Mental Models Can Inoculate Your Child Spiritually

When Elder Foster gave this talk in October Conference, 2015,

I couldn’t get over it.

It is some of the most brilliant parenting advice on how to spiritually inoculate your children early, I have ever heard. In a sense, the father in this story, is teaching his son how the world works, giving him mental models with power, early in his life, so he is prepared to withstand experiences that can hurt him, spiritually and emotionally.

James Clear said:

A mental model is an explanation of how something works…Mental models guide your perception and behavior. They are the thinking tools that you use to understand life, make decisions, and solve problems.1




Elder Foster said,

“Brothers and sisters, we are engaged in a battle with the world. In the past, the world competed for our children’s energy and time. Today, it fights for their identity and mind. Many loud and prominent voices are trying to define who our children are and what they should believe. We cannot let society give our family a makeover in the image of the world.

“We must win this battle. Everything depends on it.”

In the book of Matthew, the Savior teaches us about lasting conversion. A large group of people had gathered near the Sea of Galilee to hear Him teach.


“On this occasion, Jesus told a story about planting seeds—the parable of the sower. In explaining this to His disciples, and ultimately to us, He said, “When any one heareth the word of the kingdom, and understandeth it not, then cometh the wicked one, and catcheth away that which was sown in his heart.”2 The message for parents is clear: there is a difference between hearing and understanding. If our children merely hear but do not understand the gospel, then the door is left open for Satan to remove these truths from their hearts.’

Elder Foster goes on to show a particular way to develop these mental models of spiritual protection:

“I saw the results of another great teacher while serving as the president of a single adult stake at BYU–Idaho. That experience changed my life. On one particular Tuesday evening, I interviewed a young man named Pablo, from Mexico City, who wanted to serve a mission. I asked him about his testimony and his desire to serve. His answers to my questions were perfect. Then I asked about his worthiness. His answers were exact. In fact, they were so good, I wondered, “Maybe he doesn’t understand what I’m asking him.” So I rephrased the questions and determined that he knew exactly what I meant and was completely honest.”

“I was so impressed with this young man that I asked him, “Pablo, who was it that helped you come to this point in your life standing so uprightly before the Lord?”

“He said, “My dad.”

“I said, “Pablo, tell me your story.”

“Pablo continued: “When I was nine, my dad took me aside and said, ‘Pablo, I was nine once too. Here are some things you may come across. You’ll see people cheating in school. You might be around people who swear. You’ll probably have days when you don’t want to go to church. Now, when these things happen—or anything else that troubles you—I want you to come and talk to me, and I’ll help you get through them. And then I’ll tell you what comes next.’”

“So, Pablo, what did he tell you when you were 10?”

“Well, he warned me about pornography and dirty jokes.”

“What about when you were 11?” I asked.

“He cautioned me about things that could be addictive and reminded me about using my agency.”

“Here was a father, year after year, “line upon line; here a little, and there a little,” who helped his son not only hear but also understand. Pablo’s father knew our children learn when they are ready to learn, not just when we are ready to teach them. I was proud of Pablo when we submitted his missionary application that night, but I was even prouder of Pablo’s dad.’

Elder Foster finishes:

“It’s never too early and it’s never too late to begin this important process.”3

The big, secret sauce of this story is that you are teaching your children when they are young, when they are  still listening to you with all of their hearts.

It is also never too late, if your children are older, as Elder Foster talks about that here.

You are telling them, “Pay attention! This will come up and when you see the signs you will know how to act.”  I love how Pablo’s father is so reassuring– “Now, when these things happen—or anything else that troubles you—I want you to come and talk to me, and I’ll help you get through them. And then I’ll tell you what comes next.’”–You are preparing them, or prepping them so they will not be scared, or confused or feel shame in any way and take the blame on them for coming on to a pornographic site or  a harmful TV show. Forewarned is forearmed! Do you remember ever being spiritually inoculated for anything?

  1.  .
  2. Matthew 13:19; emphasis added.

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