If all your friends joined an exclusive club, would you?

Deseret Book has just published a new children’s book by E. Nelson’s wife, Wendy Watson Nelson.  The book encourages children to sign a pledge to be in the “Not Even Once” club and abstain from a specific list of sins, including Word of Wisdom violations, lying, cheating, stealing, doing drugs, bullying, dressing immodestly, breaking the law of chastity, looking intentionally at pornography on TV / internet / cell phone / billboards* / magazines or movies.  The book talks about the kids in the book belonging to a special club in which they have access to all types of colorful, delicious candy.  Here’s a linked post by EmJen at BCC and the write up of the book from the publisher:

The Not Even Once Club is an adorable and appealing way to engage children in a story that will help them choose for themselves to keep the commandments and to never break them. Not even once.

Children will meet Tyler, an energetic boy who is excited to make new friends in his Primary class. They have invited Tyler to join their special club, but first he has to pass the test and keep the club promise.

With illustrations from bestselling illustrator Brandon Dorman, The Not Even Once Club is a fun and engaging way for parents to help teach their children the importance of keeping the commandments. Included in the back of the book are additional teaching helps for parents and leaders.

The publisher lists Sis. Nelson’s credentials as a professor of marriage and family therapy for 25 years, so she certainly sounds qualified to employ child development theory.  Of course, Freud was pretty accredited also, but many of his theories have fallen out of favor.  When it comes to parenting and child development, it’s a field that continues to evolve as new techniques are tried and data from studies becomes available.  Which was why I was so interested that this book would encourage children to sign an actual pledge provided in the book and not talk about the atonement, instead implying that it is possible to remain sin-free if we just try hard enough.

Or will I?

I wanted to explore the idea of having children sign pledges and covenant-making in general.  We often say at church that we are a “covenant-making people.”  As evidence, every step we take in the church includes pledges and covenants to further our commitment to the gospel.  In fact, the book could easily be likened to temple covenants made later in life.  If we want to “join the club,” we must take the pledge, even though we often don’t know what we are going to be asked to do before we get there.  If we don’t follow those covenants, we can be kicked out of the club.  It sounds a bit harsh, certainly for a 4-8 year old, but the temple is actually more forgiving than the club described in the book, in that we are allowed to make mistakes and repent.

The approach the book takes reminds me of the purity pledges many evangelical Christians do. As I recalled, the studies are pretty mixed on what impact the pledges have on actual behavior. I looked it up, and here are the outcomes of 5 studies of those who had taken a purity pledge (formal pledge of total abstinence before marriage). Four studies were based on the same data set culled from 13K adolescents in 1995, 1996 and 2000. The other study used separate data from students in California.  You can read more about the studies here:

  • Study 1: During the first year, some pledgers delayed having sex. Those who did have sex were more likely to have unprotected sex. Pledges were only effective in schools where at least 30% of students had taken the pledge and lost effectiveness if there were too many who took the pledges and pledgers didn’t feel “special” for taking the pledge (the club factor).
    • Pledges work best when there are enough other pledgers but not too many.  I was in Utah county last week, and I totally get this one.  I love the support of knowing some other Mormons, but when everyone else is a Mormon, I just want to punch someone in the face.
    • People who agree to pledges may be unprepared to act responsibly if they break their pledge.  Mormon equivalent would be some members who start drinking and go hog wild or who make other ill-advised moves because they lack experience and knowledge.
  • Study 2: After 5 years, both pledgers and non-pledgers had similar numbers of STDs; however, males who had pledged were far more likely to delay sex. There were several who substituted other forms of sex that were not specifically mentioned in the pledge but caused STDs to be transmitted.
    • People seek loopholes.  There were many stories of this at BYU:  couples who would go to Vegas and get married for the weekend so they could have sex without “sinning,” plus others who simply did everything but sex or who did everything that wasn’t “confessable.”  The more we specify rules, the more legalistic people are with their compliance.
    • Males may feel more bound by covenants (?).  I don’t think this study was sufficient to conclude this, but perhaps this is a correlation.
  • Study 3: This study showed that an informal promise to oneself resulted in delayed sex, but a formal pledge (e.g. a signed contract or ceremony) did not result in delayed sex.
    • Making a personal inward commitment is more effective than a public formal one.  We really just follow the commandments we are committed to follow anyway.  Forcing people to say otherwise just makes them liars.
  • Study 4: This study showed that those who had pledged but were already sexually active denied later having pledged as did those who became sexually active after pledging.
    • We have selective memory.  This is a byproduct of our need to be right.  As soon as we change our opinion on something, we immediately “remember” that we thought that all along.  For example, people who change political parties can reconstruct the change by recalling very early misgivings they had about their original party affiliation.  This makes me question how effective a formal pledge by those under 8 years old would be, especially since they are too young to be accountable for sin.
  • Study 5: This study showed no difference in sexual activity between pledgers and non-pledgers, but showed that pledgers were 10 points less likely to use condoms and 6 points less likely to use ANY form of birth control. It also showed that those willing to pledge had pre-existing negative attitudes toward sex that were not adjusted for in the data. IOW, pledge or not, they were less likely to have premarital sex due to other factors.
    • Pledgers already don’t want to do those things, and they may have an aversion to them.  Some are uneducated about these activities they find so distasteful and may lack relevant information and experience to make a covenant that is lasting based on actual understanding.
Why does this sound like a really weird way to make yourself a target for hook ups?

So, if this information applies to this approach, it seems that it’s a preach-to-the-choir tactic anyway that is unlikely to change behavior but could solidify negative attitudes toward sin among those predisposed to have negative attitudes toward sin. It also seems likely that kids could simply substitute other non-specified sins because they are not formally prohibited.

  • Do you consider covenants binding for life?  Why or why not?  When are they not binding?
  • Do you like this approach for children?  What about for adults?
  • How do we teach kids to have good judgment without encouraging them to sin?
  • Does this kind of approach create a focus on outward appearance and acceptance of others rather than making covenants based on deep understanding and wisdom?
  • Is the temple a club?  If so, is that a good thing or a bad thing?  Why?



*Which of course begs the question:  “Where are all these pornographic billboards?”  There were billboards featuring nudity in Europe, but they were for things like skin cream, not showing actual pornography or sexual depiction.  I did see billboards for ladyboy shows in Thailand, but they were just beautiful women, er, men.  But I digress.  I’m going to go on record that there are no actual pornographic billboards (graphically depicting sex acts), certainly not in the US.