One of the challenges youth leaders face is teaching teens to look beyond present happiness to eternal joy, particularly if the teen doesn’t have help with this at home. Teens will often choose what will make them happy right now, and trust everything to somehow work out in the long run. Many young adults—indeed many older adults—don’t really believe things can go wrong for them. They choose an inappropriate friend, thinking they can have the popularity benefits and handle the risks, or they attend the wrong party and assure themselves they won’t be tempted to drink while there.
How can a youth leader have an impact on this inability to see and believe in eternal consequences? Leaders must repeatedly tell the teens they oversee that choices have consequences and they can’t choose those consequences, nor can they choose who will be affected by their choices. Offer teens examples of a decision and let them practice figuring out the consequences. For instance, Martha drops out of high school to pursue a modeling career after being offered a small full-time modeling job. She presumes this will lead to greater things and she will become so famous she will never need a high school diploma. She can’t picture any other alternative. Ask your teens to list what could happen instead—and what will probably happen. Who is immediately hurt by this choice? Who could be hurt far in the future? If she doesn’t have what it takes to become a successful model and finds herself someday a single parent, what will happen to her children? Do they get to choose to grow up in poverty because of the choice she made at sixteen or did she choose for them that day in her teen years?
Ask them to envision a young girl named Marie. Post a picture of a teen to represent her. Marie lives where there are few LDS boys, so throughout high school, she often dates non-LDS boys. When she graduates, she continues to do so because she’s established a comfort zone. She assures her parents she is just having fun and will never marry anyone outside the temple. What is likely to happen? Put up a picture of a young man, give him a name, perhaps Todd, and explain he isn’t a member. He’s wonderful, but not LDS and Marie unexpectedly falls in love. But she won’t marry him. She will just enjoy being in love. What is likely to happen? Continue the story until she is married and has children. There are choices here. Some choices are out of her control, such as whether or not her husband will convert. If he doesn’t, the choices are then Marie’s. Marie might leave the church to keep peace and to ease her feelings of guilt over marrying outside the church—if there is no eternal marriage, she needn’t feel guilty. Even if she stays active, it will be harder for her children to be strong members of the church. What might happen?
Emphasize to the teens, as you work through various situations, that getting out of a small but bad decision is very hard, harder than it seems when you’re an optimistic teenager. Each decision tends to lead to other, harder choices. The time to make choices is before you find yourself in the situation. It’s easier to choose when your emotions aren’t involved and the consequences don’t yet exist. Teens need a great deal of practice to learn how to see the possible long-term effects of their small, daily choices and to believe they do not have as much control over the consequences of their choices as they think they do. Once they open the door a crack, Satan can get a foot in and once his foot is in, he can enter and even move in. Train your teens to look ahead. Choices have consequences.
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