’t know it until we were miles down the road. I was terribly shy and timid back then, and it never even occurred to me to ask to get out of the car. I want my kids to be prepared for those situations so they’ll be better equiped to handle it than I was.

  28. Addie McFarlane says:

    I was baptised at 8 years old by my abusive , control freak,sexist TBM father. I had absoloutely no idea what was happening or why and neither did anyone care. I was terrified that he was actually going to drown me as he took every opportunity to kill anything he could get his hands on and I was the “runt” of the litter.Baptism at 8 years old is preposterous and I will not consent to my sons baptism until he is at least 18 or older.

  29. Addie, sorry to hear of your awful experience. I feel that different people can have maturation at different ages. On my mission, I met a boy who I seem to recall around age nine who was a spiritual giant. He was very in touch with the influence of the Holy Spirit before he was baptized and confirmed. On the other hand, I met a 19 year old girl who I questioned if she was mature enough to make the decision. I worried that she may have said yes because we were on a joint teach with the elders. I felt a ton of breaks on my shoulders and an extreme struggle as I worried if she were manipulated. My companion and I later asked her while we were alone with her if she really had a testimony of her own. She assured us that she did but skipped Church for a concert with a boyfriend soon after that. Then, her mom who she lived with said she could not longer have contact with the missionaries. I feel babtism is so sacred that I would never want anybody going into the waters of baptism who did not make the decision of their own accord.

    I seem to recall from socialogy that age 8 is the age when children are able to distinguish intent. At least, that is the number that sticks in my mind and I have this strange uncanny ability to remember trivia like that.

    Let me explain what that means.

    Example 1 A child is helping his parents and breaks a whole stack of dishes.

    Example 2 Another child is trying to get a cookie when mom is not in the room and drops one saucer on the ground.

    Children below a certain age will think the child who broke more things was more bad.

    I think we are accountable at 8 and that is the time for those who have been taught accordingly to be baptized. However, that does not mean our judgments are completely mature and we certainly need to continue to be nutured and taught in the ways of the Lord.

    I do think people can make decisions in youth to impact their lives. I recall when I was playing Softball and we were on an out of town trip that one of my team mates tried to get me to go into her room and get me to drink. The funny thing is that she was never friendly to me other than that as I recall. That is very strange considering I was the pitcher and she was the catcher. I told her it was against my religion as that was the first thing that popped into my mind. She asked what religion I was. I said Catholic. I guess I was not bright enough to say LDS although I think I was aware that LDS did not drink from my friend whose dad was one. Well, I thought that was kind of a funny story at any rate. I was a dork!

    In 8th grade, my teacher and also one of the priests at my Catholic high school let us know that you are not supposed to have pre-marital sex. I was not sure what that was but I was glad to know that I was not supposed to do such a thing. I committed to live by her words. Yes, as an adult and temptations arise, I have had to recommit myself. I am glad that I have never been in a really compromising position.

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