by Mark Gregston
Dating, as we know it, is a relatively recent phenomenon that emerged within the past few centuries. And while the term dating has many meanings, the most common meaning refers to the trial or evaluation period where two people explore whether or not they’d like to make each other’s company more permanent. So, how does teenage dating fit into the puzzle? And is it even wise for teens to be considering such permanent decisions at such a young age?
There are different camps out there with regards to what is appropriate, but after counseling thousands of kids, I believe it’s important to take a look at both camps and then find a balance.
God created us to be relational beings, and so it’s natural and healthy for teen to want to date. And dating helps teens mold their thinking, and it helps them learn about compatibility. Dating also shows them how to interact and problem-solve with others, while learning appropriateness and what it is that you really want from a life-long mate.
Today’s trend is for teens to engage in group dating, which is really more about “socializing,” and socialization looks much different than one-on-one dating. Statistically, first-time marriages are happening later in life, and the average age for a young man to marry is at 27 right now. I think part of the reason for this trend is because people aren’t getting the right exposure to the appropriate types of dating in their teen years. There’s no need to “Kiss Dating Goodbye,” but as parents, we do need to give our teens the opportunity to date and develop tools that will help them as they grow and mature into adulthood.
Boundaries and Parameters to Teen Dating
When your teen reaches the age where they begin to become interested in the opposite sex, you need to lay down some groundwork, and doing that can be uncomfortable for some. To best determine how to deal with your child’s engagement with a member of the opposite sex, you first need to understand your own comfort level, your values, and then appropriately set the boundaries.
It’s wise to set boundaries and rules for our teens when it comes to dating, but we should really think it through, and not let our fears override our common sense. Your children are not you. They may have characteristics of you and your spouse, but they are their own unique individual person and so it’s important you don’t let unfounded fears take the reins of your decision making. Let me just put your mind at ease, kids are going to make decision, and they are going to sometimes make unwise decisions, but we also trained them in the way they should go, and so we have to let that play out in the real world. We have to trust that what we’ve sowed into their lives will take root, and they will make appropriate choices. When your child starts driving a car, you’re trusting them in so many other areas, so trust them in this one, too.
And finally, meet the person your child is dating. Getting to know this person is one of the wisest choices you can make. When you spend time with that boy or girl, you’re getting to know them better, and not only will you have more opportunity to speak into your child’s life, but you’ll be able to guide and direct them, as well.
Tough Questions and Answers
A lot of parents have similar questions about their teen and dating and so, here are few:
What’s a good age to start dating?
Whenever everyone else in their peer group starts dating. But, the caveat to that statement is this: every child is different and so, that’s where having a relationship with your child helps you gauge when they’re ready.
Our child is dating someone we don’t approve of—how do we handle this?
My advice—be really careful. The person your child is dating may become your son or daughter-in-law, so walk carefully. You don’t want to do anything that would damage your relationship with either of them.
What if my son or daughter spends too much time with their boyfriend or girlfriend?
Set boundaries and parameters for what works for your family. It’s important to have a relationship with your child that allows for flexibility of the situation, but also, support when you need to step in and help your child.
Should we monitor our teen’s texts?
Well, that answer depends on your child’s age. For the most part, I don’t think you should. It’s not your business. Just because we have the technology to monitor, doesn’t mean that we should. You have to allow for some privacy, and when you’re taking too much control, you’re not allowing your child to grow and mature.
Moms and Dads … I am thankful that your teen is attracted to someone of the opposite sex. It means that they are normal, and that the desires that God has given them to one day choose a life-long mate are expressed in their longing to find out more about how to engage with the opposite sex. You have a choice. You can live in fear of what might happen, and prevent anything from happening. Trust that what you have taught your children will be a training ground during their adolescent years. God has not given you a spirit of fear, but a power of love and a sound mind. So, use all three to determine what’s appropriate for your teen. They’ll love your involvement in their lives.