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!
Labels: dating, teenagers