Teens and Dating: a conversation


*this post is the next-to-last one in a (so far) yearly series on family

Just yesterday I was having to bend over so my little boy could wrap his whole hand around my one pointer finger to keep his balance. I was throwing him in the air and he was drooling on his shirt and he only had four teeth.

He is almost taller than me and he can pick his mama up. We have conversations about pornography and purity and I often remind him: these are the teeth you’re going to get married in so you better take good care of them.
I note the wild eyes and flared nostrils of parents at the whisper of the word teen, but these aren’t times for hiding under the bed: this is the good stuff, too.
It’s every bit as sweet and scary of a time as not knowing whether or not to wake a sleeping baby for a feeding. I enjoyed my boy when I had to change his diaper every other hour and I also enjoy him so much now never having to know if he’s gone or not.
It’s been an exciting and precious privilege to begin sifting things of this world together.
My son will just be 14 in June and we aren’t even dating yet but it’s about past time for pouring the concrete of the foundation…so what do I even know? I know about 3 things for sure:
1. I am a good student and I am listening to the book reports from others who have already taken the field trip.
2. When it comes to being equipped to make good decisions, I will try to put every tool I know in the hands of my kids before the time comes for them to need that tool so they will at least have the answers settled before the questions are asked (a foundational principle of wisdom).
3. This generation is particularly vulnerable to the world and I am particularly partial to them and I will go down swinging with every thing I have going to bat for them and so I want to have these hard conversations.

We have had to lay down some things early on because the culture today is sixth graders asking each other to homecoming in a fashion more romantic than my own marriage proposal (which was pretty darn romantic, y’all). This set up accidental expectations for my boy who felt like it was fine because everyone else was doing it.
I’ve never really been one to give a flying fritter about what everyone else was doing but that’s hard for any kid just wanting to fit in and appear normal to understand.
Since that time, we’ve had conversations about how our family is not normal, will never be normal, and what dating might look like.
I took a journalism class back in the day that still comes in handy when tackling APA-style articles or broad, tough subjects with many prickly facets. I’m dusting these tools off today to work on teen dating. Join me in the conversation?

What is dating?
Dating is a social appointment or engagement, or occasion arranged beforehand with another person. (This is important to distinguish because I’ve had a 6th grade teen living in my house who wanted to argue that asking a girl to homecoming for the purpose of meeting to eat stuff and giving her a mum and then going to a dance with her after was not a date, Mom.) #websterdictionaryburn
Dating is for the purpose of spending time with someone you think you might like in order to see if their shoe fits your foot. Maybe the shoe doesn’t fit. Maybe it has an odor. Be careful about casual shoe-trying-on: if you’re not particular or intentional about the kind of shoe you’re looking for, you’ll wind up wearing it even if it’s not for you just because you’re barefoot or bored.

When should teens start dating?
This is very personal family to family and if 40 isn’t a viable option, read on…
Middle school is a such weird time, isn’t it? And it’s even weirder what with me still personally waiting for the physical peak that seems to be standard issue for kids these days (what’s the deal? I drank the milk, too.) Aristotle once said, ‘Youth are heated by Nature as drunken men by wine.’ The man? He be pretty smart. I looked it up: there are actual, real, physical reasons in the brain and body why there just may be a best-case scenario for waiting to date. Right in the eye of a middle school hormone tornado (hornado?) might be a good time to just take shelter and eat the whole jar of peanut butter.
Statistics and everyday real life show middle schoolers are more immature than their high school counterparts, are more likely to do stupid things, and are trying to figure out who they are as humans. (The stretch is not terribly widened in high school, either: we have to know and talk to our kids.)
Like us, they are carrying all of their issues x puberty x immaturity in unwieldy little suitcases right along with them.
So…what does this look like specifically?
When teens are emotionally and spiritually mature.
These are some cues:
*respects and responds appropriately to adults
*an active relationship with Christ that shows itself in tangible ways
*has overcome any habitual sins (did you know 100% of 8th grade boys and 80% of 8th grade girls have been exposed to some form of pornography? Yes. It makes me light-my-hair angry, too.)
*sets a godly example with their reputation and testimony
*serves others (if they are selfish before dating, odds are they will be selfish in a relationship)
Need just one more reason to wait? The later students begin dating, the less likely they will fail sexually.
(Might I suggest a new hobby like skateboarding here?)

Why date?
As the time draws nearer, I keep asking this one question over and over.
But dating really is useful…I mean, beautiful. Dating is for developing friendships with the opposite sex, preparing for marriage (dating shapes future relationships), and learning how to love, respect, encourage, and sacrifice.

Who should your teen date?
Goodness. This is a can of…something, isn’t it? Christians do it wrong every day because we are just hardwired human. Divorce statistics, abortion, premarital sex, infidelity: the statistics are the same across the board of humanity. We’re not claiming to be perfect: we just believe in Someone who is.
The answer to this question is not a fail-safe, a guarantee, or a rainbow-maned unicorn code of purity that doesn’t exist. You could fall in love, or at least a strong enough liking, with anyone you invest enough time in.
But…wisdom suggests if your teen is a Christian, they should date Christians. Also? Watch people. Closely. Words are easy and actions tend to be closer to the truth. How does he talk? How does she treat people? How does he manage anger or disappointment? What does she watch or listen to? How do they treat their parents? How does he represent himself to other girls? Does she gossip? How do they treat ones less fortunate?
The answers are all there hiding underneath all the odd fashion trends they’ll question in about 20 years like we all did (thanks again, Aquanet.)

How should teens date?
More cans of something and so personal. Could there be some wisdom here, too, though?
I say yes.
*Trust God with their dating life. (Proverbs 3:5-6)
*Treat their date as a brother or sister in Christ…protecting, loving, and caring for them: (1 Timothy 5:1-2)
*Put their date first—not themselves (Philippians 2:3-4)
*Maintain standards for purity (1 Thessalonians 2:3-4)
*Communicate clear standards for physical involvement up front. Good practice? Stay public and minimize time alone together to avoid tempting situations. Home alone, bedrooms and snuggling up together on the couch are all things that could lead to other things (don’t you remember this?).
*Physical relationships are progressive. It is very difficult to go backward in physical relationships (and teens tend to move more quickly in future relationships). When teens go all the way to ‘a line’ they have drawn for themselves, they will be frustrated or fail. Failure leads to guilt, fear or suspicion which leads to a loss of communication, trust, and respect.
*Know the parents of the person your child is dating.

Want to continue the conversation? I’d love to hear from you. If you are interested, I will email you a copy of Practical Dating Tips for Guys or Practical Dating Tips for Girls for your teen to blow up, print, laminate, and paste to their forehead. Just let me know: I’m here for you in all the awkward stuff we have to deal with.

Happy dating, Friends.


*a special thank you to my friend Tasha Johnson for taking amazing notes (and generously sharing) at a parenting youth class from Central Church in College Station, Texas.

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  1. Dana Brooks | 29th Mar 16

    This is so wonderful and so accurate Melissa. I love it.

  2. Rachel | 29th Mar 16

    His photo and the word dating… I can’t even wrap my head around the idea of it! Or 14. But you do a beautiful job of being thoughtful through both the present and the upcoming stages. In reading the first part I felt anxiety of “I don’t want to my kids to grow up…” then by the end I’m thinking, wow it will be a privilege to watch God shape them. Part of this shaping (in my experience a LARGE part) is heartbreak. Being bold enough to love big, even at the heart’s most vulnerable stage.

  3. Katherine Otero | 29th Mar 16

    Email me what you have on dating. I have a ways to go…but I love what you have said.

  4. maggie | 29th Mar 16

    Thank you Melissa… . Ry is 10 and we are entering this scary ground.

  5. Kelly North | 30th Mar 16

    My daughter is 14 and I fear we are entering the dating stage. Although she calls it “talking to”, lol. Would love to have the Practical Dating Tips for Girls. Thank you!

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