Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Unsolicited YW advice: Part 1

Sooooo, I have a lot of unsolicited advice to give about YW (meaning teen girls at church), and if there's one things blogs are for, it's spouting unsolicited advice!  Am I right or am I right?
I've been in YW non-stop since we moved to the great Midwest and while our crowd may be different from yours (we have less than a dozen YW and don't split up by age group or have advisors), I have a sneaky feeling YW everywhere have a lot in common.  And it always bums me out when I hear from friends who aren't having great experiences serving in YW...it is such an awesome opportunity to work with such a great age group, and I love the crap out of our little crowd so much that I really want other people to love it like I do.  This topic has popped up a lot lately with my real-life friends and e-friends and such, and surprise, surprise, I have a bunch to say.

So, let me climb aboard my e-soapbox and share a few grouchy tidbits...

Gurrbonzo's Grouchy Bits of Advice for YW Leaders: Part 1

(1) It's not about you!  My own experience in YW was really, really lame.  We moved to a new ward when I was 9th gradeish and there were like forty girls my age, I felt like I had nothing in common with any of them, I felt grouchy and misunderstood, square peg in a round hole, whatever you want to say about it.  Guess what?  My YW now aren't me.  They aren't a 2012 version of me, either.  And my favorite rants or topics or teen baggage AREN'T THEIR PROBLEM.  So resist the urge to teach and preach what your former self would have needed/wanted and instead, look around and see if you can figure out what these actual girls are interested in or in need of.  They aren't us; they're them.

(2)  On a related note, be the grown up.  We aren't their peers.  That's a weird feeling because when you chat with teens, it comes back fast.  I remember so vividly so much about being that age.  Once a few years ago, an 8th grade YW was chatting with me at an activity and out of nowhere snapped my bra.  Seriously.  I almost died.  I was tempted to laugh but then I realized that can't happen.  So I just said, "Sweetie, I'm a grown up.  Totally inappropriate. Never do that again."  And then we started talking about something else.  She was a little startled but it hasn't happened again and now we have a great relationship.

It's a tough balance, and I don't mean they should salute you and curtsy or that you need to be super distant, but you're the adult and they are teens. Even if you're not that much older than they are, keep in mind you aren't peers.

(3) Stop talking about clothes.  Just stop.  I don't want to hear any more from either side of the modesty debate.  I am totally over that conversation and for teen girls to get the message that looks aren't everything, we've gotta talk about stuff that's more interesting and important.  If, say, what the kid is wearing at an activity is TOTALLY out of control, take her aside and privately say something like, "Throw a shirt on that covers up a little more.  I'll run you home and you can get one, then let's grab a slurpee and we'll be back in time for the closing prayer."  Don't make it any more than it is.  

(4) Get off their cases.  Peers, parents, media, church, everyone has so much to say about what teen girls should or shouldn't wear, what they should or shouldn't do, what they should or shouldn't say.  What they need more than anything is our love and our trust and our examples.  My job isn't to nag; they have the whole planet for that.  My job is to show them what a happy, healthy woman is like and to high five and hug as needed.  They are aching for our love and for our examples.  Show them how it's done.

(5) Go to their stuff.  I know this is hard depending on schedules, etc., but it's my favorite.  For example, a few of our YW are in jazz band and we go to their awesome performances all the time.  My kids love it, and I know the YW and their friends, and they are (most of the time) excited to see me, and it's good and fun and normal.

I got a mean farmer tan from the last JV soccer game I went to, but it was totally worth it. My kids played on the playground and my dear YW was thrilled to see us.  I didn't bombard her or even talk to her after because she was booked, but I waved and my four-year-old shouted, "Go Lucy!" and I think that's enough.  If anyone in YW had given a teensy shit about what I was up to at that age, I think it would have meant a lot to me.  (Wait, it's not about me...d'oh...still, most of the time they love it.)

(6) Let them do stuff.  For example, we had a whole lesson on how to give a lesson (I'll post it if you want to check it out), and then we've started having YW teach once a month.  This won't work for every group but for ours, it has ROCKED.  They can count it for Personal Progress and it is honestly beautiful to see.  The first few months were a little rocky (e.g., we had a few ten minute lessons...bahahaha) but the last year or so, everyone's really gotten into it. The YW make especially great comments when one of them is leading the discussion, and it seems to provide decent experience so they are braver the next time they have to do something, and they're more supportive when an adult is teaching bc they know what's it like to be on that end.

Last year, we were talking as a ward about what talks from General Conference we should use for lessons, and everyone was excited about Elder Cook's "LDS Women Are Incredible!" talk.  Now, say what you will about the talk, but I had to chime in:  if LDS women are incredible, how about...wait for it...a talk by an LDS woman?  Annnnd we used Sylvia Allred's RS talk for the lesson.  If something's important, stop talking about how important it is and just let the importance shine.  See what I'm saying? We've gotta stop telling them they're awesome and start giving them opportunities to be awesome, whether through teaching or service or whatever.

(7) Let them botch it once in a while.  That's the logical extension of letting them do stuff.  They need the chance to fail.  That's scary for adults like me that like to do everything themselves, but it's like teaching your kid to make her bed. Yeah, it's easier for us to just make the bed, but getting the bed made isn't the point; teaching them to make the bed is the point.

Last year, I asked a girl to do a musical number for our Night of Excellence.  She said yes, we reminded her a few times, and that day she laughed about how she hadn't prepared anything.  I was tempted to take her off the program but then I caught myself and realized you know, she committed to do it, let's see what happens.  She traipsed through a painful version of a song and it was awful and awkward and I'd bet a lot of money she won't be unprepared again. (Won't work for everyone but for her personality it was a great lesson.)  Let them fail.   Otherwise, they grow up thinking someone else will fix everything, and I've got some bad news: someone else won't.  Bahahahaha.

(8) Don't go to every activity.  You'll lose your mind and it's not fair to your family.  Let your counselors or whoever go to stuff (or if you're an advisor or counselor, let the YW president know when you want to swap dates).  It took me a year or two to figure it out, but everyone doesn't have to go to everything.  We make sure two adults are at a Wednesday activity and then call it good, and split it up so that one person doesn't have to go too many times in a row.  I spent all of Sunday on YW stuff (morning meeting, evening fireside) so you know what that means?  I'm not going on Wednesday, and I feel great about it.

Annnnd that's it for now.  What do you think?  Agree? Disagree?  Anything to add?  Part 2 coming soon.


Ru said...

Great advice.

I suspect I won't ever be in YW, as a perma-spinsty and all, and I probably never really wanted to be (all that pressure ...) but this post gives a really nice perspective on it.

PS, when I read "stop talking about clothes," I wanted to cheer. That is all.

Mhana said...

I definitely agree on the clothes thing. Going in that was what was already in the back of my mind. I don't want to hound them, and I am also against "modest is hottest" fashion shows etc. I walked in and a young woman was wearing capri length leggings and what was in reality a long shirt. It did not resemble a dress. My first thought was "yikes!" It did not seem church appropriate, and it certainly did not flatter her figure. Then I thought "this girl has a good mother. This is not my business. I am not seeing flesh I shouldn't so button your lip." and I did. Thanks for the advice. Our ward only just split the Miamaids from the Laurels so this is the first time they'll be their own class. We'll see how it goes.

heidikins said...

Yes, yes, and yes. Especially #2 and especially #5.


Mar said...

I'm the Beehive Advisor in our ward in, wait for it....Utah County. This is my third go-round as a YW leader and I think it's the best calling the church has to offer (well, besides Gospel Doctrine teacher but that's because it doesn't require any meeting attendance, you don't have to coordinate with other people, you learn to kick ass at understanding the scriptures and their real-life meaning for us, and it's a "Sunday only" calling. But I digress...)

Utah County is a special, special place and when I say "special" I don't mean that in a nice way. I totally mean retarded. We love it here, love our neighbors, love our home, love the mountain views, and we truly love our ward. However, YW leaders here can get bat-shit crazy when it comes to WAY OVERDOING IT.

Some women have an utter desire to make everything absolutely perfect at each activity. Once, the leader who planned the activity called me and asked me to make a refreshment that was (no lie) "purple and cozy." What the hell? And that was the day before the activity and two days before I was to take my daughter out of the country for the first time. I said, "I'll order cupcakes with purple frosting but that's the best I can do." This small event held so many epiphanies for me:
1. Why are you calling me ONE day in advance? Rude.
2. Why, why, why do we HAVE to have refreshments? We live in a nice area. These kids eat at home and if they don't, they have enough extra scratch to pick themselves up a snack at the local grocery store.
3. Purple and cozy. That's the dumbest thing I've ever heard.
4. Not every activity has to have a theme and posters and video clips and guest speakers and matching treats. The only activities (and I'm serious0 that I recall from my YW days are the haunted house because I had a crush on one of the boys and the swimming activities because I had a complex about my body and had to come to terms with that fact that I really wanted to swim more than I wanted to hide, so I had to just suck it up (or in) and get out there.

Can you tell I have an axe to grind? It's not with the YW program itself. I think Personal Progress, when approached correctly, is fantastic. I think the lessons, also when approached correctly, are great. I love the girls, especially those short little, hairy-legged Beehives. I know it's an inspired program to do nothing more than bring them close to Jesus Christ. However, the leaders get under my freaking skin. You're right, woman. It's not about us. The women who spend time on "purple, cozy" desserts are losing sight of what's really going on. Let's stop talking about being awesome and just be awesome. It's a helluva lot easier.

Andrea said...

I have not yet had the opportunity to serve in YW- they've got me holed up in RS but I loved this anyway. Hopefully this will help me avoid pitfalls when I do.

I read this and thought of bubbly radiant you with your white cardigan a day away from being an RM. It was the day I set my feet in Rochester for the first time and I wondered if I could ever be as good as you- democrat and all.

And I still feel that way. Thanks for the advice.

Kristina said...

I love the idea about making them do stuff! As witnessed last Sunday, some of the girls surpass our wildest expectations when we just give them a little space. Also, the idea of teaching them how to give lessons is great. They can always apply that structure to writing talks, too.

Also, Ru, we have a couple of lovely single women in the YW stake presidency. Never say never, unless you really don't want to do it, then say what you want.

Jane of Seagull Fountain said...

My oldest is entering YW in January. 1) this makes me methuselah. And b) I hope her leaders are like you. The right kind of leaders make a huge impact.

HeatherB said...

So, I loved this! I am in the YW presidency in my ward in the Seattle area and I am always trying to figure out how to balance my feminist self w/ the vision of you YW leaders from my Utah youth. I would love to see the lesson on teaching. That would be awesome! I think that is a fantastic idea.

Oh, I found your blog through my friend Jay Richard's blog, fyi. So a friend of a friend kind of stalker. :)


gurrbonzo said...

Ru: Never say never! Bahahaha. You'd be great, spinsty or no.

Mhana: Can't wait to hear how it goes...you were totally built for this.

Mar: BAHAHAHA. So glad you're alive, and purple and cozy is so perfect. I have so much to say about activities that I think it will have to be its own post, but, amen.

Andrea: Thanks, friend. What a great day that was, eh??

Kristina: Agreed. The hard part is figuring out how to give them tools to succeed AND give them space. Bc too much of one or the other can really backfire.

Jane: Thanks, and, this doesn't make you methuselah, it makes you awesome.

HeatherB: Hi! I hear you sister; that balance is awfully tricky.

Lindsay said...

I think your list is fantastic. I also did not get a long with the other Young Women in my ward but I was lucky to have fantastic leaders. I haven't had the opportunity to serve in YW yet (mostly because much of the last 10 years have been spent in singles wards) but I hope I can use your experiences when I have my own experience. Run on sentence?
Anyway. Great post as always!

Brooke said...

LOVE the "let them do stuff" and "let them fail." I had a few leaders that were control freaks and we just basically learned to show up and be entertained. Umm..."being entertained" is a gospel principle in what universe? It also tended to lead to very "about them" type of activities since we had no input. The leaders who let us come up with the theme for camp, plan the activities, run the meetings, etc. were my favorites. And probably less stressed than the ones who were up till 3 a.m. making cute centerpieces for the activity they had to single-handedly put together themselves.

Erin said...

great advice.

i love "it's not about you." sometimes i have to remind myself of this when i'm preparing a lesson - i start thinking about what little anarcho/commie/feminist me would have wanted to hear, and start gearing the lesson toward a 16-year-old version of me. and then i have to remember that these girls are not me, and i need to think about them and follow the spirit. (although, there are definitely times when remembering back to what it was like to be their age has been helpful.)

also totally agree on the modesty thing. i never talk about modesty. ever. my view, in addition to what you mentioned, is that (1) these girls KNOW they should be modest and they know what that means (that might not be true for everyone but it is generally true), so if they are not being modest, they're choosing not to and no amount of preaching about it is going to change that (and it could just make them want to stop coming); and (2) that's really the parents' business if their girls are leaving the house dressed as a hoochie (again, there are some girls who may not have great parents to whom this does not apply, but it does to many).

i guess my other point is to PLEASE for the LOVE use the suggested resources for the lessons instead of the actual lessons. i'm two weeks into a three week stretch of AWFUL, AWFUL, AWFUL lessons (probably the worst lessons in my 2.5 years teaching), and i shutter to think that someday some leader would just teach this to my daughter straight out of the book? please no. there are lots of great conference talks and resources available. so i basically the topic and use new material. (such as, for example, in a lesson on women and the priesthood i will not be using the suggested quotations from the manual, which came from either the 1960's OR a POLITICAL PAMPHLET THE CHURCH PRODUCED DURING ITS OPPOSITION TO THE ERA. hmm, no thanks.)

i don't have a lot to do with activities but i agree that everything does NOT have to be perfect and to save your energy for things that really matter.

Holly C M said...

Keep the advice coming, Gurr! You were born for this. Seriously, you are one wise chicka. It applies to more than YW with a little stretch, yes?

katie m said...

I love your preface: grouchy tidbits, especially. Ha ha. I can just hear you saying it.

Your advice hit the spot for me. l. I think the only thing I would add and this isn't directed at anything you wrote or didn't write, but generally speaking, we need to stop judging each other so much. Stop judging the YW if they aren't as good as you were as a teen, stop judging the YW if they come dressed like a hooch- they're learning- AND leaders need to stop judging other leaders. Some of the comments above give me a tiny sense there's a lot of that going on too. If I am ever in a major leadership position in anything within the church, I certainly hope there wouldn't be people going behind my back and saying I used irrelevant material in my lesson, or did things too fancy, or was too controlling or whatever. I am already well aware of my weaknesses. I am fully aware that I am probably well below capacity for a lot of the callings, and I betcha I'm not the only one who shares that sentiment. Why is it our place to judge if someone decides to have refreshments, or decides to fancy things up a bit, or chooses to insert a seemingly impertinent source of material within a lesson? Who knows what revelation they have received? We are all learning. We come to our callings with a host of various personalities and personality defects and imperfections, and we're all just trying to do things in the Lord's way, even if person A executes things in a way person B totally disagrees with. You know more than anyone that I've had some bones to pick with life back in Utah, and SoJo no less, but man, if we could all just calm down and I include myself on this, take the beam out of our own eyes and stop bashing what other leaders do or don't do, how YW act or don't act, I bet we'd be pretty close to a real Zion. We'd be a lot more effective in my snobby op.

I guess today I have a small amount of rage too! Ha ha!!!! I'm not an overly controversial-seeking person ever, so excuse moi (ahem ahem).

Love ya, Kathleen. I think your post is thought-provoking and helpful. It helped me at least in my calling... (my comment is directed towards some of the fellow commentators:)).

KT said...

This is great. Totally agree with everything. I'm not in the YW anymore, but if I were, I'd follow everything you just said.

Question, now that I'm not in the YW, do I still have to be the adult?

Erin said...

katie m: I get what you are saying, but to the extent your comment is directed to me, you are misunderstanding what I said.

I do not mean to criticize the way other people teach lessons. If someone wants to use material I think is irrelevant - I totally get that it might seem relevant to them, and it might be relevant to the girls. However, if someone is teaching things that are harmful to the girls - particularly certain ideas about gender, repentance, virtue, modesty, etc. that is not even grounded in doctrine - I think I have a right to say that's not okay. There are many ways of doing things that are fine, and we should not be judgmental. But that's not to say that EVERY way of doing things is ok. You have to draw a line somewhere if something is harmful. (And when that happens, I agree that the right approach is not to gossip or backstab ... but to figure out a constructive way to address the situation.)

dieMutti said...

I like the advice. I also LOVE what katie m. said. I am one of those leaders (well, ex-leaders now, not YW pres anymore but still involved as early morning seminary teacher) that ended up doing many activities myself. Not because I wanted it to be perfect, not because I am super crafty or creative (horrible at both, very surprised they wanted me in YW!), but because the parents of almost all of my YW informed me that their daughters were too busy to be planning and carrying out YW activities. Unless we just went rock climbing. Every week. We attempted the "let them fail" idea several times and it resulted in angry calls from parents and a few gentle meetings with the bishopric reminding me to do my job. I think I needed more of a spine. Still do.

Point is - I think MOST of us YW leaders are just trying to do our best at what we know. What we are taught in leadership meetings and stake trainings. What our bishops instruct us to do. What we feel is right after prayer and yearning to reach our YW. We don't mean to offend or not do things right. If I could go back to my previous six years of YW leader experience, I would change a lot of stuff. I hope those YW I had then remember that I had a testimony and I loved them! And that I will always be imperfect!

Soap box over.

PS - LOVE the modesty advice (HUGE source of contention if you try to be the modesty police) and going to their stuff. I have done it with the YW and also now the YM in my seminary class. Not only do they see I support them, but my four littles (ages 2-7) will remember supporting them! They all love to sit in the stands at swim meets, football games and track meets or have front row seats at a play and they know all the names of the 20ish youth in my class and they look up to them! I had a few big "disagreements" with a stong-willed YW but we always worked it out and she finally told me this year it's because I have come to see her sing and act so even when we disagree, she knows I care. Blessings abound and are so worth the sacrifice of time if you can do it!

Jared and Laurel said...

I'm bookmarking this in my mind for the future. Even if they never trust me with the YW again, I can at least use it when the girly grows up.

Also, I thought I was the only one who felt like a weirdy in 9th grade! FYI, YOU were one of the best parts of MY experience in those awkward years! I'm grateful for that, and I'm sorry if I stank at helping you feel good about it all. Or if I just stank. It's been known to happen.