Again, we have had issues brought to light about how people abuse their power to satisfy their desires and cravings. The #metoo campaign has definitely got us all talking, and I believe that is a good thing.
However, I think one of the problems it highlights is how we are teaching modesty and its purpose to our children. I read an article, written by someone who was raised in an orthodox Jewish tradition, that was highly critical of the way she was taught modesty as a child. From her perspective, she was being told that because she was a sexual being and boys couldn’t control their thoughts, she had to be very careful how she dressed and behaved so that she wouldn’t distract the boys from their worship and cause unholy thoughts in their minds.
From previous readings on the internet and discussions with women in the church, I know this is the message that has sometimes been taught in Latter-day Saint Young Women’s lessons. Sadly, this kind of thinking sets young women up for codependency, because the subtle message is that you (or I), as a woman, control the thoughts and behaviors of others. Not good, and not true. It’s also harmful to our young men, as it teaches them that they have no control over certain thoughts, attitudes, and desires — contrary to what the gospel teachers.
In an effort to “fix” the problem, I have seen people begin to adopt and teach attitudes like:
Perhaps we are getting a little closer, but this still feels like we are missing the mark. It’s too easy to marginalize girls and women who don’t feel like they measure up and so can never be “classy,” and it leans a little too much to the idea of self-deprecation — a sense that I can never let anyone know how good I am at something.
The gospel teaches, time and time again, that we each have a responsibility for what we choose to think and do and how we choose to see and treat others. I believe that it is only in this light that we can properly understand modesty.
First of all, we have to be aware that Satan’s lies are everywhere. They can take the form of scantily clad, good-looking women whose roles in movies are to be there to support their handsome and strong hero. We can even find sexuality being used to sell everything from tennis shoes to breakfast cereal. As gently as we can, we need to help our children understand that Satan wants us to stop thinking of other people as children of Heavenly Father and our eternal brothers and sisters, and he wants us to see them as just objects to be used to get what we want. Satan wants us to forget that we have a divine mission, and part of that mission is growing strong by overcoming opposition. He wants us to forget that our bodies are one of the greatest gifts that we receive from Heavenly Father in mortality, and he wants us to believe that our bodies are our own to do with and to satisfy however we desire.
Then, we need to teach our children the good news: the gospel of Jesus Christ has everything we need to live in this world without becoming of this world. We can be bombarded with the messages out in the world, but they don’t have to have a permanent effect on us. We can create homes that are sanctuaries of peace.
- Teach our children that they can have a personal relationship with Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost. Through our words and our example, we can show our children that these relationships are the most precious things we have and that we crave our personal time with diety. We can make scripture study and prayer, whether personal or family, positive by the way we talk about it and approach it. Our attitudes will “wear off” on our children and they will seek spiritual things.
- Teach our children that we are here to gain mastery over our bodies. Unlike some religious traditions, we believe that our bodies are good and that receiving bodies is an important step in our eternal progression. Of course, just like planting seeds and never tending the garden, we will not get all we can out of this precious gift unless we learn to use our bodies as the Lord directs. He has given us instructions for caring for our bodies, feeding our bodies, and how we use our bodies. That means that God has given us the ability to have sex as a gift, but we can only get the best parts of that gift if we have sex under the conditions the Lord has set. Just as using a knife in ways it was not intended damages the knife, using our bodies to satisfy sexual desires in ways not intended damages our bodies and our spirits — it damages us. The Lord’s way is always the best way, even if it isn’t the easiest way!
- Teach our children that we are each responsible for how we think about ourselves and others. Sometimes, it is easy to believe that what someone else does, says, or wears is responsible for our thoughts, for example, “he makes me so angry”! While we may not always have a firm mastery of our initial reaction, we do have every bit of control over how we choose to perceive life, its events, and the actions of others. I have caught myself feeling irritated with drivers when I am out riding my bike. When I feel irritated, I have taught myself to think of other possibilities: maybe they were in a big hurry, maybe they didn’t realize they were driving so close, or maybe they didn’t know how to respond to sharing the road with a bicyclist. There have even been a few times I have discovered I was the one who was wrong! If we find ourselves seeing people as things to control, manipulate, or use for our benefit; obstacles to be overcome; or anything else that takes away our recognition of their divinity and humanity — we are the ones who are to blame and we have to repent and ask the Lord to teach us how to have new thoughts.
- Teach our children that we are responsible to be good examples, even though we can’t control what others think and do. In the New Testament, the Savior taught a parable about lighting a candle and hiding it under a basket. The light from the candle is our example of the joy and peace we receive from doing things the Lord’s way. We want that light to radiate out as far as it can reach so that others can benefit from what we have. Unfortunately, this is going to require us to be different from our friends and others who don’t have or don’t live by the light of the gospel. They may not even recognize the beauty of the light. They may laugh at us for wanting the light, or even act like we are being hypocrites when we try to share that light with them. We have to remember that even the Savior was called a servant of Satan by the true hypocrites of his day!
- Teach our children that they are not responsible when someone else sins. Sadly, no matter how well we teach, there will always be those who don’t get it, who don’t learn how to school their own feelings and thoughts, and who abuse and victimize others. This gets into sticky situations because once our children reach young adulthood, we often find multiple transgressions leading to the act of abuse. Victims become afraid to speak up because they are not completely innocent in all of their actions. For example, a young LDS woman goes out drinking and is sexually assaulted. I don’t have all of the answers for these cases, but the victim is never responsible for the crime. As a parent, I would teach my children that the best way is to avoid situations where things are more likely to get out of hand and to always live above reproach. However, it is still better to come forward and admit your own failings so that you can get appropriate help and support to overcome the crime that has been committed against you. Drinking does not mean that you were asking for or deserving of rape.
There are no easy solutions to modesty. As the world continues its worship of sex and sexuality, our resolve must become stronger and stronger — for we will have allies fall on every side and feel like we are standing alone. But, as with every command, ordinance, covenant, and counsel that we have been given, the Lord has given us modesty for our shield and protection and we will be blessed as we follow in obedience.
It’s your turn: how would you teach modesty (and chastity) so that it uplifts and empowers our children to be strong Latter-day Saints? Have you seen good examples of teaching that you would like to share? Comment below.