Today I'm joined by Dave Johnston, a business owner, seminary teacher, and author who uses his blog, Dear Bro Jo, to answer questions from teenagers all over the world about relationships and living the gospel of Jesus Christ. Dave, thank you for taking time out of your schedule to chat with me today.
You have a great way of reaching out and connecting with teens. Is that something that came naturally to you, or was it developed over a period of practice and experience?
Sister Jo says that it comes naturally, but I've had a lot of practice, too! The key, I think, is realizing that no one likes to be talked down to, regardless of their age. Younger people are younger, but they're still people.
How did you come to settle in on the topic of dating and relationship advice? What drew you to fill this particular need?
I've worked with LDS Youth and Young Single Adults in several different callings and capacities. After one Family Home Evening Group (where our family played host to members of the local institute ward) Sister Jo pointed out to me that after each of these evenings, I often spent hours talking to the Young Single Adults, answering questions and giving encouragement, especially (as she put it) in "matters of l'amour!"
As I reflected on what she said, I was reminded of something one of my former seminary students had said about how adults in the Church had become so paranoid about youth becoming un-temple worthy that we leaders had swung the pendulum too far the other direction; rather than answer their questions and teach them how to date and romance each other in a way that is pleasing to God, we freaked them out to the point where they were either too afraid to date or went out and made huge mistakes.
He was speaking in very general terms, of course, (he's now married and has children, by the way), but his point was very valid.
I thought that I could perhaps become that favorite uncle, the one that jokes around with you but doesn't belittle you; that loves you enough to tell it to you straight. So here I am.
You receive letters from youth everywhere, and you answer them on your blog. In one of your responses, you said that nothing scares you more than the idea of a young girl who doesn't know her worth. Why do you feel that way?
Everywhere is right! (It's a little intimidating.)
Satan has certain very effective tools that he uses to entice us to to bad things and make us feel as though repentance is out of reach once we have. One of the most powerful is the way he works on our self-esteem, and that can be particularly damaging for a young woman. For years the world has taught women that their value comes from (or is at least confirmed by) the men in their lives, and that having a boyfriend (or fiancée or husband) is proof that a girl is beautiful and valuable. Dangerous men (and boys) take advantage of that, using it to get women (and girls) to do things, wear things, and go places they shouldn't.
But if women can realize that: A) no man will love a woman he doesn't respect, and that you can't respect someone who has no self-respect, B) men do not equate love and sex, and C) her value comes from God, not men, and that simply being His daughter gives her Divine Nature and Individual Worth . . . well, that cures an awful lot.
How much time in an average week do you spend reading and answering your letters from youth?
I'm blessed to receive lots of emails. Each is very important to me, and I try to answer them as quickly as I can, but it does take quite a bit of time. Sometimes that's a quantity issue, sometimes I just need time to sincerely ponder what the person is asking. I appreciate every letter. What many people may not know is that, while I answer all of the emails I get, many of them are never published. Some times that's because of timing or topic (for example: one week I had 20 letters from young people all about the same age asking pretty much the same question), and sometimes that's because of the personal or graphic nature of what the writer is dealing with. Not counting time for prayer and conversations with Sister Jo when I need help, just counting the reading and writing, it averages several hours a day.
What do you consider to be the three biggest problems facing our youth today, and what do you suggest we as parents can do to help prepare our children to face them or to avoid them?
The three biggest problems, as I see it, are: 1) not knowing what it feels like to feel the Spirit, 2) feeling alone, and 3) the proliferation of pornography.
What parents can do is:
Share their testimonies. Not in a formal or stuffy way, or in a corny "Happy Valley" everything is dancing trees and singing flowers nothing every bothers us kind of way, but find those sincere moments when you can talk to your child, one-on-one, and simply say "hey, you know, if there's one thing I want most in life it's to spend eternity with you in the Celestial Kingdom; that's going to be pretty cool". And when Spiritual moments happen, point them out.
Seek out the lonely; your kids, other people's kids, or anyone really, and teach them that because of the Savior's love and Sacrifice, and because of the gift of the Spirit, none of is ever really alone.
Put the computer in a public place, limit it's use to when you're home, speak up about the topic to your children (not in a lecture, but let them know CASUALLY how you feel), and SET THE EXAMPLE - no porn includes adults, and it also includes R-rated movies, lots of PG-13 movies, 50% of what's on television (everything on MTV), and music. Don't freak out, don't teach your kids that liking sexy stuff is bad (it's just that it's appropriate in marriage - not that married people can watch porn, but that it's wonderful to be intimate with someone you're sealed to for time and all eternity), but walk the walk and talk the talk. If your kids shouldn't watch it, and you wouldn't watch it with your grandmother, you shouldn't be watching it at all.
Do the stuff you're supposed to do, the whole family: read scriptures together, pray together, go to your church meetings together, and spend time together.
Don't make excuses or exceptions for your family. Keeping the Sabath Day holy doesn't mean "except when the game is on" or "unless we're all really tired". Kids have radar for insincerity, and they never forget.
Never confess your sins to your children and never forget that you're the parent, not the peer.
If you struggle with or forget any of the above, go back and read the Proclaimation on the Family.
You don't have to be perfect, and you should keep certain things to yourself. It's okay to appologize, acceptable to say "no", and required that they always know that your love for them is like Heavenly Father's for all of his children: eternal and unconditional.
I feel very blessed in getting this advice - I have a teenage daughter, a son who was just ordained a deacon, and two more moving along in the ranks behind them, and I'm eager and anxious to do whatever I can to send them into the world armed and ready to fight the battles they will face. Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us today, Bro Jo.