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Encouraging Modesty Through Healthy Interaction

Here’s my plan:

  • Replace Stake Dances with game nights and talent shows (and other worthwhile activities)
  • Combined YM/YW monthly activity = service, always. Real service outside of the church unit and in the community.

If we can get our youth interacting on deeper levels than who is successful at getting past the “dark corridor” police at dances and who has the best dress/makeup and danced the most, we might have a shot at them choosing to socialize rather than explore how far they can go in a physical relationship and still be safe. The pressure for girls to attract is great, and often overwhelming. It can deliver a crushing blow to fragile self esteems.

Our Stake recently had a “Beacon” activity for those 12-14. The goal was to “prepare the Deacons and Beehives (Beacons) for their first Stake Dance.” The 12 year old boys responded, “Yuck!” At least the ones in our branch. They also expressed concern that they won’t be accepted in the group as a whole (meaning Stake youth they only see at Stake Dances) if they are not interested in dancing. 

Two of those same boys have a LEGO Club, with girl members. They also have a few girl friends through our homeschool co-op and Concordia University classes. They have nothing against girls. They rather enjoy their company and can easily switch between playing cops and robbers to kickball or talking about current events and books they are reading. They don’t want to dance with girls and they don’t want to delve into the “dating” world where they have to ask them out (to dance) and single one girl out for another one. They enjoy being together in a group setting. It feels safe and comfortable.

We don’t need to teach our young adults how to talk to each other and get along. We need to provide activities where that is a natural result. Like game nights, service, talent shows, and yes, even the dreaded Road Show. Our Stake revived that last concept a couple years back and it was a tremendous amount of fun for the whole family. A superb way of interacting amongst one another with a common purpose that was also entertaining. Clean entertainment. It disappeared after just one go, not sure why. It was fabulous.

If the activities we provide our youth are geared towards attracting and attraction then that will be the focus. We don’t need to encourage that sort of thing. It’s a natural phenomenon built into life itself. They will find the attraction, they don’t need help.

What they do need help with is civil communication, healthy and mature interaction, appropriate compromise, respectful actions and dialogue, working together, and building a life actually centered on Christ rather than superficially and precariously balanced on Him. The youth of the church are great. They just need opportunities to be great among one another. Focusing on Christ and service would provide this profoundly better than Stake Dances and weekly activities centered around, screens, entertainment, and the latest social and cultural trends.

I know churches with youth activities such as

  • playing games at a local nursing home/care center
  • weekly bible study (actual serious study) followed by a potluck dinner
  • formal dinners with an etiquette lesson beforehand
  • providing care for at risk and homeless youth in the area after school, reading and playing games with them.
  • singing (no matter the “talent level”) at local nursing home and care centers
  • and many more worthwhile endeavors

Even when they get together with other like minded church groups (similar to our Stakes) their activities are service oriented; weekend service/mission trips, etc. The fun element is getting to know one another through actively serving others. Lives have been changed dramatically when the self-centered youth is challenged in real and engaging ways to work hard and see things from another perspective, outside the “entertain me” mode often prevalent in our society.

Stake Dances are overrated and, although not torture for all involved, they are a parade of sorts with a competitive element that does not provide the best benefit to our youth. Focusing on healthy and purposeful interactions between genders will fix the “modesty” issue. In my opinion of course!

{ 10 comments… add one }

  • Joni December 13, 2013, 10:31 am

    I don’t know that I would get rid of stake dances altogether. There is definitely some value to it. Kids that age are going to be going to school dances too that probably don’t begin and end with prayer or have as high standards on music choices, etc.

    I’d hav loved to be a fly on the wall for that class given to the ‘Beacons’! There are so many things I wish I could go back and say to my former self and to the boys who largely ignored me at stake dances. Hey boys – if a girl asks you to dance, it doesn’t mean you have to marry her, but at least CONSIDER making eye contact!

  • Amy Lockhart December 13, 2013, 11:15 am

    Thanks for adding your thoughts!
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  • Angie Gardner December 13, 2013, 2:03 pm

    It seems to me that stake dances have changed so much since I was a youth. For me, they were a major part of our culture. During the summer, we had them every week. They were so simple – same DJ with same few lights, but all of our friends were there and we had a blast. They weren’t as frequent during the winter (probably because our stake included some outlying towns that involved mountain passes and such). Anyway, I have such fond memories of them.

    When I go to dances now they are so different. Much less interaction with each other. Lots of line dancing (fun but not very interactive) and group dancing (same). On all the fast songs (which most of them are) all the kids just stand in the middle and jump up and down. For reals! And the slow dances most everyone just stands around except for the few who are already coupled and the 14-year-old boys whose dads promised them $10 if they asked 5 girls to dance. :)

    At my daughter’s first stake dance, she was asked to dance once (BTW, most of our dances are multi-stake and for some reason the boys don’t like to ask the girls they already know…so this boy who asked her was someone from another stake). She hated it and said she wasn’t going again. Since then, she likes to go because she “likes” someone in our ward and they will dance together. While I like that she is dancing, I wish she would dance with more than just him, but when she tells him to go ask someone else, she doesn’t get asked. (She could ask boys, but she’s too shy).

    Anyway, I really wish we could make some changes to them to make them more fun and interactive but the kids just don’t see him to be that into them anymore. I think part of the problem is that there is so little appropriate music. What is funny is that a lot of what they play is what they played in the 80s when I was going to stake dances!

    I have thought a lot about more meaningful activities for our youth. I think our ward does a pretty good job of balancing the fun with the spiritual with the serving with the learning. Our girls have learned basic sewing, cooking, scrapbooking, crafting, dancing, singing, song-leading, study skills, career exploration, sports, etc. This week the YM and YW delivered Christmas baskets to some who don’t get out much. They sang carols at their doors and left their goodies and by the posts I saw on Facebook about it, I would say that was very successful and fun for both the kids and those on the receiving end.

    Road shows!! Yes! I haven’t been a part of one since 1988. That is so sad! This too was a cultural tradition that has largely disappeared and I think it was such a great way to get everyone involved – from acting, singing, lighting, sound, making programs, props, etc. A few years back when I was in stake YW we tried to get road shows going again and almost no one was interested. We just had a lady in our ward called as stake music director who has a background in musical theater and mentioned to me that she would like to get either road shows or a stake production of some sort going again. I sure hope she succeeds in it. Again, some really fun memories there.

    Anyway, I don’t know how anything I just has to do with modesty, but thanks for letting me reminisce! :)

  • Amy Lockhart December 13, 2013, 5:34 pm

    Thanks for the trip down memory lane Angie :)

    “When I go to dances now they are so different. Much less interaction with each other.”

    For me this is the key. I see modesty as something that encompasses a great deal more than what a person wears, but unfortunately the focus on the superficial in “attracting” someone seems to rule activities such as dances. I think there is a much better chance of getting to know someone, not just lust after them, if you are engaged in meaningful activities that include working together and bringing out more of yourself than a snazzy new dress/outfit and a fabulous hairdo.

    Not that there is anything wrong with wanting to look nice, but the “nice” is different if you are about to clean up a local park or get your game on in a heated battle of Pictionary.

    I guess I just see a lot of room for improvement in the ways we teach our youth to value and interact with one another; more specifically the larger groups of youth, hence the targeting of Stake dances. For many of our youth the only chance they have to associate with a broader selection of other members of the church is through Stake activities. When that is a youth conference once a year with a few Stake dances peppered in, it seems awfully meaningless and a waste of time.

    Of course I only speak from my experience, but we have lived quite a few places and I have seen this problem of outer attraction and lack of meaningful and healthy interaction in every Stake we have been in.

    Certainly you are not going to see outer beauty done away with or ignored completely, but the idea that we can teach our youth to value the person is paramount to their ability to see past hemlines, tightness meters, waistlines, the latest trends, and so on, to the soul. Being in love with the soul is what gets you through life.

    I can’t get this to post with the link I added so I’ll try another comment.
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  • Amy Lockhart December 13, 2013, 5:37 pm

    I suppose my own experiences play a large role in how I see things. My comment on the following post sheds some light on that

    Well it’s not working so if you are curious you can search for the post titled That’s What Makes You Beautiful by Alison and scroll down to my comment.
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  • Michelle Ann December 13, 2013, 7:27 pm

    I like the idea of increased activities that have the YW and YM working together, I don’t think that going to nursing homes all the time would create the environment allowing them to become comfortable with each other.

    I also worry that cutting out dances completely would perpetuate the “Peter Pan” problem we already suffer from where grown men “hang out” with groups of women rather than formally asking them out.

    A good solution might be to have activities where youth leaders teach the YM/YW how to ask each other out and start conversations while dancing or in other possible non-plutonic situations. They might also use dance cards at the stake dances. This takes the pressure off of the young men but still allows for healthy social development.

    These are simple tips that youth programs can put in to practice but I think the real problem is that parents are leaving too much for Church and school leaders to do. Mothers need to culture healthy and open relationships with their sons as fathers need to do the same with their daughters.

  • Amy Lockhart December 14, 2013, 10:11 am

    Michelle Ann: “I think the real problem is that parents are leaving too much for Church and school leaders to do.”

    Amen.

    As one who feels a complete overhaul is needed in the interactions between our youth, I don’t see the point in trying to fix dances. I personally feel that the skills of asking out and dating prep could be taught in a better way than through dances. And no, it wouldn’t be nursing homes every time, but a variety of wholesome activities where the point was not focus on self, but focus on service and others.

    We live in a world largely lacking in substance and hyper-focused on entertainment. Seeing a person you are attracted to speaking kindly to an elderly person while playing cards with them, reading a child a book, or desperately trying not to fall down during a three legged race, are far better ways to access compatibility than the lust that is easily encouraged through dancing and choosing people based on outward posturing and appearance.

    But I see your points and you offer some ideas that could certainly improve things. Thanks for adding your input.

    A friend of mine is a favorite of the youth. They love when he talks about his dating experience after his mission. He begins (with new groups) by asking for guesses on how many dates he went on to find “the one”. Replies are always fairly low and then he hits them with, over 100! He basically created his own form of speed dating and got the job done.

    Always the gentleman he made sure to treat whomever he was with to a nice dinner full of conversation. Pointed conversation. He had a list of qualities that he determined important in a wife to being able to seek the Lord and build His kingdom. His mission was to find someone that was compatible in the important things and then work on the rest. It obviously wouldn’t work for everyone, but it was definitely productive and when he speaks you can see how excited the youth are about a simple and effective way to determine if you should get emotionally involved/invested in someone you are initially attracted to.

    Dances just don’t seem to be a very good way to encourage our youth to focus on the person. And again, a whole approach to modesty comes when you feel your value comes from within rather than how many dances you had and with whom. Remove the competition aspect and suddenly the character of a person is what is seen.

    As to my suggestion of game nights instead and the automatic competition involved. It’s completely different when you are competing to win a game as an individual or a team than when you feel your outer beauty and ability to lure with clothing or the lack thereof are the winning factors.
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  • New Iconoclast January 21, 2014, 3:03 pm

    I’d be OK with stake dances if the kids were actually taught how to dance. At a youth conference back in the mid-00s, my wife and kids and I taught a bunch of YM/YW how to do a Virginia reel. There are rules, no pressure to simulate coitus on the dance floor, and you don’t have to have a specific partner – you cycle through all of the members of the opposite sex in the set. They had a blast, and in many ways, dancing with rules relieves the pressure to figure out what to do on the dance floor.

    Too often these days, kids see dancing at school (at least this happens outside Happy Valley) which belongs in a strip club, and they don’t know anything else. Then we get the conflict between chaperones and leaders who attempt to lay down standards and those who are too timid to do so. My kids and some of their Church friends somewhere, somehow (not from me) learned the basics of swing dance, and they became stars of the show and ended up teaching a lot of other kids how to do it, too. The kids all had fun and no one had to check to see if they could fit a BoM between their chests.

    A few basic dance lessons and a little structure would go a long way. I’d bet the kids would even be relieved.
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  • Alison Moore Smith March 1, 2014, 12:33 pm

    I love your ideas, Amy. (Late to the party. Just digging out from the wedding and taxes!)

    I’m not sure it’s a solution to modesty, per se, but I love the idea of DOING non-romantic things with mixed genders. (Actually, I think that’s a great idea for any age, in addition to those who are GETTING romantic and moving toward a serious relationship to see if they actually LIKE doing normal things together.

    …and the 14-year-old boys whose dads promised them $10 if they asked 5 girls to dance.

    My oldest boy turns 14 in June. I am TOTALLY doing this with him!
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  • Marjanna Hulet March 4, 2014, 4:34 pm

    My kids, as they reached stake dance age, went a few times then refused to go anymore. So, my husband and I went as chaperones and were dumbstruck. These dances look NOTHING like the dances we expected.

    #1) Almost nobody dances on most songs. If it ain’t a line dance, nobody is on the floor. For the line dances–the place was packed. (I was texting my BYU son during the dance asking what they heck was up with these kids! He said they don’t know how to dance, so unless the song tells them specifically what to do, they won’t go on the floor.)
    #2) Most of those who were dancing, were dancing in same gender groups, i.e. a small group of girls who wanted to dance but weren’t asked so they just went out to dance by themselves. So, that I sort of got, but I was totally baffled by the group of YM standing together showing off their dance moves to each other. The lines dances packed the floor, by the way, BECAUSE they weren’t “couple” dances. Just huge numbers of kids all doing the same moves. It was bizarre.

    #3) Those who weren’t dancing were actually all standing together on the “dance floor”. There wasn’t really a “place” to dance. One perplexed young man asked a YW standing near us to dance and they just stood there on the sidelines and danced, since the dance floor was taken up by huge groups of people talking.

    #4) When there was a girl ask guy dance, the floor WAS packed with couples dancing. And when they did a snowball dance, where they start with one couple, who then splits up and each asks someone, the floor filled up as well.

    I could go on and on about other weird, inappropriate, odd behavior (a young man, lying flat in the middle of the dance floor, pretending to be asleep. My husband finally told him to get up, since he was surrounded by young women wearing skirts. The boy blushed 4 shades of red, obviously not having thought of that.)

    What struck us the most is that these kids were totally clueless about the social norms of dancing. And I thought–but where on earth would they get such training? Wards don’t have Gold and Green balls anymore, they’ve probably never gone to a daddy-daughter dance, and the dances at the high schools are hugely, tragically different from these social dances.

    I now have a 16 year old daughter who is discovering that boys don’t date much either. The local high school actually canceled the February sweetheart ball because they didn’t sell very many tickets, because no one planned to go. One local ward actually made dating a YM activity: Boys–ask a girl out. We will have the activity here, but YOU ask her out, arrange a time, pick her up, and take her home. My son at BYU reported the same sort of thing: that they were counseled that they SHOULD be asking girls out before they left on their mission. As one BYU leader said, “How are you going to ask someone to join the Church if you can’t ask a girl on a date?” Sadly, many boys declined, hiding behind the “no serious dating” counsel that they now interpreted as “no dating at all.”

    I am at a loss as to what to do about all this. It is dismaying and, frankly, a sign of the damage we have done to our boys in this culture. The girls WANT boys to ask them out, they WANT to dress up and do fun activities, they WANT the boy to take the lead, but the boys are terrified, clueless, reluctant, uninterested, and unmotivated to do so. And believe me, I love these boys. I know them and love them. And some of them DO date. But the vast majority? Not so much. They certainly don’t know proper dance behavior.

    I would not have believed something as simple as a stake dance could have gone so bizarrely wrong unless I had seen it with my own eyes.

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