Early Morning Seminary and Sleep Deprivation

Is Early Morning Seminary worth it? This is a question I ask myself every year. At the kickoff for seminary, the seminary director explains each year that the reason we do Early Morning Seminary is to teach the kids they can do hard things. That’s the same reason we were told we do manufactured Trek reenactments, too. But is doing hard things a good justification in and of itself to do something? I have seen fairly severe impacts to my kids as they’ve gone through 4 years of seminary. The sleep deprivation at a crucial growing period when they are supposed to be achieving grades that enable them to get a good college education seems like a high price to pay for daily religious education from amateur volunteers.

First, what are the goals of seminary? I’m not entirely sure what all the goals are (aside from the aforementioned teaching kids they can do hard things), but I assume they include things like:

  • Improving church retention rates among youth
  • Giving youth the strength and support to resist daily temptations.
  • Creating love for the scriptures and good religious habits.
  • Integrating religion into our young people’s daily lives, not just on Sundays.
  • Encouraging missionary preparation.
  • Building social structures of support for the kids.

There are different options available for seminary instruction depending on where you live:

Release Time. This only exists in Mormon-heavy areas where the church has an agreement with the local school to allow students to take seminary as an elective class. Classes are taught by employees of the Church Education System. On the upside, there is no incremental sleep deprivation. On the downside, students who are particularly active in sports or electives have to choose between their academic or extracurricular pursuits and seminary. Students who choose seminary are missing out on some opportunities. There are trade-offs.

Early Morning Seminary. In areas where release time is not available, this is the option that is allowed. Stakes furnish volunteers to teach from the membership. Classes are held, usually at a local church or ward member’s house, for 45 minutes each morning before school starts. On the upside, kids aren’t sacrificing electives to take seminary, and they still get the daily habits and social support network which is possibly even stronger because they are often attending with a more cohesive group of peers. On the downside, this means that kids have to get up as early as 5:00 or even before, every single day. We have found that our kids’ grades suffer due to the lack of sleep (or other bad teenage habits, hard to say), and that they usually fall asleep after school and sleep until dinner, pushing homework time back to the later evening. Additionally, driving kids to and from seminary in the morning is a burden on parents who also experience sleep deprivation in their work lives.

Home Study / Online. This is theoretically available anywhere, but is generally not allowed if either of the other two options is available. It requires special approval that is usually not granted. On the upside, students can do the work at their own pace, covering the same materials the other students do usually in a fraction of the time. They may actually have more personal engagement with the scriptures since they have to work alone. On the downside, because it may not be done daily it isn’t building a daily habit, and the social support structure of peers is not there. Students may meet weekly to review the work.

For our family, the greatest negative impact from seminary is due to sleep deprivation, and it affects both the kids and the parents. While parents can get by on less sleep than kids, usually requiring only 7.5 to 9 hours a night, teens need 9-10 hours a night. With a 5:00 wake-up time, mine haven’t been capable of getting anywhere near that.  The schedule dictates around 7 or fewer hours of sleep (maximum) for both kids and adults. For the kids, they make up for it by collapsing on the couch into a post-school coma, then drowsily awaking to eat something and rush bleary-eyed through their homework until they collapse into bed each night, only to start it all again the next morning.

Why is it early morning? Why not a more reasonable hour?  This is mainly done before school to accommodate students who have after school activities, and it just so happens that the American school system is an early-starting one. There also seems to be some not insubstantial contingency of LDS folks who think keeping farmers’ hours makes us better people or builds character. They are often the same ones who yearn nostalgically for the days of corporal punishment in the classroom and who walked to school every day in the snow uphill both ways with a heavy cello strapped to their backs.

One school in Edina, Minnesota experimented with school start times to see if they could counter the sleep deprivation problems.

It shifted the high school’s start time from 7:20 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. and then asked University of Minnesota researchers to look at the impact of the change. The researchers found some surprising results: Students reported feeling less depressed and less sleepy during the day and more empowered to succeed. There was no comparable improvement in student well-being in surrounding school districts where start times remained the same.

This wasn’t the only study.

One 2010 study at an independent high school in Rhode Island found that after delaying the start time by just 30 minutes, students slept more and showed significant improvements in alertness and mood. And a 2014 study in two counties in Virginia found that teens were much less likely to be involved in car crashes in a county where start times were later, compared with a county with an earlier start time.

What time should kids be starting school, ideally?

Bolstered by the evidence, the American Academy of Pediatrics in 2014 issued a strong policy statement encouraging middle and high school districts across the country to start school no earlier than 8:30 a.m. to help preserve the health of the nation’s youth.

Mormon kids attending Early Morning Seminary are at a particular scholastic disadvantage.  How serious an issue is sleep deprivation for teens? Pretty darn serious as it turns out. Medical studies show that teen sleep deprivation is linked to all sorts of negative effects including:

  • Depression and suicidal thoughts – a study shows that every missed hour of sleep results in a 38% increase in feelings of hopelessness and depression and a 58% increase in suicide attempts. Teens are already at heightened risk for these.
  • Acne and pimples, according to another study
  • Dependence on medications
  • Increased likelihood of substance abuse
  • Obesity
  • Learning problems due to lack of concentration
  • Mood swings – impatience and yelling due to fatigue
  • Unsafe driving due to drowsiness
  • Less resistance to colds and flu

Enough about the problems. Here are two practical solutions that would help, although not cure the problem entirely.

  • Make online seminary an option for any kids who prefer it.
  • Make early morning seminary an every-other-day thing so that kids aren’t as sleep deprived every single day. Consider going to a twice a week schedule only, creating a hybrid of home (or family) study and classroom.  In our household, missing seminary for the day means 1.5 extra hours of sleep, waking up at 6:30 instead of 5:00.

Those are the best solutions I have. What do you think? Is it worth the sleep deprivation to get the benefits? Are there other solutions you would propose? How has early morning seminary impacted your life or your kids’ lives for better or worse? Do you feel it’s worth the side effects?

Discuss.

Comments

  1. They moved ours back an hour this year. It’s still early but not as early. Here’s to hoping it continues.

  2. Offer both an early-morning and after-school/evening class. Allow kids to choose which to go to on which days.

    If an area is too small to support two classes, survey the seminary-age kids before the school year and go with what the majority prefer. Anyone who can’t do that should automatically be approved for home study.

    I got the weirdest judgment for choosing to go to early-morning over release-time. It was the only way for me to take all the elective classes I wanted AND go to seminary. I prayed about it and everything, but I got so much side-eye for “choosing the learning of the world over the learning of the Lord.” I was just like, “I am SO not a morning person, trust me, the fact that I am choosing this says something about how important it is to me.”

  3. I joined The Church midway through my sophomore year in High School. So I did early morning Seminary in 11th and 12th grade while also doing home study to make up for 9th and 10th (yes, this is totally me). I can say from experience that the home study was much better for me.

    I had first period at 7:17 am. In 12th grade when we had Seminary at the teacher’s house she cried every single day delaying our departure significantly. Finally I had to tell her that if she didn’t knock it off and stop crying I was not going to come anymore. Sorry Sister, but I wasn’t failing any classes my senior year just to listen to her cry about the material.

    Now, almost 20 years later, I realize that Seminary (either method) genuinely taught me nothing other than the fact that the teachers don’t like it when you say the Liahona looks like the Wonk-evator and sing the ending theme to Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory.

    Time well spent. :/

  4. Early morning seminary doesn’t seem to have been as hard on my children, as it has been on my marriage! Sleep deprivation and accompanying crankiness and missing out on about 8 hours a week of each others’ company (25 min drive there and back, plus lesson time x 5) has lead to hard times between us!

  5. I don’t know the exact rules but some areas must be given more options than the ones you listed. Where I live (outside the US), seminary is held at the chapel one or two evenings a week. A previous ward (also outside the US) did a mix-and-match of online and in-person group study – online, guided by the teacher, during the week and then meeting in-person as a class with the teacher once a week before Sacrament Meeting.

    I am so, so, so glad that the year I started HS was the year they got approval from the school district to do release-time. I could not have made it through early morning seminary. School started at 7.20 as it was.

    My own kids aren’t old enough for seminary yet, but I am anticipating having the same concerns as you regarding early morning (should we live in an area where that is the norm). I understand that lots of people have good experiences with seminary, and I recognize the benefits of it on paper, but in my life (and my husband’s)…meh. Almost nothing is worth getting up at 5am for, in my opinion, much less (sorry!) seminary.

  6. I’m a new online seminary teacher. Each lesson is only open for a day, so the kids have to log in daily (at a time of their choosing); it’s not meant to be done at their own pace. We meet weekly to view my interactive power point lesson via WebEx. I surveyed the families, and we ended up settling on Tuesdays at 9 p.m. for the weekly ‘live’ class. I hope it works.

  7. The paid ministry (released time) should be abandoned. Where we live, 7am is an option (school starts at 8:30am). There is also a hybrid morning/night option. It’s not a huge sleep sacrifice to be at the church at 7am and then go straight to high school.

  8. My oldest is a sophomore now and we’ve done one year of early morning seminary so far, with the second year about to start. I’m dreading it. The class has to start at 6am because school starts at 7:25 and the kids go to different schools so it means allowing driving time to get them there. Our son had to wake up at 5am every morning. It was a rough, rough year for him (perhaps some of it being the natural transition to HS). When I was in Utah this summer visiting family I learned of some wards doing a “summer seminary” program so that kids could complete the year’s study without having to sacrifice an elective during release-time programs. I wish we had more options in this area, whether it could be online or a summer program. My own seminary experience growing up left me with little-to-no value, so I’m reluctant to think that all of this “sacrifice” will pay out in the long run.

  9. It seems to me that the health and well-being of our youth should take precedence over anything else. How much is really gained by the youth at such an hour anyway? My understanding is that a lot are still asleep basically even though they are there physically. So how much religious instruction actually happens then?

  10. I live in Germany and was called to be the seminary teacher some years ago for a group of teens including my son. The bishop really wanted us all to meet every morning for early morning seminary, thinking this would bring the most benefits. Our ward is geographically quite large, every single person went to a different school, not every family had a car, and public transportation would have taken too long, so it was a struggle to figure out how to do it. The first year, I drove my son to the house of another boy, a good 25 minute drive, and we had two students listening in per telephone conference. One of the boys on the telephone was scarcely awake for anything more than the opening prayer and the closing amen. He usually took his telephone and curled up in bed again with it — occasionally we could hear his steady, deep breaths as he slept. Another girl, who was attending a college-prep high school, absolutely refused to come at all, so I let her do her student workbook at home. Well, what else could I do? At least she completed all the assignments, and I checked it in church each Sunday — well, for the first year. She faded away during the second year, and then her family moved to a different city. Because of the different school schedules and our commute, the one boy got to his school just in time, whereas my son was always way too early for his, and had to wait outside until they opened the building. The second year and third year, it was just my son and the other boy whose house we visited, although in the third year, there was another boy in the ward who was old enough to participate. He tried during the first week to listen in per telephone conference again, but soon gave up. His mother said it was just too much for him to get up so much earlier and then go to his college-prep high school, with his heavy class load, right afterwards. He was just too tired. My son attended a “regular” high school for average students, and we made him go to bed at nine each evening, to get up again around five. It was probably good training for his current apprenticeship, where he has to get up early as well, but aside from that, I have no idea what, if anything, he and the other kids got out of seminary. I’m inclined to believe that the answer is “very little.”

    When my bishop introduced the idea of early morning seminary, after our ward had tried several years of students working on their own and meeting once a week in the evening, he said that it would bring blessings, I asked him why the teenagers in Salt Lake City couldn’t benefit from these blessings as well, instead of having to suffer the lack of them because they went to released-time seminary each day. No answer.

  11. Not a Cougar says:

    I attended early morning seminary all four years of high school in Central Texas. I had to be up at 5:15 to get ready and arrive by 6:00 (looking back, I’m now grateful I didn’t have to start shaving until college). Yes, a fairly small minority of students didn’t seem to get much out of it (though I later found out two students in particular got more out of it than I realized), but I testify that early morning seminary helped prepare me to serve a full-time mission and, more importantly, to help me want to serve a mission. Even twenty years later, I still remember some of the lessons taught, and I have used what I learned in seminary to teach investigators and Sunday School students. I certainly understand and appreciate the sacrifice on the part of the student, instructor, and parents, but I’m grateful that I had parents willing to drive me the first two years and who ensured I got out of bed the last two years, and I’m grateful for instructors who helped us to try to learn by the Spirit.

  12. 6 am seminary.
    After school job (to pay for mission/college).
    AP courses
    Late night homework
    After school activities (required for college application, volunteering, etc)

    Result? 5-6 hours of sleep for 4 years.
    Unhealthy!!!!!!
    Weight management problems that have been persistent in adulthood.
    Tired, depressed.
    Went through days in a fog.
    Late most days. Felt extremely guilty, God’s lazy warrior. Stories of Idaho farm kids getting up at 4 to do the same only reinforced guilt and shame. Had no idea I was at a breaking point.

  13. Jack Hughes says:

    I hope and pray that early morning seminary is abolished by the time my daughter reaches that age. I endured 4 years of it, and was one of only two students in my stake that year who graduated from the program without having to do any make-up lessons. But I probably would have done much better in high school (and in life) if I had the extra hour of sleep each day. I was half-asleep most of the time in seminary and didn’t retain much, and was generally a zombie during the remaining school day. This had adverse effects on my grades and my physical health. As the OP suggests, there is a growing body of research supporting the idea that teens need more sleep than grown adults. I was the oldest child, so my parents had no idea how difficult seminary was going to be for them too. Our stake leaders assured parents that our early morning sacrifices would be made up for in directly proportional “blessings”. It’s almost 20 years later and I’m still waiting for those blessings–meanwhile thinking about what more I could have accomplished in life if I went to school better rested, with more energy and better overall physical/mental/emotional health.

    I have mixed feelings about the use of amateur teachers in seminary. My seminary classes felt no different than boring youth Sunday School classes, just earlier and more frequent; one of my teachers was also my mom’s VT companion, which I came to view as a major conflict of interest (my mom would receive regular reports of my classroom conduct, for better or worse). Rather than deep-dive into scriptures/history/doctrine/philosophy (as the name “seminary” should imply), instead we had a lot of testimonies, crying, apocryphal stories, lame games, and correlated “faith-promoting” lessons. Not always bad, but not worth losing sleep for. I suppose it depends a lot on the teacher, which, in the sphere of the volunteer Church, can be a crap shoot.

    But I am also averse to seminary being taught by full-time CES employees. The CES is a backdoor to a paid ministry, and I think the Church is better off with less, not more, of these blowhards touting their supposed doctrinal authority. Remember, this was the institution that served as a springboard for Boyd K. Packer, Paul Dunn, Randy Bott, Alonzo Gaskill and a myriad others who have books for sale at DB.

    As a compromise, I would be willing to allow volunteer seminary teachers who are vetted and experienced with teaching teens, and pay them a fair stipend for their time, such as a pro-rated amount based on a full-time CES salary. And meanwhile the Church should be encouraging (rather than stifling) the innovation of more non-traditional delivery options. Either that or just disband the program completely.

    When my daughter is old enough for seminary, I will let her make her own informed choice about whether or not to attend, and I will fully support it either way.

  14. anitawells says:

    The summer seminary program that runs in Utah is not a preemptive one but allows for makeup work to be done if a student has missed so many classes they can’t receive credit. As a newly called early morning volunteer seminary teacher in Utah (a rare case), it’s interesting to read these thoughts in my various roles as a parent of seminary students, a teacher, and a former early-morning student. I survived myself (although I slept through most of my post-lunch government class every day, I recall), although of course it was a challenge as detailed above.
    I’m not sure what the best solution is–maybe after teaching this year I’ll have some more ideas–or be too tired to share–but I do know that all the training I’ve done has been inspiring, I felt that the Lord wanted me to serve in this position, and the teachers are really trying their best to achieve the objective of seminary: “Our purpose is to help youth and young adults understand and rely on the teachings and Atonement of Jesus Christ, qualify for the blessings of the temple, and prepare themselves, their families, and others for eternal life with their Father in Heaven.” A group setting allows for discussion, interaction, learning activities, and so on in ways that individual home study does not.
    Wishing everyone a great start to their seminary year!

  15. I did 4 years of seminary in California. I believe seminary started at 6:40. To compensate for getting up early, I usually napped for a couple hours after school. Then homework and social engagements. I was typically in bed by midnight. So I got about 6 hours of sleep each night plus regular naps. Not horrible, but there were still many days where I felt exhausted. The classes themselves provided little value. Our class was pretty rowdy and uninterested. Some used the parking lot to drink or get high before class. Others treated it as time to get assignments done or to catch up with friends. I can’t recall a single spiritual moment (not to say there weren’t any, but none significant enough to recall 15 years later). It did help LDS kids get to know each other and become friends (for better or worse). Given my experience, I am ambivalent towards the program. If my kids want to go, great. If not, I won’t push them.

  16. Jared vdH says:

    For myself, I had very little issue staying awake during seminary, but every year there was always a class I struggled to stay awake in. My junior year it was AP US History. My teacher got very frustrated with me as I often fell asleep in his class. I would often have notes that transitioned from barely legible to a flat line as I fell asleep mid sentence. He didn’t complain too loudly though because I had nearly the top grades in the class and come the end of the year I was one of three students in the class to actually pass the exam. Looking back I’m seeing how lucky I was to do as well as I did in school.

    I would have to say that your idea for early morning seminary only a couple days a week may actually be worse than having it every day. Studies are showing that along with getting enough sleep a consistent start and end time to sleeping is just as important. http://arstechnica.com/science/2015/11/sleeping-in-on-weekends-linked-to-health-problems/

    My wife and I don’t have children yet and my wife hated early morning seminary when she did it. When we do have kids I’m currently of the opinion that self-directed study with assignments/homework and a weekly lesson/meeting on a designated weeknight would I think be the most beneficial arrangement.

  17. Going to early morning seminary is one of the great regrets of my life. Wouldn’t do it again and I wish I hadn’t done it then. None of my siblings really went, and there is no correlation in our family between current church activity and seminary attendance. I don’t have children, but if early morning seminary is still around if/when I do, I wouldn’t want them to participate.

  18. I well remember the sleep deprivation and resulting near constant illness (bronchitis, colds, strep, ugh!) of early morning seminary. I stuck it out for two years. We had good teachers but really bad student behavior problems in our ward. The rest of the stake met together but our ward had been banned because of behavior issues. After two years I put my foot down and refused to attend anymore. I managed home study ok, but it would have been nice to have met with a teacher/class occasionally for group discussions. I was on my own and I know I would have learned more in a good class

    At the time my older sister was a seminary teacher in Berlin. The students did home study during the week but met together every Sunday afternoon. Seemed like a nice way to do it.

    My son made it though one year. School started at 8:15 but seminary at 6:15 in order to accommodate the kids who had zero hour.

    And yes, why is it that the church handbook can say that if the Bishop ok’s home study it’s approved but CES says “no” anyway. Such a battle to get the home study materials. I didn’t get the books until December (thinking I’d give up and attend) my son never got “approval” but his cousin did and gave him her CD :-) What’s with the power issues?

    With the limited twelve topics a year lessons for the youth (and seemingly the same 12 every single year!), you’d think a strong seminary program- in any way that works best – would be more important than ever.

  19. I have strong feelings about this subject. I dutifully attended all four years of early morning seminary. I never got more than 6 hours of sleep on a school night. Seminary started at 6 AM, I believe? I was constantly falling asleep in class.

    All this would have been worth it if the instruction was any good. One year there was a quality teacher who prepared thoughtful and well-prepared lessons. I felt the spirit and was happy to attend her class. The other three years the lessons were completely worthless, improvised ‘lessons’ with no spiritual or intellectual value. I was taught by instructors who (to be fair) were too busy for the job and should never have received the calling in the first place. I feel angry that I sacrificed so much for so little, and at such a critical time in my life. And in retrospect I marvel that I continued to attend even though the ‘instruction’ was pretty much non-existent.

    My main take-away? Sometimes obedience is over-rated. Uchtdorf’s talk on wise vs. unwise sacrifices comes to mind.

  20. Clark Goble says:

    Release time seminary is SO MUCH better. Early morning, for the reasons mentioned, absolutely suck. You are so tired you don’t remember anything anyways.

  21. Jack Hughes says:

    I was told growing up that graduating from seminary was looked upon favorably by the BYU admissions office, and that early-morning seminary graduates were given additional special consideration, sort of as a reward for the additional sacrifice. It didn’t work in my case, but is there any truth to this? This myth was actively being promoted by my ward and stake leadership back then, and my parents totally bought into it, and thus made seminary non-negotiable for me.

  22. Kevin Barney says:

    Three perspectives:

    1. As a student. I enjoyed early morning seminary and had a good experience with it. My first year I learned a lot; the teacher (John Hamer’s uncle!) taught a lot of substance. (I still remember in that class learning the difference between apocrypha and apocalypse, so probably not your run of the mill seminary teacher). My next three years were taught by a housewife and were less substantive and more social, but that was probably what I needed at that time anyway. I mainly enjoyed going to seminary because it was a chance to hang out with my church friends.

    2. As a parent. Seminary simply didn’t work for my kids. My daughter went (reluctantly) one year. Her sophomore year instead of meeting at the church with everyone else she was put in a class at this woman’s house. The woman was the teacher, and it was her two daughters and my daughter in the class. The woman simply read aloud the lesson each day, which was her idea of “teaching.” I could not in good conscience make my daughter contnue to go to that, so I let her drop out. My son was game to go (and by then it was the regular class at the church again), and he got up on time every day, but more often than not his ride wouldn’t show up, so he ended up bailing as well.

    3. As a teacher. I’ve substitute taught a bunch of seminary classes, and let me tell you, that is rough duty. No matter how interesting or engaging I make the lessons, 80% of the kids have their heads cradled in the crook of their arms on the table and are sleeping..It’s really dishearening to spend the (considerable) time and effort to craft a strong lesson only to have the class sleep through it. I’ve been extended the calling twice, and both times turned it down (the only calling I’ve ever turned down). Part of the problem is it would be a bit of an issue with my long commute by train into the City, but the real reason was the brutal experience it was for me when I subbed and completely failed to reach the kids. If they were awake I suspect they would have enjoyed and learned from my lessons, but they just weren’t awake.

  23. it's a series of tubes says:

    I had a taste of each approach: 2 years of release time along the Wasatch front as a freshman and sophomore, and then 2 years of early morning seminary at 6:30 in the Bay Area. My release time instructors were all excellent and contributed significantly to my spiritual growth during those years. Early morning instructors were also good, and (IMO) wisely allowed seminary to function in large part as a social support group for the LDS kids as the class spanned two high schools.

    Seminary is clearly YMMV depending on location, instructor, etc, but I had a positive experience and I’m glad I attended for all four years.

  24. Kevin Barney says:

    Oh, I forgot to mention that I personally didn’t experience the early morning part of seminary as a hardship. I had had a paper route and was used to getting up even earlier. When I started seminary I had to quit the route, but I was able to get up later than what I was used to, so for me the start time was fine. But I’m aware of the research and I’m glad Angela has raised this issue, because as currently structured it is indeed a problem, and I’m not sure what to do about it.

  25. In all the discussions about changing school times, there never seems to be anyone advocating the other way to let students get more sleep; going to bed earlier.

    Adults who have to go to work early don’t complain to their employer that they’re not getting enough sleep. If work needs to be done, we make the adjustments and do it, like adults. The problem is with time management, not with where we want to place our arbitrary waking time.

  26. A young man from a semi-active family expressed interest in attending seminary. When he found out it was held at 6:20 AM, he tried it for one day and never went back. Early morning is just not a good missionary tool. Imagine young people inviting their friends to an evening class, whether daily or weekly. Wouldn’t that be so much better?

  27. A Happy Hubby says:

    This rings SOOO true!! Go watch http://channel.nationalgeographic.com/sleepless-in-america/episodes/sleepless-in-america/ and it is hard not to come away from this thinking early morning seminary is battling against nature.

    My kids have also participated in sports and band. Some of the sports have started doing “zero period” practices that start at 6 AM. So for a few months they are missing seminary a few days of the week and having to “make it up”. I have had one kid that did sports and band. Some days it was 6 AM until 8PM – then start homework. It is crazy. I pushed my kids to give up something but they essentially refused.

    I do like the option of backing off some so it is not such an intense time commitment and certainly more flexibility. I know we have been told “home study is NOT allowed – period.”. I don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater, but currently I worry the baby is sometimes drowning in lack of sleep.

  28. I’ve been reading these comments with mixed feelings. With the exception of one year, I didn’t like my own early morning seminary experience (neophyte teacher who was unable to deal with an extremely challenging group of adolescents) but was called to be a teacher several years ago. I don’t pretend to be a good one, although I hope I’m improving, but we’ve had some mornings that have sent me on my way to work with a real uplift that I truly believe the kids shared. My last class was a group that a) needed to be challenged; and b) functioned better when they felt they were learning something new, so – CES, forgive me – often we looked less at the doctrine stressed in the manual and focused more on parsing the text. We had one memorable lesson on Isaiah where the class really dug in and identified abstruse metaphors, figured them out, identified archaic symbols there’s no way they could have known, connected them to modern-day parallels (leaving me slack-jawed at their perception), bounced ideas off of each other, and came away feeling that they could actually DO Isaiah. *Fist pump!* I’m not taking credit for this. I do not believe that I personally taught them a single thing that day; I believe their increased understanding that morning came through the spirit.

    My point is that although some sessions are – I’ll be blunt – a waste of time, seminary still has the potential to teach, inspire, ignite, make the scriptures interesting and meaningful, and give the kids a spiritual experience with which to start the day.

    Again, I’m a seminary teacher. I know that doesn’t happen all the time. But I firmly believe the potential is there.

  29. Frank: The time of day matters. Studies have shown that the body rhythms of teenagers are different than those of adults, meaning that forcing them to go to bed earlier might a) simply not work, and b) result in lower quality sleep. Additionally, if teens are supposed to get 9-10 hours of sleep, are you suggesting they go to bed at 7 pm (which is when I would have had to go to bed to get 9-10 hours of sleep and make it to seminary)? That seems… ridiculous. It’s usually still daylight outside at 7pm! Not to mention that time is prime homework/dinner/activity/family time for kids that age.

  30. As a teen, I attended early morning seminary in Salt Lake. There were just too many kids to shuffle through the release time program, and some wanted to take a zero period hour to allow more classes through the day. It didn’t occur to me to have a problem with it.
    My son is in early morning seminary– they all meet at the church at 6:05, then have to to be at school (at least 4 different high schools in the district) by 7:30. The teachers are all from the stake, and they all know how important it is to get the kids out on time. Plus, they all have to work, so early morning is the way to go.
    The main hassle I’ve had so far is carpool. I can do the 6 a.m. run, but not consistently the one to get them to school. I believe my state expressively forbids any mention of conservative religion and pretty much hates anyone who thinks there is a higher being than government, so we have no option. (Tongue in cheek Kind of. Hint: I’m on the west coast).
    It’s going to be interesting to see how this goes with 3 AP classes this year.
    And really interesting when my “I hate mornings” daughter needs to go next year.

  31. Glad I had the option of release time. Early morning was simply an unacceptable option for me as a 14/15/16 year old, and I likely would have rebelled entirely. RT was an option, though, and my experience with seminary in the heart of Utah was by and large positive (and even provided preliminary touches of several of the areas/topics people currently often identify as points of controversy).

    “early morning seminary at 6:30 in the Bay Area … wisely allowed seminary to function in large part as a social support group for the LDS kids as the class spanned two high schools.”

    This functions for me as a pretty good argument that where there’s a class, online options may not compare well. But I’m fairly persuaded by the sleep deprivation arguments, and I don’t suppose that even non-RT seminary has to be as early as it is or even before school most days.

  32. Meg – we’re teaching children to be adults, to take charge of their own days. If going to bed at 7 is what they feel they need, then they should do it. If not going to early morning seminary is what they feel they need, then they should do it. Choosing what is best for you is part of being an adult.

    And of course time of day matters. The trouble is our clocks are just an arbitrary measurement not connected to the amount of sunlight there is in each day. It’s why we get discussions over daylight savings time twice a year.

  33. Anonymous for this one says:

    I attended 4 years of Early morning seminary. My first 2 years, my mom would wake us up for half an hour of family scripture study before seminary at 6:30. That meant waking up about 5:30. My second two years were in a new city where the school already had a zero hour. That put seminary at 6:00. Same wake up time, since luckily by then the family scripture study had been abandoned. I absolutely loved Seminary though. This was my first real exposure to deeper doctrine and I ate it up.

    My oldest is in seminary. It starts at 6:30. The first year went ok, but the 2nd year was a disaster. Sleep deprivaton, stress over AP classes, multiple sports, bullying of LDS peers, budding and failed romances all played a heavy toll that year. She finally cracked under all the pressure and ended up in the hospital.

    We came up with a new plan together and got permission for her to do seminary on self study. The Stake President and Seminary director have been more than accommodating. Probably too accommodating, since she won’t do the work without serious prodding and then only at the last minute. At a loss now about where to go from here. I wish she could enjoy seminary like I did, but it doesn’t seem possible.

  34. I definitely have mixed feelings about early morning seminary.

    I attended my junior and senior year as an investigator (my parents wouldn’t let me get baptized until I was 18). I don’t remember the teacher being the best, but I do remember enjoying it and feeling really uplifted. I can remember tangibly feeling like I was outfitted in the armor of God as I rolled up to school each day.

    I also ran cross-country, and a couple times a week the team would have an early morning run. On those days I’d wake up at 4:45 am, run 5 miles, go home and quickly shower, then go to seminary, then school, then have more XC practice after school, then home and homework. I do remember feeling really tired in the afternoon and sometimes at school, but I don’t remember it ever occurring to me that it was a hardship. Seminary and XC and school all seemed like enjoyable parts of my life. I think teens generally feel like they can do it all, and with energy to burn, can do things that seem like hardships to adults with pleasure.

    That being said, looking back now, it seems like my schedule was crazy and I’m not sure I want it for my own kids, who are still a decade away from that time. I’m not sure what that says — am I overprotective, trying to keep them from things I handled fine on my own? Or do I just recognize that while I had a good experience, it’s still a less-than-ideal situation?

  35. There is early and there is early. By the time our younger kids were that age, seminary did not start until 7 a.m. as the public school time started later.

    During the debate over school start times, I was able to speak before the school board citing some of that same research mentioned in the OP. However, it turns out that a major driver of high school start times is football. They want to be sure to have enough time for after-school practice even in high schools without lighted fields.

  36. Our daughters were competitive swimmers with 6:00 AM practice six days a week for eleven months of the year with afternoon practice on weekdays. They also had early morning seminary at 6:15 during the school year. Those activities were not compatible but we wanted them to benefit from both so we had to make some deals. I see nothing wrong with a parent wheeling and dealing, even with Church, if it benefits your child. They alternated, one day Seminary, one day swimming. It meant lots of make up seminary work at home and one daughter actually taught seminary on occasion (That counted for 3 days). It also meant some Sunday swim meets. To get something you may have to give something.
    Oddly, we got more push back from church members than from coaches. They were hidebound by a handbook and apparently unfamiliar with Hugh B. Brown’s quote (that) “Rules are meant to be broken, not hearts.” Pressure on our first daughter was fairly intense but eventually, by the time our younger daughter had to deal, the pattern was set and she and others with early morning conflicts had an easier time of it.
    Obviously, early morning sleeping was never part of our equation but the idea is the same. Sometimes you need to make a deal with Seminary to get what is best for your child.

    (Was it worth it? One wrote this earlier this month: http://aspiringmormonwomen.org/2016/08/04/girls-sports-participation-sharing-our-stories/)

  37. Sleep medicine and the study of circadian rhythm actually show that teenagers do better when they’re allowed to sleep in more than early-morning seminary allows, and that they sleep better at 6:00 a.m. than they would at 9:00 p.m. or 10:00 p.m. This isn’t just a “if they’d only get to better earlier then they’d get more sleep” thing–sleep at certain hours (for teenagers, about 11 p.m. to about 7 or 8 a.m.) is simply better for you than sleep at other hours.

  38. Eh, “better” should be “bed.”

  39. My wife is a principal at a local high school with a start time of 8:45, but seminary starts at 6:10 (based on a different high school). Her high school is new and small, but she just put in a request to have a seminary class taught at her high school (at 7:30 or so) for the Mormon kids there (including our daughter).

    Our kids do okay with the 6:10 start time. Our daughter is a morning person so not a problem. It was pulling teeth for our son who went irregularly, but then started going everyday. Then we found out he liked one of the students (now his girlfriend).

  40. Frank, I’m getting the feeling you may not have ever been or met a teenager. They have this strange desire to be involved in the world around them, which does not wind down at 7pm. If we were talking about the one chance these kids would ever have to meet personally with Jesus, your argument would make sense, but instead you’re just weaving a hairshirt.

  41. Grew up along the Wasatch Front, but still did early morning seminary the first three years because of a heavy academic load. I always figured I was weird for taking 3-hr naps after school every day. Often stayed up till midnight getting homework done, and then woke up 5 hours later. I caught up on sleep as much as possible on the weekends. I had two teachers out of four that I really liked (all were paid CES employees, I believe). The social aspect isn’t as big of a deal along the Wasatch Front, because being Mormon isn’t a big deal. A good portion of my seminary teachers were part-time football coaches or previous football players, so they tended to reach out to those kids. I really liked learning about scriptures, but I tended to get more out of personal efforts. I once looked at a friend’s home study materials (she’d often miss weeks of school for chronic illness), and realized completing the shallow busy work assignments would’ve driven me bonkers. I definitely preferred classes to that, even with less than stellar teachers. Evening classes twice a week might have been a better fit for me.

    Times have changed with the younger missionary ages. A missionary lifestyle is demanding and rigid. The church will not move towards lessening expectations for teenagers.

  42. We are only 4 years away from this discussion in our home. I HATED seminary as a class. I loved seeing my friends and flirting with boys. I attended less regularly each year and it became a huge battle between my mother and me. I hope I remember as a parent that my relationship with my child is more important than what time they wake up.

    I have long told my husband that if he wants our kids to go to seminary, he will have to drive them (I am still not a morning person and he is). But as it gets closer, I just can’t see giving my stamp of approval on it. I think home study with parents will be a much better solution for us–partly so I can make sure my kids get the message I approve. I am becoming a very non-literal believer and can’t see the seminary curriculum fitting very well with what I hope to pass on to my kids.

  43. We may as well talk about the debilitating effects of getting up early to work on a farm.

  44. The Other Clark says:

    My experience is that the Church is moving away from EM seminary. Here in the Spokane area, our high school offers RT seminary during the last period of the day, and the school only covers three wards. The stake also offers EM seminary. Both options are taught by volunteers who give an estimated 20 hrs per week.

    I suspect Naismith is right that football (and other sports) is the driver for why seminary is before school, rather than after. Plus, it’s easier to find teachers that are available from 6-7am than from 3-4.

    I grew up in SE Idaho, attended released time seminary, and found it to be immensely rewarding. If it had been EM, I doubt I would have gotten much from it. I did, however, spent the summer between my Junior and Senior years at summer school in order to fit all the classes required for graduation into my schedule. OFr me, it was a worthwhile trade off.

  45. May Ann, do missionaries get up at 5am now? When I was in the field twenty years ago, our schedule was carefully designed to allow us a full 8 hours of sleep (10:30PM-6:30AM) and we still frequently nodded off during our study time. Following the logic of EM seminary preparing kids to be missionaries or “adults” with jobs, it should never start before 7 or 8AM, which are the normal times missionaries start their study and the vast majority of adults in the western world start their jobs.

  46. CES has a variety of goals in mind for early-morning seminary, but the impact of EMS on the physical health or academic success of the youth is not one of them. It simply isn’t on their radar. They have absolutely no concern for the health of the students. If forced to confront the data on sleep deprivation, they will simply ignore it or give stupid answers (like: it’s supposed to be a trial, or sacrifice brings forth the blessings of heaven).

  47. High school starts at 8:30 here, thank goodness, so EM seminary is at 7:00. Sons #1 and #2 managed fine, but we’re running into some wrinkles now with Son#3 because of a new, IMO, overzealous policy.

    My husband and I are both EM seminary grads, and we’ve both taught seminary as well – in my case, three times. Never until now has seminary been scheduled during the final exam break (don’t know if it’s like this everywhere, but here high school students have two weeks off to study and write finals) or during spring break. C’mon, people.

    Son #3 is on the mild end of the autism spectrum, and he also has General Anxiety Disorder. Not surprisingly, sleep is something he has struggled with his entire life, and even with all the strategies we’ve implemented, at least two nights a week it will take him hours to get to sleep.

    Am I getting him out of bed during finals to attend seminary, just so I can pick him up and bring him home after, when he could actually get extra sleep? Hell no. But we got some real pushback because of this decision, despite the fact his attendance is almost 100% until then. It just makes me shake my head.

  48. My own seminary experience was that I loved home study which I had for 3 years. We read scriptures together as a family, and I felt like I was really interested in them. Then we switched to early morning when I was a senior. It was terrible. I had to drive around and pick up other kids in the dark on snowy roads and then drive to the house where it was. That was also the year that the seminary teacher told me that I couldn’t be a Mormon if I didn’t accept polygamy. I quit going halfway through the year, soon after her polygamy pronouncement. Once early morning was an option, they didn’t allow home study, even though we had six high schools in our ward.

    Because seminary graduation is required to attend BYU if you are an LDS student, my ward graduated me despite me quitting which I declared a farce but still went to BYU.

    My oldest son was also confronted with some occasional bad information in his classes, including a teacher who declared that she wasn’t descended from a monkey and that evolution was wrong and against the church. He disagreed with her, and she backed down saying she didn’t really understand anything about science. Then E. Nelson mocked the big bang theory in General Conference and my science-minded son was even more put off. I wasn’t crazy about that either.

  49. Also, seminary attendance is not required to attend BYU. I don’t know why people think that. My brother never went and was admitted no problem (this was about 8 years ago).

    I guess it probably helps if you are on the bubble, but if you are solid student who will easily get into BYU, you don’t need it.

  50. Stoddard, Chris says:

    Meg–from BYU Idaho admission requirements webpage:

    “BYU-Idaho expects students to graduate from seminary and have a positive seminary recommendation.”

    For BYU Provo: “Each application is then reviewed and evaluated according to the following elements: seminary attendance, service, leadership, personal essays, individual talents, creativity, AP/IB courses taken, unique or special circumstances, and other factors showing a student’s ability to strengthen the BYU community.”

  51. EMS is too often another example of the misguided “cookie-cutter” approach applied to members. I would say it can put LDS kids at a disadvantage academically in an ever competitive learning environment.

    I would definitely vote for flexibility. For one thing, people vary greatly in their natural sleep rhythms. Some have no problem waking up early, others find it extremely difficult to wake early but do their best studying at night. Students in Utah and other places have the flexibility to attend seminary during school hours. For several years I drove 20-30 mins each way transporting my older children (and sometimes other people’s children) to EMS, sometimes in inclement weather on dark, winding country roads. Just crazy. (Our ward included 5 different school districts).

    Having grown up in UT, I had the luxury of and diligently attended released-time seminary. However, I was denied my seminary graduation certificate because I was scheduled to work the night of the seminary graduation. When my mother tried to get the certificate for me the “authoritarian” flatly denied her request.

  52. Angela C – sorry to hear your son had such a bad experience. Even worse, his teacher got the science right and the theology wrong. Humans are not technically descended from a monkey – we share common ancestors with all living creatures.

  53. Well, it sounds like BYU Idaho takes it more seriously as a requirement, although they admit pretty much everyone who applies with an ecclesiastical endorsement, so I’m not sure how enforced that really is. Provo seems to just take it into consideration, with jives with what I know about people being admitted without attending seminary.

  54. Jane Smith says:

    @Meg In my area, people think you need seminary graduation to attend BYU because the Stake emphasizes it every year at the beginning of the year kick-off event. They also emphasize seminary graduation in order to serve a foreign mission. I personally, hate this tactic. It comes across as “if you don’t attend seminary, you won’t get into BYU and you will serve a state-side mission.” This is not a proper motivation technique. It’s kind of like blackmailing everyone to attend.

    I am not a morning person and my kids only attend for 4 years but as a mom, I have ten years behind me and six coming up. I am tired and it is very hard on kids in any extracurricular activities and those in AP classes. They are sleep deprived. I think the majority of people encouraging early morning seminary and setting these policies, are all from Utah and never had to actually had to go through it. (Sorry if this seems grumpy but I’m tired.)

  55. Such a good post, Angela. Why don’t we have common sense about these things?

  56. Owen, I have no idea when missionaries currently get up. Like others, my personal experience with seminary teachers and church leaders has been that they disapprove of prioritizing anything above church-related stuff (studying for the next-day’s AP exams instead of attending YW, working a summer job instead of attending girls camp, asking special permission to attend high school EMS because the Jr. High didn’t offer it and being told if I was putting academics above making room for release time my priorities were out of whack). In the past few years, curriculum for seminary and church classes has been modified to step up the pace to get kids prepped for earlier missions. Requiring less sacrifice feels out of character for the church. There’s been improvements in the realm of de-stigmatizing coming home from missions early due to health concerns, but there is still a cultural belief that kids are coddled too much as it is.

  57. Larry the Cable Guy says:

    Couple of Jello-Belt years in release-time seminary, as well as two years meeting at the chapel before school in the very early morning so that multiple high school’s schedules could be accommodated. Later taught 6AM seminary for a few years as a calling.

    ——-
    Certainly you would use a different criteria to evaluate student’s experience, and how “successful” the class would be depending on the time of attendance, associated fatigue, and whether you have a teacher who is in a classroom all day, or someone who is plugging in 180 lessons a year before heading off to work.

    Love the comment above about being a part of the student’s learning experience in deciphering Isaiah. It’s fools gold to assume that there would be revelatory thunderbolts on a daily basis, but those moments are so uplifting to be a part of. Honestly, if you were to get the opinion of a typical HS trigonometry, chemistry, or 11th grade English teacher, all of the bellyaching described above would still be applicable, regardless of the time of day.

    I’d love for meaningful home study to be the norm across the church, even displacing release-time seminary. Practically speaking, however, being able to concentrate the responsibility onto a single teacher for a room full of students helps to make sure a positive opportunity is much more widespread.

  58. @Jane Smith: an astonishingly large number of LDS Church employees, and a depressingly large percentage of General Authorities, only ever have lived outside of the Jello Belt during missionary service. This is akin to members of the boards of transit agencies who never ride the bus/train.

  59. When I attended EMS 30-35 years ago, I was told one day by my instructor (who happened to be a professor at a major midwestern university) that it was more important to graduate from seminary than high school.

    I actually said “bull****” right in the middle of class….which did not go over well. I actually got kicked out, which was hilarious because there were only three of us in the class and nowhere for me to go since I was 14 and could not drive yet.

    The point, however, is that that attitude about seminary existed then, and I saw it repeated–if not verbatim than certainly in terms of attitudes–with my three children when they attended release-time seminary in Utah (not to mention similar attitudes from leaders about their non-attendance at every church function due to their other commitments). There exists in the church a black-and-white/all-or-nothing/us-vs.-them mentality that militates against differences in circumstance. We get all of the comments from General Authorities about how not everyone needs to be the same and that there is room for all kinds of people in the church, but the reality and expectations in many places belie that notion.

    This is not to say that there is no value in seminary. Even when I attended McDonald’s as regularly as class my senior year, it was worthwhile to have exposure to gospel ideas on a semi-daily basis. And seminary graduation does influence admittance to BYU (full disclosure: I am on faculty there) and can partially determine where a missionary is sent due to the laws in some countries regarding proselyting. But it should not outweigh the importance of academics, health, family, and common sense. As parents, we need to do what is best for our children–even (and perhaps especially) if it means taking a step back from certain church functions that are not, let’s face it, obligatory or required for exaltation.

  60. You bring up a topic that I’ve been griping about for a while.
    The high-school school day itself begins too early for most teenagers. Early morning seminary exacerbates the problem. It is counterproductive, even harmful to deprive teens of sleep during their bodies’ natural sleep cycle.

    This must be hard to believe for some, but there are actually scientists and medical professionals that study this sort of thing. The circadian rhythm shifts during puberty and most teenagers are not getting the 8.5-10 hours of recommended sleep. Shame on you for expecting that we rely on scientific findings to inform policy!

  61. I hate early morning seminary! My daughter starts this year at 6:00. It’s not uncommon to get home from mutual , fire sides, etc after9:00. This is just not enough sleep. My daughter already does hard things — she doesn’t need artificial hardness added to her life. I’m a big believer in the downsides of sleep deprivation — it’s not a coincidence that lack of sleep is a symptom for many mental and other illnesses. I really wish the church would change this. My daughter gets plenty of Mormon social interaction at school, church activities etc. there must be a better way.

  62. Wow. No wonder all those farm kids never amounted to anything and why those earlier morning swimmers and surfers have poorer than average grades.

    Personally, I’d go for Monday, Wednesday, and Friday early morning seminary, and it shouldn’t start before 6:30. That’d also give the volunteer teacher an opportunity to create good lessons and not waste the kids’ time. If there’s a lot of travel involved, I think you’d have to allow a home study. It really doesn’t make sense to make the kids too tired, because then they really don’t get anything out of it. But I also think that learning to do hard things and develop the discipline to put oneself to bed at night is pretty valuable, besides whatever spirituality/theology they gain. I’m kind of surprised so many dismiss it so quickly.

  63. > We may as well talk about the debilitating effects of getting up early to work on a farm.

    Correct. I am also against my children getting up early to work on a farm.

  64. Martin, to get the requisite 9-10 hours, a teen needs to go to bed at 7-8 PM with a 5:00 wake-up time. That may not even leave enough time for homework, and you try telling a teen to go to bed at 7PM! Studies also show that teens sleep better in the morning than they do in the late evening; during puberty, that’s how the circadian rhythms work. Some of the links in my post contain more information on that.

    Bear in mind that farm kids used to go to bed when the sun went down because they didn’t have electric light, and back in the day, many living in rural communities didn’t finish high school.

  65. Kevin Barney says:

    I will say that the seminary teachers we’ve had here over the last decade or so have all been excellent. Really committed, really love the kids, and the feeling is mutual. Some have been men, others have been women, I haven’t noticed any sort of pattern there at all. The current teacher’s husband was just called as bishop, and she was worried she would be released (something that never crossed the SP’s mind). When you’ve got that kind of commitment and love for the kids and the calling good things are going to happen.

  66. Jane Smith says:

    I think one of the differences between the over forty crowd and today’s teens is the huge difference in homework in high school. The homework load has not just doubled since I was in school, it has quadrupled. I think most parents raising teens today would agree. This does have an impact on the viability of early morning seminary. The academic competition is intense. I can guarantee I would have never attended BYU if I had to face the same academic qualifications that today’s teens face. My kids face more homework, more requirements in seminary to graduate, mandatory volunteer hours to graduate from high school and more academic competition. Add in just one extra curricular sport and teens are scheduled from before sun-up to way past sun down. We lesson the load where we can but it is not the same world that I grew up in.

  67. The thought of any teenager getting enough sleep, EMS or not, makes me laugh. It’s about priorities and choices. Nothing else.

  68. Mary Roberts says:

    Pure anecdote: in 1984, when I was teaching early-morning seminary, I received permission to run a 2nd seminary class 1/2 hour after school let out. I held this class for four weeks. Not one kid showed up. All preferred the early-morning time because it didn’t interfere with their other activities. The chapel was 4 blocks from the local high school

  69. Amen!

    Mary Ann @3:32
    DJ 5:05

  70. I’ve thought this too.
    There is a better way.

    That better way starts with people not being pressured into doing things that don’t make sense.

    If people look down on you for being less righteous because you don’t get up at the crack of dawn to feign awareness at seminary, that is their issue.

    I was a kid living overseas.

    Another church kid asked me why I didn’t attend seminary, jokingly saying I should.

    He didn’t have a clue about my life. His mom or dad drove him where he needed to go. He lived where all the expats lived (close to the U.S. army base where seminary was held).

    I lived across town, travelled an hour by public transport to get to church (and an hour back). Going to seminary would mean another two hour round trip in the evening that it was held…in the dark…in sketchy neighborhoods. Gratefully, my mom said please choose between church and seminary. I chose church.

    My point–

    Part of the problem is people don’t have the guts to believe they know what’s best for their family. Your kid may not even need seminary. Half the kids who go are jerks.

    Why Mormons care so much about what other people think never ceases to amaze me.

  71. I attended EMS in the early 60s. Fortunately it began at 730. It was taught by a Masters of Education student for the 3 years of High school I attended. I loved going, I could get up at 7 and get there on time for 730, plus my girlfriend, who later became my wife, attended. I place all of the responsibility for my attendance on my teacher. He was an interesting, engaging teacher who was interested in his topic and really made us feel he cared about us as individuals. I am glad I went but I am also certain that I would not have been there if it would have started an hour earlier. He later became the Dean of Education at two universities, one of which was BYU. Two things kept me going, first that it was not too early in the morning and the second was a super teacher.

  72. whizzbang says:

    Ours, in Canada, started at 645 everyday. Tough, especially with other siblings also attending. I remember days when it was so cold walking to the Church that you think you literally froze to death. My younger sister got hit by a car once in the winter. After 4 years of delusional teachers and days when I was a zombie at school I finally got out of that. After all these years, I remember going, I had to unlearn everything one teacher taught us and other than that it wasn’t a pivotal experience in my life. I remember really nothing from attending.

  73. I’ve got you all beat — my stake in Houston, Texas makes students with zero-hour classes (i.e., certain sports) meet at 5 am for seminary. Students from two different high schools have to meet at the same stake center for this 5 am class, and one of the high schools is notably far away. I don’t get the insanity of this requirement; it is extremely thoughtless to the students and their families. The stake president’s position is that the students can simply go to bed earlier, which obviously ignores the reality of other life interests and needs (not every student can go to bed at 7 pm).

    Btw, the regular students go to seminary at 5:40 am.

  74. Exhausted says:

    Angela, you are poking holes through the thing we value most in our culture: showing how tough and pious we are through other people’s (usually our youth) devotion. We don’t do it for the kids; we do it for our own validation, to satisfy that invisible toughness quota that we all think is demanded of us because we are the Lord’s people. My wife has had several health problems throughout her adult life and once in a moment of candor she admitted that they were caused by the sleep deprivation and exhaustion she experienced as a result of the pressure to go to early morning seminary. The exhaustion led to Epstein-Barr Virus (mono) that still resurfaces, anxiety, inability to get deep sleep (now requiring medication) and a compromised immune system. These damaging effects built up over time but began in her high school years as a result of early morning seminary. We often treat such effects as the price we have to pay for pleasing our religious community. I think we need to be more clear-eyed about what requirements we think we must meet in order to be considered worthy Latter-day Saints. Most of them are simply made up.

  75. Anon since I'm done associating my name with this issue in public says:

    That’s truly crazy, Dave. The associated problem is that such stakes are loathe to allow students to do online seminary. They simply refuse to consider it as an option, even for families that have serious conflicts such as medically disabled children, complicated transportation issues, a tendency toward mood disorders as Exhausted mentions, complex work requirements on the part of the parents, etc., since even these people — particularly these people — need to “learn to sacrifice.”

    “The stake president’s position is that the students can simply go to bed earlier”

    So of course there are no youth activities planned that ever go past 7:00 in the evening? Right??

  76. Hiding behind anonymity for this one says:

    We live in Texas in a district where schools start later specifically to allow teens more sleep time. School starts at 8:45 am. Seminary, however, starts promptly at 6 am because the stake says so. School gets out at 4:05 pm. After-school practices, piano lessons, dance classes, etc., often go until 8 or 8:30. Then there are hours and hours of homework each night. My oldest is exhausted and sick all the time. She gets 4 to 6 hours of sleep a night, depending on how much studying she does. The teachers have been less than stellar (one claimed she had been given a vision that our city would soon be destroyed due to wickedness, another told her class that infertility is directly linked to sin.) I’ve given my daughter the choice to just skip seminary all together, but she wants to go to BYU and has been told over and over by leaders that she’ll
    never get in if she doesn’t graduate from seminary.

    A fair amount of bullying and behavior that borders on sexual harassment (by a teenage boy) has also occurred during early morning seminary and been promptly swept under the rug because sacrifice and
    suffering bring blessings.
    Her first year of EMS when we lived in Northern Va was, by contrast, wonderful. The teacher was excellent. Seminary still started at 6 am, but school let out at 2:10 pm, which allowed for an afternoon nap if needed and also made earlier bedtimes (10 or 11 instead of midnight or later) possible.

    I’d love nothing more than for seminary to be discontinued and a home study guide given to parents to help teens at home. With the exception of our experience in NoVa, seminary has led only to exhaustion, depression, anxiety, and tears.

  77. never forget says:

    Someone needs to call the 5 am Texas stake president out over the pulpit in a ward or stake meeting. That’s so asinine.

  78. 5am?? No way. My oldest starts Freshman year today is enrolled for EMS. I’m not thrilled that 6am is the start time for school that begins at 8.

  79. 5 a.m. is insane. We start at 6:45 here, which feels early to me, but is nothing compared to what I’m hearing from everybody else!

  80. I live overseas and we had the independent study option for awhile (when my daughter was in 9th grade), and then it was changed to EMS. Because of the start time and distance of one of the high schools (my son’s school started at 7:50 and was near to us), his seminary class started every day at 5:30 am! In solidarity, I got up with him and took a morning walk until 6:30 when he got back. (My job starts at 7:00, so it was just enough time). Anyway, the gist of this is, that as a 9th grader, my kid was getting up and riding his bike to seminary every day at 5:30, was in 3 different sports, was student body president (his school went from grades 5-9), was an officer in the National Junior Honor Society, was the lead in the play, etc. etc. and every day he would come home from after school sports, collapse, barely wake up enough to eat a few bites, do a couple of hours of homework and then collapse again. It was an exhausting year. This year, because of our living situation, both my kids will be in boarding school in another country and the seminary thing won’t really be practical so I’m not pushing it.

  81. My daughter bailed her sophomore year. My older son stopped going his senior year. My “baby” just started his senior year, and is so far going (I think). He may not graduate because he missed some days 2nd semester last year and is pretty adamant about not making them up, since he had almost perfect attendance 1st semester.

    I can track the onsite of my clinical depression with my kids beginning early seminary. There was always a gap, and whenever the next kid start seminary, I would be suicidal within a matter of weeks. Once the kid dropped out/was able to drive, I got better. 20/20 hindsight.

  82. I taught seminary two years. It started at 6 am and I had pressure from parents to start it later — since school starts at 9 am — but I had and have a job that starts at 7:30 am, so I couldn’t accommodate a later start time. Our stake has since moved to having stay at home parents primarily teaching and so they’ve been able to move it to a later time.

  83. EMS was a positive experience for me in Central Texas ~20 years ago. I was “straight-arrow” so quitting seminary didn’t occur to me even though I was plenty busy with schoolwork and extracurriculars. I was occasionally sleep-deprived especially during my very busy junior and senior years. But it was worth it. Credit the dedication and sacrifice of the excellent volunteer teachers I had.

    In hindsight I see two major benefits I accrued, totally worth the occasional sleep deprivation.

    1. Learning to devote some time for God every day. This during the first period in my life when every hour could have been completely filled. I’m not quite as good at setting aside that daily time now, but this is a really crucial habit especially as life gets more and more busy as you progress from teen to young adult and on.

    2. A foundation of understanding the scriptures much better than before. It’s impossible for a weekly church class to go as deep, just do the math (150 lessons/year). This understanding of the scriptures, not to mention actually reading all 4 standard works on my own at the encouragement of my seminary teachers, was invaluable preparation for a mission.

    When the time comes I will strongly encourage my kids to attend seminary even if it means some parental sacrifice (EMS is the only option where we live in Oregon). I wouldn’t mind having RTS as an option though, my wife had a very positive experience with that in Boise Idaho.

    God bless the volunteer EMS teachers!

  84. I loved EMS. We live in Australia and the classes were very small and you were usually the only member in your school so gave you a chance to socialise every day with your member friends. Some of those teachers have been a major influence in my life.

    A few years ago i taught for two years in our home. I loved it and wish I could always have this calling. I loved the kids I taught and had a great relationship with them. So great one of them now lives with my family as her family situation is uncomfortable.

    But my oldest has hated it. Her teacher this year has been questionable (and the relief teachers who are CES teachers from Utah on a mission are even worse), the boy with anti-mormon doctrine in class who is always trying to convert the rest of the class away from the church, some bullying from other students. I seriously question why I am doing this. My bishop is behind me if I pull her out. But my son goes to the same class and loves it.

  85. Perhaps the issue i raise has only affected my wife and myself ,and might be viewed as trivial, , but am so surprised to not see it raised that i am posting my first comment here .we have had three children attend ems,i concurr with many of the comments about tiredness and appropriate use of time , i am currently teaching , class starting at 6.00 am .early morning seminary has wrought havoc ( a hyperbole ,certainly ,but my feelings on the matter are keen ) with our conjugal life .my wife , who works long hours ,has always preferred morning sex ,during the seminary term,spontaneous , joyful ,or even just comfortable sex is well nigh impossible .As well , i tend now to fall asleep at 8.30 in the evening , we end up awake and abed together very rarely . i almost raised this with my stake president when i was called, but who does that , perhaps he would think an lds couple .in their late 50s shouldnt be imagining or having regular sex.i certainly do miss those morning “embraces “with a warm spouse .

  86. Old Geezer says:

    Background: Children grown. Excellent teacher for EMS who not only was prepared, but taught teens not canned lessons. Even cooked for them. My kids only occasionally went to YM/YW, never missed EMS. Without EMS, would be completely alienated/ out of the church. My kids inherited a genetic trait from my wife- only need 4-5 hours of sleep a day. Saw friends suffer as described but escaped it.

    After thinking about this I realize that EMS is only part of the picture. But a crucial part.
    What makes a young person a Mormon youth? We do have distinctions that are measurable. What goes on in the home is probably the biggest factor but what goes on in the LDS community is also important.

    Distinctive programs: Quickie fake Eagle scout (for boys only), YM/YW, EMS, trek, full-time missionary service (becoming expected for both genders), BYU for many (or attempts to partially duplicate it at other places), early temple marriage requiring chastity , sobriety , tithing, etc.

    Does it work? Yes and no. LDS youth do better than just about everyone else with premarital chastity, substance abuse, violence, education, employment and raising more children. But there are dark patches. Divorce of LDS youth who don’t make it to the temple is way higher than average. Moderate alcohol use seems more difficult, its either abstinence or abuse for many. Suicides are off the chart for LGTB youth. Others.

    When we evaluate the path of our distinctive programs: I don’t think scouting in the LDS ward is doing as much as it could and in some places is probably doing more damage than good. YM/YW can be a big factor in wards large enough to have dozens of youth but in too many small wards it is not very influential. Trek and summer camps are pretty similar to Bible camp for youth in other churches. (A flash but not a sustained burn). Missions are crucial. If a young man does not serve a mission, statistically not many are going to be strong active adult members. A lot of our youth manage to do fine at other universities. And a lot don’t. Even at BYU. The temple marriage event, also crucial, dove-tails with a bunch of challenges of adulthood in and out of the church such as divorce, mixed families and perpetual singlehood.

    EMS comes at a critical time when large numbers of youth begin to diverge from the distinctive LDS path and assimilate into the larger culture. It can make the difference, but its failure in individual cases is not a “game ender.” It sneaks up at the last time parents have a large daily influence on their children, before they usually leave the nest.

    As I contemplate these programs and how they are changing over my lifetime, it gives me cause for concern. I can’t prove it but it appears we as a church are losing ground either slowly or rapidly on all fronts. Some of this is outside of our control (baring complete withdrawal and isolation from the rest of society) and some of it is more like friendly fire on the battlefield and some of it seems to be due to inept backward-looking leadership at high levels.

    As parents with youth at these crucial ages all I can say, you already know. EMS is one of the sharper more useful tools in the box. Do the best you can to somehow make it work.

  87. I loathe EMS. Like Angela I loved my 3 years home study, and learnt nothing that last year when I had to take EMS instead; my school work suffering, and dropping asleep in afternoon classes. I wish I hadn’t bothered and in fact binned my graduation certificate several years later.
    My eldest just graduated after 4 years online, and the next has 2 more years to go. It is much more flexible in fitting with an individual schedule, and I get to see precisely what they are being taught, so we get to discuss.
    Was disturbed to hear though, that push seems to be increasing for EMS, and new students to the online class are only to be admitted if there is no way they would make it to school otherwise. This disturbs me because I long protested at the way EMS cuts into family time in the mornings (or would in our household anyway) – family prayer, family scripture study etc., and being able to see my kids off for school. But apparently that would not now be sufficient reason…

  88. A Happy Hubby says:

    Well given that EMS started today for my kids (and it starts at 5:50 since school is now a few minutes earlier). I went to sleep before 10 and I am struggling to stay awake myself at work. Sigh

  89. Anon since I'm done associating my name with this issue in public says:

    Ditto to Hedgehog. If it weren’t for Early Morning Seminary, we could have breakfast and scripture study and family prayer together before the kids headed off to school. But there’s no way we’re getting little children up at 5:30 in the morning to attend family prayer. Simply isn’t going to happen.

  90. New Iconoclast says:

    Reading all the comments about early morning seminary just makes me angry. My youngest daughter is currently a junior, on the edge in terms of activity anyway, and the sleep deprivation combined with a rigid, doctrinaire and less-than-inspiring teacher might just put her over the edge. The only ray of hope is that she has no intention of attending BYU.

  91. 1. Seminary is not a requirement for BYU.
    2. Grading Seminary students,why? There is no academic value.
    3. Consider it as an elective and opt out.
    4. Dismiss the self righteous feedback – especially from the Seminary teacher.
    5. Remember, from the age of 8 you will hear the same repetitive thing every 4 years for the rest of your life.