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BYU Church history and doctrine associate professor Mark D. Ogletree shared advice with Education Week participants on how to teach teenagers about the importance of service.
In his four part series on spiritual traits teenagers need which began on Aug. 15, Ogletree specified the “how’s and why’s” of service for the youth and the danger of selfishness.
Ogletree began by explaining how selfishness negatively affects youth. Referring to a talk given by Elder Neal A. Maxwell, Ogletree said selfishness is self-destruction in slow motion.
“If there’s one thing that is ruining our youth today, it is selfishness,” Ogletree said.
Ogletree then shared statistics examining several trends surrounding teens, service and selfishness during the last several decades. According to the Pew Research Center, 91% of 8 to 18 year-olds have a smartphone and 92% of teens use their smartphones to go online daily.
Ogletree said this is because they are not letting the gospel define who they are. “They’re letting Tik Tok and YouTube define who they are,” Ogletree said. “We’ve got to be careful with how much time they’re spending in those places.”
Quoting President Gordon B. Hinckley, Ogletree said selfishness is usually the root of misery and lack of social skills which come from sparse human contact.
Ogletree then referred to research by Common Sense Media about screen-time related to unhappiness. “Teens who spend more time on screen activities are more likely to be unhappy,” Ogletree said. “There is not a single exception.”
According to Ogletree, service can help teenagers combat selfishness and unhappiness as they grow up.
“The Savior invites you to give up yourself in the service of others,” Ogletree said. “That’s how our youth are going to become happy.”
Ogletree said when teenagers lose themselves in service, it helps them grow higher self-esteem, make better social connections, understand gospel doctrine and find spiritual survival during difficult times.
Ogletree shared a story about the time he was on-call at his local hospital’s psych ward the night before Thanksgiving. He said the next day he had planned several activities with his family, which he was looking forward to.
“I was excited because I thought I’d get paid to do nothing that night,” Ogletree said. “Who would check into the psych ward the night before Thanksgiving?”
However, Ogletree said he received three separate calls between the hours of 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. to assist individuals who needed to be connected with psychiatrists. He said the third individual arrived at 6 a.m. and Ogletree had asked the hospital if the next psychologist could take him.
“The hospital told me to come in,” Ogletree said. “I’m sure this individual could tell I was very unhappy about having to be there the morning of Thanksgiving.”
Ogletree said the individual apologized to him profusely for making him come to the hospital so early on a holiday. “He said to me, ‘I guess when you don’t have a life, you forget that other people do,'” Ogletree said.
Ogletree said he immediately realized he had done the opposite and because he had a life and a happy family, he forgot others are not so fortunate.
“It’s important to know when someone struggles and to know when you need to text, make a phone call or visit them,” Ogletree said. “Let’s take our kids on those visits and help them to learn those lessons.”
Ogletree then talked about the concept of “The Helper’s High,” a concept which states that those who participate in service and generosity report experiencing various positive emotions and can even promote longevity of life.
“Volunteering is associated with an increase in adolescent self-esteem,” Ogletree said. “Those who engage in high levels of service report feeling better about who they are.”
Ogletree said that above all, teaching youth to serve others will allow them to stay close to the Lord throughout their lives.
“The Lord is with us and in the details and will bless us in this,” Ogletree said. “He will give you the revelation that you need to know how to help your children and grandchildren in significant ways.”