As a Sunday School teacher to my oldest teen daughter, sometimes I stand a little braver teaching gospel messages laced with ulterior motherly motives.
For us, Book of Mormon stories often transition to appropriate conversations on everything from long-term college goals to strategies for staying virtuous.
Our last lesson on righteous Lachoneus being threatened by the evil Giddianhi, leader of the Gadianton robbers, turned quickly and unexpectedly into an analysis of what constitutes healthy teen relationships. The truths discovered by my students transcended our little classroom, so I hope you don’t mind if I share.
Between the years of Jesus Christ’s birth and his death, the Nephite people living on the other side of the planet were having their faith tested daily. It was only a few years before the resurrected Christ would come and minister to them and as a result, devilish opposition was thick and palpable.
Giddianhi had given in to the dark side, and his brazen letter to the Nephite leader threatening war and destruction recorded in the Book of Mormon (page 410) provides a plain and simple recipe for manipulation.
First, he flatters, then he belittles. He frightens, then he immediately sympathizes. In a strange twist, he tries to recruit, followed quickly by vicious threats. In the end, he completely lies about his motives.
One of my students joked that Giddianhi sounded a lot like his older brother and then another girl said he sounded like her ex-boyfriend. So we brainstormed two dating scenarios in which a boyfriend and then a girlfriend might use the same steps of manipulation to profess false love and conquer a weaker victim.
One student’s moral to the story: soak in the compliments from someone you like, but as soon as their nice words turn into belittling jabs … RUN!
Lachoneus’ reaction to the letter also provides a pattern for maintaining healthy teen relationships:
• He didn’t give in to fear.
Our take: Don’t let loneliness or the fear of not being asked to a school dance cause you to settle for someone who doesn’t treat you right.
• He prayed immediately and often.
Our take: Prayer is your best weapon when it comes to discovering inner strength and recognizing your potential.
• He gathered those he loved so they could be strong together.
Our take: Going to church, attending seminary and participating in youth activities during the week helps you gather with those who have the same values. You don’t have to be best friends with kids in your ward, but being together makes each one stronger.
• He gathered supplies and food storage.
Our take: Teens should get a part-time job and be self-reliant. If you have a few dollars in your pocket or a car of your own, you’re less likely to be needy and rely on manipulative people to take you places and create a social life for you.
• He built strongholds to protect families.
Our take: It’s easy to distance yourself from family when you’re a teen, but taking time to eat dinner together, to hang out with siblings or help mom with dishes, you're less likely to be dependant on a bad friendship or relationship. Also, if you can’t introduce someone you’re dating to your family, then he or she is not the right person for you.
• He sent out watchmen and set guards to protect.
Our take: Bishops, youth leaders and, yes, even Sunday School teachers are watchmen and guards to help protect the youth of the church. Investing in healthy relationships with the adult mentors in your life will help you have healthy relationships with other teens your age.
• He listened to prophecy.
Our take: Clear the calendar on the first weekend in October for general conference. Our latter-day prophets have messages for teens that will guide them through any trouble in their life, and it’s worth the time to listen to all sessions.
Special thanks to Sister Nancy W. Jensen and her blog. I often scan her suggestions when preparing my lessons, and she definitely influenced this one.