One of the most important and fundamental doctrines of the plan of salvation is agency. It is also one of the most challenging for youth to understand because developmentally youth are enjoying more freedom, experimenting with making choices and establishing their independence.
Agency, our ability to choose and act for ourselves, is a gift from our Heavenly Father. Without it, we would not be able to learn or progress or follow the Savior. With it, we are "free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil" (2 Nephi 2:27).
This principle is sometimes misunderstood by youth to be the freedom to do whatever one wants. Youth often overlook its ever-present companion — accountability. A key statement in For the Strength of Youth teaches: "While you are free to choose your course of action, you are not free to choose the consequences. Whether for good or bad, consequences follow as a natural result of the choices you make."
The funnel principle
In her April 2012 Spring Auxiliary Leadership Training, Sister Elaine S. Dalton taught "The Funnel Principle," demonstrating that agency is not free and comes with consequences.
Sister Dalton taught that Satan says, "Try everything! Youth is a time to live it up, to be young, to be happy, to be carefree!" What Satan does is like a funnel, only it's an upside down funnel with a broad base. He urges youth to try it all, now! When they do this they narrow down their options in the future. They start suffering the consequences of poor choices they've made and their future choices and opportunities are limited — their freedom is limited.
When youth live the standards and walk the narrow path, they turn that funnel right side up, the way we use it. Walking the narrow way at the bottom, staying strict with ourselves, exercising control and discipline, opens countless opportunities and options. They become, or remain, free.
You may wish to use this analogy with young women. You could have them identify behaviors such as immorality or drug and alcohol abuse and their attendant consequences that limit their opportunities. Conversely, you could identify the standards they are living such as "Sexual Purity" or "Physical and Emotional Health," and the blessings and opportunities that are opened up to them as a result of their strict obedience.
Help them learn about agency
Studying the scriptures will help young women understand why agency is not free and comes with a price. Help them understand that we will make wrong choices, but that our Savior paid that price through His Atonement (see 1 Corinthians 6:20). Teach them the doctrine of repentance and that we each can choose to repent. The section on agency in "True to the Faith" has several scripture references, including 2 Nephi 2, specific to agency that young women could study, explore and use to teach the principles of agency to each other (see also the sections on the Atonement, repentance and forgiveness).
Studying the words of latter-day prophets will also give young women a greater understanding of agency and accountability in relevant ways. Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve in an address titled "Ye Are the Temple of God" teaches about agency in regard to the way we care for and dress our bodies. Studying his words as a class could open a wonderful discussion on modesty and the doctrines that teach us why it is important to dress and behave modestly.
Parents, priesthood leaders and Young Women leaders, seize opportunities to teach our young women this foundational doctrine of agency. Use the many resources available to help them learn about agency and accountability (see sidebar of additional resources). Encourage them to teach one another in a variety of settings including family home evening, Sunday lessons, bishop's youth discussions, Young Women camp and Mutual.
For the Strength of Youth resources can be found on the Youth website. Under "Agency and Accountability" you will find a short video titled "The Sting of the Scorpion," which poignantly illustrates the consequences of poor choices. Elder Patrick Kearon of the Seventy recalls being stung by a scorpion as a result of making a poor choice not to wear shoes, a decision he made out of laziness or rebellion — reasons that will relate to youth.
In a recent general conference address, Elder Larry Y. Wilson of the Seventy gave this advice, which, I believe, as parents and leaders we should heed: "Wise parents [and leaders] prepare their children [and young women] to get along without them. They provide opportunities for growth as children [and young women] acquire the spiritual maturity to exercise their agency properly. And yes, this means children [and young women] will sometimes make mistakes and learn from them" ("Only upon the Principles of Righteousness," Ensign, May 2012).
Our youth are a noble generation. Helping them understand the foundational doctrine of agency within the plan of salvation will give them the ability and confidence to make righteous choices. May we follow the counsel of the Prophet Joseph Smith: "I teach them correct principles, and they govern themselves" (quoted by John Taylor, Millennial Star, 15 Nov. 1851, p. 339).
President Thomas S. Monson: "Decisions are constantly before us. To make them wisely, courage is needed — the courage to say no, the courage to say yes. Decisions do determine destiny" ("The Three R's of Choice," Ensign, November 2010, pp. 67-70).
"That every man may act ... according to the moral agency which I have given unto him, that every man may be accountable for his own sins" (Doctrine and Covenants 101:78).
"Sting of the Scorpion" (https://www.lds.org/youth/video/sting-of-the-scorpion?lang=eng).