Are Mormon teenagers around the world changing their plans?

Just an hour after Pres. Monson announced that Mormon men could start their missions at the age of 18 and Mormon women could start their missions at the age of 19, an 18-year-old young woman from our ward posted on Facebook saying that her entire life plan has changed.

It makes sense. If you are an 18-year-old young woman and you have to wait three years to go on a mission, you probably consider it far enough away that you can go to college and push away planning for your mission. But if the mission is less than a year away, everything changes.

I always found the one-year wait for young men rather awkward. They graduate from college and go to a semester or two of college, and then they go away for two years, and then they come back to the same college? Leaving at 18 seems to make much more sense to me.

The response of some Mormon feminists was very positive, and I was happy to see that. I agree 100 percent with theseresponses:

“I am overjoyed,” LDS writer and religion scholar Joanna Brooks said through tears. “This changes the narrative for young Mormon women in pretty fundamental ways. It uncouples church service from the expectation of marriage and motherhood and teaches young women they should take responsibility for knowing their faith.”

Brooks, author of The Book of Mormon Girl, said she would have gone on a mission at age 19.

“It will change the Young Women’s program for us,” Brooks, who serves in her San Diego LDS Young Women’s Presidency, said in a phone interview. “It says to all of us it’s time to serve shoulder to shoulder.”

Neylan McBaine, founder of the Mormon Women Project, said that the change symbolizes “equal opportunity to gain both cultural and spiritual educations, serve in our external communities, and put those experiences ahead of a rush to marriage.”

All in all, this decision seems a very wise one and very appropriate for the time in which we are living.

What are your reactions? Do you know teens who are changing their plans?

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About Geoff B.

Geoff B graduated from Stanford University (class of 1985) and worked in journalism for several years until about 1992, when he took up his second career in telecommunications sales. He has held many callings in the Church, but his favorite calling is father and husband. Geoff is active in martial arts and loves hiking and skiing. Geoff has five children and lives in Colorado.

11 thoughts on “Are Mormon teenagers around the world changing their plans?

  1. I’m highly doubtful that this is a feminist move–in the cunning of history, it may lead to younger average age of marriage for active Mormons–but any effects on those line are likely secondary. The primary thing here, I’m sure, is to push forward the work of spreading the good news of the gospel, which all actual Mormons should favor.

  2. It’s a major game-changer for women.

    There will be a noticeable uptick in the number of men serving, after the initial surge of 18 and 19 year-olds going out together, and coming back together.

    However, that uptick in men would, to my logic, be limited to the number of men between their 18th and 19th birthdays who would otherwise go inactive or have worthiness issues during that year. (Though those with worthiness issues could still resolve them and go later, I’m thinking there may be some who get discouraged by the issue and still don’t go.)

    I’m thinking that the “lost boys” who will now be “saved” by going at age 18 may be somewhere between 10 and 30%. (There is also the “logistical” factor, where for some it will be more convenient to serve at 18 instead of 19, but that is already done in other countries, and I don’t think it is a significant factor in the US, maybe a percentage point or two.)

    But for women, as the age has been lowered by TWO years instead of one, that gives ALL of them an opportunity to serve an 18 month mission before the former minimum of 21 is reached. At age 19, assuming their boyfriends are the same age, those boyfriends will be on missions, and they can still get married at 21 if they want.

    Therefore, I believe the increase in sister missionaries serving may be on the order of 100% to 200%, and theoretically even more.

    I think the unspoken reason for the lowering of the age for guys is to “save” those who would otherwise go inactive or get discouraged between age 18 and 19.

    But the fact that the age for sisters was NOT reduced by the same one year speaks volumes. THAT is going to have the bigger impact on the number of missionaries serving.

  3. I believe that there is a huge number of young women that are making immediate plans to go. My daughter is 18 and is starting the process to be ready to go at 19. 2 of her four roomates (freshmen) are planning to go in the near future. My husband mentioned that our daughter is planning to go to our Bishop at the Priesthood session Saturday night, and the Bishop told him three young people had already called and asked to meet with him about missions.

    The age change for young women makes a big difference not only for those who might not go if they find someone they want to marry, but also for any who might be afraid that if they go they will have reduced prospects for marriage after their return. Almost no young women want to get married at age 18 or 19.

  4. As a mother of a 13 year old boy and 15 year old girl I found the change for boys very simple and straightforward (my son will turn 19 the October after his senior year) and it actually simplifies things for him but only has him leave a couple months earlier. Great.

    The girl change is the most shocking and I am having a very hard time figuring out how to parent my daughter about this. Before, a mission was something she would choose once she had been at college making her own decisions for years. I fully expected HER to make the decision and understand all the pros and cons and how she feels about them. Not a decision for me.
    Now that she can go right after high school (she also has an October birthday) it means that she has to decide whether to go on a mission before she graduates from high school. Suddenly it is a decision that I have to help her figure out because I am her parent and her main source of information on life right now. Just like telling her how to prepare for college or why go to college. Kids aren’t born knowing about college and majors and careers and delayed gratification. Her future is something she and I discuss, she plans what classes to take in 9th grade based on what she might take in 10th or 12th and what college she hopes to go to (a smart 9th grader checks to see whether BYU will give her any credits for the IB classes she might take down the road). Now, not only to I have to help her find possible career paths and college majors, but I have to help her decide if she wants to go on a mission. She’s always been “maybe” about a mission and that was fine because it was so far in the future.
    Now it is part of the whole leaving home first step and so it needs thought and planning since both she and I are planners.
    Last night she was concerned because she has been saving for college (as an 8th grader last year she saved most of her money for college, and none on anything fun) and she wondered if she should start saving for a mission.
    So, I have to shirt to a new normal in how I discuss her future.
    Unfortunately, raising girls is already complicated. How do I advise a girl about careers who may or may not get married, who may or may not be a mother, who may leave the workforce for 20 years or not leave it at all, who may want to work part time or may want to work full time. How does a girl plan for a future that uncertain? Now, let’s throw in another uncertainty in there of the mission.
    So, I have had to spend some time today and over the weekend wrapping my mind around the new reality. (I should add that I also discovered this weekend that half of college graduates under 25 are unemployed or work a job that doesn’t need a degree so my previous reality that college is the best option is no longer a certainty–seriously, there are more people under 25 with engineering degrees working food service than in an engineering job).
    I want to help prepare my children for their world and their future, not prepare them for how things used to be……

  5. I like the idea of 18-year-old missionaries. I also like the idea of 22- or 23-year-old college graduates like Gordon B. Hinckley and David O. McKay leaving on missions. Perhaps more explicit thought given to when an elder should make himself available will lead to broadening the age spectrum if we move out of a mindset that nineteen is when everyone who is ready does it. However, despite President Monson’s words that service beginning at eighteen is not expected, only available, a lot of reaction is already treating it as the future norm. That includes the press conference where Elder Holland told us 18-year-olds have to leave high school all ready to serve, unlike the 18-year-olds of yesterday apparently.

    I also like the idea of some married men in their 30s and 40s being sent out from every stake, while their quorums look after their families. I wonder if Elders Holland and Nelson pondered that one.

  6. jks, well said about all the new decisions needed to be made to encompass the new options for women.

    Fortunately, the “old” options are still open: women can still go at age 21, or not at all. And elders can still go at age 19 through 25.

  7. Book and John M, of course you are correct that people could go when they are older. I think in today’s world that seems less likely than we would hope. Teens tend to take either the “active Mormon” direction or the “inactive Mormon” direction. Of course some people change, and I have observed this happen in a few cases. There is a young man in our ward who served his mission and then was sent back early because of some transgressions. He got his act together and by the age of 21 went on another mission, a completely changed person. So it does happen, but I think in the majority of cases if you’re not going when you are at 18 or 19 you most likely are not going at all.

    So, the reality is that most young men are now going to plan on going when they are 18, and most young women are going to plan on going when they are 19.

  8. Allowing 18-year-old men to begin serving missions right out of high school will increase the opportunities for women to get married right out of high school. I know one couple, married about fifteen years now, that wed as soon as the husband returned from his mission. His bride was still in high school and found the welcome into the Relief Society not all that it could have been; some of her new sisters of the Relief Society didn’t want their teen daughters also marrying before high school graduation and didn’t like an example of such things right there in the room with them. The thing I’m not clear on is how the romance developed. She’d have been too young to date before the mission. Maybe as a Laurel she started writing, and he wrote back, and they were good at it.

    At any rate, there will be 20-year-old men returning from missions each summer who are better acquainted with the newest ex-Laurels than the current returned missionaries generally are. We should see an increase in 18-year-old brides.

  9. I think it is a nice change, very cool. I don’t get the tears and the rest of the hullabaloo. Is a couple years really going to make that much difference?

    I don’t see it.

  10. Pingback: A tweak for men, game-changer for women. | Junior Ganymede

  11. JM: you wrote: “Allowing 18-year-old men to begin serving missions right out of high school will increase the opportunities for women to get married right out of high school.”

    I don’t follow that logic. You’re apparently assuming something that is not immediately obvious to me. Please elaborate.

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