A while back, I wrote a post called "Playing House," where I talk about some of my thoughts regarding dating. I have never been a big fan of teens dating seriously. The baggage that remains is often burdensome, and it can take a young persona long time to unload it. Despite this feeling, my children, being the independent thinkers I hoped they would be, chose to date. And no, we did not forbid it. The idea that a young person wants to date but his/her parents won't allow it can make it a forbidden fruit kind of thing, so we chose rather to voice our concerns and then monitor what happened, applying boundaries where necessary.
Teenagers, because of cognitive and maturity factors, have a tendency to throw caution to the wind. Their risk assessment skills are not great. Just ask my husband, who runs an insurance company which deals primarily with auto insurance what the statistics for who has the most car accidents and why. It's revealing. This tendency is why you see young prodigies. They have less fear than us old fogeys. This is why some teen relationships are simply disastrous; they give it their all at a time when they're not emotionally ready to do so, or in a position where marriage is foreseeable. This is my primary reason for being very wary of teen dating.
But.... and this is a but you can't ignore...
Young people are programmed to find a mate, and it becomes evident well before self-sufficiency. Young people are designed to find an "other," in their lives, and it can be hard to fight that. Two hundred years ago, many young people at the age of 18 were married, and could be married. With our complex society being what it is, it takes longer to be independent from parents, and marriages occur much later. If you hear of a couple who are young getting married, you will often see raised eyebrows and words such as "shot gun wedding" being mumbled. My son, who is 20, is cynical when he hears of young marriages, saying they're getting married just to have sex. Yes, he has some growing up to do. Personally, I'm in favour of young marriages. Today, the young people think they need to be well-off and have done everything they wanted to do before they can settle down. I say there is an element of learning and growing together as young couples. Thus endeth my plug for young marriage.
I was asked in that post what I thought was a good way to approach young people who want to date, but whom you would like to see put it off. I don't have a lot of wisdom in that, but here are a few suggestions.
First, encourage friendships of all genders, and encourage group activities. If your child likes a person of the opposite sex, emphasize the friendship aspect. It's okay for a boy and a girl to be best friends, but when it starts to look like it could be getting too much, impose limits, and encourage the couple to spend time in groups.
Second, monitor your child's laptop, phone, and anything else that can connect him or her to a "crush" via the internet. When I was a teenager, talking on the phone was what we did instead of texting. There is something that feels safe at 10:30 at night, when you're talking to a boy you like; you feel daring, and you say things that are a little too open. The next time you see the guy, you feel embarrassed, because you think you said too much. This kind of activity is exponentionally more profound with social media. We all know that we say things online we might not say face to face. Late night Skype sessions can have the effect of a young couple becoming too open with each other and fostering a closeness that is dangerous. Monitor their cellphones and laptops. If they object, pay for them, and then you have every right to examine them. Don't let them keep them in their rooms overnight or use them in the isolation of their room. No, you can't stop them from doing it when they leave home, but you can check them.
Third, get your kids involved with hobbies. And if they won't pick one, pick one for them and do it with them. Get them outside. Seriously, kids stay inside far too much. By being more actively involved with your family, your child will not only have less time to obsess over a crush, but you will be contributing to their relationship with you. While kids who have perfectly good home lives like to date, the fact is that many teens, if there is very little family connection will look for such connections elsewhere. Futhermore, and I can say this from my experience as a teen, an absent father can very well lead to a girl who looks for male affirmation in the wrong places. This is a no brainer: dads, your daughter's view of men begins with you.
Fourth, do service projects as a family. This is one thing I wish we had done. This was a suggestion that someone at my church made. Getting kids to serve others is a good way to get their thinking away from themselves. Find a project and approach it as a family. It would be good for you, too.
Fifth, remind your child that a friendship can last a lifetime, but a broken romance can put it to death forever. A few weeks ago when my daughter was home, she saw a boy she became friends with at 13. There were times when each of them began to wonder about something more, but it never happened. Now, they see each other when they are both home; friends for life. Tell your kids not to feed the romance. Remind them that dating is not a recreation. People's emotions are so easily engaged, it can become messy very quickly. The logical outcome of dating is a permanent relationship, so keep things light while there is no chance of that. Maybe your child's best friend is a person of the opposite sex. I don't see much wrong with that, but keep up boundaries, like time spent alone, contact with cellphone and Skype. Don't call it a romance. Call it a friendship. Have discussions about this in the context of what marriage is. If they respond with, "Oh, I don't want to marry her!" then you can say, "Well, then there's no need to get romantic." One of the things I hated to hear when my kids all got to be about 13 was the inevitable (and stupid, in my opinion) question from well-meaning relatives was "So, do you have a boyfriend/girlfriend yet?" Seriously. At 13? Come on. Also, talk about the idea of being married younger. This notion that getting married only after you've had a lot of fun is beginning to pervade Christian circles. What does that say about our view of marriage?
Start early. I wish I had talked about this more with my kids when they were younger. It isn't wrong for a young person to want to seek a mate, to find someone of the opposite sex interesting and alluring. But feeding the fancy may result in some consequences you don't entirely like. Some people don't believe that teens can avoid dating in high school. I know that to be absolutely incorrect. Just this past summer, two young couples at my church were married. Both married the first person they dated, a person they dated after high school, in university. It is possible. Dating in high school is not something a young person has to do for successful relationship development later in life. They are already in relationships with other people. Build on those, and leave the romance for later. Our attitudes toward marriage begin with how we look at members of the opposite sex. Teenagers (and for my teen friends, I don't say this condescendingly, I really don't) are more self-focussed; often their desires for a relationship have little to do with serving the Lord, and more for their own self-esteem. That attitude won't fare well when they are married.