Growing up a Jehovah’s Witness is an experience that has shaped me in innumerable ways. To be fair, Watchtower’s influence on my young life did give me some benefit. Through my studies I developed reading skills and a genuine love of language at a young age.
I wasn’t afraid to speak in front of my class or to strangers, because I’d been doing talks at the Kingdom Hall and presentations in the field ministry for years. I even formed a few friendships that have lasted throughout my lifetime with peers I met at meetings. Aside from those few things though, I believe Watchtower’s teachings and policies did very little to prepare me for my adult life.
In 1989, Watchtower released the first edition of the book Questions Young People Ask Answers That Work, or the “YPA” book. I still remember being 7 years old and getting my copy at the District Convention. I was so excited to have a book “just for kids” that I could read.
Per my usual methods, I started perusing the book as soon as we got in the car – the pictures and chapter titles getting my attention straight away. There were chapters on parental conflict, time management, and even the great taboo of masturbation, all written with children and adolescents in mind. Though some of the topics were embarrassing, at that time I really believed the book would be able to help me answer any questions I had.
Instead, the opposite turned out to be true. The book was nothing but a propaganda piece with contents that did nothing but attempt to bolster my paranoia of the outside world.
All it did was sweep any real problems I might be having under the rug by offering the one-size-fits-all answer of prayer and guidance from elders for each and every one of them. Though it lacked any true substance, the YPA book soon became the go-to parenting guide at my house – a convenient tool for my parents to turn to when I was going through my teenage years, and a collection of often foolish advice that offered me no real support.
Looking back, I can see how Watchtower’s suggestions in this book and from the podium failed me in my life. The biggest problems for me lay in the areas of dating and marriage. By following the admonition to date with the intention of marriage and constantly using a chaperone, both in person and over the phone, at age 18 I found myself wed to a virtual stranger.
The truth is, though we had the blessing of congregation elders and our parents, my husband and I had never been allowed the time or privacy to get to know each other. At such a young age, frustration with real-life issues mixed with twisted Witness views on male headship, and the clashing of our personalities, led to the relationship becoming physically violent.
After a few attempts at fixing it, including getting some bad advice from the elders, and a situation requiring police intervention and a stay at a battered women’s shelter, I left Watchtower at age 19. Disfellowshipping and shunning soon followed.
The answers didn’t work.
My life experience and that of many of my peers leads me to wonder: Does Watchtower really care about kids?
I recently became aware of a second volume to the book of my youth, and decided to read the PDF download from JW.org. In it I find more of the same misguided nonsense that I grew up with: Witness children being counseled to avoid the world and follow Watchtower’s advice at all costs. Boys groomed to be family heads, while girls are encouraged to take a lesser role.
Education still takes the backseat to the preaching work. Homosexuality and its urges are described as “wrong desires,” and compared to rage as something that can be quelled. Youths are told to avoid “double lives” by limiting contact with school friends. Only one small section is devoted to eating disorders. And much to my dismay, the dating advice is the same: never be alone together and only date with the intention to marry.
This new volume even includes a questionnaire for both sexes where the man is to evaluate how well his intended “shows submissiveness” when he is deciding to pursue her. There is very little mention of seeking professional or legal help for any issue. The overall solution being offered to all problems remains the same: prayer and reliance on the guidance of congregation elders.
With such counsel being given, is it any wonder that Witness children worldwide are leaving the religion in hoards?
According to a 2008 study from Pew Research, only 37% of people raised as Jehovah’s Witnesses continue with the religion as adults. When you consider the many (a number of whom I’ve privately corresponded with) who stay just to keep the community and familial ties intact, one has to wonder how many stay true believers from childhood on?
It turns out, Watchtower isn’t so good at “inculcating” children as Deuteronomy 6:6-8 instructs. Instead, the organization seem to be setting kids up for failure and their often-inevitable exit from the religion.
So, where does that leave current Jehovah’s Witness children and teens? Between indoctrinated parents and Watchtower offering so little in the way of true guidance, many find themselves feeling overwhelmed and alone.
Fortunately, times have changed, and there are now a variety of ways to get help and direction. In developed lands, everything from help with continuing education, to health services, is easier to access than ever before. A simple Google search can provide links to a number of resources.
Most schools have a counselor or administrator that is willing to listen and offer guidance for life issues. There are toll-free hot-lines and community health programs that can help answer questions or simply provide a confidential way to discuss problems that may be troubling you. And of course, anyone who feels their safety is in danger can always contact a law enforcement officer.
Of course, the answers are rarely easy, but for many Jehovah’s Witness youths, just knowing real guidance is available is important. To any young personreading this article, please know: there really is a possibility for happiness outside of Watchtower. The struggles of life can be overcome, and true freedom from Watchtower’s undue influence is attainable.
National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA)
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA)
Suicide Prevention Lifeline
US Department of Education
Beat (Beating Eating Disorders)
Helpline 0345 634 1414 Youthline 0345 634 7650
SANE Mental Health Helpline
0300 304 7000
National Union of Students