Children and Dating
There they were again, two ‘tweens groping at each other RIGHT in front of our house for what seemed like hours. Our patio directly connected to the shared playground in our housing complex, which had definite advantages. For instance, our kids became friends with all the other neighborhood children within days. It also had definite disadvantages, and this was one of them.
I redirected my children to another activity, but not without asking myself a few questions. Where does this kind of behavior start, and why? Is it something we should just ‘put up with,’ assuming that ‘kids will be kids’? Should we allow it because we had a similar past and think it’s ‘normal’? Is there any way to protect our kids from doing the same thing when they get older?
The ‘Dating Culture’
In Colombia, the culture seems to promote everybody having a boyfriend or girlfriend. Most people pair up at an early age, some as early as six or seven years old! No matter where you look there are couples of all ages, and many are in obvious displays of public affection.
Once Tom and I escaped away to a hotel for a romantic night where we could just focus on each other. Late at night, we went into the hotel’s outdoor jacuzzi. There we found an older married couple who looked to be in their mid-70’s kissing voraciously in the pool!
This is something one almost never sees in the United States, but it’s quite common here. At first, it’s a bit shocking to see such a public display of affection. However, it’s also beautiful to see the obvious love and attraction these couples still share after so many years.
Is It OK to “Let Kids Be Kids”?
One evening a 6-year-old friend of our sons rang the doorbell repeatedly in desperation. We ran to the door to see what was wrong and found him standing outside crying. He sobbed, “I gave my girlfriend a kiss goodnight and now I want to play, but she won’t leave me alone! I want to ride my bike, but she keeps wanting me to kiss her goodnight again!”
We suggested that he just play, have fun, and be the little boy God designed him to be. He has every right to ignore her demands for a kiss. His face brightened up at the idea, and he rode off with a smile on his face.
Somebody might think, “Awwww, that’s so cute!”, when they see two little kids kiss on the mouth. However, that is not the message we want to send as Christians. As humorous as the situation was at that moment, it was also quite sad. These children were on a path to early sexual involvement and they didn’t even know it! What happens when they are just a bit older? How do they say goodnight then, if they’ve been kissing on the mouth since they were six years old?
Why Girls to Fall Into Prostitution
When we first arrived in Medellin, Abby was just five years old and people were already asking if she had a boyfriend! She would just look at me quizzically, wondering what they were talking about. One morning when we were grocery shopping at a large outdoor market, an older man even offered her money because she was so pretty!
You can imagine our sons’ indignation at this. Their reaction was, “What about US? We’re handsome! Where’s OUR money?” As a mother, I felt a different kind of outrage. The sex tourism industry is alive and well in Medellin, with the city having recently gained the title of the world’s newest brothel. The very act of an old man offering a young girl money for ‘being pretty’ sets an incredibly dangerous precedent. This kind of behavior is causing the young girls in the poorest neighborhoods of the city to fall into prostitution at an alarming rate.
These girls grow up with very little possibility for economic gain in their lives. Encouraged from young ages to dress provocatively, they are often rewarded with catcalls and attention. In a difficult economy, sex becomes something ‘easy’ a girl can do to make money. However, the damage caused to her heart, soul, body, and mind is devastating and lifelong.
The Power of Suggestion
When the older man at the outdoor market offered Abby money, he also asked if she had a boyfriend. As adults, we know the power of suggestion. Think of what happens in a courtroom when a lawyer poses a question or statement to raise suspicion about the plaintiff or defendant. He may be overruled by the judge, but the words are out there floating around in the air, and the jury has heard them.
Without careful and thoughtful intervention on our part, Abby could have begun to think she’s ‘supposed’ to have a boyfriend already. She could begin to think there was something wrong with her because at the tender age of five she wasn’t dating yet!
Tom and I decided to hit this problem head-on with our children. We talked openly about what it means to have a boyfriend or girlfriend. We also talked about the consequences that occur both at a very young age and also as one becomes an adolescent. It was easy to find examples in the world around us. The kids began to see that just because everyone else was doing it, that didn’t make it ‘right’.
How Our Kids Are Impacting the Culture Around Them
As Christians, our children should be the ones setting the standards in society, not following the twisted standards that are already in place. They have a right and a responsibility to be set apart, to be ‘different’, and to let their lives be an example for other children.
Now when neighborhood children talk about their girlfriends or boyfriends, kissing or sex, our kids suggest that it might be better to wait for that stuff until they’re older and ready to get married. After all, our kids reason, they’ll only be children for a little while. Childhood is a special time. They’ll have all of the rest of their lives to kiss and have sex and stuff like that once they get married. Why waste precious childhood time worrying about all of that?
Usually, the child they are talking to will get a thoughtful look on his face, as if he’s never really thought about that before. Then he’ll sigh, relax a little, and ask if they can go upstairs and play legos since they don’t need to worry about talking about their girlfriends anymore.
When adults ask our children about having a boyfriend or girlfriend, the kids respond, “Why would I want to have a boyfriend or girlfriend NOW? That’s silly…I’m just a kid! I have plenty of time for that when I´m older and thinking about getting married! For now, I´m really enjoying being a kid. Please don’t rush me!” At that, the person who asked usually looks a little embarrassed and also a little bit thoughtful at the same time. Wisdom…from the mouth of babes.
What the World Says About Dating
Let’s face it: dating leads to sex. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that out. When two people are exclusively together, focusing on each other, deeply attracted to each other or filling in some deep insecurity that one or both of them have, the results are going to be pretty obvious. This is especially true in the culture we live in today.
Teens face strong pressure to date and to be in a physical relationship. According to recent statistics, 33% of teens have had sex by age sixteen, forty-eight percent by age seventeen, sixty-one percent by age eighteen and seventy-one percent by age nineteen. One-third of sixteen to eighteen-year-olds say that people their age who are dating expect sex. In that same age range, most romantic relationships only last an average of two years!
Considering that on average, young people marry in their mid-twenties, this is opening the door to a decade of risk in terms of pregnancy, STDs, and emotional damage.
What the Bible Says About Dating
The Bible is not specifically clear in regards to dating or courtship. However, there are several verses that can guide us as we examine dating in light of Scripture.
- Genesis 2:24-25 tells us that “A man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.” By this verse, we know that sex, which is a gift from God, is good and acceptable within the confines of marriage as defined by God.
- 1 Timothy 5:1-2 advises those who are unmarried to “Treat younger men like brothers, older women like mothers, younger women like sisters, in all purity.” This passage clearly commands Christians to avoid sexual activity before marriage.
- 2 Timothy 2:22 warns us in even more dramatic terms, urging us to run away from temptation. “So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.” 1 Corinthians 6:18 echoes that we are to “Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body.”
- 1 Corinthians 6:13 adds, “The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.”
Consequences of Dating: Broken Hearts and Rejection
Adolescence is a very turbulent period of life. It is filled with change, growth and fluctuating emotions. It’s a period in which one goes from being a child to being an adult. The teenager is leaving childhood, where he was dependent upon his parents for his wellbeing. He is entering adulthood, where he will not only be responsible for his own life but also for the lives of others.
Adolescence isn’t supposed to be a time of finding a mate, but a time of learning about oneself. It’s a time to figure out the answers to such questions as: “Who am I?” “What do I believe in?” “Do I have a specific plan or goal for my life?” “What are my best qualities and strengths?” “Do I need to improve or work on something specific in my life?” and “What are my dreams and goals for the future?
Having been a middle- and high-school teacher for a few years, I have seen my share of children with broken hearts. They are changing physically, psychologically and emotionally at an extremely rapid rate in the process of figuring out who they are. Because of this, teens who date are likely to be in for an eventual break-up.
It’s human nature for those who were ‘dumped’ to take a breakup personally, and to think there is something wrong with them. Children internalize rejection in these early years in ways that can impact them even as they grow into adults.
Dating Leads to Physical Intimacy
We don’t have to wonder too long about what happens when children or adolescents ‘date’. The obvious results are all around us in the form of unwed mothers and STDs. Some people argue that it’s good, normal, and even necessary for adolescents to experiment with dating and even sexual activity in order to prepare them for relationships later on in life.
However, according to research done by the Michigan Family Forum, early sexual activity is not an event isolated from the rest of an adolescent’s life.Instead, it is often linked to negative behaviors such as relationship violence, an increase in other risky sexual behaviors, depression, substance and alcohol abuse, and suicide.
Other studies also show links between adolescent sexual activity and decreased school performance and lowered self-esteem. None of that sounds very positive or beneficial, now, does it?
Avoid Dating Until You’re Ready to Marry
The following are some excellent reasons a Christian should avoid dating until he or she is ready to marry.
Dating can distract you from your primary purpose of focusing on God. In 1 Corinthians 7:6-7 and 7:25-35, Paul talks about how being single can be a blessing and a gift from God. For Christian teenagers, their primary focus while single should be honoring and serving God. They should desire to seek out His purpose for their lives and act as missionaries to the world around them.
If Christian teenagers begin to date, this can be a huge distraction for them, their friends and the people they are trying to win to the Lord. Teenage dating is the world’s system. The world is watching Christian teens to see what makes them different.
You place yourself in unnecessary temptation and sin. It’s a simple fact that exclusive dating lends itself to physical and sexual intimacy. That was God’s design for man and woman from the beginning. The problem occurs when we cater to those natural desires before their proper, God-appointed time. That’s why Christian teens should not date until they are ready to get married.
You don’t need to date a lot of people. God’s plan is for you to get to know the opposite sex as friends, in purity and brotherly love. When it’s time to begin looking for a spouse, you will already know them well enough as friends to know if they could be a possible spouse. If so, you would begin a time of ‘talking’, followed by a time of dating to confirm your feelings and hopes of marriage to this person.
Dating can damage your heart. Teenagers who don’t yet understand their identity in Christ need to get that straightened out before they begin dating. Otherwise, they’ll end up looking for what Christ should be giving them (identity, confidence, purpose, value, etc.) in a boyfriend or girlfriend. They will invariably end up frustrated, hurt, angry, and defeated.
Now we are left to solve the question of what exactly is the purpose of dating? Is it to ‘play the field’? Should you experiment with different people until you are old enough to finally want to ‘settle down’? Maybe it’s to practice being married so that you’ll be an expert once you finally get to that stage. Another reason might be to get to know someone who you think might become your spouse in the near future.
As Christians, our ultimate goal for dating should be to find a life partner. We already know that God’s way is very different from the world’s way. The world’s way generally permits and even encourages ‘dating around’ as much as one desires.
Actually, the very nature of ‘Christian dating’ goes directly against what the world is offering. It will take an effort to maintain your witness. However, with effort, you can and will succeed, while championing the cause of Christ in the meantime. Most importantly, we need to make sure that as Christians everything we do glorifies God.
Have High Standards
It’s extremely important to make sure the person that you end up dating is a Bible-believing Christian. They should have the same values as you so that you do not unwittingly find yourself unequally yoked. If you find that the person you are dating is not the ‘right’ match for you, a breakup is always a hard thing to go through. This is another reason you should really be sure to follow God’s leading when deciding to date. Hearts don’t need to break unnecessarily.
Here are some general concepts. We believe they will help older teens and young adults to navigate the world of dating.
- Pray that God would strengthen you in this area and help you to preserve your purity
- Avoid being alone together with someone of the opposite sex in private places, especially late at night
- Make a pact that you will not engage in practices that will lead you further down the road of temptation. Tom and I made a pact not to kiss on the mouth. We maintained that throughout six years of dating until our wedding day!
- Use dating as an exercise in self-control, understanding that purity before marriage will help keep you faithful after marriage
- Find an accountability partner to check in on you periodically. Be alert to the Holy Spirit’s promptings; If you feel this is not the right person, have the courage to quickly, but gently, break off the relationship
- If your friends are encouraging you to sin in this area, it’s time to find some new friends. I Corinthians 15:33 tells us: “Do not be misled: Bad company corrupts good character.” (NIV)
How Parents Can Support Their Teenage Children
Strong families who practice safe and open communication are a great support system for teens. Below are some ways to build into your relationship with your teen.
- Form an open and supportive relationship with your teen. This will allow him to communicate freely with you, trusting you with the secrets of his heart
- Talk with your child about the changes taking place inside him or her during puberty and adolescence. This will help ‘demystify’ the process. It will also help to create an understanding of what is happening
- Get to know your teen’s friends and their families. Show an active interest in their current interest and hobbies, etc. Tom’s mom allowed him and his brother to build a skateboard ramp in her backyard. Their friends came over to play at their house, and she could keep an eye on what they were doing.
- Be open with your teen about members of the opposite sex to whom you think they are attracted. Ask casual questions, being careful not to jump in and offer unsolicited opinions as much as possible
- Ask your teen questions to help him think through what makes a relationship healthy versus unhealthy. Share examples from your own life and the lives of family friends to help evaluate differences
- Ask your child if she is feeling any pressure to date. She may feel isolated because she is the only one of her friends without a boyfriend. If that is the case, work together to find a solution. You might make efforts to help her find more like-minded friends, for example.
How Parents Can Encourage Their Children
As parents, we need to continue encouraging our children to be vigilant and intentional. This is especially true as they navigate through their teenage and young adult years. We want to help them to avoid making decisions they will someday regret. Many times, such decisions can affect them or someone else negatively for the rest of their lives.
For a Christian teenager, it may feel like they’ll NEVER get through these years. However, the truth is that they will pass faster than your child expects. Then life….REAL LIFE…will catch them by surprise. Let’s encourage them to keep their eyes on Jesus so that they can get through these often turbulent years as unscathed as possible.