As part of my job as a BuzzFeed editor, I spend a lot of time looking at how teens are using the internet and reading what they’re posting. Technology has given me a window into teens’ lives, through social media, messageboards, and other sites. None of these things existed or were popular when I was a teen, so I’m completely unable to relate their complicated experience of portaying oneself online. They seem like they’re from another planet. A totally awful, narcissistic, sex-crazed, petulant, parent-disrespecting, cyber-bullying planet that has no rules of grammar.
The teenagers I met at the Hill Cumorah Pageant, a large event in upstate New York where volunteers act out the Book of Mormon, were nothing like the hormone-addled monsters I’ve seen online. They were polite, friendly, well-spoken around adults, and even appeared to enjoy spending family time with their parents. What the h*ck? These are not the teenagers I see begging Justin Beiber to follow them on Twitter, these aren’t the ones posting embarrassing sex questions to Yahoo Answers.
These are Good Teens.
What is it about Mormonism that makes teens so ruly? Setting aside the actual religious doctrine, there must be something about the culture of Mormonism that makes young people not as boorish as their wayward peers. Perhaps the tendancy of Mormons to have large families means older kids learn responsibility by babysitting younger kids, and younger kids have siblings as roles models. Participation in frequent church youth group activities means keeping out of trouble. For young children, Sunday school means extra hours of learning, perhaps giving kids a boost in reading skills and academic advantages. Interacting with other adults at church means teens become socialized and comfortable around adults - something that sounds small, but goes a long way.
Here are a few examples of the difference between the teens I met at the Pageant, and the kind of behavior I see daily on the Internet.
3. Mormon Teen: loves spending quality time with his parents
6. Internet Teen: unironicly complains about having a maid
10. Internet Teens: dirty dancing in bikinis on video
19. Mormon Teens: friendly and outgoing
These two were happy to talk with me, very polite and sweet.