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Should You Let Your Teen Date?

Whether to let our teens date can be a hairy decision for us Christian parents. We have to consider issues like if our children are mature enough to handle the emotions that come with being in a relationship, if we are providing easy access for them to sin and how they will handle a likely breakup. My oldest child is almost 10 so I have a few years before I really concern myself with his dating, but for some of you the time is now and perhaps more intense as prom season is upon us.

Should you let your children date? Is it biblical to do so? I can’t say for sure, but as I look back on my tumultuous dating life and my hand in helping my goddaughter decide about dating I just don’t know if I will let my sons date. The cons seem to outweigh the pros, not in number but in the potential impact the cons could have on them. Do I risk a lifetime of heartache for a few moments of seeming pleasure for them? Do I let them experience what many term a teenage rite of passage just so they won’t feel left out? To bring perspective to this issue, I talked to Christian parents who have made firm decisions, some to allow their children to date and others who forbid dating. I share their words and scriptures I have been meditating on to help you decide what is best for your children.

Benita Miller, mom of 19-year-old Rush, says she allows her son to date with parameters. She tells Rush, “Be physically and emotionally safe. Be responsible,” adding that she trusts he knows how to make that happen because children “articulate your value.” In addition to trusting that Rush will exhibit what he has been taught, she makes sure to keep an open door policy on the hard conversations. “I think parents often forget that they have to be consistently open with their kids around issues that make them uncomfortable and yes dating and sex discussions are not easy,” Miller said. She doesn’t just offer to Rush that she’s available if he needs to talk but makes “often" connections with him. She believes her frequent time “triggers an intentional step or process for me so . . . I have to be available and accountable as opposed to . . . an out to shut down if I feel like it,” which she believes is the result of just offering to be there for him.

In a similar way, Lisa Fort, mother of three college-aged children and two teenagers, says she and her husband gave their children “liberty with guidelines.” They told them: “You can’t court until you’re 16 and even then you can’t play with people.” Fort says she prefers instead of date the term court, which signifies a seriousness that she believes is missing from the idea of dating. “You just don’t go out with someone just because you think it will be something to do, something fun. If you want that, you can hang in a group of people.” Fort believes the group setting eliminates the intensity that can come with one-on-one dating.

Abbey Waterman, the parenting expert I interviewed for the Stop Sibling Rivalry the Bible Way column, said she and her husband don’t let their two teens nor did they allow their four children in their 20s to date because “the context of dating the way it’s defined in our culture is nowhere in the Bible. There being differences between the boy and the girl and the inevitable breakups allow the young people to practice divorce over and over again. The process of having limited commitment is setting a habit. Practice makes permanent, not perfect.” Waterman also says she believes young people are “ill-equipped to handle their emotions in a long-term commitment without some physical boundary-crossing.”

This boundary crossing is why pastor, author and no-dating advocate Tom Houck promotes not just physical purity but emotional purity. “Physical purity always begins with emotional purity,” Houck says. “Remaining emotionally pure is beneficial because it helps a person avoid a broken heart over a failed relationship that is not of God.” Like Waterman, Houck believes dating is practice for divorce, and the only time Houck believes a boyfriend-girlfriend relationship is appropriate is if the parties believe God has sent them as each other’s future spouse. On more than one occasion I have heard pastor, Bible teacher, professor and conference speaker Voddie Baucham Jr. say there is no wisdom in allowing his children to be alone with the opposite sex when they are at an age where their hormones are raging. So Miller, Fort, Waterman, Houck and Baucham have given me much to consider, especially as I have meditated on the following scriptures:

“Can a man carry fire next to his chest and his clothes not be burned” (Proverbs 6:27—KJV)?

“Run from anything that stimulates youthful lusts. Instead, pursue righteous living, faithfulness, love, and peace. Enjoy the companionship of those who call on the Lord with pure hearts” (2 Timothy 2:22—NLT).

“Keep watch and pray, so that you will not give in to temptation. For the spirit is willing, but the body is weak” (Matthew 26:41—NLT)

“Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it [are] the issues of life” (Proverbs 4:23—KJV).

So even though we haven’t made the final decision on whether or not to let our sons date, the ideas I share with you have been sobering for my husband and me. Being “physically and emotionally safe,” as Miller puts it, seem to be the basis for each parent’s decision to allow or not allow their children to date. This will be where Flynn and I will focus, but the ultimate question for us is, “What do physical safety and emotional safety look like biblically?” Waterman said the standard to date or not to date is “not a rule; it’s a heart situation.”

With this in mind, we will continue to pray and meditate on the thoughts and scriptures I presented here as we work to mold our sons’ hearts to position them to put the Kingdom first.

Reader Comments (5)

This article challenged me because I feel like whether the kids date or not should be up to them. After a certain age, like around 16 or 17, if they want to date I think they should be able to. It's not fair to keep such a tight grip on them. It all just sounds very controlling to me.

May 9, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMs. Pierce

@Ms. Pierce, I understand your concern, however it is not an issue of controlling your children but setting boundaries that will serve them well in the future. What are you teaching your kids by letting them just date with a no-strings-attached- attitude? Or think of this- if you 17 year old daughter was to be in a relationship with someone who after a few dates decided that your daughter doesn't make the cut... how would it make you feel seeing your child deal with such a rejection, so early? Not to say we should or can always shield from life's experiences, but most heartaches in relationship are unnecessary and preventable, especially when we teach our children that other peoples' hearts are not playthings nor experiments. The more we teach our kids that with dating/courtship should come a strong sense of long term (marriage) consideration, the more likely they are to behave as people who see themselves as 'worth' being commited to. Dating too soon, without proper purpose and firm boundaries is setting our children up for a fall. I agree with much of the article. I like 'practice makes permanent, not perfect'. And it is my firm belief that my children NOT give their hearts to people whose intentions are not clearly spelled out. If it's just about teens going out to have fun, let them go in as group of friends- everytime- no exclusivity. That's how I did it... I basically married my best friend 8 yrs ago and God is keeping us strong even now. We intentionally waited to have sex only after we married, and the blessings that come with that are priceless. I don't care what Hollyweird or the culture dictates, my husband and I will lovingly raise up our children with standards and pray for them too!

May 12, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTammi

@Ms. Pierce, Thanks so much for commenting. I'm interested in hearing how this article challenged you. I had planned to respond more, but Tammi has done well conveying my own sentiments.
@Tammi, Thanks so much for taking the time to share your perspective in such detail and using your personal experience. I hope you both know that my focus for this column is for us to raise children based on biblical standards. I'll admit, like I did in this article, that I might not always be clear exactly what those standards are but I'm committed to searching the Word, seeking wise counsel and waiting on the Holy Spirit to guide me to raise righteous children (and share that information with you) for Him.

May 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRhonda J. Smith

Great article! Our children need to learn to wait on God for direction. This is not a popular perspective but a very good and necessary one.

May 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKaye

Thanks, Kaye. I appreciate your affirmation and encouragment.

May 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRhonda J. Smith

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