The Unintelligent Parent

The following is an excerpt from Relief Society Magazine: Guide Lessons For April 1927 Lesson IV Social Service (Fourth Week in April).

Emotional Problems of Childhood—Jane and Henrietta 

Serious and difficult emotional problems are presented by the two adolescent girls, Jane and Henrietta. Both were the victims of unintelligent parents. The basis of these problems is not uncommon in adolescent development because of lack of understanding by their parents; one girl was on the verge of a mental breakdown, and the other was contemplating suicide. Both suffered these serious emotional upsets because of the lack of sex education and guidance.

It will be remembered from the introductory discussion of emotional problems that the individual has three dominant instincts or urges—the ego, or self; the herd, or social; and the sex or love instinct. The three instincts all seek expression, and if thwarted or frustrated cause emotional disturbances the individual expresses his ego urge by accomplishing certain ends and experiencing the joy and satisfaction of expression. He satisfies his social urge by gaining the confidence and approval of his family, playmates, and friends. In the studies of the emotional problems of childhood, it has been pointed out that the failure to gain normal expression or the failure to gain approval seriously affects the development of the child. His defeats, and unhappiness, and sense of failure deeply affect his emotional life, limiting his development, and making his conduct abnormal.

In our home and school life the tendency has been to ignore inquiry into the other important instinct, sex. The subject has been a taboo. Because sex has been recognized as a compelling life force, but its aspects have not been generally understood, the whole subject has taken on an atmosphere of morbid secrecy.

Sex education is the responsibility of the home. The first questions of the origin and development of life are asked in the home. The relation between parents, the relation between parents and their children, the attitude of brothers and sisters toward one another, and toward their friends, are all phases of sex relationships, and depend on wholesome; home guidance to lead the child to normal, healthful attitudes.

The method of sex education will not be the subject of this discussion, for the subject itself deserves special attention and study. The purpose of studying the problems of Jane and Henrietta is to observe the real dangers and pitfalls that endanger adolescents if, through lack of home guidance, they have wrong information concerning sex, and unwholesome attitudes because of their misconceptions.

Jane at nineteen was at the beginning of a mental breakdown she was suffering from what is known as an anxiety neurosis. This condition was the result of a secret worry that she had tried to crowd out of her conscious life. In spite of her effort to forget her worry, the unconscious mind kept harboring and remembering until she came near a breakdown All her anxiety, and nervousness, and weeping, and unhappiness, were the result of wrong sex information given her by her mother. She had at twelve, and again at sixteen met an experience not at all uncommon in childhood. Her mother had observed that she masturbated—practiced self-abuse—and had used the unintelligent method of correcting her by telling the child that she would go crazy if she did not stop the practice.

The mother filled the child's life with fear, shame and inferiority. The (girl felt herself unclean and unfit for friendships and love. The shame and self-reproach continued, for at no time was she given frank, sound, sex information.

Her other home guidance was also harmful. Her mother was most rigid and severe in her regulations concerning her friends and social life, and this close supervision intensified her feeling of weakness and impending dangers.

When she was given a frank explanation of the function of sex by the physician she consulted, her danger was past. Her doubts and fears disappeared as soon as the atmosphere of secrecy and accompanying feeling of shame were removed.

Our author states that this practice occurs frequently among children, and should call for attention but not anxiety. The hazard is not the effect on the mind or body, but the fears and anxieties aroused by the method of correction. Parents should not express horror or instill fears to meet this behavior difficulty. Sympathetic understanding, patient teaching, and frankness by the parents will lead the child more readily to overcome the practice, and will not undermine his confidence and self-esteem.

Henrietta at sixteen found life dull, and contemplated self-destruction. Her thinking then led her to consider finding pleasure and securing pretty clothes by pursuing a course already adopted by her sister. Her poverty, her lack of normal childhood amusement, made the course of abandoning her moral principles seem exciting and attractive.

It is not fair to pass judgment on Henrietta and girls in her position, for the attitude they develop. Youth is a time for amusements and gaieties, and if no wholesome recreation is afforded young persons, it is quite natural for them to seek it in thoughtless and unwise channels.

The developing sex impulse in adolescents needs to be better understood by parents. In homes where boys and girls meet frequently to play and dance and enjoy youth together, there is no great occasion for alarm. Where this harmless, natural association is denied, either by lack of a pleasant home or by too rigid puritanical standards, the frustrated impulse may lead to real difficulties.

Henrietta's difficulties were both the lack of frank instruction, and the lack of constructive direction. The importance of children gaining their information regarding matters of health, of the life processes, and the ideal of parenthood in a sane, natural way, cannot be over-emphasized. In homes where questions are evaded and the subject of sex physiology and development is left a mystery, the child's curiosity is not only stimulated but he develops a morbid attitude toward the whole subject. He then gains his information from sources such as his gang, and lurid magazines, and his entire conception of the part of sex in life becomes distorted. It becomes an unspeakable subject, one from which he gains an unwholesome pleasure in discussing and contemplating its unsavory aspects. The very mystery that his parents place upon the subject makes his attitude abnormal, morbid and unwholesome.

The child who receives frank answers to his early questions, and who has his own development explained to him in terms of ideals of parenthood is protected from this unpleasant and harmful speculation. Fore-armed with sound, accurate information from the parents whose sincerity he does not doubt, he will be able to dismiss the misinformation that he will later hear from his crowd or gang. He will also be spared the emotional upset when he finally realizes that his parents have deliberately given him false information.

Henrietta had further difficulty besides the lack of instruction. Her home had given her no opportunity for the outlet of her emotional interests. The release of this emotional energy is important to give the individual normal stable personality. The inherent craving of individuals for emotional satisfaction is termed the libido. If the libido finds expression for its great store of energy in harmless channels, the individual maintains a normal attitude towards life, and normal interests in the affairs of everyday living. If the libido finds no opportunity for release, that is, finds no emotional satisfaction in the daily associations, and in the regular scheme of living, the libido will find an outlet in some other channel, which may have undesirable effects on the person.

In terms of Henrietta her libido found no wholesome outlet. Her natural craving for emotional satisfaction was frustrated. Her parents did not realize how important these satisfactions are, until the effect of her barren emotional life was explained to them.

The libido can find expression and satisfaction in many channels. Affection and appreciation in the home are sources of emotional release. Games, parties, outdoor sports, recreation, new clothes, success in work, are all easily recognized as sources of emotional satisfaction, and releases of emotional energy.

Henrietta responded to the treatment prescribed, and her nearsighted plans of securing clothes and pleasures by sacrificing her standards was forgotten. She was not scolded, nor lectured, nor criticized. No attempt was made to change her attitude by discussing her responsibilities and duties. Her thwarted emotional life made an intellectual appeal futile.

The treatment outlined was agreeable work away from home, where she found pleasure in her work and in being with children. Her earnings made it possible for her to gain other small pleasures in the way of recreation. Her days that had been spent in pent up brooding were now changed to active happy ones.

It is apparent that wholesome activity, recreation and pleasant associations are normal releases of the emotional life. Associations should be varied. There is some danger of too strong attachment between parents and children or two children. A mother, especially a widowed one, might devote herself too entirely to her only son or daughter. Two friends of the opposite sex at. too early an age may make emotional ties that are upsetting when the necessity rises for separation. Two friends of the same sex may also become too dependent on each other for their later happiness.

There are types of individuals who do not mingle with groups readily or frequently. Such social expression as possible should be encouraged in these persons, but it must be remembered that the emotional energy can find expression in channels other than amusement. Creative work of any kind has been identified with emotional life. Any expression, whether through poetry, painting, music or other creative work, gives the person a real emotional satisfaction. This expression through creative effort, known as sublimation is the sex impulse released through other channels.

The program of sex education is based on frank information given by parents to children, and also on the direction of the emotional energy into channels of work, recreation, activity, and of its sublimation to satisfying, useful forms of expression.

Reference -- The Challenge Of Childhood by Ira S.Wile, pages 215-227

Questions and Problems

1. Why is frank sex information to children important?

2. Why should this information be given in the home ?

3. What is meant by the libido?

4. How can the libido find expression in normal channels?

5. What are normal emotional satisfactions for adolescents?

6. What are the dangers of lack of emotional expression?

7. What treatment was outlined for Henrietta?

8. What is meant by sublimation?


1. The Relief Society magazine : Organ of the Relief Society of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. (n.d.). Retrieved from

2. The Challenge Of Childhood. (n.d.). Retrieved from

My Son Is Not Baptized And That Is Okay

My son isn't baptized. I'm okay with that and he hasn't missed out on any blessings.

My son's mother has refused to provide permission for his baptism, and I'm not only okay with that, I support her decision.

I wasn't okay with it at first. When his mother and I decided to separate, I knew it would become an issue, and I was troubled and confused with how to approach the topic with him and his mother. It would not be appropriate to represent her side without her personally contributing to this article. What I have felt is appropriate to share, I wrote in my blog post, "Because I loved her I left her."

However, there is some risk to not including details. Generally, when I share my experience with why I am okay with my son not being baptized, someone almost always dismisses my experiences because their divorce and ex were hostile and not agreeable in the least. My not sharing the details in all its messiness, pain, resentment, years of court and finical ruin is with purpose. The absence of my sharing isn't to be mistaken as an absence of those trials; rather, it’s an example of how I personally decided to model healthy behavior to my children.

Learning With Every Opportunity

Today, as my son and I drove home from church, he did what he does every Sunday afternoon drive home:  he was reviewing what he learned in Sunday School class. Today, after sharing the particular lesson, he also reflected on how it's sometimes difficult to hear the teachers get excited about his class graduating primary this year. They mentioned how the boys will be able to start passing the sacrament. He said, "I wanted to raise my hand and say, not everyone will get to pass the sacrament." But he didn't want to make anyone feel uncomfortable. We used the opportunity to revisit the meaning of baptism, priesthood and looking forward to when he turns 18 and can get baptized.

The conversations are always wonderful. Sometimes the conversations are started as a result feeling left out and sad, like today. Sometimes that feeling continues throughout the conversation, and sometimes he has a rekindled hope that his mother might provide her permission. What makes it a little more difficult too is his older brother is baptized. He is the only one in primary and in his current family dynamic who is not baptized. Whenever and however these conversations come up, we explore and validate his emotions and feelings without removing them. We also never frame the conversation in any way that suggests his mother is wrong or bad for her not providing the permission.

Praying Without Parenting

Over the years, we have prayed and fasted many times that his mother would be willing to change her decision. But this was not the prayer we should have been having. Although it’s appropriate on occasion to have faith that others will change their hearts, this was not the only prayer we should have been having. In a divorce especially, there is a huge problem with each separating spouse "parenting" the other. This is often done through divorce decrees, court, manipulation, threats, using children as "pawns," and "righteous indignation" (which is a form of spiritual abuse).

Not only as a divorced father, but as a therapist who routinely works with divorcing couples in the church, I've routinely seen good parents become so fixated on demanding their child's other parent accommodate religious activities that they become abusive. One parent had become convinced that her child would be denied all the blessings of the church if they couldn't get baptized. She spent years in therapy, court and tens of thousands of dollars attempting to get her child's father to grant permission for baptism. Her child during this period began to mirror their mother’s anxiety and fear of losing blessings. The child also started to view their father as an evil man who hated God.

Why is it spiritual abuse? When we place ourselves in a position of power to control, dictate or parent someone in a way that removes, blocks and prevents their choice, it's abusive. When religion is used as that vehicle of control, its religious/spiritual abuse. We don't get to parent, control or demand how our ex decides to parent. Their house, their rules. Our house, our rules.

Isn't it spiritual abuse to deny a child's baptism? No. It could be abuse if that parent is denying baptism out of a desire to hurt the child or the other parent. But this is problematic. Because we don't get to read people’s minds and hearts. But what if the ex SAYS they are doing it to get back at the other parent? Well, pay it no attention. Some people are more married divorced than when they were married.

Abuse is a serious accusation. I have no tolerance for abuse in any form, as a parent or therapist. If the child is in emotional, spiritual or physical danger, there is no gray area. What I have seen, however, is the word "abuse" used to describe a behavior one doesn't like or agree with in the other parent. Neglect is another word that is sometimes lightly used too. For example, the child's other parent is being "neglectful" by not agreeing to be consistent with church attendance or agreeing to let the child be baptized. Divorce is already difficult enough for us and our children. In most divorces, there are going to be clear differences in how each parent decides to parent or not parent. The best thing we can do is teach our children how to thrive in this environment.

Pray And Fast To Change Your Heart

Through our frequent prayers and fasting, it became clear my son was becoming overwhelmed, overwhelmed in not seeing his mom's "heart change," feeling like he was not having enough faith, feeling like he must continuously ask/pester her for permission and fear of getting her angry. Also, I was communicating a subtle and sometimes not so subtle message that his mom was wrong. Quietly, our prayers have never stopped for her to change her heart. But now we pray for a change of our own hearts. In this hyper-focus to change his mother’s heart, we were missing beautiful opportunities to learn and prepare for baptism — whenever that might happen.

When he would ask questions like, "Why won’t my mom let me get baptized?" instead of focusing on the differences in parenting, we would validate and explore how he could love and support his mother. We also explored how God will never deny him any blessings and that we should find ways to serve, and strengthen OUR OWN faith. This has radically and wonderfully changed the spirit of our conversations. Religion has not become a divide in my son and his mother’s life. Where pain could have thrived, beauty and love flourished. Neither I nor my son get to "tell" his mother how to parent. But we have taken the opportunity to learn our Father's will in our lives, in our current situation.

Changing Our Heart Will Increase Our Love For Others

Some parents decide to leave the church, and that's okay too. One of the most destructive things parents can do to their children is engage in "holy wars." Whether that's a parent who decides the LDS faith is bad and requests their name be removed from the records, or one whose religiosity changes over time, or a parent who insists on unwavering church attendance and service, there is a place for each of these parents in parenting well-adjusted and healthy children. But regardless of one's belief in God or the LDS church, what are we teaching our child if they can't love the parent who thinks differently? To a child, you have placed them in an impossible situation. You are communicating that if they stop believing as you do, they will experience the same rejection you are showing the other parent.

Sometimes the situation is reversed. Some parents who believe the church is hurting their child will go to the same lengths to prevent them from attending. But regardless of which parent it is, this divisiveness teaches children how to hate. Or at the very least, how to condition their love based on someone else’s belief system. Learning how to change our own heart restores confidence and expands our ability to love and value others.

No Blessing Is Ever Prevented Or Delayed

My son will not be passing the sacrament when he turns twelve. But that is not to be confused with a denying or preventing of his blessings. As sacred and symbolic as the sacrament is, the act of passing should never be confused as the blessing. My son knows and is intimately familiar with the covenants made in baptism and passing and taking the sacrament. He has been blessed with a spiritual growth, insight, maturity and faith that is far beyond what I had at his age. Sure, it’s difficult at times for him and I to know he's not going to be passing the sacrament or doing temple work with the other youth. But we use that as an opportunity to have our hearts changed and our faith strengthened.

I encourage those in similar situations to exemplify to their children who don't have permission to be baptized to find ways to love and grow, how to lovingly honor their other parent’s decision, how to expand one's faith beyond controlling others, and how to use faith to increase one's agency.

For those serving in callings over youth in similar circumstances, find ways to model the same love. Frame the conversation in ways the youth can participate versus focusing on what they can't do. There is never anything wrong with exploring or understanding a child's situation. But generally, do that with their parent. What I do recommend avoiding is asking "why" questions like, "Why do you think your mom won’t let you get baptized?" But rather, explore with the child what they are doing to grow in the gospel, and emphasize that our loving God will bless them fully in their desires.

I am so thankful for each of my son's teachers who have done exactly this. Their love and support has made this process easier to experience.

Daniel A. Burgess is the author of the forthcoming book on LDS Sexuality. The creator and Admin at the Facebook Group "Improving Intimacy in Mormon Marriages" and content developer at its accompanying Blog, "Mormon Marriages."

Goodly Parents

Here’s something to consider when reading 1 Nephi 1:1.

"Nephi, having been born of goodly parents, therefore I was taught somewhat in all the learning of my father; and having seen many afflictions in the course of my days, nevertheless, having been highly favored of the Lord in all my days; yea, having had a great knowledge of the goodness and the mysteries of God, therefore I make a record of my proceedings in my days."

Ben Spackman (a PhD student at Claremont, studying history of religion and science, with a focus on issues of fundamentalism, literalism, creationism, and evolution) provides the following interpretation:

"This is a long-standing argument among a few bloggers, including me. In the first few verses, Nephi explains that, because his parents were ‘goodly,’ he was taught not just to read (very unusual in the ancient world) but to write (even more unusual), and moreover, to write in two scripts or languages (depending on how we understand the ‘Egypt’ reference). That degree of learning is much more dependent upon Lehi’s financial status than his goodness. Context thus favors the interpretation of ‘well-off.’ The (weaker, in my view) counter-argument comes from dictionaries, which don’t list something like ‘well-off’ as a meaning, so it would be fairly idiomatic usage there in 1Ne 1:1.