Is Early Morning Seminary worth it? This is a question I ask myself every year. At the kick off for seminary, the seminary director explains each year that the reason we do Early Morning Seminary is to teach the kids they can do hard things. That’s the same reason we do manufactured Trek reenactments, too. But is doing hard things a good justification in and of itself? I have seen fairly severe impacts to my kids as they’ve gone through 4 years of seminary. The sleep deprivation at a crucial growing period when they are supposed to be achieving grades that enable them to get a good college education seems like a high price to pay for daily religious education from amateur volunteers.
First, what are the goals of seminary? I’m not entirely sure what all the goals are (aside from the aforementioned teaching kids they can do hard things), but I assume they include things like:
- Improving church retention rates among youth
- Giving youth the strength and support to resist daily temptations.
- Creating love for the scriptures and good religious habits.
- Integrating religion into our young people’s daily lives, not just on Sundays.
- Encouraging missionary preparation.
- Building social structures of support for the kids.
There are different options available for seminary instruction depending on where you live:
Release Time. This only exists in Mormon-heavy areas where the church has an agreement with the local school to allow students to take seminary as an elective class. Classes are taught by employees of the Church Education System. On the upside, there is no incremental sleep deprivation. On the downside, students who are particularly active in sports or electives have to choose between their academic or extracurricular pursuits and seminary. Students who choose seminary are missing out on some opportunities. There are trade-offs.
Early Morning Seminary. In areas where release time is not available, this is the option that is allowed. Stakes furnish volunteers to teach from the membership. Classes are held, usually at a local church or ward member’s house, for 45 minutes each morning before school starts. On the upside, kids aren’t sacrificing electives to take seminary, and they still get the daily habits and social support network which is possibly even stronger because they are often attending with a more cohesive group of peers. On the downside, this means that kids have to get up as early as 5:00 or even before, every single day. We have found that our kids’ grades suffer due to the lack of sleep (or other bad teenage habits, hard to say), and that they usually fall asleep after school and sleep until dinner, pushing homework time back to the later evening. Additionally, driving kids to and from seminary in the morning is a burden on parents who also experience sleep deprivation in their work lives.
Home Study / Online. This is theoretically available anywhere, but is generally not allowed if either of the other two options is available. It requires special approval that is usually not granted. On the upside, students can do the work at their own pace, covering the same materials the other students do usually in a fraction of the time. They may actually have more personal engagement with the scriptures since they have to work alone. On the downside, because it may not be done daily it isn’t building a daily habit, and the social support structure of peers is not there. Students may meet weekly to review the work.
For our family, the greatest negative impact from seminary is due to sleep deprivation, and it affects both the kids and the parents. While parents can get by on less sleep than kids, usually requiring only 7.5 to 9 hours a night, teens need 9-10 hours a night. With a 5:00 wake-up time, mine haven’t been capable of getting anywhere near that. The schedule dictates around 7 or fewer hours of sleep (maximum) for both kids and adults. For the kids, they make up for it by collapsing on the couch into a post-school coma, then drowsily awaking to eat something and rush bleary-eyed through their homework until they collapse into bed each night, only to start it all again the next morning.
Why is it early morning? Why not a more reasonable hour? This is mainly done before school to accommodate students who have after school activities, and it just so happens that the American school system is an early-starting one. There also seems to be some not insubstantial contingency of LDS folks who think keeping farmers’ hours makes us better people or builds character. They are often the same ones who yearn nostalgically for the days of corporal punishment in the classroom and who walked to school every day in the snow uphill both ways with a heavy cello strapped to their backs.
One school in Edina, Minnesota experimented with school start times to see if they could counter the sleep deprivation problems.
It shifted the high school’s start time from 7:20 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. and then asked University of Minnesota researchers to look at the impact of the change. The researchers found some surprising results: Students reported feeling less depressed and less sleepy during the day and more empowered to succeed. There was no comparable improvement in student well-being in surrounding school districts where start times remained the same.
This wasn’t the only study.
One 2010 study at an independent high school in Rhode Island found that after delaying the start time by just 30 minutes, students slept more and showed significant improvements in alertness and mood. And a 2014 study in two counties in Virginia found that teens were much less likely to be involved in car crashes in a county where start times were later, compared with a county with an earlier start time.
What time should kids be starting school, ideally?
Bolstered by the evidence, the American Academy of Pediatrics in 2014 issued a strong policy statement encouraging middle and high school districts across the country to start school no earlier than 8:30 a.m. to help preserve the health of the nation’s youth.
Mormon kids attending Early Morning Seminary are at a particular scholastic disadvantage. How serious an issue is sleep deprivation for teens? Pretty darn serious as it turns out. Medical studies show that teen sleep deprivation is linked to all sorts of negative effects including:
- Depression and suicidal thoughts – a study shows that every missed hour of sleep results in a 38% increase in feelings of hopelessness and depression and a 58% increase in suicide attempts. Teens are already at heightened risk for these.
- Acne and pimples, according to another study
- Dependence on medications
- Increased likelihood of substance abuse
- Learning problems due to lack of concentration
- Mood swings – impatience and yelling due to fatigue
- Unsafe driving due to drowsiness
- Less resistance to colds and flu
Enough about the problems. Here are two practical solutions that would help, although not cure the problem entirely.
- Make online seminary an option for any kids who prefer it.
- Make early morning seminary an every-other-day thing so that kids aren’t as sleep deprived every single day. Consider going to a twice a week schedule only, creating a hybrid of home (or family) study and classroom. In our household, missing seminary for the day means 1.5 extra hours of sleep, waking up at 6:30 instead of 5:00.
Those are the best solutions I have. What do you think? Is it worth the sleep deprivation to get the benefits? Are there other solutions you would propose? How has early morning seminary impacted your life or your kids’ lives for better or worse? Do you feel it’s worth the side effects?
Nice post Hawk. We took our kids out of early morning Seminary and did it ourselves. Was much better.
I would like to see the results of someone like an Educational Consultant, come into the church and audit the way that we do things from an educational perspective. I would think that the following would fail badly:
– sacrament meeting
– most Sunday school classes
– ward and stake conference
– General conference
I’m really in awe of early morning seminary, especially the teachers who prepare lessons day after day unpaid and with other full-time jobs. Whether or not it’s worth it for all the reasons you mention, it’s a demonstration of the extraordinary of faith and dedication of LDS families, and I’m sure that pays off great dividends to the church.
I had release time, since I grew up in south-eastern Idaho, and I seminary was a formidable spiritual influence in my life, much more than mutual, church, or even family scripture study and home evening. I had a very charismatic and inspiring teacher. But if it had been early-morning, there would have been some significant conflicts for me personally, because I had very intense extra-curricular activities, including, for a number of years, waking up at 4am to practice piano for a few hours before school. I deeply resented mutual activities, and the way that they cut into my extra-curriculars and for several years, I refused to go. My parents were deeply disappointed that I abandoned mutual, and I had the feeling that I was rebelling against God. These same conflicts would have been greatly amplified if I had to deal with early morning seminary, because as a teen, my artistic pursuits were everything to me.
My kids grew up outside UT and hated getting up for seminary. The oldest ones completed the seminary years and graduated, my youngest did not. The policy when my youngest attended seminary was to keep track of the number of minutes a student was late and then require make-up work for those late minutes. Though he attended most of the time–and drove other kids to seminary–he just refused to do the make-up work. Though I wanted him to do the make-up work (since he attended the majority of time anyway) I can’t say I blame him. I attended released time seminary growing up and then was denied my graduation certificate because I had to work the night of seminary graduation. Seriously. My mother even asked Stake leaders for it and they wouldn’t give it to her.
All my kids managed to be good students and college graduates. My older kids had better seminary experiences. Sadly, my youngest no longer has contact with the church. For some reason he was surrounded by letter-of-the-law types who succeeded in conveying to him he didn’t fit.
I think it would be great to offer early morning students more options–such as home study combined with twice weekly classes. But IMO church keaders are more geared to a more militaristic-structured approach than something more flexible. Great for round pegs, but not the square pegs trying to fit in round holes.
So glad to be done with those seminary years.
Wait…. Adults require 7-9 hours of sleep per night?????????
I average 6. Maybe I need to shift my habits…
I did released time. If I hadn’t lived in Utah growing up, in sure my parents would have forced me to early morning, but insist know if it would have been beneficial to me. Overall I found seminary to be a wash of positive and negatives. the gospel is best taught in the home, but the seminary program can be good. I think it would be better to have seminary be a Saturday or after school evening thing and actually allow females to teach.
I graduated seminary as a home study student, and taught as a woman.
We seemed to have rational leaders back then and had lessons during Sunday school time on a Sunday-according to the capacity of the weakest.
Consequently we had a high graduation rate.I couldn’t wait ’till my kids did seminary, and taught weekly lessons for some years.
Fast forward to adolescents with artistic and sports pursuits and early morning survival of the fittest.
Kids with big enough families or in population concentrations had early morning seminary in their homes. Those whose parents worked didn’t make seminary and become isolated as a consequence. All now inactive.We had a new baby and a sick child, and a husband who had a 2.5 hour commute.Daughter refused to get up, and won the struggle.She is, however, a musician.
My other kids were too sick throughout seminary years as migraine sufferers, but did some home study when well enough, which did still put them out of the loop.
It’s a red button issue in this household, and I’m baffled that any kids are compliant enough to go through this, in this country this might well be raised by teachers as abusive and detrimental to a child’s education.
I loved seminary so much, but have seen marriages fail and families stretched to breaking point by this-early mornings on a regular basis leading to health problems and the death of functional sexual relationships as a consequence of exhaustion. Truly, nothing should come before our families, not even seminary.
From my comment over on BCC (with edits):
I loathe EMS. I loved my 3 years home study, and learnt nothing that last year when I had to take EMS instead; my school work suffering, and dropping asleep in afternoon classes. I wish I hadn’t bothered and in fact binned my graduation certificate several years later.
My eldest just graduated after 4 years online, and the next has 2 more years to go. It is much more flexible in fitting with an individual schedule, and I get to see precisely what they are being taught, so we get to discuss.
Was disturbed to hear though, that push seems to be increasing for EMS, and new students to the online class are only to be admitted if there is no way they would make it to school on time otherwise. This disturbs me because I long protested at the way EMS cuts into family time in the mornings (or would in our household anyway) – family prayer, family scripture study etc., and being able to see my kids off for school. But apparently that would not now be sufficient reason…
Agree with wayfarer, have also in the past seen kids who can’t keep up with seminary become isolated from other youth, and also agree that it can put an intolerable strain on families.
If it’s so great, then do early morning for everyone. Let’s have all the high-schoolers in Utah living this crazy life and then see what we think.
I should have included that a lot of classes now – things like orchestra, select bands and choirs, yearbook, student government – have “zero hour” requirements.
Hawkgrrl– I think your list of goals omits the two major ones:
* Creates an in-depth knowledge of the scriptures and the doctrines of the gospel
* Is a “formidable spiritual influence” that students can look back on for the rest of their lives (as mentioned by Nate).
Our region is maybe 5% LDS, but the stake has a RT agreement with the high school for seminary to be taught during the last period of the day. The instructor is volunteer.
As a newly called early-morning seminary teacher, I have lots of thoughts here but just want to say that the online option is a daily thin: they have to login within the 24 hour period, it’s not something you can just catch up on all at once on Sunday. However, you miss a lot with class discussions and activities that aren’t possible in private study.
*thing, not thin
Last year the Seattle School board announced that 7:45 am was too early for students, and are moving the start time to 8:45 am.
If 7:45 am is too early for school, then 6 am is REALLY too early! (I’m glad I lived in Utah for released time seminary. My 2 older sisters did early morning seminary, and my sister is currently an early morning seminary teacher in Colorado.)
I’ve been discussing this topic a lot with my teen daughter who attends early morning seminary. She’s barely 1 month in to the school year and she’s exhausted and getting sick all the time. She’s taking all honors and AP courses, and is involved in a (non-school) sport and community club. She’s working so hard to do her best and is aim for an excellent university.
She loved seminary last year, but hates the new format (same teacher). Her comment is, “Seriously… why can’t we just talk about the stories from the N.T. for what they are rather than having to apply every sentences to the ‘challenges’ we face today?” And the new doctrinal mastery has become a way for her teacher to reinforce that none of the difficult questions are really all that important compared to being able to bare testimony (which leaves my daughter frustrated because she wants to talk about the difficult questions rather than demean them).
We talk almost daily about her exhaustion and her unhappiness with the seminary program. She can quit if she wants to. But she feels like she can’t quit because the social pressure from the other kids is so strong. If she even misses a day, she gets teased and questioned (not just her, all the kids do it to each other). She isn’t a kid with the social skills to either put a stop to this, absorb it without getting her feelings hurt, or find a new group of friends without such pressure/expectations. Right now, her primary reason for attending seminary is her standing with the LDS social group (and that’s really sad to me).
From an outside perspective, she seems squashed into a corner with no way out. She could ditch her sport (which is her great love in life) or her after school activities (but she needs them to get into the university she wants to attend and we participate as a family). I honestly don’t know what to do. Talking to the other LDS parents in our school, there are any number of other kids in the exact same situation.
I come back to this idea of seminary helping kids to prove they can do a hard thing. Which is great for kids who are coasting in the first place. But for kids who are already carrying a heavy burden, the ‘hard thing’ pushes them into unhappiness. I really don’t want that for my daughter. I certainly don’t want all this unhappiness built up around her church experience. I have no idea what to do other than honor her choices and try to take some of her burden myself.
The “doing hard things” mantra has worn thin for me. AP classes are a hard thing that actually yields something tangible. Seminary is a price of entry for BYU students. Not graduating seminary is a huge liability for a kid who wants to go there, but at the same time, attending early morning seminary means grades are unlikely to be good enough to even get into regular BYU (BYU-Idaho or BYU-Hawaii are still options as they have much higher acceptance rates). This “hard thing” they are doing prevents them, in some kids’ cases, from successfully doing the hard things that result in better grades or more extracurriculars that result in higher acceptance rates for college. We pressure them into this, but every yes to this is a no to something else.
With Early Morning Seminary being a requirement only outside of Utah, while Utah kids have the advantage of Release Time, the UT kids actually have a DOUBLE advantage: easier to graduate from seminary, and they can also do the AP classes and extracurriculars that BYU and other schools look for in the admissions process. IOW, the kids who LEAST need an advantage in BYU admissions have the greatest advantage. BYU tuition is cheaper than any state tuition, and even Utah state schools are cheaper than in state tuition in most other states. The deck is stacked against LDS kids outside of Utah.
We pulled our kids out the last two years of seminary. The grind had become too much for us and our children. We did home study with the materials after that. It made for a more pleasant experience.
Not sure BYU is such a bargain counting all that tithing money you have to pay out over the years (or decades). And, really, paying in-state tuition at a state school where ever you happen to live will get you a perfectly fine diploma.
@anon 16 –
I’ve thought about this a lot. Church schools aren’t on our radar, although the financial difference between a good school and a fair school in our state is just as significant as the BYU / non-BYU options. So then is it worth it to let her push herself? Wouldn’t her life be just as good (along with our checkbook) if instead of attending a Univ of Calif school, she attended a Cal State?
And the answer is yes. Her life would still be wonderful. At the same time, what a waste of opportunity for a kid with the drive and intelligence to do absolutely anything she wanted. What going to a lower-tiered school does is limit her options going forward. And not just because of the name of the school, but because of the contacts / relationships she will build during her college years (although let’s be honest, the name of the school matters as well).
Especially as we have family connections at the UC/City she wants to attend and she will have some pretty fabulous internships easily available.
My daughter has mentioned that seminary graduation also looks great on a college application, but attending for that reason is also rather sad.
“What going to a lower-tiered school does is limit her options going forward.”
I doubt it. What limits a person’s options is poor performance *after* graduation.
“My daughter has mentioned that seminary graduation also looks great on a college application”
The CES folk here keep trying to sell that one here too – that and on job applications… I take it with a huge pinch of salt myself. Sure, they might be interested and ask about it, but I think equally likely to think you’re some kind of religious fundamentalist nut.
“I doubt it.”
In a general sense, you are probably right. With someone who wants go into a specialized field requiring post-graduate work, you are wrong.
“specialized field requiring post-graduate work”
Really? Please provide an example. I went to a state school and did post graduate work in a highly specialized field. I never found the school I attended to have any bearing on my academic or professional success. What mattered was how well I performed.
Fair enough, then I am wrong. I’d imagine if we polled the topic, we’d find you are the exception rather than the rule though.
Here in the UK your application goes in the bin for some jobs if you haven’t attended certain universities.
Top companies only recruit at top schools, so those who attend average schools have to hustle harder to even get noticed.
Also, the connections and relationships already noted up-thread.
“goes in the bin for some jobs”
I can see that. I expect if you wanted to work for some high-powered law firm you might have a better chance with a degree from Yale or Harvard. If you wanted to head a large government or university research program, a degree from Stanford or MIT would help. If you wanted to enter some medical specialty, maybe Harvard or Duke.
I am sure there are a few cases where the school matters and where attending a particular school might open doors. In the US, at least, for the vast majority of students, it’s unlikely to matter. After my first job out of school, nobody asked about my grades or the school I attended. When I reviewed resumes I certainly never cared much. I might be impressed by a Stanford or MIT grad, but I was much *more* impressed by performance, results, career pace, and accomplishments. I think parents and students stress out *way* too much about getting into a good school.
Out of curiosity, what jobs in the UK pretty much require a degree from a certain school?
I started to respond with my continued thoughts about educational choices and then decided that we’re moving too off-topic from what I actually care about. I’ll agree with you that there is no right way to build a foundation for a future, and finish by saying that I absolutely see value in aiming for higher than the lowest-common-denominator schools (Cal State, BYU-I, etc.).
Our stake president wouldn’t allow this.
“Not sure BYU is such a bargain counting all that tithing money you have to pay out over the years (or decades). And, really, paying in-state tuition at a state school where ever you happen to live will get you a perfectly fine diploma.” Well, tithing that’s already in the bag is a sunk cost either way. I’m not knocking the in state education compared to BYU, just the cost of it which is about double. I have one son attending ASU, and the other goes to BYU-I starting today.
BYU-I is a crazy bargain. It’s like Fred’s College prices. Oh, wait, it used to be called Rick’s. Hmmm. Most non-LDS people, employers included, don’t know the difference between BYU and BYU-I. If BYU is good enough for most companies, so’s BYU-I. At least in general business I’ve found that to be true.
I forget what the tuition at my school was, but I paid for it by flipping burgers and doing TAs so it couldn’t have been much. I stayed off campus, and that saved a lot. I know some kids knock out a lot of credits at community colleges and then transfer to a university. I have no doubt your kids will have awesome, productive careers no matter what schools they attend.
Really hard for me to read this and not get upset at what I am putting my kids through. Seminary starts at 5:45. Just as described, my kid gets home from band after school at 7 or 8 PM and eats and tries to start on homework and falls asleep. On the 1 day a week they don’t stay late for band, he is asleep and we can hardly get them up. Saturdays are SAT prep and they have lots of AP classes. Sunday after early morning church he sleeps most of the day until he has to get up to work on homework.
It is a pressure cooker. My son seems to be cutting it, but I feel for those great kids that can do well once they get their education, but can’t quite hack the lack of sleep and falling by the wayside just to make sure we apply a heavy coat of “survival of the fittest.” And then I see several kids that have been forced to go to seminary that leave the church. It seems to me we look on it as a “lock them into the church” and for some it does and for others it pushes them out.
One other option would be to reduce the time down a bit. Say 30 minutes of a lesson. Yes less would be taught, but I don’t know if less would be learned. Going all 4 years didn’t prepare me to have a major faith crisis when I did just a bit of digging into church history.
As my seminary teacher told me, “I only remember 2 things from seminary. My teacher loved Christ and my teacher loved me.”
My youngest has really enjoyed early morning seminary in the past. This year, she is taking a full AP/Dual enrollment load. She volunteers one evening a week in a capacity that doesn’t easily lend to substitutes. She has SAT prep 2 evenings a week, and she has been offered a research assistant position with a PhD who takes ONE high school student each year along with his normal college and grad school assistants. There are weekly requirements for time to be spent in the lab. She is 16 and has found that she cannot do everything. Seminary was the first thing to be dropped. SAT prep was next — her current scores are excellent — she has decided to be satisfied with them.
Going to seminary would require her to decrease the intensity of her classes or refuse the research assistant position. 10 years from now, the classes and the lab work will have made a difference. The seminary material will be stuff she will have heard 100 times before.
And about BYU .. Outside of the Wasatch front, BYU degrees are not such a hot commodity. They can be a deficit. My degree from BYU is the one degree that I often don’t even list on my resume. The institution is too controversial.
anon: tuitions have risen 400% in the US since the mid-90s. My oldest has at least got tuition reimbursement through his job, but he does have to work while he’s doing his degree to pay for the extra cost of ASU vs. BYU.
Hedgehog: I haven’t found BYU to be a real liability in the US, nor a real asset either. There are some places that will only hire Ivy League, but run-of-the-mill corporations just want you to have a degree, whatever in, wherever from, if the work experience is in line.
I kinda doubt reducing the time would help. There’s already so much tardiness and itching-to-leave-early-ness. It could feel really pointless if it were much shorter, I think.
I have good memories of the years I taught. I did love those kids; we all sacrificed for each other to be there. But I have a hard time saying it’s worth it, knowing how little actual knowledge I transmitted to them – this was 25 and 15 years ago.
The essays came out when my own kids were in class, and that’s when I really decided it might not be worth it. There was such an effort to double-down, and dismiss their distress and questions. Maybe things are better with the new curriculum, but what I read above says not.
hawk, I think you might be responding to AmateurParent’s comment there… my comment was solely to do with seminary…
I really did laugh out loud and woke my wife up when when someone suggested graduating from seminary on a college application. That’s a new classic.
EMS was fine for me because I was a morning person (up by 530 even on weekends since I was little kid) even as a teenager and I already had a solid grounding before starting EMS (my dad and I had read a chunk of Nibley together and talked about various Sunstone articles before I was out of middle school, etc). But I watched my younger siblings struggle to attend and do well in school, particularly my two sisters. I am convinced that if they could have slept better they would have done better in school, they did fine but they could have been at the top. Having a daughter of my own now, I’m more of a mind to push for school/other opportunities over EMS. She’ll have a far better grounding in the gospel and church history before she hits that age than anything seminary will provide.
(That is my hope anyway, kids of course have a mind of their own. I just want to be able to teach and share with her at home everything I’ve learned and love about the gospel and it’s context in history and our current world but maybe she won’t have it from me. All I can do is try from day 1 to share what I know.)
Best of luck to all you parents and teachers out there. And anyone actually having to go through EMS.
Either make release-time seminary with paid professional teachers available to all, or get rid of release-time seminary in the Jell-o Belt and make early-morning seminary the standard for all. The current setup is too much of a double standard–another example of Utah exceptionalism that needs to be purged out of the contemporary Church.
We experienced almost every scenario except home-study. We had our first kids in Early morning, my wife taught early morning for many years, we had quasi-home study, when the Stake went to a crazy early morning arrangement with another Stake (but no credit allowed for our kids) and finally our youngest had release time here in Colorado Springs with a professional CES instructor.
The latter seems to have been the best experience even though there was travel between the school and the seminary. Our son loved his instructor, who is excellent, and didn’t have to get up at the crack of dawn every day. And neither did we.
Though my wife missed teaching the kids a lot.
Hmmmmm…..go to bed earlier the night before or in other words, be prepared to get up the next morning for seminary? Nahhh. That’s too easy.
Oh LucyH if it were only that simple. It was when I attended 20+ years ago. But the amount of homework my kids have (a “light” night is maybe 69-90 minutes, but it can be several hours). If they participate in any extracurriculars there is no “just go to bed early”. Or at least that option would exclude finishing homework. I know people’s mileage may vary between kids and different schools are different. I have been told that college recruiters even out of state that my school district is known for “if they can do good at that district, they will do good at college”. That is a blessing – for those that “make the grade”, but it can kill the self-esteem of a “just average” student in such a situation.
60-90 minutes?! My kids had 3 hours per night from age 13, plus instruments etc.
Beginning to see why this works for some of you…
And anon-that’s all jobs in which there is any competition. Finance, law, civil engineering, design,medical careers, academia. It’s a small island.
“that’s all jobs in which there is any competition”
Wow! Definitely not true here in the states. I have first-hand knowledge about engineering and medical fields, and for most companies you’ll get a job regardless of the school you attended… provided it’s accredited, of course. For new grads, a high GPA is crucial, for experienced it’s job performance. Certainly, nobody on the teams I ever worked with paid attention to the candidate’s school. We might have been slightly impressed by a graduate of a fancy school, but that wasn’t a key factor in the hiring decision. I have no doubt that attending a top tier school makes some difference, but hard work and solid performance matters a *lot* more. To me, it’s a cost-benefit trade-off. If your child wins a full scholarship to a top tier school, then take it. Otherwise, send him or her to the best school you can reasonably afford without breaking the bank. My overriding concern is parents who stress far too much about their child attending a “good school” that costs a fortune and burdens the family with a huge debt. In the vast majority of cases, the cost outweighs the benefit. Personally, I’d spend my energy raising a healthy, well-adjusted child with a good work ethic as opposed to relying on a fancy school and “connections”. I certainly think that depriving a child of rest to get a seminary diploma as a means of getting a job or university spot is misguided…. unless the child wants to become a preacher or attend divinity school, of course.
I had perfect attendance in early morning seminary without suffering any amount of sleep deprivation.
I might also suggest that the purpose of early morning seminary isn’t exclusively or even primarily aimed at the doctrinal training provided by these amateurs.
My oldest is 8 and we have already decided that unless things change drastically in the next six years, we aren’t even going to bother trying seminary. My husband is a doctor and we just don’t think the toll it takes on kids’ health is worth it. Neither one of us got much out of seminary–I had release time, he had early morning. I don’t love the idea of an (often) virtual stranger teaching my kids some of thornier aspects of the curriculum either. And, I would rather my kids didn’t go to BYU, anyway.
LucyH: The attached studies show that teens don’t function well with super early bed times, something about their circadian rhythms as they grow into adulthood. Forcing teens to bed at 8pm isn’t a solution.
Going to bed earlier isn’t an option. Bus drops daughter off at 5:11 pm. She chills, eats dinner, and starts on homework by 7 pm. She will be done with homework around midnight. Because she no longer attends seminary, she gets to sleep until 7:30 am and catches the 8 am bus to school. Any evening activities run from 7-9. Those activities put her study off until even later. Over 50% of the student body has at least a 4.0. Over 65% of kids take at least one AP class. It is a crazy competitive place with over a 1000 kids in her grade. If she wants to keep up, she has to put the study time in.
BTW .. I grew up overseas. We did home study seminary and then the youth met on Sunday afternoons to discuss it. It was okay. My last year of HS, we were stateside. EMS was studying the OT. Our seminary teacher talked about The Lost Tribes of Israel and suggested that they were hidden in the center of the earth .. And would re-emerge at some point. She assumed there was a big cave entrance someplace “North”. Listening to her, I liked to envision mole-people.
Seminary lost its credibility with that lesson.
I completed two years of early morning seminary and then petered out. My husband graduated from release time seminary. He is adamant that all of our children will graduate from early morning seminary. The more he beats on that particular drum, the more it sounds like he’s saying, “Only seminary graduates are welcome in this family.” Or worse, “Only seminary graduates may enter the Celestial Kingdom.”
(Although, as I have told my now eighth grader who is terrified of what’s coming down the pike: your dad can force you to attend seminary, but he can’t force you to stay awake.)
AmateurParent: Mole people! Love it! Yes, my son was dismayed when his early morning seminary teacher disagreed with evolution (while also misunderstanding it).
I did four years of EMS, and was actually the class president my junior and senior years. Throughout high school I averaged 4-5 hours of sleep per night, which coupled with the ban on coffee meant I regularly (at least 4 times per week, I’d say) fell asleep in my afternoon classes and/or seminary. It makes for some good stories (reading in class with one eye covered so my eyes wouldn’t cross from exhaustion, falling asleep in choir while literally in the act of singing, waking up with my head on the desk and my Spanish teacher fixing my hair) but was overall a pretty miserable experience. While I managed to do well in my classes and went on to graduate from an Ivy League school, it is not an experience I’d wish on anyone. In the end, EMS just left me wishing that I could be a “normal” non-Mormon person who got to sleep.
My daughter says that there are regularly kids that are asleep in ems. Or they sit out in the hallway finishing homework after their parents drop them off. The teacher ocassionally invites those kids into the room to do homework as at least they will catch a word here or there. It all points to a system that isn’t working for a lot of families.
I grew up and loved seminary overall. However, this is not 1985 and the system is broken and not working in today’s world and culture. First, it is a 2-tier system. The Jello belt with 1 system and all else with another. If we are correlating all else in LDS church, why not the seminary system. If the GA kids/grand-kids had to go through this, the program would change. Everyone just paints a false picture and says how great the program is. It no longer works for many families and many other are deceiving themselves.
When my oldest started seminary we spoke to the Bishop and SP about our concerns and gave us a blank stare. The church needs to start listening to reality and what is really going on. Our seminary starts at 5:40 AM. That means girls are getting up at 4:30 AM sometimes (after studying until midnight). The kids are driving 55 mph down a 30 mph neighborhood street to arrive on time. My neighbors are upset and wonder why the kids are speeding at 530 AM. The teacher is chewing the youth out for arriving 2 minutes late, (at 5:42 AM), so now the kids will drive faster to get their gold star. One teacher locks the door and will not let the kids in, if late, to not interrupt the spirit during the prayer and spiritual thought. So, there are many kids waiting in the hallway for 10 minutes. Also, the kids are expected to be dressed for the school day, so no pajamas, (looking presentable takes time).
My 2 oldest graduated from EMS, however we are done with this program ruining our life. We are taking back control. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is designed for families, not the institution. Having Family Home evening, Family prayer, and Family scripture study should take priority over Church Seminary. My youngest is now not attending. There are other options of designing a seminary system, but the decision makers are stuck in a rut and refuse to listen. We need true leadership and people that listen.
Last year we got calls from the school wanting to know why our kids were sleeping in class.
Why do ask the 18 year-old missionaries to wake up at 6:30 AM, but 14 year-olds are asked to wake up at before 5:00 AM?
This program has harmed our family. If people are more important than programs, let’s see that principle put into action.
Will your youngest do home study or just do without? Is he/she worried about being “that kid?” If the scales tip and the social costs come down, I wonder how many families will participate on the grounds that the lesson content is worth it.
Two other reasons for Early Morning Seminary:
By Friday & Saturday night your teenagers are so sleep deprived that they can’t stand up or even think about going to parties where they might get drunk, stoned or have causal sex. Sort of like a social chastity/WofW belt. Strict chastity is more important than any educational or career accomplishment in the minds of orthodox Mormons.
Driving: If you sit in the car with your high school youth while they drive to seminary every day for a few years and constantly lecture them about driving safely (that guy in the passing car is probably drunk, don’t let him run into you!) when they are too tired to talk back, it gives you another chance to lessen their likelihood of getting killed or injured in a car wreck. If kids are racing cars to seminary (or during seminary-worse) then you need a major overhaul of their driving habits. They are learning precisely the most dangerous attitude possible about driving. The number one cause of death of Americans, ages 1 to 50+, is traffic accidents. This is a bigger health problem than sleep deprivation. Far too many funerals of youth killed in cars are held every year.
A stroll down memory lane.
During those unforgettable early morning seminary years, our whole family went on “Bermuda Time”. We turned all our clocks forward 2 hours. So EMS was held at 8:00 am Bermuda Time. And school started a little after 10:00 am Bermuda Time and didn’t get out until 6:00 pm Bermuda Time. YM/YW started at 9:00 pm Bermuda Time. Kinda late, eh? At midnight Bermuda Time, it was getting very late for a school night. We had to be strict about this even on weekends. We also had little celebrations at the beginning and end of the year, dancing around in beachy cloths and straw hats, etc
What this did was reframe the problem. The problem with EMS is not so much a timing problem because you can adapt to a 2 hour shift about as easily as the government imposed 1 hour daylight wasting shift every year. The real problem with EMS is that it exposes an agenda problem. Youth have too much to do and not enough time to do it. This is made worse by outdated perceptions of church leaders that youth have too little to do and need something else to keep them busy and out of mischief.
The solution then becomes obvious. You make a list of the options and then put them in order of priority. Education, harder or easier classes, sports, scouts, music, EMS, etc. Then determine how long they take based on the capacities of the youth (be reasonable, teenagers are not as efficient in time management as executives of large companies or your typical mom). Then the hard part, draw some lines.
EMS might not make the cut. Rest easy that you are not letting things of lesser importance crowd out things of greater importance. This seems to be the essence of many of the complaints above. Ideally, the youth affected will have some say in the matter and quite possibly the greater weight in these decisions. Let them be who they want to be (within reason).
Our ward had the seminary students speak in sacrament meeting at the end of every year. One young man related that he had slept through too many classes and flunked out of high school. But he graduated from early morning seminary. He works at the airport loading luggage. I hope the Lord is blessing him for his choices because Delta airlines is not.
Disclaimer: I was very lucky in that my wife and children all inherited a genetic characteristic- they do not need more than about 4-5 hours of sleep. It is annoying for me going to bed before and getting up after them, all the time. So their list of priorities could be long enough to include EMS. They often stayed up until 4-5:00 am Bermuda time. But take about 4 hours for more sleep out of their day back then and we would have been putting education first; then only one more great love- music or non-LDS scouting in their individual cases.
And nothing else.
Am in my first week of driving child #1 to EMS. With a motivated child, it has been survivable. With our distance to the church and direct I need to go to work, I can’t go back home in between EMS dropoff and work, so I am hitting the gym and showering/changing for work there. We all seem to be going to bed a bit earlier, which is good for the younger kids. I am looking forward to getting a gym body out of this, while my daughter learns about the NT.
After school seminary seems obvious. As would be ending priestcraft CES teachers.
Thank you for addressing early morning seminary as a health issue Hawk. It truly is.
I was that AP honors student with extra curriculars, jobs and more, and adding a 5am wakeup every day tipped me over the edge. I sunk into a depression, and engaged in self-harm behaviors, had increased anxiety, and ended up missing much of last semester of senior year because of those health issues. I did not have a mental illness, I was severely sleep deprived and suffering from long-term sleep deprivation.
I went to BYU with my seminary diploma, but went still depressed with major sleep issues that was medicated with heavy duty sleeping pills. The anxiety turned into an eating disorder and my time at BYU (which I had “earned” with that diploma) was a miserable experience. It wasn’t until my early 20s that I got into a better sleep routine—and all that anxiety/depression disappeared and I haven’t been on sleeping pills since.
Early morning seminary was not worth the cost of those issues. I BEGGED my parents to let me skip, but they thought they were doing the “right thing” and forced me to go. And when I did skip (which I did as much as I could without being penalized for attendance), it was a better day without me falling asleep first period, or being so irritable and sad I would burst spontaneously into tears.
As I’ve entered my 30s, my parents now admit that seminary was not right for me. They expressed regret in forcing me to go. I’m not angry at them, but wished I had the choice at that age. I will NOT be forcing my child to go to seminary.
Good for you. Your story reminds me of athletes who over-train, then wind up getting injured and out of commission for days, weeks, months, or even years. It may seem anti-intuitive, but rest and recovery is a *good* thing.
Some parents think that constantly pushing their kids to the limit will somehow “toughen them up”. In fact, it’s just the opposite, and your story is a perfect example. In most cases like this, the parents are, in reality, selfishly using their children as pawns to compete with *other parents* and the children suffer for it. Look at me! My son is an Eagle Scout! Aren’t I an awesome parent! Look at me! My children checked off all the Certified Mormon Milestones! We are guaranteed exalted and so superior to the rest of you poor schlubs!
Wonderful post as usual. Perhaps no one will read this now but I am on holidays in a heritage gold mining town in Australia and scanning the posts…. I must say I am a fan Hawkgrrrl!
We never compelled our children to go to early morning seminary. Some did some didn’t … the result all are great human beings. My oldest boy wanted to go but in his second year but he contracted terrible pneumonia. He then wanted to do it as home study(1980’s) as he was so ill that it was life threatening and winter!! But was refused!!!
My wife and I were S&I country coordinators in Eastern Europe resently so having both examples of how it ‘works or doesn’t work’ my feeling is it is so culturally Utah oriented at a number of levels….. again! It’s a pain!
My suggestion would be to get rid of early morning and make an accessible and an interesting program online and Sunday School time is the Seminary meeting of the week