Teen dating seems to be the norm… but we’ve decided that our kids will not date until they are 18.
This post is not about dating VS courtship… so you can relax.
This post is about the wisdom (or lack of wisdom) that is inherent in the cultural practice of dating… and what can be done about it in YOUR family.
When my oldest son was very small, my wife and I prayerfully decided that when they reached the teen years, our children would not “date” in the typical sense of the word. Our experiences with dating had not been all that great and we knew there had to be a better way for a Christ-centered family to go about it.
Before I tell you how we accomplished that in a way that all our children have willingly and even joyfully adopted it… let me tell you WHY we made that decision.
OR – just listen to me explain it on the player below. 🙂
Reasons we didn’t want our teens to date
#1 – “Pairing up” as couples is for the purpose of heading toward marriage
We really believe that.
Think it through with me for a minute… at what age is a young man or young woman actually READY to be seriously heading toward marriage? Twelve? Sixteen? Eighteen? What do YOU think?
You absolutely MUST answer that question well if you are going to think about this issue well.
When we allow eleven or twelve year olds… or fifteen and sixteen year olds for that matter, to pair up – it’s premature.
They are not yet of marrying age, so why would we allow them into a context where everything is heading toward marriage? They aren’t ready for it… so it’s foolish to allow it.
We can talk about it in ways that prepare them for what’s ahead… and we should. But we don’t have to thrown them into dating in order for them to learn about it.
There’s no other reason for a young man and young woman to pair up.
Yes, they learn a lot by dating.
Yes, they are forced to handle things like misunderstanding, hurt, etc.
Yes, dating enables teens to be affirmed and encouraged.
BUT… to us those are minor benefits that come in a context of a WHOLE LOT of problems – problems that are not yet ready to handle.
#2 – Romantic relationships require a tremendous amount of maturity and emotional self-control in order to be healthy
Even adults have a hard time handling the emotions that come with a committed relationship.
There are vital, mature skills needed in order to make a one-on-one relationship like dating work – things like deep communication, consideration of others, insight into human nature, commitment to high moral standards, etc.
How many pre-teen or teen-aged kids do you know who have those skills? How many adults?
Why would we put our children/teens into a relationship for which they are not prepared? When we do, failure is the only logical outcome… as well as pain that doesn’t need to happen.
Instead of putting them in the dating meat-grinder, why don’t we use the time to build good character into them?
Why don’t we help them learn how to think biblically and maturely about marriage, relationships, and family?
I think that goes a lot farther than the dating alternative.
#3 Dating places far too much sexual temptation on the soul of a child who is not ready to bear it.
Our culture sexualizes everything… dating most of all.
From the moment a couple pairs up the pressure is on to hold hands, get physically close, kiss, touch each other’s bodies, and everything that naturally follows.
We believe it’s unhealthy and unwise to put children in that context. Yes, even teenagers.
Here are some questions for you to consider:
- Is this child ready for the responsibility of their own child?
- Is this couple ready for the responsibility of a family?
If not… dating is a bad idea. Teens aren’t ready for it yet.
#4 – Dating encourages emotionalism that can easily cloud sound, godly judgment.
Every Christian parent wants their child to marry a person who loves Jesus.
Every Christian parent wants that “other person’s” personal walk with Christ to be a positive influence on their child.
But how many times does that happen in the normal teen dating scene? Very seldom.
Here’s an example of what happens instead:
- A young lady is allowed to get involved with a young man who is not all that the parents hope.
- He’s probably not even all the the young lady hoped… but he’s paying attention to her, saying sweet nothings, making her feel special… and it’s hard for her to think about all the things he’s not.
- She feels too many warm fuzzies being around him to let herself consider such logical matters.
This scene could happen with a young man just as easily as a young woman. I’ve seen it in counseling and pastoral ministry countless times.
What has happened? There isn’t enough spiritual and emotional maturity developed yet… they don’t have a chance of stepping back, considering reality, and making a godly decision… especially in a culture that tells them relationships of this type are all about the feelings.
Dating sets that up for teens… makes it the most likely outcome.
That’s dangerous, and we don’t want any part of it.
Those are some of the more vital reasons we decided that our children would not date as teens.
To us, it seemed like inviting a hungry lion into our sheepfold… and we wanted our little lambs to live to see the day they had the opportunity to raise their own little flock.
How did we accomplish our children happily not dating?
It’s not as hard as you might think… unless you’ve waited too long to get started.
#1 – We started young
When our children were old enough to understand that there were such things as girls and boys, we began talking about the wonderful differences God created in male and female.
We began explaining the way a man and woman come together in marriage to create a family. We began telling them how much the LORD loves marriage.
Then we began talking about how a man and woman come to be in love, how they have to be mature, healthy, and grown-up enough to love and take care of the needs of another person.
We’d even talk about how far our children were from being ready for that responsibility.
That’s not criticizing our kids or giving them a reason to feel insecure. It’s teaching them humility and a right perspective of their need for God.
Without fail, they saw it as clearly as we did and had no desire to have a boyfriend or girlfriend, no matter how “cute” it might be at a young age.
#2 – We continued the conversation
When our kids were eight, nine, ten, and eleven, we began talking about dating itself… mostly through discussing what we observed going on around them.
We pointed out teen couples and asked our children what they thought.
We asked them if they thought it was wise for a couple who is not old enough or mature enough to get married, to pair up like that.
Without hesitation, they said, “No.”
They saw for themselves that teen dating is a silly thing.
But go back to point #1 – that’s where those opinions were formed.
#3 – We introduced our plan
Before we started talking about dating-alternatives, we first talked about what it takes to be a good companion.
Maturity, selflessness, wisdom, self-control, willingness to serve, desire to care for another person.
We helped our children see that before they’d be ready to pair up, they’d need to be well on their way in those and other areas.
From there, we told them that we did not think it was wise for them to date at all until they were of an age that they could “do something about it” (get married) if they wanted to and the right person was on the scene.
They saw it the same way and agreed to it, no problem.
But again… Step #1 was the groundwork for those decisions. Our kids didn’t come to those conclusions overnight.
#4 – We watched carefully and continued to talk
All of our discussion and planning didn’t prevent crushes and puppy-love from showing up in our home.
It wasn’t long before one of our kids got asked out or was invited to be somebody’s girlfriend or boyfriend.
Let me pause here to say this… if you’ve not been consistently pursuing your children with good communication up until this point, this is where they may try to hide things from you.
If so, you’re in for it. Just know that. Be humble. Love them well. Work to show them how much you are FOR THEM.
For those who haven’t reached that point yet, understand this:
The early years of your relationship with your children establish healthy groundwork for the teen years. You have GOT to work at developing closeness with your children all the way along.
Don’t wait until the teen years and then expect that you’re going to be able to pull off a healthy dating policy. You’ll get serious push-back.
So, back to my description…
We didn’t allow the crushes and invitations from potential significant others to go underground. We talked about them.
We asked the child what they liked about the person. We asked if they felt warm inside or happy inside when they were with them. We wanted our kids to know that we understood what they were feeling.
But we also asked them again if they were ready for marriage. We asked them if they were ready to love that other person the way that a committed relationship requires.
This helped them see that what they were feeling was only feelings… not a true gauge of their readiness.
Then we’d remind them… “This is why we decided that you wouldn’t date… remember?” They did… and we’d move ahead in unity.
And we continued to talk, almost daily, as long as we knew the feelings of attraction were still there.
Typically it wasn’t long until the feelings went away and they were once again happily non-dating teens.
It was kind of funny… by the time our kids were fourteen or fifteen, they were saying to us and others (with great conviction) the very things we’d said to them about dating.
What happened when they were old enough to date?
The story has been told many times already about what happened when my oldest son met his future wife.
He was 19 at the time, and had been going to a weekly western dance at a camp near where we live because one of his friend’s dads ran the thing. One Thursday evening when he and his sister (two years younger) were getting ready, she said, in our hearing, “Aaron, did you tell Mom and Dad about Hannah?”
You’d better believe we stepped through that door…
He told us about this cute red-head he’d met the week before, but he didn’t seem as excited as I expected. So I asked him, “Do you like her? Do you think she might be a person you would marry?”
He said, “Yeah, maybe.”
That’s when I said the infamous phrase he’s repeated many times…
“What are you going to do about it?”
He said that’s when he realized that I thought he was ready. It mattered to him that I thought he was mature enough to pursue a loving relationship with a young woman… and that he’d do well at it.
And he has.by
I love this! Boy, when my older children (31-26) were younger, I tried to follow these guidelines. In some ways, I did well, in others, not so much. I held these convictions and tried to communicate them, but floundered around some in these new ideas that were NOT a part of my past. Your post helps solidify and put practical advice to the convictions. Thank you!! We still have two at home who we are guiding through this process. This helps so much!
LauraBennet you are a blessing… and I hope the post is a blessing to your family!
I agree — what a beautiful story! And I really like the way you laid out the main reasons for your convictions on this subject.
My husband and I both grew up being (quite aggressively at times) urged into the boyfriend/girlfriend focus on life. It led to some really rocky times in our past.
We are very thankful to God for working with us in spite of it all, but we both knew we wanted something much different for our children. I believe the Lord is blessing our efforts in that direction and our children have a much healthier perspective on relationships. (Our two oldest are now in their late teens and neither has ever desired dating — although they both are now open to the possibility that the Lord may have a special someone out there whom they will one day marry. 🙂 )
I appreciate hearing your experience from a little further down the road. 🙂
Hi Sheila, I’d encourage you to work alongside your two oldest to discover the “standards” they want in a spouse. It’s not a hard and fast set of inflexible rules, but more of a guideline to help them think through what is truly important, so they have a standard to help them look objectively at a potential spouse when the emotions are high. My wife and oldest daughter recorded a podcast about the topic that you might be interested in – it’s episode 56 – which you can find here https://christianhomeandfamily.com/podcast-56-teaching-kids-pray-future-spouse/