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Friday, August 30, 2013

Tips for Interviewing Youth

by ldsbishop (bio)

An example of a youth interview from the image library. I'm pretty sure I wouldn't sit quite so close.

A recent article on Doves and Serpents discussed sexually invasive interviews between Priesthood leaders and minors in the LDS church. The potential for abuse in interview situations has long been a concern of mine and as I've blogged about before, I have been a victim of such an interview myself. I wasn't in what I would class a vulnerable group, just a naive new member, but the potential for abuse was still there.

Within the LDS church there exists the potential for a wonderful support structure for teenagers with the right Young Women and Young Men's leaders in place. Being a teenager is hard at the best of times, and love and guidance from dedicated leaders can certainly help during those times. However, it only takes a solitary leader, with a "little authority, as they suppose" to exercise unrighteous dominion and give a badly prepared or creepy interview.

After serving on a bishopric, and now as the bishop myself, I've had many opportunities to conduct interviews with the youth of my ward. Below are my own self-imposed rules/guidelines when it comes to these interviews:
  1. This interview situation is not the time to develop a relationship with the YM or YW. Those opportunities exist outside of interviews during church activities and lessons. If the only time the YM/YW sees you is in a semi-annual interview, you're doing something wrong.
  2. Seek parental consent whenever possible. In many circumstances, especially with younger youth, it may also be appropriate to invite the parent to attend the interview as well if the parent and child are in agreement.
  3. Make sure that you are visible to people outside the office during the interview. The bishop's office in our building has a window in the door and my desk is angled in such a way that I can always be seen.
  4. Possibly also keep the door ajar, this can be less intimidating to the interviewee and adds reassurance for the parents if not present.
  5. If you feel the need to give a worthiness interview, stick to the Temple Recommend questions and don't deviate from them. Also, not all questions may be suitable for all age groups. I've never felt it appropriate to ask a 12 year-old young woman if she keeps the law of chastity.
  6. Don't ever, ever probe for a confession to something. Confessions are voluntary and if your questioning is probing in the hope of them "spilling" something, I find that inappropriate and I would frankly class that as child abuse.
  7. Don't think you are the only person to resolve any issues that the YM/YW might raise. They are probably more likely to share a concern with a parent or youth leader. Trust that those people help them. I let the YM/YW know that my door is always open if they have an issue they want to discuss and I stand ready to help, but that they shouldn't feel obliged to if they would rather share it with their parent or youth leader.
  8. Teach doctrine, not your opinion.
  9. Get the youth to interview you. It is sometimes more insightful for both of us if I answer their questions rather than them answering mine.
  10. Elder Bednar has taught that "sequence is instructive." Resist the temptation to straight out ask a YM or YW, especially the younger ones, if they are preparing to serve a mission. Before they can serve a mission they need to know the doctrine, gain a testimony and be worthy to attend the temple. So ask how they are doing in seminary and how they are progressing with their Personal Progress/Duty to God awards etc. and teach how those things are important.
  11. Interviews should be fun. Keep them as light hearted as possible. It is intimidating enough to be sat in front of a big desk with a suited man without it feeling like a grilling by the FBI. Remember the interview could very well be around the YM/YW's birthday, so don't make them associate their birthday with a grilling from their bishop.
Beyond this, the youth need to be taught what to expect from their interviews with the bishopric. Most importantly they need to be told what to do if they feel the questioning is becoming inappropriate (i.e. leave and tell someone you trust). I think we need to somehow address the power dynamic at play here. In a culture that teaches our youth to defer to authority, how can we teach them, especially the young women, to assert themselves when placed in inappropriate interview situations? In addition to this, bishopric members need the fear of God put into them regarding the consequences of them overstepping the mark when they are interviewing.

Have you been given the responsibility to interview the youth of the church? Do you have any tips or rules that you impose on yourself? When you were a YM/YW what were your positive, or not so positive, interview experiences? Feel free to share your comments and suggestions below ...

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