The three components of this system are the following:
- Reading and talking about the Book of Mormon with our children
- Bearing testimony of gospel truths spontaneously with our children
- Inviting children as gospel learners to act and not merely be acted upon
Regular reading of and talking about the Book of Mormon invite the power to resist temptation and to produce feelings of love within our families. And discussions about the doctrines and principles in the Book of Mormon provide opportunities for parents to observe their children, to listen to them, to learn from them, and to teach them. (emphasis added)How can this be an early warning for parents? First, when parents see how their children respond in a safe environment to the doctrines, they can get an idea of how they will respond in an unsafe environment to temptation. This is why Elder Bednar sees this as such a great opportunity.
Second, parents need chances to understand what their children are thinking and what they are struggling with, but often when parents ask children directly, children clam up. Talking about the Book of Mormon prevents children from feeling like they are under a microscope and they will open up in ways that relate to the topic of discussion. (“Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaketh.”) I remember teaching a primary lesson and one of the kids in the class volunteered the information that he had heard bad music driving with his dad one day. This meant that we could have a little discussion about what is good music and what is bad music and how we can act when we are in a situation with bad music. Another instance: I remember another time during scripture study with my family one night, my little sister, who had been going to a private school, told us that she had been told at school that the LDS church was a cult. She was somewhat bothered by this and so we spent time as a family comparing and contrasting cults with the church, reassuring her, and generally addressing that trouble.
This is the kind of thing that Elder Bednar wants for parents. He wants parents to be able to observe and listen to the specific issues that are on their children’s minds, then use that opportunity to teach because that is when it is needed and that is when children are most interested. Elder Bednar says,
…the questions a child asks, the observations a child shares, and the discussions that occur provide crucial spiritual early warning signals. Importantly, such conversations can help parents to discern what their children are learning, thinking, and feeling about the truths contained in this sacred volume of scripture, as well as the difficulties they may be facing.The beauty of the system is that even as parents are observing their children read, the children are in the process of being armed with doctrine that will help them resist temptation.
If we look closer, we see that he says that as parents involve their children in these spiritual things, they should have their eyes open, observing their children and listening to them, noticing how they react. For instance, a child that is alert and involved and contributes to the discussion is on the ball. A child that is inattentive and squirrelly is not interested, so the message should be brought down to a level they can be interested in. A child that makes fun of the message… well.. that indicates there are some problems there that need to be overcome. Likewise, when a child is resistant to the message or discussion, then that indicates that there are seeds of rebellion there that need to be rooted out.
I recall a particular night when I was a teen and during family scripture study, all of us kids were more interested in making jokes and making fun of what was being read than actually listening. All seven of us were extremely uncooperative. According to Elder Bednar’s early warning system of observing children and listening to them, it was plain that we were displaying a pathetic lack of reverence and we needed to be taught an important lesson. My mom was very frustrated with us and she decided that all seven of us would have to sit at the dinner table until we could all be perfectly quiet for …. I think it was one minute. Just 60 seconds. She left and dad left, and there we were, stuck, until we could all muster 60 seconds of collective silence. I think it took us 30 minutes before we could do it. That experience was a great object lesson on how the irreverence of one single person could hamper the progress of the group. Without knowing it, my mom used the early warning system described by Elder Bednar to detect where we badly needed correction and she administered it immediately.
The second component of the early warning system is bearing testimony spontaneously. Elder Bednar says,
Parents should be vigilant and spiritually attentive to spontaneously occurring opportunities to bear testimony to their children. Such occasions need not be programmed, scheduled, or scripted. In fact, the less regimented such testimony sharing is, the greater the likelihood for edification and lasting impact. "Neither take ye thought beforehand what ye shall say; but treasure up in your minds continually the words of life, and it shall be given you in the very hour that portion that shall be meted unto every man" (D&C 84:85).Growing up, I remember having many conversations with my mom in the car. Sometimes she would discuss news stories with me and interpret them for me with the gospel lens. She would point out hidden dangers to me. Sometimes I would complain to her about things in my life and she would respond by telling me stories from when she was my age when she had troubles with the same things and she would tell me about what she had learned from the experience using her gospel perspective. I think this was her way of spontaneously bearing testimony to me. It gave me a lot to think about.
Bearing testimony like this becomes an early warning system because, as Elder Bednar says,
The reactions of children to such impromptu testimony bearing and their eagerness or reluctance to participate are potent sources of spiritual early warning signals. A child’s expression about a lesson learned in family scripture study or a candid statement of concern about a gospel principle or practice can be most illuminating and help parents better understand a child’s specific question or needs. Such discussions—especially when parents are as eager to listen intently as they are to talk—can foster a supportive and secure environment in the home and encourage ongoing communication about difficult topics. (emphasis added)Elder Bednar mentions two possible ways that children can react to parents bearing testimony—eagerness or reluctance. These aren’t the only possible reactions, though. Another reaction possible is thoughtfulness and reflection. It looks like the child is not reacting at all, but inside they are absorbing it. The more that testimony is associated with a story, the better they will remember it. Parents can better gauge the reaction of their children by asking how they feel about the principle just witnessed to. They can ask their children if they have any experiences to share that are similar. And if a child counters with a statement that contradicts parental testimony, then that is a sign that the parent needs to find ways of reinforcing the principle with the child. This is a time when parents need to listen carefully (and non-judgmentally) to find out the extent of the child’s difficulty. At this point, the parent can move on to the third component of the early warning system…
The third component is to invite children to act. This is the time to propose experiments upon the word. Elder Bednar says,
As parents and gospel instructors, you and I are not in the business of distributing fish; rather, our work is to help our children learn “to fish” and to become spiritually steadfast. This vital objective is best accomplished as we encourage our children to act in accordance with correct principles—as we help them to learn by doing. “If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God” (John 7:17). Such learning requires spiritual, mental, and physical exertion and not just passive reception.For instance, when I complained to my Mom about not being able to find something I’d lost, she invited me to act by asking me if I had prayed about it yet. I tried the experiment and gained my own testimony that Heavenly Father would help me find things I lost.
How can inviting children to act serve as an early warning signal? When children are invited to act, they will either choose to act according to the principles they’ve just been taught, or they will choose not to. As a parent observes the child over a period of time and reminds them of opportunities to act, the child may respond or resist. Positive response is a good sign. Resistance is a sign that the parent will have to do some more careful teaching about the principle from the scriptures, bear testimony, and then reiterate the invitation to act.
Elder Bednar uses family home evening as an example of a time when families can learn by study and by faith and parents can invite children to act for themselves. I’d like to offer an additional idea.
One way that we can invite a child to act when they are having difficulty with a gospel principle is to put them in a situation where they must search the scriptures on that topic. Imagine a teenager who is having troubles being dependable. A wise parent might ask this teenager to use the Topical Guide to compile a document containing scripture verses about dependability and trustworthiness. When the teen brings this document to the parent, the parent may carefully read through it. The parent may then ask the teen to take out any repetitive verses and organize the rest into categories that seem to make sense to the teen. (The task of classifying and categorizing anything requires that a person become intimately familiar with the material.) Once this is done, the teen can bring the document to the parent and they can discuss what the teen has learned about the topic. In this way, the teen will learn the principle on a much deeper level without the discomfort of a parental lecture. (The wise parent will take care to study the topic too—perhaps making their own categorized list to compare with their teen’s—because once the teen has learned about dependability from the scriptures, the teen will be much more alert and sensitive to parental sins of undependability!) Elder Bednar says,
What a glorious opportunity for family members to search the scriptures together and to be tutored by the Holy Ghost. “For the preacher was no better than the hearer, neither was the teacher any better than the learner; . . . and they did all labor, every man according to his strength” (Alma 1:26).Elder Bednar ends with a powerful promise with great significance. To those parents who use all three components of this early warning system, he says,
[they] will be blessed with eyes that can see afar off (see Moses 6:27) and with ears that can hear the sound of the trumpet (see Ezekiel 33:2–16). The spiritual discernment and inspiration you will receive from the combination of these three holy habits will enable you to stand as watchmen on the tower for your families—“watching . . . with all perseverance” (Ephesians 6:18)—to the blessing of your immediate family and your future posterity. I so promise and testify in the sacred name of the Lord Jesus Christ. (emphasis added)This blessing Elder Bednar promises is nothing less than the gift of prophecy for our families, and that gift arises from carefully observing the reactions of our children to reading and discussing the Book of Mormon, bearing testimony, and invitations to act to learn and follow gospel principles. This is a great promise. This key has been given to us at an important time; we must arm our children with the ability to act and learn for themselves so that when temptations come, they will have the strength to resist and when opportunities come, they will be ready to be a greater force for good in the world.
I know that the components of this early warning system work because I’ve seen them at work in my own life when I was growing up. I hope everyone in the church learns to use them.