A year ago I discovered someone had left a teenage girl on my doorstep. We’ve adopted her but it’s taken a little getting used to—having a young woman around instead of a little girl. I guess you could say we’re both getting used to each other.
She’s nearly as tall as Andrew, she’s grown into her permanent teeth and she describes her surroundings using words like “sick” (that means something’s good) and “tight” (also meriting approval) and suddenly wants to talk about boys. Fictional boys (Edward Cullen), celebrity boys (David Archuleta), neighborhood boys (who shall remain nameless), boys at school and church and boys on the corner at the mall.
With all this boy-talk we’ve been forced to confront some new issues around here: I guess you’d call them “rules of engagement”—or how we’re going to deal with this new phenomenon of adolescence. We’re hardly veterans here but here are a few of the terms we’ve come to agree upon, a few of the things we've been discussing for quite a while so that nothing was a shock when it came down to it.
No Dating Until Age Sixteen--Period.
If you believe my son there are kids in his 5th grade class that pair up and go on dates together. I do take that information with a grain of salt—according to him all the kids in his class can stay up as late as they want, have televisions and Wiis in their bedrooms and are allowed to see any movie they want so let’s just say I’m suspicious.
Children don’t have the social skills necessary to handle dating in those early teen years, they’re just beginning to get their heads around the feelings of attraction to the opposite sex and the parts of their brains governing things like self-control and common sense aren’t developed enough to safely navigate the perils of interpersonal, intimate relationships between men and women. And we are talking things pertaining to men and women here--these are adult feelings and adult situations and not to be treated lightly.
There’s no need for teens to begin dating younger than sixteen—it’s not as if the girls need to get a jump on the competition and find themselves a man before all the good ones are taken. We’re not talking an after Thanksgiving sale here people, we’re talking about allowing children to delve into complex areas of life and growth that many adults haven’t yet mastered. Let them wait, they just don’t need to race into something that has so many opportunities for disaster and every reason for prudence.
Practically speaking—why date before you can drive anyway? What’s the point of “going out” when Mommy and Daddy are the chauffeurs? It just emphasizes the fact that they’re too young to maturely handle the situation and makes you feel like you're playing at something that shouldn't at all be considered a game.
Now this hasn’t necessarily been a popular decision here but there is enough wisdom in it that our daughter deals with it fairly gracefully—I said fairly—which is a good sign because if she’s mature enough to agree to this restriction then it shows she’s becoming mature enough to deal with the situations that will come her way when she is allowed to date.
If she were to throw a fit and demand to be able to see boys right now it would just be proof that she isn’t ready to be let lose socially. Throwing a temper tantrum when things aren’t to your liking just shows that you aren’t adult enough to control your emotions and desires—a key point in any relationships but most important when it comes to feelings involving romance and hormones.
Focus on Group Dating
Luckily Grace has some wonderful friends her age and I’m hoping that when she becomes old enough to date that they’re able to do a lot of group dating. I’m not talking about “hanging out” together—there’s plenty of that and it’s rather counter productive to learning about meaningful relationships—I’m talking about organized, planned activities where the couples are actually paired up, not merely mingling around indecisively like some herd of cattle.
Ease into things, have them wait until they're sixteen then take it slow and encourage group dates. Young men and women can still learn what they need to learn about relating to one another within the bounds of a small group and it removes so much of the dangers and pressures associated with going out one-on-one.
This doesn’t mean that we have a policy of group dates only it just means that we want to encourage Grace to get to know young men more this way at first than by sitting alone in a car with a guy when she really knows so little about boys. This means we’d like to make our home available to her and her friends when they want to plan those kinds of activities, to encourage her to invite her dates to join us in family activities rather than leaving her to discover the mysteries of men all alone at such a young age.
No Steady Dating
High school really isn’t the time for having a serious boyfriend, having one at sixteen or seventeen adds a huge distraction for teenagers who are typically over scheduled as it is. Wait until college for an exclusive relationship—that’s the time when you can begin to think about where a relationship is going, how it’s progressing, where’s it’s leading—marriage, family, planning a life together—in high school an exclusive relationship usually only leads to one thing and it’s not marriage or a mature, committed relationship.
Besides, nowadays it’s generally agreed upon that once you start dating someone regularly then you’re off-limits to all others. The early stages of dating aren’t for seeing how tightly one can attach to one person, they’re for learning how to interact with others, about who other people are and who you are, what you want in Mr. Right and how you can be the kind of quality person your Mr. Right would chose to be with. This can best be done without a steady boyfriend but with a variety of experiences from a variety of young men.
The bottom line is that there’s a time for everything in life and the early teen years aren’t the time for dating and serious relationships with the opposite sex. There is nothing to gain and everything to lose from rushing into such a delicate area of life. Think about your own life—it’s those relationships built around marriage, dating and family that shape our lives and to give children access to this before they’re ready is not only foolish but dangerous.
You wouldn’t hand your children the keys to the car before they know how to safely drive, why would you allow them access to something that is just as dangerous to their emotional and spiritual safety?
After all, even with all the changes our society has seen aren’t the best things in life still worth waiting for?
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