Skip to Navigation Skip to Main Content

Mary McAdams: Teenagers can be nudged to greatness

Beep, beep, beep. The dreaded alarm awakens high school senior Alex Martino at 5 in the morning.

Alex has awakened before the crack of dawn to attend an early morning Scripture study. She does this five days a week at 6 a.m., along with about 160 other high school teens in Denton, Aubrey, Decatur, Gainesville and other surrounding areas.

What motivates a teenager to spend the first hour of the day studying Scripture and Jesus Christ with their peers?

Some adults often speak of today’s teens as trouble-makers, lazy or self-absorbed. Yet, when stretched, we see that they are capable of greatness.

God made them full of energy and life — doers. When they are not challenged, they are more likely to stay on the sidelines and let life happen to them. Or, worse yet, spend their boredom by causing trouble in an effort to provide some meaning to their lives.

Yet when they are inspired by something bigger than themselves, they excel with a vigor and commitment that leads to greatness. By challenging the rising generation, we send a message to them that we have confidence in them — as is the case with this early morning Scripture study.

Many of the youths who attend this daily Bible study, called “early morning seminary” by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, do so because they believe their Savior cares about them, which motivates them to learn more about him, the author of grace and goodness in their lives.

When I asked Alex why she attends seminary, she explained, “Because Heavenly Father asks so little of us but yet he gave everything to us. I love getting up early and learning about the great, amazing Father he is. Going to seminary is very hard, but how could you not go when someone gave everything for you?”

Many teens regularly attend because, like Alex, they feel motivated by the Savior and are strengthened by his love. They want spiritual growth. By seeking to better understand he who gave them all, they gain confidence in his love and their capacity as his children.

Let us inspire and challenge the rising generation to greatness in other areas by following the example of how Christ leads and inspires us. Teenagers want to feel a sense of accomplishment and seek praise from their peers and the adults around them for those goodly accomplishments.

As parents, we need to let our children know that we believe in them and expose them to challenging tasks that awaken their talents and sense of purpose, just as Christ does for us when he says, “Come follow me.”

The opposite is to coddle and indulge them, as the popular term “helicopter parenting” speaks of. If we do everything for them, they will end up being more self-absorbed with a skewed sense of what the world thinks of them and much less happy throughout life as the world does not have the same coddling attitude toward them.

My father was a president of a university, and he said it was amazing to see how many freshmen leave during or after their first year because they are not prepared to leave the comfort of their homes. If we ask difficult things of teenagers now, they will be stretched and gain confidence to face life’s trials.

One of the top high school basketball recruits in the country, Jabari Parker, is a great example of how youth are capable of greatness. He somehow finds time to attend seminary each morning before school in Chicago (seminary is practiced around the world by teens who attend the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints), in addition to going to school, doing homework and practicing for hours each week.

Most Denton teenagers are not in the national spotlight like Jabari Parker. Like Alex, however, they are ready and able to achieve greatness through quiet acts of sacrifice and service.

Alex attends seminary at 6 each morning, earns good grades in school, and is involved in several extracurricular activities, such as HOSA-Future Health Professionals, choir and drama. She also plays the piano, gives horseback riding lessons, runs, baby-sits and holds a leadership position within her local youth group.

Whether it is 6 a.m. or 6 p.m., we may ask, what are our teenagers doing? Perhaps the greater question is what are we doing to challenge and inspire our youths in the way that Christ lovingly asks each of us to become all we are capable of being.

MARY McADAMS is assistant public affairs director for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the greater Denton area. Reach her at 214-455-6794 or .