Things I wish I knew before my 11 year old girls became “Young Women”

Photo by Sam Manns on Unsplash

My twin daughters turned 12 years old at the end of October. Under the previous way of doing things in the Youth program this would be their first week in the Young Women organization. Instead, they’ve been participating in Young Women since the beginning of the year. 

These last ten months of being a parent to 11 year old “Young Women” have been full of realizations. 

I had no idea what to expect from the Young Women organization in 2022. The last time I attended anything to do with Young Women was almost 20 years ago when I was 18. I’ve never served in Young Women as an adult. Aside from hearing about the theme change and a simplified camp manual I really haven’t paid attention to what is going on in the Young Women program. 

I want to share eight things that I wish I knew before my 11 year old girls entered the Young Women organization. I’m hoping that sharing these things will help future parents of 11 year old girls help their daughters have a smoother transition from Primary. I’m also hoping that a few Young Women Presidencies might find these things helpful as they figure out how to meet the needs of their youngest participants.

1. The Temple and Priesthood Preview was light on the details. My daughters and I attended the “Temple and Priesthood Preview” put on by our ward last December. It was a nice event where the Deacon’s Quorum President and the President of the youngest Young Women class each talked about what they liked about the youth program. The leaders spoke a little bit and welcomed the new youth. I think the leaders and youth who spoke at that event did a good job of getting my girls interested. But they completely missed the ball on helping me transition to being a parent of youth. 

It would have been nice to have a handout explaining things like what night of the week the youth activity took place, which Sundays would be spent in Young Women vs Sunday School, or when to expect combined youth activities. It would have been helpful if the leaders had explained what the drop off/pickup policies were. (When I attended Young Women the leaders always gave us rides home, but I guess that’s a no-no now unless it’s pre-arranged.) I would have also appreciated a list of activities to expect throughout the year. 

2. The inequality started the first Sunday. I knew that my girls would not pass the sacrament. I was prepared for that disappointment. What I didn’t know was that the young women in the ward would be completely overlooked. The bishop beamed with pride as he announced the names of each of the new Deacons, Teachers, and Priests. Each boy stood up when his name was called. When the bishop was done announcing the boys’ names I thought, “Now he will announce the names of the new young women and the ones who have moved up a class.” I even told my girls to be ready to stand up when he said their names. But the bishop was done. 

I was a little shocked. I whispered, “well maybe he’ll recognize you next week.” But weeks went by and the girls were never recognized as moving out of Primary and into the Youth Program. When I finally asked the bishop about it he said, “Oh the handbook doesn’t allow things like that to be recognized anymore.” So not only are our girls no longer spotlighted for even a second of Sacrament meeting. They have to watch their male peers get the only attention that the handbook allows. 

3. Eleven year old girls are not teenagers. In most of the United States 11 year olds are in 5th grade which is in elementary school. In some areas 5th grade is the oldest grade in the school while in other areas 6th grade will also be in elementary school. Either way, there is a BIG difference between elementary school children and middle school children. In elementary school the children are still walking in single file lines around the school. They spend the majority of the day with the same group of kids in one classroom with one teacher. They are accustomed to having simple directions given and then explained. 

What I saw happening in my ward was that the 11 year old girls were just tossed into the mix with the older girls and expected to figure out the social structure and unspoken rules of the group. Maybe that would have worked if my girls had an older sister to explain things. But my girls had no one. They are the oldest in our family. Their best friends are non-members. My daughters don’t even have older female cousins to hang out with. They were literal children trying to interact with more mature girls. The older girls were never mean, but they didn’t go out of their way to make these “little kids” feel part of the group.

My girls weren’t really interested in acting more mature to fit in with the older girls either. During one activity in January they made vision boards for the year. One daughter filled hers with pictures of cupcakes she cut out of a magazine. She put down that her goal was to own a dragon. My other daughter listed “Buy a toy Barbie car” as one of her goals.

4. Communication with parents is abysmal. At the beginning of the year I was completely shocked at how poorly the adult leaders communicated with me. My girls were still young enough that I was used to getting information about upcoming events and relaying it to my children. But in the youth program my children were expected to relay information to me about upcoming events. This did not go well.  

In January of this year my daughters came home and told me, “Mom, there’s a ski activity.” All they knew was there was a ski activity. They didn’t know the date, the time, the location, if there was a cost, or if we were required to rent gear. I kept waiting for an adult to contact me with information about the activity. It wasn’t until the Sunday before the activity that there was a special “Parents Meeting” for 10 minutes after church. By that time we’d already made plans for the day of the activity.

After we missed the ski activity I asked, “Is there a newsletter that I’m missing?” The response was, “Oh that’s a good idea.” So the Young Women Secretary started creating a monthly calendar. The calendar helped, but I can’t tell you how many times I am texted on the day of an activity with the details of what the girls will be doing that night. 

I’m sort of okay with the last minute nature of the communication about “regular” activities. But even the bigger activities with more logistics have few details communicated to me. In the summer there was a boating trip where I was never told whose boat the youth would be riding on. When we attended the Girls Camp Kick Off I had to pull information out of giggly teenage Youth Camp Leaders in order to get information about locations and dates. 

I’ve learned that if I want information about upcoming activities I have to go out of my way to contact the leaders and ask for the information. They will very rarely give me the information up front or ahead of time.

5. It’s okay to skip activities that don’t interest your children. At first I had the policy of encouraging my daughters to attend every activity. But over time I’ve realized that a lot of the activities seem to be geared toward 13-17 year old teenagers. Maybe my daughters will like those activities when they are older, but for now I’ve realized it’s okay to skip out on the activities that don’t interest them. 

For example, there was one activity where all the youth learned how to line dance. I told the girls they had to try for at least 20 minutes. But my girls just couldn’t get into the activity. And why should they? They were in 5th grade. They didn’t attend Middle School Dances yet. Line dancing was a completely foreign concept.  

Another time, at a Stake Activity, the youth were able to choose from a list of ten different presentations. The list included topics like dating, sibling relationships, goal setting, and “Modesty: It’s not just about skirt lengths” (I was very interested in that last one.) My girls listened to the description of each presentation and decided that none of them interested them. We left and went shopping instead. 

6. Pay attention to age group dynamics at combined activities. Youth that turn 18 during their Senior Year of high school are allowed to stay in the Youth program until they graduate. That means that 18 year old men can attend combined youth activities with my 11 year old girls. This concerns me a lot. Leaders are responsible for keeping the youth safe and are vigilant about having two deep leadership. But are leaders trained to watch out for grooming behavior among the youth? Do young girls know that the “cute” older boy who is really interested in them is not someone they should trust? From my perspective no one is worrying about these things.

I was especially troubled by a Stake Service Activity for all youth ages 11 to 18. As a parent I was expected to drop my 11 year old girls off at the Stake Center and leave them with adult leaders neither they nor I had ever met. Those leaders would sort the youth into groups. The groups would then travel in cars to other locations to do service like yard work. On paper this sounded like a great idea. I even planned something like this for a Youth Conference when I was 15. But as a parent in 2022 this set off all sorts of alarm bells. Who would be in my girls’ group? Who was going to be driving the car? What location would my girls be serving in? I ended up keeping my daughters home from this activity because I was so troubled at the idea of my 11 year old children interacting with older teenagers at a second location. 

7. I have no clue what is being taught in class. I wrote most of this post before I realized I didn’t say anything about the Sunday classes. That’s because I know absolutely NOTHING about what is going on in those classes. When I ask my daughters about class they’ll give me brief answers like, “We talked about missions” with absolutely no follow up. 

I always imagined that we’d have deep conversations about what they are learning in Young Women. I’d be able to guide them through what they are learning at church and whether it matches up with our family values. But I’m receiving so little information that it’s hard to have the type of conversations I imagined. It’s disconcerting to realize that I don’t have a clue about what my girls are being told about things like gender roles, sex, modesty, mission expectations, or even the role of the atonement. I try to have conversations about these things anyway so they can at least hear my perspective. 

I considered sitting in on a few Young Women lessons. When I asked my daughters’ about that they said they would rather I don’t come. So for now I’m in the dark. 

8. The leaders are doing the best they can. For the first 9 months of the year I was very frustrated with the adult leaders in the Young Women organization. I kept thinking things like, “Why aren’t they better at their jobs?” or “Why can’t they just get it together and plan things more in advance?” But in September I had a change of heart. I realized these women are volunteers for this organization. They are busy with their own children, their real jobs, and the hobbies that interest them. They are doing the best they can. 

I realized that we are on the same team. We are trying to create meaningful experiences that will help these young women as they grow up. I texted the Ward Young Women President and let her know that I’m willing to help with whatever she needs. This attitude is still in it’s infancy so we haven’t come up with any ideas for how I can help, but we’ll get there. 

* * *

Those are the things I’ve learned over the last 10 months as a new parent of girls in the Young Women organization. I realize this list might sound a little depressing. I want to assure you that overall the Young Women organization has been a positive influence in my daughters’ lives this year. Their leaders really care about them. Many activities have been very enjoyable. Girls camp was excellent. My girls are making friends with other girls their age as well as some of the older girls. They like the opportunity to go to combined activities and interact with boys their age. 

And to be fair, I’m not sure anyone knew what to do for the 11 year old age group in Young Women in 2022. The new Children and Youth program was rolled out at the end of 2019 and went into effect in January of 2020. COVID-19 started shutting things down shortly thereafter so there wasn’t much time for leaders to fine tune their approach to this new program or to figure out how to best meet the needs of the new 11 year old Young Women. Things gradually started returning to normal throughout 2021, but I doubt anyone gave much thought to the youngest girls in the program. 

I’m hoping this list helps you consider how to help the 11 year old girls in your life transition out of Primary and into the Young Women organization. 

Did you have any unexpected realizations when your children entered the youth program? What has your ward done to help 11 year old girls transition into the Young Women organization?


Ann has a Bachelor's Degree in Economics and recently earned a second one in Accounting. Contrary to what some people told her, she has been able to use the degrees while raising her four children.

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19 Responses

  1. Fairchild says:

    Yup, the past 3 years have been brutal in my ward too mostly due to a YW president who had no bandwidth for this calling. Too bad cause the church has lost my 17-year old as a result. My 14-year old is faring no better. The youth program these days is nonexistent. Camp here was so bad in 2021 that I let them skip 2022 cause it was run by the same people going to the same place. COVID did a lot of damage but the new youth program is a nothing burger and women don’t have time for these types of callings anymore. It’s hard to blame the leaders. I don’t want the job either! We have a new YW president but communication is still nonexistent. Some things never change. We are not in the Jello belt, btw. It’s all a far cry from how it was in my day. I don’t know what the solution is besides paid youth ministry leaders which is what the other churches here do to greater social success.

  2. lws329 says:

    Many of the problems you list are also part of the Young Men’s program. I have raised 5 men. I think the planning and communication problems have been the worst part of the deal.
    For our family some of this has to do with varying abilities and differences from what leaders anticipate. They would just make a verbal announcement of activities in priesthood, and often make those plans on the fly on Sunday. My sons (and even my husband) don’t process verbal information that well and never remember announcements. I ended up contacting the leaders every single week to find out when, what and where activities would take place.

    I requested a regular email or text, and they would tell me they were too busy. These problems have been difficult and ongoing and I have complained and tried to get them fixed repeatedly on many different levels with different leaders as my children grew up. I can say that this problem clearly stands in the way of missionary work as well because not all young people who are interested in youth programs also attend church to hear announcements. Much could be done to improve these programs, but there would have to be energy, interest and an understanding that not all families are like the leader’s family.

    Often, we simply can’t see outside our own experiences, to understand how our actions impact others.

    • Ann says:

      Thanks for including your insight with the Young Men program. I suspected things were similar, but I couldn’t be sure since I don’t have any boys that age (yet.) This is a reason I’m surprised that the Bishop is something of the de facto Young Men President these days. He has so much on his plate already that he has an executive secretary to help him with his interview schedule. But somehow he’s expected to also communicate about youth activities. It doesn’t make sense to me.

  3. Carrie Ann Rhodes says:

    Thank you for this, especially for recognizing that leaders are doing their best. I’ve been in the YW program on ward and stake levels for over 15 years, through all the changes, while also processing and dealing with all the weird de-programming of older cultural tropes we grew up with.

    With my 11 yo entering YM in January while also advising the youngest class I am VERY aware and vigilant about recognizing age and maturity differences.

    I feel like “my generation” of leaders is a little more educated and experienced with issues of age, gender, inequality, sexuality, purity-culture, etc. I loved what you wrote about parents asking their kids about what they are learning in order to align those teachings and principles with their own family values. I 100% agree.

    Fortunately, we have a small enough group that I know all of the families. I know when to go gently on certain topics, or to let parents know that “this week we are talking about XYZ”, I will be using “these”words, but I will not be addressing “this” aspect of the topic; not only to respect families, but also to keep lessons age appropriate.

    It’s easy to love working with the youth, but it can be so hard! Thank you for giving us the benefit of the doubt that we are doing our best. I am sharing this with our YW leaders and it will give us food for thought for our future trainings and introductions to youth programs.

    • Ann says:

      I love that you text parents to let them know the lesson topics and how you will approach the subjects. That’s something I wish my ward was doing.

  4. amphvivian says:

    This is super helpful, thank you!! I was just called as YW Ist counselor last night and haven’t been in YW since I was a YW decades ago. I want to do my best for our YW and their families – you’ve given great advice!

  5. Lily says:

    Side comment: why do these men think women are all the same no matter their ages? 11-year-olds with 18-year-olds? a General “Women’s Meeting” for 8-year-olds and above?

    • lws329 says:

      It does make you wonder what the big differences are they are dividing us on. With such vague distinctions, and the way they want to say women have the priesthood too, just having meetings for everyone makes more sense (even if you do discuss Heavenly Mother, since men are Her children too).

  6. Elisa says:

    The lessons are in the Come Follow Me YW / priesthood manual available online. I realize that doesn’t tell you what a particular teacher might say or if they might go off topic, but where there’s a particularly troubling topic like sexual orientation / gender roles, I just keep my daughter home if I am not comfortable with the teacher.

    Our ward is terrific at communicating but I have been in wards where that’s not the case and totally understand the frustration. They can’t rely on 11 yr olds to pass on the information.

    As for activities, I can see how that could be an issue with combined activities. But for me I don’t see that as particularly worse than many other life situations like being out in public or at a friend’s house so depends on us to prep our kids and less on others to somehow keep older and younger kids apart.

    • Ann says:

      Wait, there’s a Lesson Manual for Young Women? This is literally the first time I’ve heard about that. I assumed the youth were doing a General Conference based “curriculum” like the adults. This is another thing that would have been helpful to have explained at the beginning of the year.

      I’m glad your ward is good at communicating. I’m curious what things to they do to communicate. Is it text message based or something else?

      And yes, it is important for us to prep our kids for all sorts of scenarios. I just think it’s odd that no one seems to consider any implications for when there are 5th grade girls and 12th grade boys at the same activities.

  7. Katie Ludlow Rich says:

    So many helpful things to think about! This list could really make a difference for both parents and leaders looking for ways to improve the youth program and communication with parents.

  8. I don’t know if this is true in your ward, but in mine, they try to let the youth lead, so it is 11 and 12-year-old girls in the presidency who are supposed to plan activities (with their adult leaders listening in and helping) and it is these same kids who are responsible for sending out texts and email invitations to the activities, and as kids, they have little experience with scheduling and are pretty bad at it, but I get that they are trying to let them be in charge and learn leadership skills. I wonder if that is what is going on on your ward?

    • Ann says:

      In my ward all the communication texts come from the adult members of the presidency. I’m not sure how much the youth presidency leaders are planning the activities. But that could be a reason why things seem so last minute most of the time.

  9. Kelly Lunceford says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your perspective! You’ve shared so much to think about! I’m the Primary president in my ward and as such, under the direction of the bishop, I’m in charge of organizing the Temple and Priesthood Preparation meeting. I appreciated your insights into what could make it better; however, the information you were seeking is not held by the Primary president and wouldn’t be supplied at this particular meeting. The YW president would have that information and could be given at the beginning of the year at an annual meeting OR, the YW president could type something up to hand out after the meeting (we always invite the YW president). Also, the YW are taught from the Come, Follow Me lesson (someone else pointed that out). As far as the Children and Youth Program is concerned, this link should answer any and all questions you have, as a parent, AND what you should expect from leaders:

    You’ve given me some things to think about as a Primary president getting ready to send this next group off to YW/YM! Thank you so much for sharing your perspective! Hopefully the few things I’ve shared will be beneficial!

  10. Ann says:

    Thank you Kelly for clarifying that the Primary is in charge of the Temple and Priesthood Preview. I did not know that. (I’ve spent the majority of my adulthood serving in Relief Society so the details of Primary and Young Women are often unfamiliar to me.)

    That link is very helpful too. Thank you!

  11. ab says:

    In my ward, our ym and yw teach the lessons! Your girls should be getting that opportunity as well. If they are not, ask your yw presidency. The change was made before covid to have our youth be more involved in every aspect of ym/yw. Our youth also plan all the activities, with leaders helping of course. Leaders are more of a facilitator that provides a lot of guidance and support. As a teacher, I generally plan with the girl(s) who are supposed to teach, and I teach information that they don’t teach, if necessary. I always have things ready to share just to keep the lessons moving and to make sure important information is covered.
    Sometimes, the girls teach for the entire lesson time! The younger girls usually do not teach more than 10-15 minutes, sometimes even less. And that’s okay! It is amazing to be an adult who gets to be taught by our youth! It took a while to get into a routine, but we are now pretty organized and we always have great lessons!

    The one thing that bugs me about the manual is that some of the content is a little much for 11 year olds. When the entire lesson was about pornography, I handed that over to the yw president and let her handle it. If you have a smaller ward, like I do, it is sometimes hard to teach to 11-18 year olds and keep the information appropriate for everyone!

    I am so glad you said you had no idea that there was a manual for our youth! It is something I will share with our families too. I bet a lot of them don’t know as well!!!

    We use an app called GroupMe to communicate. It helps us to be able to text everyone without worrying if they have an apple or android phone. It is super easy to use and a lot of the girls already use it for school anyways.

    I loved your insight! I am always looking for ways to be a better yw teacher, and this gave me some things to think about. I am glad your girls are enjoying yw, it really is the best place to be on a Sunday!

  12. JC says:

    Another point I would add is for the leaders: be cognizant of the young women’s schedules, especially when it comes to calling and texting them about things.

    When I was Mia Maid president, my young women’s leader always called to remind me about activities and to remind the members of my presidency about upcoming events during my math tutoring sessions. I understood it happening, once – twice, even, when she didn’t realize that I had my math tutor over on a certain day and time. But then it kept happening, and it became a great source of irritation to me. Math is not my best subject, so I **really** needed that extra one-on-one tutoring time and to **not** be interrupted during it.

    I felt that this young women’s leader was being rude and inconsiderate by always calling me after knowing that I had my math tutoring session on the same day and time each week. There were plenty of other times she could’ve – and should’ve – called, but she **always** picked the time when I wasn’t readily available. The calls eventually stopped. I think my parents may have talked to her, or she may have heard me venting about it to a friend of mine at church one day. 🤔 But either way, she shouldn’t have been doing that in the first place.

    Another addendum: don’t call or text before 8:30 a.m., after 8:30 p.m., and don’t blow up a person’s phone. Leave or have someone take a message if you need to and be done with it.

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