I am the mom of 3 teens. They are smart (straight A’s). They are talented (the 3 of them practically have their own band). They are funny and kind. They’re really good-looking. And none of them has ever been on a date.
The dating thing? It’s by choice. From the time our kids were little, we wanted to figure out a way to avoid the whole teenage dating scenario. Our own dating experiences caused us to take a good look at what the purpose of dating really is. But how could we raise kids who were ok with not dating? Was it possible to help them avoid the whole dating scene and still be normal? I’m happy to tell you that not only is it possible, but I believe that waiting to date has actually freed my kids up to enjoy their teenage years and helped them be mentally, spiritually and physically healthy.
I have no problem with families whose teenagers are dating, because every family has to decide what works for them. But in case you’re wondering how & why any teenager would choose to be dateless, here’s some of the philosophy & strategies that worked for us. Just a word of warning, though: if you’re the kind of person who likes to be conventional, you should probably just skip the rest of this post!
The foundational idea for our dating philosophy is that we believe the purpose of dating is to find a spouse. Whoa, you might say! That’s way too intense for teenagers to have to worry about. What about just letting them have fun, explore relationships with the opposite sex, etc? Well, here’s the bottom line: biology dictates that as soon as kids hit puberty, their hormones demand that they begin reproducing as soon as possible. You can’t fight it. It’s the way we were designed. So when you have a couple of teens alone for hours, “exploring” their relationship with each other, you have the human equivalent of a spark and a match. It’s just a matter of time before something will ignite. This is not a bad thing. Like I said, it’s the way we were designed.
So if the hormones of puberty are what kick-starts our path toward the opposite sex, then what lies at the end of that path? That’s easy: marriage. The whole point of becoming interested in someone else is so that we will ultimately find a life partner.
Here’s a radical idea: no one is ready to find a life partner at 12! or 15! or even 17, for that matter!
I can almost hear the skepticism. “What about just letting kids have fun? What about letting them go out in groups so they can get to know each other? I dated my husband/wife all through high school and we turned out fine! You’re taking this way too seriously!”
Let me give you a visual. What would happen if you glued 2 pieces of paper together and then changed your mind and tried to pull them apart? The papers would rip. At best you would have one piece of paper that was really thin in spots where a layer of it was still stuck to the other piece. This is what happens when kids give their hearts away by having romantic feelings and experiences with the opposite sex. Every time your child develops feelings for someone else, he/she leaves a little bit of his/her heart with that person.
I don’t want my kids offering their future spouses a ripped-up heart.
So what do you do then? How do you keep your kids from dating?.
Well, basically you don’t keep them from dating. What you do is begin to build a wise view of dating into them from the time they’re little, so that by the time they’re teenagers, they get it so thoroughly that they have no desire to date (ok, realistically they might HAVE the desire, but they don’t act on it because it’s so not part of who they are, and what your family values are).
Some practical strategies:
1. Always link dating to marriage. When our kids were little, whenever we saw a teenage couple on TV or in a movie, we made a joke about it. “Look at those two! Do you think they’re old enough to get married?”... followed by a huge laugh, as if this was the funniest thing we’d ever heard. The kids quickly figured out that the purpose of dating was marriage.
2. As your kids get older, point out examples that will hit them personally (and if it embarrasses your kid, all the better!). We have relatives in North Carolina, a state in which you can get married (with parental consent) at 14. When our kids hit 14, we of course teased them that they could get married in NC. They were so horrified that they didn’t think this was funny AT ALL! Point taken.
3. Go on “dates” with your opposite-sex children. Moms, take your sons on dates. Dads, take your daughters on dates. Do not underestimate the power of these times together. For years our girls have gone on an annual father-daughter dance. It has become their prom. They dress up, do their hair, etc., for their dad. It’s the coolest thing ever. Doing these special things builds up your child’s sense of how to be treated by the opposite sex and affirms what is special about their gender. It insulates them against the huge affirmation that so many teens try to find in the opposite sex. Kids who are affirmed by their opposite sex parent won’t need nearly as much affirmation by their peers. If you are a single parent, find a relative or close friend who can help you out in this area.
4. Don’t be afraid to limit technology. Kids have access to each other 24/7 in ways we didn’t. Remember that technology should function as a tool, not a noose. Ask yourself how cellphones, Facebook, Twitter, and the internet can be helpful to your family. If they’re not helpful - if you’re not comfortable letting your kids talk/text/facebook with the opposite sex, great! Just say no. You are the parent. However, I believe it is important to explain your reasons to your kids, and even get their input so they feel heard and will know you’re limiting things because you care and not because you’re just trying to drop the hammer.
4 ½. Some Facebook tips: if you’ve decided to let your kids be on Facebook, one simple way to monitor this is to tell them that whenever possible, whoever is their friend needs to be your friend too. This way you will see all the things their friends post. Sometimes it isn’t possible to “friend” all your kids’ friends, so make sure your child knows you have the right to log onto his/her account anytime you want. In our house this is nonnegotiable. Also, know your child’s password. For that matter, let your kid know your password too. Everyone in our family knows everyone else’s password and can log on to each other’s accounts if they want.
5. Get some good resources to back you up. One popular book about this subject is I Kissed Dating Goodbye by Joshua Harris. Find friends who share your philosophy. This will be really important when your kids are teens and need to know they’re not the only ones not dating. Having a few friends in the same boat will help them not feel weird.
Ok, I have to throw this in: Don’t be afraid to be different. Being unconventional means you are thinking for yourself. Be proud of that without being obnoxious. You don’t have to go around defending your position, but you also don’t have to make converts, either. People will notice that your kids are happier, more well-adjusted, and allover nice people when you make decisions that promote their well-being even if those are not the popular choices.
Parents, we have an awesome responsibility. We also have an amazing opportunity to shape our kids’ lives. Don’t be afraid of this, but take hold of it with joy, knowing that whenever you think through parenting decisions, you’re trying to do what’s best for your kids. In the end, that’s what counts.