The inevitable happened this week. I knew this day was coming but I honestly hoped I had more time. I was asked the dreaded question by my son, “Dad, when can I start dating?” My “handsome 14-year-old freshman boy turning into a man” son wants to date. It seems like only yesterday I was teaching him how to tie his shoes. Needless to say, this crazy dating idea of his can never happen. He will never date. In other news, my daughter will never marry and my six-year-old is not allowed to turn seven. These things I have decided.
Though I have previously served as a professional youth worker (for about 15 years) and have addressed this issue with countless other parents, I honestly wasn’t prepared to talk about this with my own son. Not this week. He has other milestones to achieve first like graduating from high school, then college, then the Marines, then law school, then medical school, and then seminary. After those hurdles are complete, I’ll consider the dating request. (That is if I can’t think of more hurdles for him to jump over.) To say I was thrown off guard by his request would be an understatement. But there we were. Me in the driver’s seat. He in the passenger seat – eagerly waiting my response. I’m not even sure he has someone special in mind. I think he is just exploring the idea of it.
There is at least one positive about his desire to date. Mainly his personal hygiene habits have improved dramatically. There was a season where I had to drag him into the bathtub much like you drag a cat to the Vet. There was a time when I had to
beat force “motivate” him to brush his teeth. Now, he cares about his appearance, hygiene and breath and for that, everyone wins. 🙂
But dating has changed dramatically over the last 25 years when I was first doing it. And quite frankly, after watching thousands of other teenagers date (at too young an age), I have seen it ruin many a person in the moment and many a relationship thereafter. Dating is a dangerous exercise, even for the adults. Below are some of my observations as to why it is not recommended for most people under the age of 45. I’m only half-kidding. 🙂
- Dating raises the emotional stakes. The average teenage boy is barely equipped to handle the emotions of losing an X-box game. The average teenage girl can scarcely break a nail without tears, let alone endure the higher stakes emotional “game” of dating. There is a lot more maturing that needs to occur, particularly when the emotions of another person are involved in the matter. To be honest, most men do not even think about the emotional sensitivity that is required with their female counterpart, let alone a 14-year-old boy. At that tender age, they do not even know what they don’t know. A few years of maturity will do wonders for them in this area.
- Dating encourages unnecessary emotional deposits. With every relationship we are in, we have an accompanying emotional checking account with that person. When we spend time with them, we make a deposit. When we think about them, we make a deposit. Emotional deposits can occur in their presence or in their absence. Typically, women invest more emotional dollars into the accounts of men than vice versa. When you are alone, you make larger emotional deposits into only one account. When you are in a group setting, you make smaller emotional deposits into many accounts. The reason that a teenage breakup is so painful is because one feels an emotional bankruptcy after losing all their investment in that one particular account.
- Dating raises the physical stakes. Dating implies being alone. This alone time puts immediate pressure on the relationship. The boy wants to be funny. The girl wants to look pretty. Both are putting their best foot forward and trying hard to impress the other one. In other words, they are making massive emotional investments into unstable emotional accounts. Whereas a group setting eliminates many pressures and temptations, being alone escalates them. Combine these temptations with raging hormones (on both sides) minus the emotional maturity and wisdom to understand the dangers – you are asking for trouble. Pregnancy and STD’s are just two of the devastating consequences waiting to pounce on our young children who cave in to the physical temptations they face.
- Dating creates isolation & thus does not encourage community. Group settings are the safest setting throughout every aspect of life. Fish travel in schools. Wolves travel in packs. Gazelles travel in groups. Interestingly, women go to the bathroom in groups of two or more. Apparently the woman’s restroom is wrought with danger. We even have a well-known adage in our culture, “There is safety in ___________.” (In your head you thought “numbers.”) This is especially true in regards to dating. Teenagers, like young gazelles, need to be protected (even from themselves) during this time of growth. Oftentimes their bodies are maturing faster than their emotions. Very very few can handle such intimate isolation. The risk outweighs the reward. Time alone is important for all romantic relationships, but only when that relationship is mature enough to handle it.
- Dating shuns true commitment & cultivates the heart for divorce. This will no doubt be a controversial point but one that I think is worth making. Dating’s commitment is generally skin deep. In other words, it pales in comparison to the commitment of marriage which is “till death do us part.” When we get accustomed to “leaving” our dating partners (for a variety of reasons), it grooms our heart for the ultimate exit of an unhappy marriage. Whereas the marriage relationship should have an undying commitment and the “D” word (divorce, shhhhhh!) never mentioned, dating (by default) has a marginal commitment. After all, you’re “only” dating. It’s not like you are engaged or married. The more you date, the more your heart is encouraged to avoid commitment, particularly a lifelong, faithful commitment to one person. If you don’t like the one you are with now, you can always just date someone else. It can do a disservice to your heart, ability to commit and future relationships.
- Dating does not assist one in guarding their heart. A human heart can be broken. It should be the goal of every parent to guard their child’s heart. It should be the goal of every girl/woman to guard her own heart. It should be the goal of every boy/man to not only guard his own heart, but also learn how to guard the heart of the girl/woman in his care. It’s not an easy task – but a necessary one when it comes to relationships. Too many hearts are broken simply because there was no appropriate guard in place. Because dating is so personal and intimate, it is nearly impossible to guard one’s heart while doing it. When the heart is not properly guarded it faces consistent heartbreak which, in turn, causes it to either suffer constantly or become so calloused that it becomes cold and jaded. Neither consequence is healthy for anyone’s heart – let alone a younger heart, still learning what love is supposed to be. This is why Solomon (considered to be the wisest man ever to live) wrote these words, “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” (Proverbs 4:23)
- Dating discourages parental involvement (in most cases).
- Dating by-passes parental approval (in most cases).
- Dating prohibits parental protection (in most cases).
For now, I’ll leave #7-9 as bullet points. The main point is that no one knows you better and loves you more than a parent and dating (in the traditional sense) keeps most parents in the dark. There is more that can be said here for another time or another blog.
As for my son’s request, he knows it’s not an option right now. The group setting is where he’ll be or home alone with one of his parents. He’s a great kid and very mature for his age but for now, we don’t think he’s ready. Besides, he can’t drive and the last thing anyone wants is a parent on a “date.” If his Mom and I are wrong, time will reveal that and all we will have lost is time. If we’re right, we have saved him (and some little girl out there) a world of hurt. The risk outweighs the reward and since it is my son’s heart in the balance, I’m not willing to risk it. No 14-year-old girl is worth the cost of his broken heart, entrusted to my care.
I would love to hear from some of the more seasoned parents on how you handled your children in this regard. Did you let them date? Did they date in spite of your wishes? Positive outcomes? Negative aspects? Any broken hearts?
Parenting, on our best day, is an impossible task. Recognizing this, Mark Twain gave this helpful parenting tip. I always laugh when I think of it.
“When you have a child, you should put him in a barrel and feed him through the hole. When he turns twelve, plug the hole.”
No broken hearts in the barrel, that’s for sure.