Sunday, October 07, 2012

The Age Change

In case you haven't heard the news a thousand times already, it was announced yesterday that Mormon men can now go on missions at age 18, and Mormon women can go at 19 (the previous ages were 19 and 21, respectively). I can't recall the last time some established practice of the church was so drastically changed, unless you count the time a few weeks ago when the church stated unequivocally that caffeinated pop is actually not forbidden.

So what does this mean? SO MUCH. Several countries have been sending out 18-year-old men on missions for a while now, but the global change will mean more boys going on their missions straight out of high school, and more girls going on missions, period.

(Peripheral question: What about people who, by design, held their youngish boys back from starting school at a certain age specifically in order to ensure they didn't qualify for a year of goof-off college before their missions?)

What I can't help thinking about is how this change would have affected my own life, way back when. And the answer is...I don't think it would have. I certainly would have been more likely to consider a mission seriously if I knew I could go at 19. But the truth is that I came to the realization that a mission wasn't for me right around age 18. Here's the simple test I used, aside from pondering and praying: I asked myself if I'd still want to serve a mission if my call were to somewhere like Wyoming. The answer was no - I really only wanted to serve if it was a foreign-speaking mission, overseas. So I went to Japan on a study abroad instead. It worked out well for me.

But for so many young women, right now, the idea of a mission probably just got REAL. And I'm so glad for that. Being allowed to serve a mission only at 21 sent the message (maybe not genuine, and maybe not intentionally) that a mission was something you could do, maybe, some day, especially if you were able to sacrifice to take a break from whatever else might be going on in your life. Now, the message is so much more encouraging. Graduate from high school and then go!

Any thoughts on why they made a point of lowering the age all around but made the girls' standard 19 instead of 18 like the boys? Edited because the FAQ here addresses that question...kind of. Apparently it just works better? Any other thoughts on why this might be the case? I'm sure it wasn't a decision they came to quickly or lightly, so there must be a reason.

And how might this policy change have affected your life, years ago?

31 comments:

Timothy Browning said...

Has the age for sisters and elders ever been the same?

Crys said...

Tim I don't think it has. So when I heard the announcement I had two thoughts. One being regardless of the fact that they said you could still go at nineteen if you want that there is a good chance more and more guys will just go at 18 and so instead of getting a full year of college before the mission I'll probably lose Captain E in the weeks after high school graduation. Frankly I don't know which will be harder. My second thought, they are making a move to increase the missionary numbers. I know a lot of girls who were either married by 21 or seriously thinking about it. At 19 you still have a lot around and I have a lot of married friends who wished they went on missions but had met their husbands by 21. I of course was like you. I didn't have any desire to knock doors in a place like Wyoming or Arizona or Georgia. I mean a whole host of places, mainly thanks to some social anxiety I suffer from. But that does make me think of the poor boys who are like me. Sometimes I wish there were a little more options on what men in our church could do because lets face it, not everyone is given a personality that lends itself well to that call. When I told Dr. J last night he said in specific reference to 18 year old boys, "Wait isn't that the opposite of raising the bar." :) I think he came to some realizations of his own feelings about religion a little later in life and wishes he had the opportunity to do it over again. Oh well. I was on By Common Consent during conference and there were some people who said maybe this will make us get married later but I actually think things will balance out. I mean instead of having a bunch of 18 years old together and a bunch of boys leaving at 19-21, you'll have a bunch of 18 year old girls in class with a bunch of 20 year old boys fresh home from missions. More like Ricks in the pre BYU Idaho days and I have noticed as a general trend that many of my Ricks friends got married at 18 and 19 while in my BYU group you and my roommate Whitney are the only teenage brides I know :) Not totally scientific but I think maybe it is a little to much to hope that this will raise marriage age. Maybe I won't send my daughters to BYU for freshman year :) And then on the mission you'll actually have a bunch of 18-19 year old boys hanging out with a bunch of 19-20 year old girls. I predict more people will have we met on our mission stories because it's a little more socially acceptable for nineteen year old girl and nineteen year old boys to like each other then it it is for 21 year old girls to go for nineteen year boys :) Anyway these are just some of the thoughts I've had. I'm excited for all the girls who will go earlier who always wanted to go on a mission. I'm curious to see how it will affect my own children. I'm interested to see if there are any unintended social changes within our culture :)

Timothy Browning said...

http://dialoguejournal.metapress.com/app/home/contribution.asp?referrer=parent&backto=issue,8,29;journal,36,38;linkingpublicationresults,1:113395,1

"In 1964 the First Presidency dropped the missionary service age for all women to 21 [after having dropped the age for men to 19] but reaffirmed the church’s belief in appropriate gender roles: “It is hoped that normal social opportunities leading to proper marriage will not be interrupted nor disturbed by such recommendations. Those young women who do not have reasonable marriage prospects but who are personable, qualified and worthy may be recommended.”"

Jen said...

One implication that I nearly overlooked happened in the press conference when it was specifically mentioned that MTC stays would be reduced to 1/3 the original amount of time---both foreign and native-speaking. They said this is going to transfer the burden of missionary preparation to FAMILIES in the years leading up to the mission.

...and now we see one of the reasons why "Preach My Gospel" has been pushed in so many aspects of our church life. (My own speculation, of course.) My mother commented that she wonders if "PMG" will be added to the seminary curriculum rotation....

I, personally, LOVE that there will be so many more women serving--and I think that's always a good thing. Whether we like it or not, there will always be a segment (large or small) that doesn't respond to the spiritual invitations of an 18 year-old boy. =)

That said, I do have a concern that, culturally-speaking, (especially in the intermountain west Mormon corridor) there will be those who pressure or judge those who do not leave right at 18. (Similar to how there is the social pressure now to go right at 19.) President Monson was explicit when he said that the lowered age was for those who are ready and left PLENTY of room for a later departure should someone need that extra time to prepare.

Jen said...

P.S. Ummm, and the implications of 20 year-old returned missionaries? When we got married, Joe was still 21, just 9 months home from his mission. The idea that there will be 20 year-old equivalents blows my mind!

Liz Johnson said...

I agree with everything you just said, and I know lots of people who have toyed with holding their boys back in school for the exact reason you mentioned. In fact, I've been debating whether to do this with Nathan, since he turns 5 just two weeks before the cut-off (and because EVERYBODY here "red-shirts" their boys, mostly for sports reasons). I figured not having a year to waste in college was one of the things on my "pro" list (although I'd often figured that I would rather send my kids on a gap year humanitarian project than just send them off to school right away).

I agree with you, too - I just wanted to go overseas, not necessarily on a mission. Once you pointed that out, I'm thinking it wouldn't have swayed my decision, either.

I'm really excited about all of the sister missionaries that this is inevitably going to produce. I already know three girls who are going to talk to the Bishop ASAP about putting in their papers. I think this inevitably has to change administrative duties within the mission (sisters as district and/or zone leaders, perhaps?), and I'm hopeful that it gives the mission president's wife more opportunities to serve in pastoral capabilities. I admit I even thought about how awesome it'll be that my daughter would essentially be able to go on a mission almost straight out of high school if she chooses. AWESOME.

Also, they changed it so that you can submit your papers 120 days before your 18th/19th birthday, instead of 90 days. I don't know if this is to deal with the insane amounts of applications they anticipate or what, but I found that change interesting as well.

عبد اللغة said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Steve said...

I'm not sure of all the implications this will have, but I do find the "explanation" of that difference (there is wisdom in maintaining age differences between young men and young women who are serving missions) rather condescending in paternalistic in tone.

If the concern is that young men and women will end up focused on the opposite sex instead of on their missions at hand, then bringing the age of both sexes into closer alignment does not address or improve that situation.

If, on the other hand, they had conducted studies that showed that for some (enumerated) reasons, younger men and slightly older young women fare better on their missions in terms of focus, homesickness, or other enumerated reasons, then I could be more supportive of their explanation.

All of which is not to say that I think that the new policy is a bad idea. In fact, it think it's awesome. I just don't like their explanations of the gender differences.

Myrna said...

A friend of a friend is the SL Tribune write who wrote this good piece about the change: http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/news/55035591-78/lds-age-church-women.html.csp and I love her quote from President Holland, "One miracle at a time"! This change feels miraculous to me. I am so excited for my BYU students, even though I wouldn't be surprised if a whole bunch of my student employees leave en masse on missions, and I will have to do a lot of hiring...

In response to Crystal: There are other options for boys who are not the knock-on-doors type...my son served at the LDS Motion Picture Studio, working on the New Testament project. Best thing that ever happened for him! Not your typical mission, but he really grew from the experience, and his work will affect potentially many more people than he would have even met serving a traditional mission.

Myrna said...

Also, if you haven't listened to the press conference, here is the link:
http://link.brightcove.com/services/player/bcpid802589739001?bckey=AQ~~,AAAAut5OBKE~,0d8kPD-tliabF_esIH3o0DBvuGFa76sc&bctid=1882497938001

karina said...

I did serve a mission at 21 (and 3/4), but I don't think I would have at 19. However, it would be so much better for school reasons to leave on a mission at 19. When I returned from my mission I had to take a graduate level course to finish my major and I had forgotten everything.

I also wonder about my poor little boy who misses the cut-off for school by two weeks. He'll turn 18 during the first month of his senior year. I wonder if he'll want to leave directly after high school - that just seems so young!

Bridget said...

I KNOW. The idea of a 20-year-old RM is so strange to me. I guess we'll get used to it.

Bridget said...

I would love to see sisters as District/Zone Leaders!

You know, even though I probably would not have served a mission, I feel like I would have thought about life different if it had at least been an option. You know, out there, hovering, as an idea of what to do after high school. Instead, it was almost like I wasn't going to even think about it until I was 20.5ish...by which time I was married, so.

Bridget said...

Steve, I think they are trying to say that they conducted studies that showed that missionaries fare better at these specific ages. But don't hold your breath for enumerated reasons, I guess.

Bridget said...

Interesting that you probably wouldn't have served at 19. It sounds like with these new guidelines, you would still have the option to serve at 21...or beyond.

I need Jeremy to chime in with his opinion, because he seems to be an outlier.

Scotty P said...

My concern is that this will change or possibly eliminate the 18-year-old freshman experience at BYU. I could see serving right out of high school becoming a norm for Mormon men. I would hate for Alex to miss out on the pre-mission BYU experience. My freshman year was the funnest/best of my life!

Jeremy Palmer said...

I am 100% certain I would not have gone at 18. In fact, if I had felt pressured to go at 18 I may well have never served later either.

The change is fine with me now, but it would have been terrible for me as a 17, 18 year old. And yes I am an outlier. I was not interested or ready to go at 18. However, I think kids these days are more prepared. I had no idea what a mission was like. My Dad wasn't LDS until after marriage so I didn't hear stories from him.

So kids in my situation would really benefit from getting to know what it is really like. Splits with missionaries and/or mini missions (happens in some countries). The lame LDS movies about missionaries may help kids realize what is really happening out there (or not). The net certainly could help kids understand more about missions.

So in the end, I was not prepared at all. I'm sure this was at least 50% because I just didn't care. But it is also because I don't feel that I was really taught about it. Several of my close church contacts as a youth had not served missions. I just didn't know about it or want to know. Kids need to know so they can make a better decision. Take your kids out of the bubble and let them see the good they could do then they will be better prepared. Go to a place where there aren't loads of LDS people and let your kids get involved in some community / church projects.

It seems to me like a year of schooling or some sort of education (formal or not) would be useful to many 18 year olds. In fact, I think the USA should require men and women to complete some sort of 12 month service and / or military and / or medical volunteer practicum. A mission for any church could count.

Jessie said...

It wouldn't have made a difference for me, as I never had a desire to serve a mission, but this is incredible news for the church as a whole and I can't wait to talk to my 16yo Sunday School students about it next week! What was once a vague possibility for my girls will now be a reality for at least a few of them, I'm sure.

Interesting, I came away from the press conference feeling like there is still an age divide between the genders strictly for chastity reasons (though it was never stated, I felt it was implied in the delivery). It didn't even occur to me, until reading these comments, that it might have had to do with anything else. I'm still inclined to think my gut reaction was correct, so while it was A HUGE AWESOME GIANT STEP FORWARD in increasing female visibility in the church, there was still a tiny little step back included. I'm focusing on the positive though :)

Sharalea said...

I also was not interested in opening a mission call to say...Wyoming which is why it took me a long time to finally make the leap to turn in those papers (after many confirmations that it was what I needed to do). I left on my mission at age 22 (ended up in Portugal)...was not quite ready at 21 & definitely not at 19. HOWEVER, with the new focus on family involvement (and no doubt new energy/focus with the youth) for missionary prep, had that been on my radar earlier, perhaps I would have been more wise with my time commitments/choices and my delving into gospel study. Maybe. Maybe not. The great thing is the leaders' consistent use of the word OPTION here for both Elders & Sisters. VERY exciting!

I think it is thrilling for both Elders & Sisters to be able to choose to go earlier--have less distractions in between school & serving, and come back with stronger conversions and ready to jump in wherever they land when they return home. I think the cultural (somewhat negative) idea of the "stereotypical Sister missionary" might change (which is awesome)...since many more will go, and not just because they're not in a relationship/headed toward marriage.

Also--as far as the age gap & concerns: One point I thought of was the serious age difference between myself & my companions (21 yr +) and the Elders (19 yrs)--which created an interesting feeling of "they're so young/we're so old"--which would be less blatant with the new age options. Another talking point is the possible changes in the ways the Elders & Sisters interact. Each mission President decides how this goes--for example, in my mission there HAD been some challenges with Elder-Sister relationships and so in the aftermath of that, we had very strict policies. No P-days with Elders, no extra chit-chat with Elders...we couldn't even walk on the same side of the street (say, if we were all walking to the same chapel for a meeting). Perhaps there would be more rules similar to these in effect to assist with any chastity concerns/issues.

I am excited for the changes and the many new missionaries who will be experiencing miracles and helping those searching to find the restored gospel. I can't imagine what it would feel like to be a 17 year old right now!!

Katie Lewis said...

Yes, I have been thinking about how it might have changed my life too. In some ways, I think I would have gone. In other ways, I'm so relieved it wasn't a decision I really had to make. Bryan and I got married at 21, so there. Both Bryan and my mom made the comment that, if that had been the case, Bryan and I could have been on missions at the same time! They were both more excited by this prospect than I was. While I'm sure, had I served a mission, I would have loved it, I also really benefited from my time spent at college without Bryan. It was during that time period that I made some of my very best, favorite friends in the whole world and some of my favorite non-Bryan college memories. Also, I think I really learned a lot about myself during that time that I might not have had the opportunity to learn on a mission. If nothing else, it gave me a chance to date other boys and learn that I really did prefer Bryan to the rest. Valuable lesson, I think.

As for your question about the maintained age difference, it's an interesting one and I hadn't really thought about it too much before. I guess there's the obvious assumption that inappropriate relationships might be more likely to develop if the boys and girls were the same age (HELLO BYU FRESHMAN), but I guess that's maybe just as likely to happen with the girls only being one year older (and wiser too).

Anyway, big news. Cool news. I'm excited about what this means for the youth, the church, and world at large.

P.S. I'm totally with you on Wyoming. No offense, Wyomingites.

Craig said...

I see this as a positive change. My initial reaction regarding my own experience was that it was very hard returning to BYU for my sophomore year and trying to pick up where I left off in math and science classes. But as I think more about it I recall that I didn't even decide to serve a mission until being influenced by others, including returned missionaries, as a freshman in my BYU dorm. And I agree with the comment above--my freshman year at BYU was seriously awesome.

I would hope 18 isn't the new "norm", and that those who wait until 19 aren't looked at askew.

Julia - Finding My Way Softly said...

Let me start out with: I did not go to BYU, I never wanted to go to BYU or a church school, and I thought a mission would be cool, but 21 seemed way to far off to have if impact my post high school plans.

I have been reading a lot about this on individual blogs as well as the larger group blogs of the Bloggernaccle. The only people worried about losing a great freshman year are students at church schools. There are lots of people who wish they had gone on a mission before tackling college at a non-church school, or who either "wasted," the year between graduation and mission, or got distracted by other parts of life and never went. I don't think that people who want a freshman year at BYU will lose the chance, as long as that is their focus, but I think that for a lot of people who BYU isn't what they want, or isn't an option, they will have more choices too. (Even church leaders remind us that church schools can only admit a small part of the LDS college student population.)

Mission romances, as negative things, has been mentioned a lot, usually with a "hormones keep the Spirit Away" theme. I see another side to some mission romances. For those who do not live in the same part if the country, or world, there will be the chance to meet and know other missionaries who would never have been part of your life at home or school. There may not be lots of those marriages, but I think that seeing the spiritual strengths, without the social sorting that happens with whether you can or want to go to a particular college or city, may give some couples a stronger spiritual (rather than social) basis for their marriages.

I think the biggest announcement wasn't the new missionary rules, although they will impact a lot of youth. The bigger announcement from General Conference is the new YM/YW curriculum that leaves behind the outdated and will focus on curriculum based in Preach My Gospel. Instead if waiting until someone decides they want to go on a mission, EVERY teenager in the church will have six years of training at church, that will extend into their homes and seminary lives. Even if there are no knew missionaries, there will be a much better educated and prepared group of youth graduating from YM and YW.

Liz Johnson said...

Amen re: the new YW/YM curriculum. As somebody who taught out of the old ones weekly for over three years (and will be holding a celebratory bonfire in December), I COULD NOT BE MORE THRILLED. These new manuals are so good that I could practically make out with them. Principle-based, gospel-based, and focused on the individual's spiritual development. I could not be more excited for our youth.

breanne said...

I did serve a mission, and I wanted to serve since I was a very young girl. I would have LOVED to have gone at 19. By the time I was 21, I had already lived in two different countries and learned two different languages (after high school). And I was almost done with college. I felt like the 19-year-old boys fresh out of high school were SO YOUNG. It irked me that I had report when I got home to a 19 year old boy. This will obviously be changed with the wider range of ages serving. (Although it would have been worse if I had to report to an 18 year old boy--I just mean if I had gone when I was 19 it might not have been such an obvious older-younger issue.) I served in Taiwan, where boys could go when they were 18 all the way to age 30 because of schooling and required military service. So we had 18 year old boys and 30 year old men serving as missionaries. It was great to have such a wide age range among the native elders.

Keeping the age difference is good for more than just chastity reasons, in my opinion. Sisters definitely serve a different role as missionaries. With an additional year after high school, even the youngest sisters will have a different (albeit only one year's worth of post-high school experience) perspective to offer to those they teach. And since no one has commented on the keeping sisters' missions at 18 months instead of 2 years, I have to say that I think it's a great idea. From my experience, sisters work extremely hard and have different bodies than 19 year old boys. After 18 months of biking (all over the country, it seemed, since sisters' areas were bigger than elders' in my mission), stretching their emotional capacity beyond its limits caring about and praying for their investigators, new members, and everyone in the ward, it seemed like, and working with their companions, their bodies just gave up. Mine certainly did, and I thought that 18 months was the perfect amont when I finished (despite wanting to serve 2 years like the elders when I started).

As for the shorter MTC service: I think this news is amazing. I was in the MTC for 3 MONTHS learning Chinese and it was a LONG time. For the new elders and sisters who have to be there for only 2 months instead of 3, I'm jealous.

Regarding all those who worried about younger missionaries not being prepared, I think this new impetus (as well as the curriculum changes) will help families, wards, and stakes work to prepare both young men and young women (whether they choose to serve or not) for missionary service with real, urgent deadlines. 19 and 21 seem so far away as a 17-18 year old, but if in the final year or two of high school they are working with their YM/YW leaders with the upcoming goal of serving a mission, I think it will really change the spiritual experience and preparedness of high schoolers.

Finally, I also had my issues with serving a mission in the states. For me, the real test was Montana. I asked myself, would I be ok with serving a mission in Montana? When I realized the answer was yes, I decided I could go anywhere. And then I got called to Taiwan (although, I have to say, I was relieved that it wasn't Montana!).

The only place I absolutely did not want to go was Temple Square...but mostly because my parents lived 20 minutes away and I didn't want to be that close. I had several friends who served on Temple Square and they loved it.

JosephJ said...

My comments are cultural only. Prepared missionaries at 18 or 19 or 20 or 21 are pretty much equivalent.

For me, the biggest factor would be sociological. Who wrote me as a missionary? Mostly BYU pals. My unfettered pre-missionary gallavanting led to that classic BYU freshman experience complete with late nights, pranks, and dates galore. My adoration for my wife was distilled over that two years of correspondence.

Had I not had that year, I'd be a Joseph still instead of a Joe. I would have come back a focused returned missionary (without grades that needed pulled up!) and without the social network that I had set up before I left. I experienced my mission alongside many of my BYU buddies, and we cross-talked about it via letters. Perhaps the freshman shenanigans would have not been so easily segregated from the later undergraduate studies, or maybe there would be more mission shenanigans?

Dunno. BUT: Bridget, I suspect your freshman experience would have still been drastically different even without YOU serving a mission, because had all your 18 y.o. male cronies been scattered abroad, your environment would have been immediately flooded with eligible bachelors instead!



Jennifer said...

Our stake was part of the pilot program in July, Aug, and Sept for the new YM/YW curriculum so I have been teaching from it for 3 months now and it is amazing! We have had some incredible lessons. I've had a hard time keeping my mouth shut about it because it is SO much better than the manuals!

dave said...

I completely agree with Jeremy's first paragraph, with the only modification being that I very much doubt I'd have gone at all if 18 had then been the norm (not being ready at 18, it would have seemed less and less imperative as I continued getting older and had already missed the expected date of departure anyway).

I also think Scotty's point is true for all freshman year experiences; that first year away from home teaches you a lot about yourself and is just a lot of fun that you'll never have another opportunity to experience. Once you return from your mission, all the cultural forces are geared toward being responsible, getting married, settling down, etc.

I believe 18 will now become the expected time to go (just like 19 became expected after the age was dropped from 20 a few decades ago), and I think that's too bad. I'll certainly recommend against it to Liam. They should have put both ages at 19 and allowed exceptions for 18-year olds in necessary cases.

Bridget said...

Oh, it makes me so sad to think that 18 could become the only age at which it's accepted to go. I think your last sentence is how it was before the change - boys could go at 18 with special permission. Maybe they got sick of having to go through the special permission process.

With hs graduation ages varying, I think the mission age for boys may stay largely at 19 anyway. I hope these new rules broaden the range of "acceptable" ages at which to serve a mission, not narrow them down.

Julia - Finding My Way Softly said...

I have heard a number of different home school families were going through the exception process, to the point where it was becoming burdensome, since there is a great deal more paperwork to be done.

I used a bunch of the comments here in my blog post today. You can go here if you want to see:
http://poetrysansonions.blogspot.com/2012/10/mormon-moment-series-part-seven-come.html

dave said...

I hope the same, Bridget, but I fear over time it will start to be seen as unusual, and therefore eventually culturally unacceptable, for Mormon boys to attend a year of college before leaving (unless they graduate unusually young - e.g., 17).

Suzanne Bubnash said...

At the press conference it was made clear that 18 is not to be the new norm. Families should not be bragging and judging others because their son is ready at 18. And I agree with those who laud that unique first year of college right out of high school. That said, Orson Card once wrote an article saying that for a number of young men, the age 18 freshman year away at college is a bomb, academically speaking, and that working for a year, then serving a mission, then starting college is a recipe for greater success for many. Well now a mission could replace that year of employment, and hopefully those young men would do well their freshman year afterwards.

It may take a few years to be effective, but the switch in the youth curriculum will be the key to youth being prepared to serve at younger ages. I see it as inspired and exciting, and we must refrain from analyzing the changes to death. Obviously the leadership of the church has done the studying and analysis to determine how to bring the gospel to a greater number of God's children, and effectively preparing the youth and giving them the prime responsibility is the answer.

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