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7 Steps to Raising a Teen Who Won't Date Too Young

Photo by Kevin Dooley

My two girls are often the envy of some of the other moms in the youth group for one reason--they both have sworn off dating until they're 18. It's not because they're geeks or they're ugly; quite the contrary. They've both been asked out many times (even though my youngest is only 13), but they both give the same answer. They don't date. Dating at this age, they say, is ridiculous.

Several of the junior high moms keep asking my 13-year-old to convince their own girls of that fact, because they feel their girls are too boy crazy.

Perhaps you think this is over the top. I've written about this before, and we are definitely not all in agreement on this one, because many people don't see anything harmful in dating when kids are teens. It helps prepare them for real relationships, so the story goes.

I understand, because I once felt the same way. Josh Harris' book I Kissed Dating Goodbye changed my mind, but it was only the first in a number of things that did it. I want this post primarily to reflect how I raised my kids to agree with this, but here are just a few of the reasons we've adopted this idea with our family:

1. The purpose of dating is to marry. If you're too young to marry, you're likely too young to date. The only repercussion of dating is perhaps a broken heart.

2. Date too long, even if you sincerely love each other, and you open yourself up to a lot of temptation. In fact, perhaps even because you seriously love each other. All those legitimate feelings have nowhere to go, because you can't marry yet.

3. When you date a lot, you often leave same-sex friendships by the wayside, and these are the years that you need to learn how to be a good friend.

4. Similarly, if you date a lot, you may decline other important things, like going on missions trips, or taking jobs, or doing some ministry you might love, because the person you're dating isn't involved. You miss out on finding out who you really are.

We can discuss more in the comments, if you'd like, but I frequently get moms "in real life" asking how I got my girls to agree not to date, and so I'd like to share it with you moms "in cyber space". And if your kids aren't teens yet, read on, because you have to start these things when they're young if they're going to be effective later!

1. Start Early

You can't wait until they hit puberty and then start lecturing them on how dating is counterproductive and can be harmful. Start when they are young children. Otherwise you'll just end up getting into a fight about it. Your kids likely have friends who all want to date, and it's very hard to go against the tide unless you've been brought up to believe that that's what you would do. Teach them, from a young age, that we as a family believe in marriage, not dating, and it's better to wait until you're ready for marriage.

2. Talk Up Marriage

I always talk to my girls about how their aim should be to find someone to marry. And frequently, when we're talking, we talk about what sort of person is important. They want someone who loves God, who they can debate with, who will be a good provider, who will be good to them, who wants to have a close relationship, who doesn't believe in divorce, who does believe in family. And many of these traits don't come out in boys until they're older, anyway.

We also talk about how you could miss this person if you're dating too young, because you could get sidetracked from the one who really is right for you. Dating too often is about self-esteem rather than choosing a mate, and that doesn't bode well for the future.

Part of creating a marriage focus in our house is also watching what media we consume. Cut down on TV time for kids. Don't let them watch shows or movies that are all about teen dating, even if you think the shows are cute. If you're watching a movie that emphasizes dating over marriage, talk to your kids about why that's a dumb idea, and why marriage is really the purpose of dating. Monitor your kids' movie, TV, and music intake to make sure that the stuff they watch actually teaches the values you have. Marriage matters.

We help our kids to focus on marriage, and we talk about where the most likely places are that they will meet such a man. So they're focused on the future, they're not focused on right now.

3. Talk Honestly About Relationships

Talk to your kids about anything and everything. Whenever they want to talk, even when they are little, talk to them. Tell them what you are thinking, too. Don't just let them set the stage; if you think something is important, or if you're confused about something and trying to work it out, tell them. Let them know that your relationship is one in which people can bounce stuff off of each other; that you are a person that they can turn to to talk to.

Then, when they start hitting the age where kids their age are dating (let's say grade 6 or 7), make sure you ask them what they think. Tell them what you think. Encourage them to talk to their friends about it (in a nice way). Help them to be leaders.

The more you talk to them, the more they will come to you. Keep open doors of communication all the time. Find time one-on-one with your kids, even if it's during certain chores, like washing dishes, you always do together, or taking walks or jogging, or chatting before they go to bed.

Talking has another side effect, too. It's not just about explaining why you shouldn't date. Kids who are able to talk to their parents are far less likely to date. They already will have high self-esteem, so they don't have to prove it by finding someone to "like" them.

4. Encourage Your Children's Relationship with Their Dad

Whether you have boys or girls, encourage their relationship with their dad, as much as you can. Girls especially need to feel loved by their father. My husband and I take ballroom dancing lessons every week, but every now and then I get sick and can't go, or I'm out of town. So Keith takes one of the girls, and he teaches them how to dance. It's fun, and it's something they're doing with their dad.

My husband doesn't spend as much time with the girls as I do, but they still love him, and they still talk to him a bunch. Sometimes I encourage them to take walks by themselves. But the other thing I do is that I leave. I speak a lot on weekends, so I'm not here all the time. And when I'm gone, they have their own routine of what they do and what they eat. It's fun.

Don't be afraid to leave your kids with your husband. From a young age, start leaving them occasionally so that your husband is free to establish his own relationship with them. Both girls and boys need that sense that dad thinks they're okay, because if dad thinks they're okay, both genders are less likely to need to date when they're too young.

5. Keep Them Busy with Friends

Encourage your kids to have friends over as much as possible--and mixed groups are absolutely fine. Encourage your kids to have friendships with the opposite sex--as long as that is what they are: friendships. We often have youth at our house, or if there's a youth activity, I'll make sure my girls attend. Kids need friends. But group events are the best to get that need met. This way they learn how to act with the opposite sex, and they'll learn what sorts of character traits are important to them. But they're not as interested in one-on-one (and indeed, they don't have as much time for it).

6. Encourage Hobbies/Jobs/Adventures

Teenage years are great years to discover your giftings, uncover your passions, and learn who God made you to be. Encourage them to do these things. Get them excited about something, whether it's writing a novel, starting a business, earning their own money, or playing the guitar. Encourage them to serve in church, or to go on missions trips. Give them a wide range of experiences, as much as you can, and you'll find they're less likely to fixate on whether or not they have a boyfriend/girlfriend because they're just too busy with better things.

Now I don't believe in making families overly busy, but many of these things teens can do without affecting your time very much. They can practice guitar or piano; they can work on their own business; they can go on missions trips in the summer. Talk to them about what you see in them; affirm the giftings that you see that God has given them, and then look for ways for them to live that out.

My 15-year-old, for instance, has a jewelry business with a friend. They have tables at several craft fairs near Christmas time, and they make a decent amount of income. They spend a lot of time researching their craft, and figuring out what next year's line is going to be.

Rebecca also teaches piano, and works with little children at our church. And she's starting to teach swimming lessons a few hours a week. Now we homeschool, so she's home the majority of the time. I don't know if I'd want my teen involved in that many things if she also went to school, because I'd never see her. But encouraging teens to be involved in things that they're passionate about, and to concentrate on creating something new, is wonderful because it harnesses a lot of their intellectual and emotional energy.

7. Pray Lots

Pray about your children and their relationships and their hearts. Pray for their future spouses--and let them know that you're praying for their future spouses. Many times kids want to date because they're afraid if they don't, they won't get married. Show them that you are confident God will lead them to a spouse, or that God has something even better in store. And show them that dating now can actually undermine these plans.

If you're not nervous, they won't be nervous.

And that's about it! Notice how I haven't said "forbid it" or "ground them for life". That's never been an issue in our home. One day, of course, it may be. The girls might meet someone that they really do love, and might really want to date. They're still young, and I have no guarantee that they'll keep the mentality they have now until they're 18. Would I forbid it?

I'm not sure. I think "forbidding" dating doesn't end a relationship; they just move that relationship to Facebook and phone and texting. I would likely forbid one-on-one dates and just encourage them to spend time at our house, where I am there.

But so far it hasn't been an issue because I'm not trying to be negative about it--"you can't date"--as much as I'm trying to be positive about it--"marriage is worth the wait". And I'm giving them the reasons, and I'm helping them to get involved in other things.

That's worked for us. So if you want your children to put off dating until they're 18 or so, then follow these things. Talk to them a ton. Create a very close family relationship. And pray lots.

Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

UPDATE: Just thought of one more, so it's really 8 ways to raise a kid who won't date too early: model a great relationship with your spouse. Let them see how marvelous marriage is, and they won't settle for something counterfeit. They'll want that.

And if you're a single parent? That's okay! Just talk about how much you pray and want a strong, healthy marriage for your children. Comment on those who have strong marriages. Talk about the benefits of a strong marriage. Make sure your children know what you want and what you expect, and they're more likely to walk in that direction!

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At 9:08 AM , Blogger Mrs.C said…

We've taken the same route, re-thinking dating, because honestly my husband and I both know, when we were teens, we needed better guidelines. The type of dating we were allowed to participate in was a waste of time. Our time could have been better spent while waiting for one another, had we been given better direction during those years. Why waste so much time and emotion on someone who will not be a part of your future?

Our gals are quite content remaining friends w/ the guys in their lives, keeping their eyes on what is most important, growing in their relationship with their Heavenly Father as they patiently wait for their lives to unfold.

To encourage your young ladies, let them know my gals are out of school(21 & 18), and life is grand. They've stuck to their commitment to not date the way the "world" dates. They've set different standards as Christian young women, and are living much calmer, contented lives compared to young women they know who are dating someone different every few months. Those gals are in emotional turmoil a lot of the times, and it's pretty easy to see that too much time has been wasted on what was never meant to be.


At 10:16 AM , Blogger Mrs. Sam said…

Our 2 older teens in high school do not date. They both know that when you like someone you don't mess around with their heart. We've put guidelines in place early on that to some sound a little over protective, but we've explained to our kids it's to protect the integrity of the people your with. For example, never find yourself alone with a member of the opposite sex. Never take a ride alone in a car with a member of the opposite sex. These safe guards just help so much. Our kids are encouraged to have friends of both sexes, not to fear the opposite, but to make smart decisions. I follow these guidelines too to protect my marriage. I disable my chat on facebook, I guard my marriage. I want my kids to know their best friend for life as that, a best friend, before they feel called to marriage. And that happens well after highschool. Thanks for this courageous post Shelia, it's not popular in the world, but it's right.


At 11:08 AM , Blogger Herding Grasshoppers said…


I'm glad you pointed out how you frame the discussion in such a positive way with your girls.

You're helping them make good, positive plans for their future, for their relationships, not just putting up walls.

Thanks for the encouragement :D



At 11:27 AM , Blogger Michelle G said…

We feel exactly the same way and have stressed not dating too young for both our daughter (19) and all of our sons also! I was proud of my daughter when at her check up she was asked if she was sexually active - when she smiled and said no...I don't date - I will court - but I was hugely upset when the nurse said - "OH RIGHT! Mom's in the room..I believe you!" like it was a lie! So sad - but it gave my daughter and I a good jumping off for a heart to heart about what the world sees as acceptable!
I have had adults ask my 10 year old if he has any girl friends and even had one parent of a little girl (8) offer to take them to the movies together so they could "date"
It's so nice to see that there are other families who value marriage and see dating as the means to that end! Not something that needs to happen too young!


At 12:52 AM , Blogger Jules said…

My second son waited until he was 21 before he began courting. He's now married and everyone is always telling me what a wonderful DIL I have (as if I had anything to do with it!). She is an absolute gem and we couldn't have chosen better for him ourselves. Our third son has just entered into a courtship, and like his older brother, first prayed and sought advice before doing so. Although we don't yet know a great deal about this girl, what we have seen of her and her family leaves us in no doubt that she is also a lovely Christian girl who we would willingly welcome into our family.

We've told our sons to pray about their future spouse from the time they were very young. Although I had dated as a teen, my husband didn't until he met me, and he has repeatedly told our children that the way he did it was best (he's right too as he avoided a lot of the heartache that plagued my dating years).

I know of many parents that would like to see their children not date but seem to think they don't have the right to tell their children 'no' because they dated themselves. Well I dated and I wish now that someone had given me an alternative.


At 1:56 AM , Blogger Stacy said…

My husband and I started dating in high school (I had just turned 15), dated all the way through college with a brief breakup, and got married as soon as we could after I finished college. 6 years of marriage later we are still happy and in love.
That being said, I am still not a fan of teens doing one on one dating. I tend to think my husband and I lucked out- aka God had a lot to do with it. :)


At 10:02 AM , Blogger Renee said…

We are also on the same page as you. I dated quite a bit in my teens, and as an adult I realized that it really wasn't beneficial at all. So I've told my children that, and pretty much followed all the steps you outlined.
The main "drawback" is that my two older girls don't always enjoy their youth group friends, who spend too much time talking about boys, and boring stuff like that! :-)


At 5:01 PM , Blogger Rebekah said…

I love it when I see teens who like to DO things as a group instead of pairing off and/or making everything about flirting. On the other hand, it irritates me greatly when I am out with my husband and there are young people all the way from 10 to post college age, sitting at a table, obviously on a date, one or both on their cell phones/ ipads. Ridiculous. Can someone please announce to Americans that it is rude to be on the phone in public places? Even when phones were dial up, it was only at fancy shmancy restaurants where important people like doctors, the president, etc. liked to frequent where you would regularly see phones all over the place. Ok. So I've had my rant, and no, I am not old. Great post. I totally agree.


At 7:10 PM , Blogger Ellen said…

great post! I really like how you are encouraging your daughters, but not bringing it on so strong that if they were to choose to date at 17 or so it wouldn't be forbidden. I know some families that have adopted this type of idea, but it is so strictly enforced that the way I see it, it is restricting the girls' from having healthy friendships with guys.(which I think is super important!!) I also have a problem when things are brought across that "I will only date the guy I will marry". The problem I find with this idea is that often young couples will end up getting married instead of breaking up because they have commited to only dating the person they want to marry and don't know how to realize that sometimes life isn't as idealistic and doesn't always work like that. The purpose for dating is to find a marriage partner, that means if you've been dating for a while and find that things are not really working out you can get out of the relationship before a bigger commitment is made!

So as I said, I like your approach, I find it very reasonable, but I have come across some ideas (with good intentions) that end up going too extreme.


At 7:59 PM , Blogger Neal Ford said…

I'm a father who made a point longago of keeping our daughters close, and the doors of communication always open.
Keeping your home open to their friends is crucial. That way, you know who they're with, , where they are, and most importantly know their friends, of both genders.
While dating is not acceptable (we teach many of the things in your article) we know they need to know how to relate to members of the opposite sex in a mutually respectful manner. We have told the girls that the best way to lose a friend of the opposite sex is to date them (with all that modern dating implies) because of the complications that ensue.
So keep open communication, and also an emphasis on common sense, and the odds of getting teens through to adulthood purity intact will increase.


At 11:16 AM , Blogger Ruth MacC said…

When I was a teenager I was given a lot of rope and dated whoever asked me. I also slept with a lot of guys gecause I thought they would like me and although I have 6 sisters and a mother, nobody ever told me to respect myself, that I didn't have to sleep with them and that I was too young anyway. Thankfully I met a guy when I was 18 and lived with him for 10 years. (I say thankfully because I don't know what would have happened to me if I had kept sleeping around) We broke up and I dated another man for two years. He died in a car crash when I was 6 months pregnant and when my son was three God saved me!

I read Joshua Harris book, I kissed dating goodbye and thought "this is for me'. I started dating a Christian man who had read the book too and eventually we married, having our first kiss on our wedding day.

Now my son is 12 and he understands that there will be no dating until he is a man. I agree with all you have said and I think that your approach is good. My son is not saved and I don't know if the Lord will save him so I can't tell him to marry a Christian woman. However, I can and do teach him that marriage is an excellent thing and that he should covet this for himself.

I live in a very dark place where almost all kids are dating before they are teens and I know that we stick out like a sore thumb but I am counting on the Lord to continue to take us thorough these times.

Only God can change a woman and make her feel like a virgin on her wedding night after living the life I did, and this same God can, if he chooses take our children through these difficult years with all the strength, honour and hope that they need.

Thank you for posting your thoughts. God continue to bless you :0)


At 10:55 AM , Blogger Phyllis@Aimless Conversation said…

Good, good word Sheila. My 15 yr old is actually writing a persuasive speech for competition (NCFCA) on this very topic. I prayed a lot when the boys were little & handed the Josh Harris book to him when he was about 13. He formed his own opinions after reading it. I think he's taken a stronger stance than I would have! :)

It's time to hand that book to our 13 yr old & begin the discussion w/ him. I would agree though, that modeling a good relationship w/ your spouse as well as being VERY selective about media influences in your home lay a great foundation for later years & discussion.

Love your blog...wish I had time to drop by every day!


At 10:41 AM , Blogger Marc A. Pitman, CFCC said…

Wow. I'm almost a year late to this party but: thanks!

This is a great post. I heard all sorts of "yes dating is fine" and "no dating is not" when I was in highschool & college in the late 80's and early 90's.

But I don't remember hearing it in the context of dating restricting you from exploring God's call on your life.

I guess I did hear that. But it's easier to hear after 16 years of marriage. :)

Now that I have kids 11, 9, and 6, this topic is quite timely.

So once again, thank you!

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About Me

Name: Sheila

Home: Belleville, Ontario, Canada

About Me: I'm a Christian author of a bunch of books, and a frequent speaker to women's groups and marriage conferences. Best of all, I love homeschooling my daughters, Rebecca and Katie. And I love to knit. Preferably simultaneously.

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