Is Your Teen Ready To Date?

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The longer I live, the more strongly I oppose the practice of dating among teenagers. The irony of my position is that I met and married my husband when I was still a teen. We started dating when I was seventeen and we were engaged when I was eighteen. Seventeen years later with seven children, we are happy and thriving, so I need to clarify what I mean when I say that I am opposed to teenagers dating…

I am opposed to teens exclusively dating before a marriageable age with a purpose other than serious marriage discernment.

I regret frequent dating as a teen girl.  It’s not that all of those boys were monsters (although a couple were mighty strange) but rather that I did not have the time and the freedom to develop purpose and confidence outside of a relationship. I would gladly trade every positive moment with my teen boyfriends to have those years back as my own. Instead of giving me confidence and fruitful life experience, the teenage dating culture tore me down, stunted my understanding of real commitment and love, and trapped me in a pattern of superficial people pleasing.

When I began dating my husband, I was still influenced by those unhealthy patterns and needed time to heal. Our relationship developed differently than the others because he was older, more mature, and deeply rooted in his Catholic faith and love of Jesus Christ. He also made it clear that he wanted to marry me and directed our courtship with that end in mind. I had to learn how to relate to him in a healthy and Christ-centered way and it was a painful but fruitful period of intense personal growth. Once we were married, the graces of the sacrament blew the doors of grace and freedom wide open.

Now that I am the mother of a teenage boy, I often hear about his friends who are “in a relationship” with young gals. My heart sinks when I hear it. I can’t help it. I have a high opinion of many of these youngsters but I also know the weakness of youth and the emptiness of our cultural dating practices.

As my firstborn son inches closer to driving age, I admit to thinking: My word, what idiot decided that a 15-year old was even remotely mature enough to handle a vehicle in populated areas? Poor judgment with a vehicle can inconvenience, injure, or kill people; however, poor judgment in a relationship can wound the very soul. He will drive at sixteen but he will not date. As much as I honor his good nature and maturity, I recognize that permitting him to date would be like encouraging him to text and drive… with someone’s heart. Fortunately for me, he shares his parents’ belief that modern dating does not honor the purpose of Christian courtship…which is to prepare for marriage. So he chooses it for himself in spite of his healthy appreciation for the feminine person.

If a dating couple does not have marriage discernment as the specific and spoken end goal of their relationship, then what is their goal? Fun? Distraction? Confidence building? “Practice” for marriage? Does that really honor the dignity of the object of affection? If the greatest relationships are rooted in love and service to Christ, exclusive dating according to modern trends is not necessary to build that kind of rock solid foundation.

During a good talk we had on the subject, my son did some thinking out loud…

“By dating a 16-year old girl, I would basically be asking her to stop considering other options — other guys or other vocational paths — so that she could just focus on me. And if I wasn’t ready to give her an engagement ring then that would probably be a bad thing to do. The best way to love her would be to let her have the freedom to discover God’s plans for her life. Then if we still liked each other a couple years later… well, that might be a different story.”

It is much simpler with my 13-year old daughter:

Your burka is coming in the mail today. Don’t talk to boys. Ever. As soon as you graduate, you’ll be taking the veil.

The beauty of Christian life is not about being holed up in restrictive darkness, but in the blazing glory of the freedom of authentic love. The entire purpose of my parenthood is to pass the key to that freedom and joy on to my kids. May the good Lord guide our every step towards His most Sacred Heart!

Recommended Reading:

For those with dating teens, I highly recommend a small book called Would You Date You? by Anthony Buono. It is written clearly in manageable chapters and is a good barometer for evaluating dating readiness. If it is too challenging for your teens to read or implement, or you are uncomfortable with the mature subject matter, then I respectfully suggest that they may not be ready to date.

 

By

Melody is a Catholic mama joyfully seeking truth, sanctity and a clean kitchen amidst the hustle and bustle of her full house. A happy wife and homeschooling mother of seven, she is devoted to her vocation while finding bits of time for a few happy distractions. How does a Catholic homeschooling mother manage faith, family, education, creative pursuits, fitness and fellowship? The calendar is set. The reality is flexible. The days are colorful. The dishes are piling. The children are blossoming. The Lord is merciful. Blessed be the Lord! You can share in Melody’s journey of hope and joy at her blog, Blossoming Joy: A Journal of Home Education, Christian Womanhood and the Pursuit of Sanctity.

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  • Kelli

    I really appreciate your article. I have had a similar path and try to encourage my children to practice dating only when seeking marriage also. We must be secure in who we are in Christ before we become the extension of another. Our marriage has been difficult because of our lack of development in many areas. I can’t imagine life without each other but I regret not growing as a person before we had many children. My 16 year old boy recently wanted to date and was honest enough to talk about it with us. I really felt like it would limit both of the kids involved because you then start to plan your life around the other instead of the path that God has arranged for you. He thought we were being hypocritical. But really we want to spare our children pain and suffering and teach them first and foremost to anchor onto God. This article confirmed my beliefs of dating and provided much insight. Thank you, it was as though it was written with me in mind. God bless you!

  • JMC

    Even back in the 1950s and 60s, they taught us that “going steady” was not a good idea. We were specifically taught, as you point out, that the whole purpose of dating was to prepare for marriage. Yet even before the “sexual revolution” was even on the horizon, the dating culture practically demanded that every relationship be exclusive; most boys wouldn’t go anywhere near a girl who was known to “play the field.”
    My personal feeling on the whole teen dating issue is that we need to resurrect the custom of the duenna.

  • Mel

    I also appreciate your viewpoints and admire your desire to put Christ first in your life as well as in the lives of your children. However, in terms of my own discernment, I have found a more liberalized view of dating to be very fulfilling. The sacrament of marriage is something I hold dear, and my parents have been fantastic role models in demonstrating what a Christ-centered relationship looks like. But they have also given me the autonomy to date. I was allowed to go on one-on-one dates with guys beginning with my junior year of high school. Dating helped me to find what works and what doesn’t. It has helped me determine my “non-negotiables”, as I call them. I have been exposed to varying degrees of compatibility, and when I met the man I’m dating now, I knew the first time we met that we’d be compatible. My previous relationships/dates were so different than this present relationship. And I am able to treasure this relationship more because I know what a mediocre date or relationship looks like.

    I feel that sometimes, waiting to date — and only date as courtship straight from the get-go — can create a lot of unhealthy expectations and a search for perfection. There are definitely those non-negotiables, of course. But there are little indicators of compatibility that really can’t be taught, but perhaps only realized in the dating atmosphere. I have a few friends who didn’t date until after high school, and a couple of them rushed into marriage with the first people they dated. They left college to jump into marriage life. I feel my dating experiences have heightened my holy views of marriage and raised my standards.

  • MikeK

    I appreciate your article, but I don’t agree with some of it. I have 6 kids, the oldest is 10 years old, so the teenage years are coming. I don’t think dating is a bad thing. I think if you have a relationship with your child where you talk openly about things, if chastity and sexuality are taught according to the teachings of the church, I don’t think it’s bad. (Obviously if they are dating someone with bad morals or who is a bad influence that’s another story.) I don’t think it is “texting & driving with someones heart.”
    The Church doesn’t have a definitive teaching on ‘teenage dating’ so Catholics can have differing opinions about this.

  • MelodyLyons

    I agree with you that not all dating is “bad”… especially because I was 17 when I first met my husband! My assertion is not that teens should never date, but that it is the rare teen in this culture who is mature enough to approach courtship with proper discernment.

  • MelodyLyons

    I had to look up “duenna” … interesting. Not sure how today’s teens would react to that! Actually, I have a pretty good idea…

  • MelodyLyons

    Sounds like you are have a great head on your shoulders and a strong faith! Your healthy faith life and mature approach to relationships is likely the reason you have been able to navigate so successfully. I wonder though… is exclusive dating as a teenager the best way to learn how to determine compatibility? Have you ever read the story of Scott and Kimberly Hahn’s courtship? They became dear friends within the context of social ministry work and only had a small number of one-on-one dates before becoming engaged. I don’t think there is only one way. It seems that the ability and maturity to discern in a faith/marriage focused context are crucial. I suggest that most 16-year olds in our culture have neither… and many young people start exclusively dating much earlier.

  • MelodyLyons

    What a blessing to have a son who approached you about this, even if he doesn’t understand your position. Parenting is not for the faint of heart!

  • Brian

    I agree with your fundamental thesis of opposition to teen dating, or really, any dating, that is pursued for “fun”. I also agree that dating should involve at least some level of vocational discernment. What I strongly disagree with is you forbidding your son from dating. By doing this, you disallow him to begin the vocational discernment that you yourself encourage. He is only slightly younger than you were when you began dating your now husband. Now I do agree that “modern dating does not honor the purpose of Christian courtship”, but that doesn’t mean that your son’s dating specifically has to follow the norms of modern dating. Instead of prohibiting him from dating, I would recommend that you provide him with a good Christian education in these matters (as I trust you are already in the process of) and let him put this education into practice. I would recommend giving him the freedom to build a meaningful Christ-centered relationship with marriage as its logical end. Otherwise, you construe religion as some ruled-obsessed institution, which it is surely not, instead of a source of authentic and virtuous teaching (among other things), which it surely is.

    I found the part about your daughter, even if it was joking (and I really hope it was), damaging to your overall argument. If taken literally, it makes you seem like a repressive zealot and goes against the idea that “The beauty of Christian life is not about being holed up in restrictive darkness”.

    You must understand that I do not write this comment to attack you in any way. The ideal of dating that you promote is a very important one. One that needs to be more widely heard. But, in my opinion, your delivery of it perverted the meaning and made it seem restrictive, instead of as promoting “the blazing glory of the freedom of authentic love”.

    Thanks for reading,
    God bless you!

  • MelodyLyons

    Brian- So you don’t like my parenting and my writing… anything else? ;) Seriously though,I stand by the position that dating should never be engaged in as a recreational activity and that teens generally treat it as such in our culture. My son is an exception… and he chooses not to date (you might have missed that detail) and instead cultivates healthy, vibrant, Christ-centered relationships with many people. And yes, the bit about my daughter was a joke. But thank you for your concern and God bless.

  • MikeK

    That is true. I agree with that. Plus my opinion on this could very well change in a few years when I have teenagers. :)

  • MikeK

    Your son does sound exceptional! I read your article again (more closely) and I think I understand better what you are saying about dating. I agree that this is an area that much prayerful consideration is needed, Also many kids “date” for the wrong reasons. I agree with you much more than I thought initially. You are a good parent and your article is good

  • Mama Cecilia

    I think this is a very wise piece. I had wish my parents felt this way while I was growning up and I for one will parent just like this in mind. In college, I read a book that I should of read at 15 years old, called Kissing Dating GoodBye …Wow.. It really puts all of Melody points into a book that a teenager can read and truly understand one should wait to date until they are ready to married! Thanks for the wonderful article!

  • JMC

    Of course they’d hate it. Even when it was the norm, they hated it. Of course, given some of the things that go on among teens these days, the modern duenna would have to have bodyguard skills as part of her resume… ;D

  • Mary

    I appreciate all of this so much and think you are spot on. As someone who can relate to much to your high school experience, I can also attest how those unhealthy immature relationships still have effects within my own marriage some fifteen years later. I wish I could do those years over. I will be parenting in much the same way as you when my boys are older and I’d love to hear more about how you feel your son developed so much maturity! Thanks for tackling this subject!

  • QuoVadisAnima

    Perhaps we have different perceptions of what is meant by dating? My experience has been that dating trivializes romantic relationships which make it substantially more difficult to exercise healthy relationship discernment even in adults – how much more so in teens?

    Even more to the point, why would we let teens “play” at something that they aren’t going to be financially or emotionally ready to commit to for quite a few more years?

    A mom in our homeschooling group allowed her daughter to start dating at 13 & go steady by 14. She is about to turn 16, has had several boyfriends & has become a flirt – while all of her pre-dating goals & dreams regarding education, reaching the Olympics, & eventually becoming a missionary to the poor in Asia have fallen to the wayside.

    Dating is a distraction at a time in life when our kids are still dreaming of doing great things & have the gift of time on their side.

  • MelodyLyons

    I suspect that many still deal with the affects just as you and I do. We cannot do those years over but we can try to help our children navigate better. God bless your journey!

  • MelodyLyons

    I read excerpts of that book many years ago when I was a new mother and I’m glad I did. Thank you.

  • MelodyLyons

    Wow… I very much appreciate the reread and addendum to your comment. Thanks for taking the time.

  • MelodyLyons

    QuoVadiaAnima- When my family and I discuss these issues, we distinguish between the terms “dating” (recreational) and “courtship” (marriage discernment). For the purposes of this article and general discussion, I simplified to one term. I would very much like to see an increased recognition of the difference between the two.

  • MelodyLyons

    Oh, Mike… the difference between ages 10 and 14 or so is vast. Once upon a time, motherhood seemed simple. I have been humbled… Lord, have mercy! I have really good kids (thanks be to God) but these years are complex. Sounds like you’re a great dad, though. God bless you.

  • MikeK

    You’re welcome. My son and I attended a chastity program that was put on by my diocese today, and the subject of dating came up. They mentioned the same things you did in your article. (Maybe the Holy Spirit is trying to say something to me!) They said the kids that are the happiest are those that hang out in groups instead of dating one person. Now everything makes more sense. I am so thankful for your article, and the chastity program. They really are great resources for parents of almost-teenagers.

  • Janette Bowen

    We took the middle road.
    Knowing that forbidden fruit is often coveted (Adam and Eve), we chose to sponsor a cross country team. We encouraged the team to group date to everything–leaving no guy or girl behind. They went to everything from homecoming to prom together. They gathered year round at our house—or a chosen meeting place—for food and chat. We bought shoes and loads of spaghetti. We held pool tournaments and skiing races.
    We filled the shelves nearest to the computer with books on healthy Christian relationships. We did not buy the ones on “I did it and now I don’t” because that, again, leads to “what am I missing?” BTW- worst influence area in our town–our youth group!
    Mostly it took time–and loads of it. At the time when parents feel like they should be pulling away–they should be present and accountable. We also gave up drinking—yup- do as I say and DO :)
    There is no easy answer- it worked for us. Our adult children now have babies of their own. I do not envy them attempting to raising those kiddos in this – even more- “open” world…but it can be done. Just don’t forbid anything :) Instead – ask —”what am I willing to give to help my child go through this time of life?” We can help pave the path- but they have to walk it.

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