I was listening to a Christian radio program while I drove. The speaker was talking about the importance of keeping communication open with our kids, and encouraging them to ask question to help them traverse the field of dating. Sounds good, right? Until the example he used was one involving the typical 13 year old girl. 13?!? Dating??? Why?
I dated in what I think was a pretty typical routine for the time. My parents told me I could date when I was 16 and, call me odd, but I was not relieved when they changed the age to 15 so that I would go out with a church friend. I actually appreciated the safety of being able to say I can’t date and blame it on my parents so no one got their feelings hurt.
When I did start dating, I wasn’t the type to date around. All I really wanted was to find Mr. Right, and my mom was none to excited for that to happen too early. “There are lots of fish in the sea,” she would tell me. “Date lots of boys and find out what you really like.”
When my husband and I started our family, we weren’t sure what our policy for dating would look like, but we knew it would look different than what we each experienced. Our kids don’t date until they finish high-school and are at least 18, but that isn’t the biggest thing. We want them to spend these years building a strong foundation. That includes:
Grow up spiritually and emotionally. In his book “The Emotionally Healthy Leader,” Peter Scazzero says that spiritual and emotional maturity are not separate matters, but are inextricably intertwined. Our emotions don’t lie, but they can’t always be trusted. What we believe serves as a launching point for our emotions. If we have unhealthy beliefs, we will have immature, unhealthy emotions. In order to have healthy emotions, we have to have beliefs founded upon God’s truth. The perscription? A heart and a worldview deeply rooted and grounded in God and his Word.
Spend time building your relationship with God. Know deeply who God is, and who you are in Him. Dating takes exorbitant amounts of time and energy. Did you date as a teenager? Do you remember thinking of him/her 24 hours a day? If only I had spent my teen years “dating” God instead of immature boys who couldn’t possibly take care of my heart at that time. Turns out, I did not meet my husband until I was 20, and God’s plans were way better than my plans.
We encourage our children to understand that in order to be a Godly spouse, parent, friend, and any other role they may take up, they need to have an intimate relationship with God and understand their identity in Him. We help our children develop a lifestyle to nurture that relationship. I have gratefully watched how, in the teen years, my kids transition from considering these things habits to identifying them as relationship they need. “I need God time,” they will say, and the days are just not as good without it.
Know what you are looking for and be patient to wait for it. I don’t think that it’s necessary to date many people to know the basics of what one wants in a spouse. Study to know God’s prerequisites for marriage. That is, pour over Titus and Timothy. What is a Godly man? If he meets the requirements for an elder (the ones not tied with marriage), then he has a good start. Does she sound like the women Paul says are appropriate for deaconesses? Then she is growing in the right direction. Do you see the Fruit of the Spirit in their lives? Are they in love with God? Make a list and keep it handy. You may decide living in the city or being a dog lover is negotiable, but if a man or woman is not living by the power of the Spirit, then don’t date them. (No one is perfect, but Godly character will be evident if they are living for Him.)
Be ready to get married. Dating eventually leads to marriage. It is the vehicle by which people in our culture “get to know” each other and determine whether they want to spend their lives with another. If you don’t see yourself as ready to marry anyone, why date? Young men, if you’re not able to take care of a young lady’s heart, wait. If it’s going to be a long time before you can support a family, give yourself more time. Girls, if you’re not ready for the responsibility of children, wait.
If you’re not old enough to get married, don’t date. 18 is the minimum age in most states. People date people they are attracted to. Couple physical attraction with emotional attachments that form in the process, add in teenage hormones, and girls fantasizing about “The One,” and you have one tall temptation. If you’re not ready for marriage, it is wisdom to avoid that temptation.
When I went through training to do suicide intervention they taught us that teenage brains are not fully developed until age 25. Adults use their prefrontal cortex which thinks rationally, can look ahead and understand the big picture, and make sound judgements. Instead, teenagers are primarily thinking with their amygdala which is the feeling/ emotional part of the brain. Suicide counselors explain that this is part of why suicide is so high among teens. Unable to focus more than a few days out, they are often overwhelmed by negative emotions and make snap decisions that derail their lives. This same immaturity puts teens at risk of succombing to temptation when placed in compromising situations. Most influences in our culture propagate sexual sin: television, music, reading material, and the examples all around us. Poor decisions cannot be undone, and so many Christians are walking around carrying shame and regret. Others harden their hearts to deal with the guilt. Being older simply gives our children a greater ability to stop, reason, and judge rationally and righteously.
How is this working for our family? Our oldest daughter Angel has cleared the teen years, and will be getting married shortly after her 22nd birthday. She met her future husband working at a Christian camp where they spent time serving separately for several summers. They were around each other in this public setting long enough to see good fruit in one another’s lives, and decided that they would like to know each other better. They spent most of their dating with friends, family, and in public settings. Little time was spent alone, and they made the decision to avoid temptation and save their first kiss until after they were engaged. Their engagement has been fairly short, and they will wed in December.
I’m grateful for the good example Angel has set for her younger siblings. The chatter amongst them has been that they think they might save their kiss until closer to their weddings. Obviously, time will tell, but I am a firm believer that God gives parents the responsibility of providing a covering of protection for our children, and that may be longer for some than for others.
Praying for our children, their purity and their future spouses, communicating openly with them, educating them, and offering a covering for them are gifts that can help them grow toward God and become spiritually and emotionally healthy adults who are ready to confidently and competently walk into God’s will for their futures and train up Godly families of their own.
And that is more of our story.
Feature image is courtesy of Pixabay; all other photos are courtesy of my daughter. 🙂