Teen Dating… What’s a Parent To Do?
A couple weeks ago I was in Panera, grabbing a bite of lunch while I waited for an appointment… well I shouldn’t really say lunch… it was about 10:30am so we’ll call it second breakfast. I ran into a friend who graciously turned her “to go” order into a “lunch with Jhenna” order… score!
We chatted and randomly made our way around to teen dating (we both have teen boys and she’s got a couple girls who will be teens before she blinks!). We talked dating, courting, hanging out with friends and special someones as well as what our roles should be as parents. We eagerly pointed out the differences in peer pressure in public school environments versus homeschool in between bites of a pasta broth bowl and breakfast scramble/wrap/frittata sort of thing… wait, maybe she had oatmeal… I can’t quite remember as I inhaled an Asian chicken salad and pasta that made my tummy do the happy dance.
She told me about a friend’s daughter who didn’t date at all through high school. This young lady went off to college and shared regret with her mother in regards to dating. She wished she had been encouraged to date/court in high school while she was living at home in the supportive atmosphere of her family. Tackling the whens, hows, and whys of dating or courting in college made her head swim and she would have loved to have the readily available advice of her parents standing close by as she navigated that world. Her college friends were impulsive and punch drunk on their new freedoms of independent living, proving little help in the scene of “responsible dating/courting.” Calling her mother just wasn’t the same as sitting down to a cup of coffee to talk boys!
Hold on… let’s discuss something… COURTING. Does that word bother you? Does it make you think of outdated ways in a modern world? Does it invite sarcastic jokes or jabs at families like the Duggars? OK then, forget it… don’t use that word… It certainly has a different mindset attached to it but there’s no reason people can’t attach the wholesome attitudes and goals of courting to the word “dating.” Dating certainly shouldn’t mean hooking up for pre-marital make-out sessions or sex. We should be teaching our kids the great rewards in saving physical intimacy for marriage. We should be teaching them that dating certainly means you are getting to know someone with the intention of finding out if you are compatible. Dating is striving to give sacrificially of your time, efforts, and talents…. Building a relationship with your boyfriend/girlfriend based on communication, mutual interests (and respect for differences), and a striving to base your relationship on the Gospel of Christ. In short dating is the process of finding a spouse. Yes, your child will likely date several people before they find one suitable to marry and that’s perfectly ok!
My friend and I both agreed that we had more thinking and talking to do with our husbands about this whole “teens dating thing” and I left that lunch excited to take a fresh look at my role as a mother in my son’s life of dating! Watch out son, here comes mom with some wonderful news! At this point picture my quite introverted son cowering in the corner of his bedroom terrified that I am making an appointment for him to get fitted for a prom tuxedo!
My husband and I have been swimming along happily in our world with one teenager and one “tween” for several years now. With Gunner’s twelfth birthday a couple weeks ago I suddenly realized we are dangerously close to having TWO teenagers in the house in one short year. Then I remembered that I kinda like this whole “teenager in the house thing” and peeled myself off the ceiling.
I’m no stranger to “dating” and loved having the attention of boyfriends starting in grade school. My mom passed away suddenly when I was nine years old so it was just my dad and extended family to try to steer me in the right direction. Try as they might, there was no steering me in any direction… I just did what I wanted to do. Junior high brought its dances, real dates at movies and parties, and the convergence of boys and girls from four elementary schools in our town! My dad found great comedy in the revolving door of boyfriends I had and his only advice to me was, “Remember, a boy with an earing is either gay or a pirate.” Ummmm…. Ok, thanks dad.
I remember one day when I was sixteen… it was my dad’s first and only attempt to have a serious conversation about dating and sex. I had been dating the same boy for about six months (a record for me) and he was totally a pirate. We were driving across town and my dad said, “So things are going good with you and Dusty right? You haven’t you know… because you shouldn’t, you know… but you haven’t, right?” Somewhat amused I answered, “No dad, don’t worry, I haven’t.” We drove on in silence to our destination and that was all that was ever said on the matter. I dated this same boy all through high school and accepted his proposal of marriage on the day of our high school graduation.
My dad and I had a good relationship through high school and although I wouldn’t say I felt comfortable talking to him about anything and everything I did feel secure in being able to share some of my boyfriend frustrations with him after bad dates, forgotten anniversaries (who would dare forget the month by month anniversary of our first time holding hands… how dare he!) and jealousy over other girls talking to MY boyfriend. He would sometimes side with me and other times point out how ridiculous I was being. Regardless, I knew I had someone waiting up for me when I was due to come home, someone to answer to when I made bad decisions, and someone to talk to about these bewildering boys. I had an older brother at home who gave my boyfriends the third degree when I was picked up for a date.
Plain and simple, I had a network of support from people who loved me deeply and wanted me to be safe, loved, and happy. They carried wisdom and maturity with their words and actions far beyond what was being fed to me by my friends.
I didn’t marry that high school sweetheart but I was married at eighteen, pregnant at nineteen and my husband (Kevin) and I welcomed our first son shortly after my twentieth birthday. Fast forward seventeen years and we find ourselves with a twelve year old and seventeen year old. Both homeschooled for the past seven years and both pretty darn decent kids if ya ask me.
For years upon years I have talked to my sons about the pitfalls of dating without marriage in mind while my husband schooled them on the million and one reasons you don’t want anything to do with women until you’re in your thirties… or older. I remember many of the bad decisions I made with the vast freedoms given to me in my teenage years and I just didn’t want my sons to find themselves in these same situations with the same mindset as me. I wanted their thinking to be more God focused and their attitude and actions to shift accordingly. The problem is… I can’t make my sons Christians. I can talk to them about God, God honoring relationships, my own mistakes, and give advice but I can’t make them believe or follow any of it.
We’ve never had a “no dating before adulthood” rule in our house but both of my sons will readily admit that they don’t want to date right now because they aren’t looking for a wife. In some ways that makes me very proud of them and in other ways it makes me quite sad. Let’ say they aren’t ready to look for a wife until they are 25… where does that leave them? Most likely out living on their own… away from me and their father. We can’t readily see the excitement in their eyes as they prepare for a date or wipe the tears as they break up with the “love of their life”… we just won’t be there as we would have been if they were still at home. Sure, they might call us but that requires them to reach out to us and sometimes that’s just plain hard.
I can read both my kids like a book… they wear their emotions on their sleeves for the most part and both have actions that speak WAY LOUDER than words ever will. This is why it’s not the worst thing (and may even be a REALLY good thing!) for teenagers to start dipping their toes in the world of the opposite sex while they are still home. I say this with a couple very important stipulations… Rather than the focus only be on having fun I would hope my sons spend time with a lady they are interested in with the core purpose of getting to know her better and glorifying God in their time together. To help guard against very real temptations that are part of all of our sin nature I would also want group excursions with several couples to public places to be the norm. Besides, this helps take the stress out of a lot of situations!
I am encouraging my older son to start thinking about and taking notice of the attributes which point to a Christian woman. What does a Christian woman think? What does she act like? What are her intentions? God does not want us to be unequally yoked (2 Corinthians) in marriage and though I’m not anticipating my son be married at eighteen I don’t expect him to jump into relationships frivolously without careful thought and consideration. I honestly think he’s at a point where he’s still trying to figure out his own salvation which is of the utmost importance.
Perhaps though, just perhaps he hasn’t considered how much a Christian woman can be a help mate on that road… At seventeen years old he is starting to reach adulthood. He works, he goes to school, and he helps his family. My son is learning what it means to be a man. He sees his father’s successes and failures as the leader of our home and I hope beyond all things of this earth that it is all soaking in. So yes, it is time to encourage my son to start looking at the possibilities of getting to know young ladies with similar intentions and focus. To be here when he walks through the door after spending time with a group of like minded folks and ask him, “How did it go?”… not accepting “Fine” as an answer. To be here when he walks through the door with slumped shoulders, head down, and a tear threatening to break loose from his big brown eyes because a relationship “just didn’t work out” and simply give him a hug. To remind him to open doors, pull out chairs, and compliment her before he heads out to meet up with a few couples and his special lady friend. To remind him how dangerous perceptions can be and how even those things that “aren’t that big of a deal” can quickly turn into a MONSTROUS DEAL! To remind him that conversation takes place face to face, not over a cell phone and observe him to see if he remembers this. For his father and I to be here as an example of a Godly, mature relationship between two people that put God first with each other next all the while encouraging him to discuss frustrations, celebrations, and questions as he sets out in this new world of relationship. I will continue to talk to my sons about desires that we all have and how those are best fulfilled in a marital relationship
Do I give this same advice to my twelve year old? No… he is nowhere near adulthood and possible marriage. Will I give it when he is 13…14…16… no. We will talk about it but we will not encourage that type of relationship until he is of the age and maturity level to be able to contemplate marriage, family, and providing for himself and possibly another.
If your kids go to public school I am going to tell you right now that you will be in the minority with your “teen dating is ok but they need to be older teens before they date” mindset. Your kids may pull the “but everyone has a boyfriend/girlfriend” or they may never even tell you that they want or have a boyfriend/girlfriend. This is where it pays to be involved and proactive. Yes, look at who they are texting and what they are saying. Yes, have access to their email and social media and check the accounts often! Be active in their school and just plain be around when they are hanging out with friends. I’ve learned I’m often welcomed into a room full of my sons and their friends when I’m holding a pan of brownies or freshly baked bread… yes, I use baked goods to just “be around” and I am not ashamed.
With all that being said I do have some tips for Christian teens who have their parents blessing to start dating…
- Keep God first and foremost in all you do, say, and think. God comes before girls, boys, and everything else.
- You don’t have to date until you are ready/ it’s ok to date when you are ready
- Honor your parents… come on now, it’s a commandment! Let them be your guiding light in this process… they’ve got some wisdom in this arena!
- Be mature in your relationships. Don’t play the hard to get or flirty games. Be genuine in your speech, actions, intentions, and thoughts.
- Look for someone who shares some interests with you but also celebrate differences and uniqueness.
- Don’t be creepy stalker guy/girl. It is incredibly disrespectful and just plain… well, creepy. If you are man enough/woman enough to start dating you can be man/woman enough to open your mouth and introduce yourself. It’s not THAT hard… say it with me, “Hi, my name is Tom. Would you like to join my friends and I for some mini-golf this Saturday? I believe you know Sarah and Jenny from school and they will be there.” Except, don’t say Tom if your name isn’t Tom because that’s just weird to say someone else’s name.
- Lighten up! I know, I just told you like three steps ago to be mature but you also need to remember it’s ok to enjoy another’s company and have fun with them! No one wants to marry a boring Bob! Remember the basics of manners, accountability, and respect and you’ll do just fine starting out in this dating world.
- Remember everyone is unique with individual backgrounds, experiences, fears, strengths, and weaknesses. No one is a carbon copy of another and God made it that way for a reason! We are to be a compliment to our spouse. Where one is strong the other may be weaker and vice versa. Two become one and the goal is to glorify God in all things, including dating and marriage.
- Communicate! Not just with friends or your diary but communicate with your boyfriend/girlfriend, your parents, the parents of your date (wonderful opportunity to get to know his/her family!) and
- Before you ever start dating make a list of the things you are looking for in a spouse. Try writing a letter to your “future spouse” before you ever meet him/her. What would you want to tell them? Remember we are all a work in progress and no one is perfect but at least you have an idea of what you are looking for before wading in. Make another list of qualities and attributes that you would bring to a relationship… remember it takes two to tango!
Ooh, this was fun! Sorry for the length, it was just really fun to write! I’m printing this out and will ask my seventeen year old son to take a look and tell me what he thinks… there may just be an update!