In Alma 36-42 we read the advice of Alma to his sons Helaman (Alma 36-37), Shiblon (Alma 38), and Corianton (Alma 39-42). These chapters are an excellent source of information to those who want to practice principles of effective parenting.
Look at the environment each of Alma’s children find themselves in. They live in an environment filled with war, strife, and immorality (does this sound familiar?). We begin by analyzing Alma 35, where Alma gives his charge to each child “separately” (Alma 35:16). This is an important principle of parenting: it is good to have a relationship with each of your children, as each are individuals. Get to know them as individuals!
Alma also bears testimony to his sons of what he knows to be true. Alma doesn’t let his past cripple him in his parenting efforts. Oftentimes I have heard parents tell me that they cannot exhort their children to righteousness as they have had checkered pasts. Alma lets the past stay in the past, and uses what he knows to be true to challenge his sons to live virtuous lives in patterned after the Savior.
Good parents bear testimony to their children. Alma 36 is a perfect example of Alma bearing his testimony of the redemptive power of Jesus Christ to his son. As Joseph Smith stated in the Lectures on Faith, “We have now clearly set forth how it is, and how it was, that God became an object of faith for rational beings; and also, upon what foundation the testimony was based which excited the inquiry and diligent search of the ancient saints to seek after and obtain a knowledge of the glory of God; and we have seen that it was human testimony, and human testimony only, that excited this inquiry, in the first instance, in their minds. It was the credence they gave to the testimony of their fathers, this testimony having aroused their minds to inquire after the knowledge of God; the inquiry frequently terminated, indeed always terminated when rightly pursued, in the most glorious discoveries and eternal certainty.” 1
Good parents practice what they preach. Alma doesn’t expect his son to do something he is not willing to do in his life. “Do as I have done” (Alma 36:29, 37:2).
Good parents work to point their children to the scriptures. The scriptures are roadmaps to solve our problems.
Elder Hales stated: A critical component in gaining knowledge from the Savior is acting upon the principles He taught. In order to gain the greatest insights the scriptures have to offer, our study will focus not so much on places and names as on principles and doctrines. It is not simply book knowledge we are after but insights that will change the way we live that will actually make a difference in our lives. We must see the scriptures for what they are: an instruction manual for becoming like our Savior. 2
Alma points his son to the scriptures- this is the whole gist of the 37th chapter of Alma. Good parents work to find ways that to problem solve with the scriptures. There are 4 main principles in this chapter, all relating to the scriptures.
1. Alma 37:6-7 Small & simple things: the small things matter. Habits are made up of the small things that we do today. Habits, over time, determine our character.
2. Alma 37:16- when you are on the Lord’s errand, you will receive the Lord’s help. I like his phrase that when we are on the Lord’s errand, “no power of earth or hell can take them from you..”
3. Alma 37:25-32- you do not have to study out evil to know that it is evil- don’t sensationalize wickedness. Instead, teach righteousness- v33-34 (this makes sense as Helaman will see both- wicked behavior and righteous. He is told here what to emphasize. What do we emphasize in our communication with others? The bad or the good? What do we see in our spouse? In our friends? There is wisdom in emphasizing the good.
I appreciate the talk given by Elder Oaks where he said that we do not need to try the things of the world to know that it is not for us. He stated, “Some years ago, one of our sons asked me why it wasn’t a good idea to try alcohol or tobacco to see what they were like. He knew about the Word of Wisdom, and he also knew the health effects of these substances, but he was questioning why he shouldn’t just try them out for himself. I replied that if he wanted to try something out, he ought to go to a barnyard and eat a little manure. He recoiled in horror. “Ooh, that’s gross,” he reacted.
“I’m glad you think so,” I said, “but why don’t you just try it out so you will know for yourself? While you’re proposing to try one thing that you know is not good for you, why don’t you apply that principle to some others?” That illustration of the silliness of “trying it out for yourself” proved persuasive for one sixteen-year-old.” 3
4. Alma 37:38-46 Good parents and great teenagers look for answers to their problems in the scriptures! Alma likened the Liahona to the scriptures – both will prepare mortals to know what “course they should travel” while in mortality (Alma 37:39). These verses are a continuation of the counsel from Alma 33:19-20 that we must look to live. Just like the Israelites in Moses’ time needed to look to the type that he raised, so must we look to the words of eternal life (the scriptures) to know what we should do as we make difficult decisions. Alma pointed Helaman to the scriptures to gain inspiration from the Lord in the decisions that he would be faced with in his life.
This chapter contains sound advice for temperate living: don’t boast, bridle your passions, work hard, don’t seek worldly praise, stay humble, be sober. Very sound “Shiblonesque” advice!
Alma is not afraid of correcting his son Corianton (Alma 39:1-5). When Corianton engages in immoral practices, Alma does not mince words, but goes right at his behavior, explaining the course that Corianton is on and the consequences of sin (Alma 39:7-9). This chapter is a classic example of how to correct a wayward child.
1. This is what you did wrong- v1 Corianton decided to stop following the counsel of parents and prophets, v2 boasting of his own strength was his downfall. You cannot handle impure environments: aka- v3 the harlot Isabel- Corianton hung out in the wrong places and associated with people that would bring him down! He forsook the ministry- stopped doing the things that invite the spirit- seminary, reading your scriptures, praying to Heavenly Father, service, etc- Alma 39:3.
2. Look at the seriousness of what was done- Alma 39:5.
3. Correct counsel- this is what he should have done, how to prevent future mistakes.
4. Give the wayward hope- show afterwards an increase in love-Alma 39:14-18. Alma doesn’t just come down on Corianton, but he offers him hope- hope for forgiveness, hope for a better future, and hope that he can change (see Alma 39:13-16). For more insight, read Elder Jeffrey R. Holland’s “Of Souls, Symbols, and Sacraments”
Good parents are perceptive- they can read their children and see where their children may need more explanation (see Alma 40:1). This is a powerful principle whether we are talking about child rearing or contract negotiation. Being able to read other people is something Alma teaches us as he works with his most difficult son Corianton.
1. The Lectures on Faith, 2:56.
2. Elder Robert D. Hales, The Journey of Lifelong Learning, BYU Education Week, 19 August 2008. See also: http://bit.ly/y3SOyp
3. Elder Dallin H. Oaks, Sin and Suffering, Ensign, July 1992.