Growing up isn't always easy.
But the transition from childhood to young womanhood can be a little easier with the help of good Church leaders and programs that build self-esteem and provide opportunities for growth."Transition is sometimes difficult, but good leadership and programs help pave the way from Primary to Young Women," said Ruth B. Wright, second counselor in the Primary General Presidency. "Caring leaders help keep girls close and give them confidence to move forward and not feel timid."
Ardeth G. Kapp, Young Women General President, added, "A period of transition can be a time of great growth if it is handled properly. It can be a time of insecurities and instability. The purpose of the Young Women program is to build on the foundation that is set in the Primary in such a way that the young women feel secure about a plan for progress that teaches skills and provides an opportunity for leadership."
Several programs in the Primary organization are designed to help the youth in their transition from Primary, including the Gospel in Action program and Achievement Days. Blazer A boys participate in Priesthood Preview, a program usually held in November to help them prepare to receive the priesthood.
The Gospel in Action program, for both boys and girls, provides the older Primary children an opportunity to set and achieve goals in living gospel principles. The girls earn a pendant and the boys earn a lapel pin for completing the program.
"The Gospel in Action really helps prepare the girls for Young Women and the Personal Progress program because it is goal-oriented," Sister Wright remarked. "This is a beautiful forerunner for Personal Progress."
Youth are encouraged to reach goals in personal, family, Church and community areas as well as repeat and explain the meaning of the 13 Articles of Faith to achieve the Gospel in Action Award.
Goals may include developing a personal talent and sharing it with someone, keeping a personal journal for at least three months, reading the scriptures daily for at least one month or planning and completing a service project.
Primary children are encouraged to earn the award's pendant or lapel pin early in their Merrie Miss A or Blazer A year and wear it as a reminder that they are taking gospel action in their lives, said Sister Betty Jo N. Jepsen, first counselor in the Primary General Presidency.
"It should be used as a reminder to continue living gospel standards, not as an award for doing so," she continued. "Earning it is just a beginning."
After they receive the award, they continue to set and reach more goals toward self-improvement.
"This helps them develop personally in all areas," Sister Wright added. "This is their first experience in goal-setting, the first time they've had accountability outside their family in living the gospel."
To complement the Gospel in Action program, which is an individual activity, Merrie Miss girls participate in Achievement Days, which are group activities. Blazer boys outside the United States and Canada who do not have a Scouting program in their area also participate in Achievement Days.
"Achievement Days support their developmental stages and give them an opportunity to apply the gospel in everyday living with their peers," Sister Jepsen said. "These two programs really support one another."
Achievement Days are held during the week, usually twice a month, in addition to Sunday Primary. The program is designed to help the youth increase bonds of friendship, learn skills and participate in service activities.
Children select their own activities in an achievement area and choose a student chairman to oversee the group activity.
The 12 achievement areas include hospitality, arts and crafts, sports and physical fitness, health and personal grooming, outdoor fun, service and citizenship, family skills, safety and emergency preparedness, spirituality, family history, personal preparedness, and education and scholarship.
Participating in the hospitality area, for example, might include planning and having a daddy-daughter party for which manners are taught and then used.
"The strength of Merrie Miss Achievement Days is that the girls can personalize what they want to do," Sister Wright said. "They have been given some general guidelines, so, for example, if they want to learn outdoor skills, then they can do this as a group."
Sister Jepsen added, "If we put these things in the life of the girls, it can really bolster their self-esteem in the academic world, in spiritual development, and in their relationship with family and peers.
"This program gives them more opportunity for growth in a setting where they can see their potential. It's really an exciting program and when it works, it really works."
The girls should also be recognized for their achievements in each area at least quarterly, the Primary General Presidency added. Each stake should develop its own form of recognition, whether it be a certificate or banner.
Another opportunity for Achievement Days is that it reaches out to those who are not able to attend Primary on Sunday and is also an opportunity to bring friends to Church in a friendly informal setting, Sister Wright added.
"We feel like these programs provide a good transition for them when they learn to set goals, put the gospel in action, prepare themselves and participate in activities," she said.
Michaelene P. Grassli, Primary General President, said, "Today's world needs 10- and 11-year-old girls who know the purpose of life and who can, with courage and sincerity, stand and declare their determination to follow God. If I had the wish of my heart, I would hear all young girls in the Church say together with one voice, `I will follow God's plan for me.' We feel Achievement Days and Gospel in Action help girls find and follow God's plan for them."
New Beginnings, a Young Women program designed to welcome girls into the organization and to a new year, gives young women a chance to participate together as they look forward to plans for the coming year.
For girls moving from Primary into Young Women, New Beginnings provides them with a feeling of security and sisterhood within their ward and class, Sister Kapp commented.
"This gives a feeling of membership, a sense of belonging to a group of young women who share the same values and who are working on similar goals. In today's world, young women often feel a sense of loneliness and isolation.
"A sense of belonging is very important at this age. Peer influence can be very positive when it's organized within the structure of the Church and with advisers who understand the needs of young women and help them have experiences that teach them leadership skills and a sense of caring for one another."
As the girls come into Young Women - on their 12th birthday - they are introduced to the Personal Progress program, which teaches them how to make commitments and to live by those commitments, and to prepare to go to the temple.
"The Personal Progress program provides experiences in which young women can grow spiritually and discover feelings of self-worth and self-esteem," Sister Kapp noted.
"We're very anxious to have a smooth transition and build on the spiritual foundation that is carefully placed in the Primary ages. In Primary, children are taught gospel principles and given a basic foundation of the gospel that relate to prayer and scripture study.
"But when they become teenagers, they move into an environment where some of their basic principles and values are questioned or may not be modeled by their peers. They need a clear sense of their identity as daughters of God and need to develop a sense of their individual worth so feelings of worth are not peer dependent.
"It's important for them to be reinforced and supported by association with those who share the same values while they grow in their maturity and accept those values as a way of life for themselves," she concluded.