Written by Leneita Fix on youthministry.com:
Dating starts at different ages for different kids.
All of a sudden bodies change, hormones take over, and our teens want the label of “boyfriend” or “girlfriend.” They’ve noticed that they have feelings for a boy or girl and want to do SOMETHING to express these emotions.
The trouble is that we don’t really know how to approach this topic of dating with our kids. Every form of media makes it seem casual and fun, often ending in sex. We know that isn’t what we want to teach them.
So we turn to other parents for direction, but none of us are on the same page with ages or approaches. Frequently all we walk away with is, “Well I know I don’t want to do that!”
Finally, we look to our own dating experiences. If you’re like me, those teen dating years weren’t amazing, and so you think again, “Not going to direct them to that!”
Frequently this leaves us setting an ambiguous dating age out into the future, and then we still aren’t ready when it arrives. Truthfully (and I have no idea why) I’ve been fine with the concept of my girls dating, but when my son wanted to date, I went into a full panic.
So what do we do about our teens and dating?
I’m realizing that if we can ask ourselves some questions, it helps us (and our kids) through this dating territory.
Not sure how to make dating rules for your teen? Here are 3 questions to ask before your teen starts dating:
What is your definition of “dating?”
When our tween child comes home and says, “So and so asked me out,” we wonder what that means. They can’t drive, so “going out” is obviously not literal. We’re relieved when they tell us that they’re going to sit together at lunch and text sometimes. But before we know it, they start calling that person, “boyfriend” or “girlfriend” and we aren’t ready for that.
Because dating lingo can be confusing, it’s important to clarify what you mean as “dating” and to get specific with your answer. For instance,
- How much time can they spend with this person in a group?
- When will we let them be alone with this “girlfriend” or “boyfriend?”
- How much time can they talk or text?
Spell it out for yourself, and then make your definition of dating clear to your kids. And if possible, don’t wait until they turn sixteen, because they’re likely to ask way before that.
How are you handling the labels?
As our children begin dating, it’s VITAL that they don’t find their identity in a relationship. They may want the label “boyfriend” or “girlfriend,” but it’s okay to challenge them on why it’s so important.
It’s easy for teens to not know who their true friends are, and to feel disconnected from parents; this makes it tempting for them to look to a dating relationship for comfort and love. Before we know it, they’re way too wrapped up with this person and lose who they are in the process.
This happened to me in high school, and I want to be diligent to help my kids understand that their identity is in Christ, not in a dating relationship.
What about marriage?
Your twelve-year-old is probably not considering who they’ll marry…but should they? It’s easy to separate dating from marriage, but ultimately we hope that our kids will find that “one person” they can commit to for all time.
Because marriage is eventually the goal, it’s vital that we teach our teens how to protect their hearts. To help, my husband and I have taught our kids to look at dating through the lens of the future spouse. “Treat the person you like/date as if they’re someone’s future spouse,” is our advice. It humbles them and changes the way they look at relationships. We don’t say this to put pressure on them to figure out who they’ll marry at fifteen-years-old; however, if marriage is the goal, let’s practice putting everything through that filter.
I can’t claim to know how you feel about your teens and dating, but my final thought is about intentionality. Dating, if handled poorly, can cause wounds and scars that our kids don’t need. It’s not all for “fun” when the heart is involved.
Let’s make sure our kids are secure in who they are, and to handle dating with purpose.
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