What Teens of Polygamy are Really Like

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Media outlets want stories about teens who have left the FLDS or other polygamous communities. I can imagine what reporters and producers are thinking based on questions they ask me about my own polygamous background: Did they try to make you marry an old man? How did you escape? How old were you? The scenarios drawn by some people who leave polygamy paint a grim view of teen life.

In fact, teens in polygamous communities receive protection that teens in mainstream communities do not: protection from suicide web sites and heavy metal suggestions about self-mutilation, protection from drug abuse and various enticements to sell out one's virtue. Most polygamous communities insist on their teens growing up before marriage. The median age for marriage in the group where I grew up was twenty-one. Salacious stories are hard to come by in such a setting. No thirteen year olds getting pregnant there unless they're sneaking out the bedroom window to meet their boyfriends.

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But the FLDS community has sent many teens packing. Some leave under conditions similar to those in any home where the teen rebels against the authority figures: They want to do whatever they want to do without interference from adults. Some teens are ordered to leave because of behaviors regarded as sinful, such as listening to modern music, watching movies, or kissing members of the opposite sex. Teens aren't allowed to date, so they're forced into narrow corridors of interaction. This saves the girls for older marriage partners, and keeps the young men out of reach until they can be formed to the FLDS patriarchal mold or cast out into the world.

In any case, the teens of fundamentalism don't usually benefit from telling their stories to the media. The teens themselves, too fluid and unformed to summon a strong perspective, aren't ready for the exposure—especially since most of them have lived in secrecy and general distrust. When the program airs, the families of these teens get hurt. The FLDS leaders retaliate. Hearts get broken when the teens of polygamy go on TV.

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