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Teenage Apathy: What Can I Do?

Rusty - October 19, 2004

I teach seminary here in the Park Slope ward in Brooklyn. There are four students that come regularly. Soon there will be three (one family moves to Florida in a few weeks). That leaves me with two from one family and one from another. These are good kids and are well supported by their solid families. It makes me very grateful for the support that I had as a teenager.

Here’s the problem: there is one that doesn’t care much to be there and I don’t know what to do.

This student hasn’t attended in almost two weeks and just told me tonight on the phone that what s/he objects to is getting up so early to talk about God. S/he’s not into it. I can dig that. What teenager is excited to wake up at 5:30 in the morning to talk about religion? A few people that I’ve told (outside of our religion) about seminary, think they are crazy? “…these are TEENAGERS that are doing this?” is what I hear. I know, it’s crazy. So I can understand his/her feelings.

I haven’t worked very much with the youth, so I haven’t mastered the art of the cool-and-inspiring-leader role. I work terribly hard at making each lesson interesting and I think I do a pretty decent job (especially considering I work part time and am doing grad school full time). They remaining students have told me how much more they have learned this year than in past years. But even with that good feedback, I still wonder if I’m doing everything I can.

Enter readers of this blog.

This is a plea for your help. If any of you have any experiences or any insight that might help me, please speak. I would appreciate it more than you may know.

1 Comment »

  1. Well, OBVIOUSLY you should have taken more education classes as an undergrad!>
    I think it would be hard with a “class” that a kid doesn’t “have” to do. Find out his interests and play to them. From my short experience, most all teenagers like critical thinking. The tricky part is finding out what will trigger their interest in the content you are teaching to get them to think.
    Good luck!
    P.S.–Just think, I chose to do this for a living!:o
    Bret | Email | Homepage | 10.19.04 – 1:32 am | #

    Bride him! (for ease of this reply I hope that he is a he) Is there something he really enjoys? Movies, sports, computer games, art, whatever. Flat out bride him, if he comes to seminary “X” number of times you’ll take him one on one to do whatever. With your limited time it’s really hard to take the time to find out and then to follow-thru with doing one on one events.

    Can you find out from his parents what turns him on? Have them help with the bride…a C.D. he wants they could buy if he attends “X” amount.

    Hopeuflly he likes the other students and gets along with them. If he doesn’t it makes it even harder for you. If he is disruptive when he attends then maybe he shouldn’t be there until he decides he should be.

    It’s a tough one Rusty. Good luck.
    Don | Email | Homepage | 10.19.04 – 2:26 am | #

    TOTALLY bring food. take them out to mcdonald’s/denny’s. life always seems a little brighter with food involved.
    nicole | Email | Homepage | 10.19.04 – 2:41 am | #

    Rusty, I admire your dedication to a very challenging job! I am finding that “Teaching, No Greater Call” is one of the most helpful and enlightening books ever. It sounds like you’re doing a great job of preparing and teaching by the Spirit. Sometimes there isn’t always so much we can do other than making sure those we have stewardship over know we love and miss them when they choose not to join us.
    Andrea Wright | Email | Homepage | 10.19.04 – 12:19 pm | #

    Not wanting to get up so early to talk to God. That kid should be ashamed of saying something like that. I guess it’s understandable in some contexts but it sounds like a very spoiled and ungrateful thing to say.

    You’re really very nice to continue to care about this kid.

    I would think that somehow you need to befriend this person first and then teach them the significance of the atonement, discipleship, sacrifice, etc. … assuming you ever get the chance.
    danithew | Email | Homepage | 10.19.04 – 7:31 pm | #

    I like what Andrea said. Remember that it isn’t just a case of you figuring out the right gimmick and all of a sudden — presto! — he comes and is a model student. While you want to encourage as much as possible (and it sounds like you do), it’s ultimately up to him. It may have nothing at all to do seminary or with you though, Rusty. Maybe he’s rebelling against his parents or staying up late to pursue a certain young lady (I have no idea, just hypothetical possibilities), and seminary just isn’t a priority.

    But I think that “making sure those we have stewardship over know we love and miss them when they choose not to join us”, as Andrea said, is probably the most respectful and Christlike thing you can do.
    Logan | Email | Homepage | 10.19.04 – 7:54 pm | #

    Yeah, it might be an arrogant thing to say. It might be ungrateful. It might demonstrate an incredibly weak testimony.

    But what can we do about that?

    Realize that the ultimate choice is his, but in the meantime, there’s a lot of effort that could be made.

    I like a lot of what has been said. I think “Know your enemy” is good advice, here. No, the kid’s not the enemy, but the Adversary is, and the more you know about the kid, the more you’ll know about how he’s being worked on.

    Mark Hansen | Email | Homepage | 10.19.04 – 10:03 pm | #

    Whoa- To say, “sounds like a very spoiled and ungrateful thing to say” about this kids feelings is more than a little harsh. I don’t know too many kids that were always ready and excited to jump outta bed at 5am everyday and go off to learn about a lot of things they already know. When I was that age I was getting up at 5:30ish to have morning scriptures with the family and then off to seminary, off to school, off to play practice, off to stake play practice, and then rolling in at home at 8pm or later only to be hounded to do homework, and then off to bed by 12 or 1am…EVERYDAY. Its hard enough to have the schedules that kids have these days as it is, let alone one that includes something “optional” or “unnecessary” in their view. Come on, how many people on this blog would be willing to take an early morning institute that started at 5:30am, and there was no other options and it was everyday. I know most people don’t even make it to institute when its at 7pm and only once a week!
    Bryce | Email | Homepage | 10.20.04 – 5:08 am | #

    “It might demonstrate an incredibly weak testimony.” Is most likely. They probably still have the desire to go to seminary they’ve just lost the ambition to come so early everyday.
    The thing that made seminary or Sunday school best for me was participation. As a teenager, they’re full of ideas and opinions, and most want to express those and have discussions with others that either share their view or oppose it. And a good teacher/leader can guide such discussions toward the lesson or to the spiritual point they’re trying to make, while still allowing the student to feel they contributed and got to make their point as well.
    Also Russ, when all else fails…Pray, Fast, and Endure to the End.
    Bryce | Email | Homepage | 10.20.04 – 5:09 am | #

    I taught seminary for 4 years. Other than being a full time missionary, I think its the most rewarding calling in the Church.

    Solution: You must make a more real and personal kind of connection with that kid. This will not happen in class. Go to their extra-carricular activity (band, soccer, art show, whatever). Find a way to build a relationship with the kid that is outside and independent of seminary. It is easy to say no to your seminary teacher (I know I sure did!). It is hard to say no to your friend.

    I had a kid who loved punk rock. Now that is not exactly conducive to feeling the spirit in the morning, but it was his thing. I just so happened to have a few old dusty punk cd’s of my own. We were buds in no time.

    I have always wanted to right an ensign article about how Joey Ramone got “Dave” to attend seminary. I’m thinking it would not get published.
    Ian | Email | Homepage | 10.20.04 – 10:03 am | #

    Maybe I was harsh in my judgment. I think it was the wording that was used … “I don’t want to get up early to talk about God” that got to me. I used to go to early morning seminary myself so I’m not feeling all that much sympathy. Sure we were sleepy but we wanted to be there … usually.

    But I recognize this is another child of God who needs to be treated well and encouraged. So sorry if I was kind of rough in my judgment there.
    danithew | Email | Homepage | 10.20.04 – 7:59 pm | #

    Okay.. being 18 and having gone to seminary for 3 years as a teenager, I totally know where this student is coming from. I stopped going to seminary this year. What I realized is religious learning isn’t the same for everybody. You can’t expect all of the youth to react the same way to an early morning lesson. I found that not going to early morning seminary and instead doing home study was a much better alternative for me personally. Honestly, I just find it difficult to wake up at 5 am, and feel the spirt by 6. I always feel much better about my learning when I can sit for an hour or so and peacefully do it on my own, and go at my own pace. Personally, I’d give the student time. Let them know that the option of coming to seminary is always open to him/her, and be sure to invite him/her to all the class activities (Seminary parties… etc…). Other than that there isn’t much more that you can do… but keep up the good work. Sounds like you are doing a great job.
    Lindsay | Email | Homepage | 10.21.04 – 12:42 am | #

    Good point. The thing you did was make an alternative that still allowed you to get your seminary study in and feel the spirit and all. If this kid were to do the same then great, but to say not doing anything is an alternative (which you didn’t say, I’m just pointing out) does not help. It is like expecting to have your testimony grow and learn in the gospel by studying the scriptures, praying, etc. but NOT going to church. The learning and growing of seminary needs to be there. It sure helped me.
    Bret | Email | Homepage | 10.21.04 – 2:09 am | #

    I agree with the comments above about establishing a relationship first. I use text messaging all the time to communicate with the YM in my ward. Not all of them have phones, but there is a correlation between those that don’t attend meetings regularly and access to a personal cell phone. The results from this have been amazing. They may not show to activities all the time, but at least we are in contact. You may want to text over a note from the lesson that day or once a week. Note, if you don’t have access to text messaging, you can email the individual’s phone too.
    RS | Email | Homepage | 10.21.04 – 2:48 pm | #

    I did my time in EMS for three years in high school. Sometimes it was good — sometimes it wasn’t. What made the difference?

    1. The teachers. My sophomore year, I attended a class wherein the teachers would flat-out tell me I was wrong when I tried to contribute to discussions — at times when I was quoting from, say, the Bible Dictionary or the footnotes, or other resources that, sure, may be up for question or interpretation, but not flat-out wrong. My senior year, I had a teacher who was a lawyer with an English degree; we spent the first 10 minutes of class discussing literature that I loved, and I enjoyed being there.
    Arwyn | Email | Homepage | 10.21.04 – 7:54 pm | #

    2. Friends. Sophomore year, I knew no one in the class. I hated it. Junior year, I switched to a different class (‘switched’ is a relative term; I cut the class assigned to my high school to drive 10 minutes out of the way to attend the class assigned to my friends’ high school). The teacher that year told us that 4/5 of us were going to Hell, but that didn’t bother me so much when I had people I enjoyed being around to laugh about it with after class.
    Arwyn | Email | Homepage | 10.21.04 – 7:54 pm | #

    3. Time. 6:00 doesn’t work for everyone. I went because I felt I had an obligation — it was “right”, it’s “what good Mormon kids do”. Senior year, I came down with mono and couldn’t attend for months; I learned to enjoy sleeping in, and when I could pray/read scriptures/attend church without being up at 6:00, I didn’t see any point in going anymore. So I stopped, and started a program of home study. Getting up at 5:00 after staying up until 12 or 1:00 with the homework load of 3 AP classes, theater rehearsals, softball practice, and a baby brother to help take care of…it didn’t work for me.
    Arwyn | Email | Homepage | 10.21.04 – 7:55 pm | #

    And I know that with the schedules a lot of kids have these days, it doesn’t work for them, either. It’s probably less a matter of “I don’t want to get up and learn about God” as “God isn’t giving me an exam the day after tomorrow, doesn’t expect a paper due on Friday, doesn’t need me to drive little brother and sister to practice, and generally isn’t HERE and NOW like so many other responsibilities and opportunities are.”

    I appreciate the rhetoric about sacrifice and obedience, and about attending our meetings — though I’m hard-pressed to believe a comparison between sleepy, poorly-taught Seminary classes and the importance of the Sacrament. I appreciate that early morning Seminary can develop character, and strong will, and even teach us something — if we’re alive enough to learn, or show up nearly on time.
    Arwyn | Email | Homepage | 10.21.04 – 7:55 pm | #

    At the same time, I appreciate the fact that a lot of kids don’t see how important it is — or, like me, don’t see it as more important than health and sanity when there are other options open.

    Hope my experiences can be helpeful to you, Rusty. Good luck with your class!

    (PS — sorry for the multiple comments. Silly unregistered versions of HaloScan that don’t allow long, thoughtful posts without making you break it up!
    Arwyn | Email | Homepage | 10.21.04 – 7:55 pm | #

    Wow, everyone thank you for your responses. Also a big thanks to Gordon Smith over at T&S for discussing the issue there as well. There are many great insights that I hope I might be able to apply. If I had more time I’d respond to each of you but I hope that a “thanks” is enough. There will definitely be updates throughout the school year.

    Arwyn, I have finally paid the $12 whole dollars to Haloscan so that the comments can be longer. I’ve been meaning to do it for some time. Thanks for the heads up.
    Rusty | Email | Homepage | 10.21.04 – 9:00 pm | #

    Don’t worry. I wasn’t making a comparison between the importance of seminary with the importance of sacrament. Rather, it was a comparison of simply expecting to grow just as much as you do in seminary as you are for doing nothing.
    Bret | Email | Homepage | 10.22.04 – 12:21 am | #

    Did someone already mention the “Teaching, No Greater Call…A resource Guide for Gospel Teaching” Manual? This manual is awesome! It has so many wonderful things in it and is a great resource.
    I teach the Teacher Improvement Class in my ward and I’ve realized something kinda sad when it comes to church teachers: they all think they are good enough teachers that they don’t need this course. How sad and arrogent! I know we don’t get paid to be teachers here but shouldn’t we take advantage of opportunites when we can improve ourselves in any way?
    Sorry, just had to vent for a sec. Rusty, sounds like you’re doing a great job and you have a lot of good advice coming your way. Let me know if I can do anything to help.
    Angela | Email | Homepage | 10.31.04 – 12:28 am | #

    My testimony of seminary per se has become very weak. It can wear down kids with little return unless the teacher really teaches. Many times teachers seem to try to make seminary appealing by doing games and parties and breakfasts and fun movies instead of actually teaching – but why should kids lose sleep for fluff? Kids serious enough to go to EMS deserve knowledge and rich content. When there is real content and knowledge and inspiration, it’s well worth it, sleepy though they may be.
    Mormon Guy from Wisconsin | Email | Homepage | 10.31.04 – 10:26 am | #



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