What’s a parent’s role as a child dates?
It’s not often that I don’t chime in with my opinion on a topic, but this is going to be one of those rare moments. My oldest just turned 13, and although the prospect of dating is getting closer every day, this is not a topic with which I have any experience. Honestly, just the idea of my daughter dating makes me a little panicky. That’s why I’m grateful that I can turn to wise Christian parents who have been through this stage of parenting—and in some cases still are navigating it—for tips and advice.
I remember when my oldest son went on his first date as a high school freshman. It was hardly the stuff of romantic legend. Since neither he nor his girlfriend could yet drive, their “date” consisted of sitting in a corner booth at Culver’s while I parked myself in a booth nearby and tried to be inconspicuous. I think the date may have ended with an awkward handshake. If only dating could remain this innocent! But as our teens get older and their relationships become more serious, what’s a parent’s role as a child dates? How much—or how little—do we get involved?
From the outset, be very clear about dating parameters. Ask where, when, and what questions. Give firm expectations about rules and curfews, and enforce consequences when rules are broken.
Meet your child’s date and connect with his or her parents, if possible. Even if you can’t meet in person, connect via phone call or text and communicate often. If it’s more than a couple of dates, it’s very important for both sets of parents to be a “team” when it comes to dating expectations and guidelines.
Have THE TALK with your child—again. Sorry, I know it will be cringe-worthy and awkward, but your child needs to learn about sex from you, not the Internet or peers. Look at what God says about purity in relationships (1 Corinthians 6:18-20) and read Galatians 2:20 together to remind your teen that Christ lives in him. Discuss the very real consequences of a sexual relationship outside of marriage—everything from STDs to pregnancy—and the emotional and spiritual impacts it has.
Be your child’s “brain.” It’s a scientific fact that the brain isn’t fully wired until about age 25. So . . . the developing teen brain + raging hormones = the opportunity for some very poor choices. Parents can help be their child’s surrogate brain during the teen years. Although teens have to learn to make their own choices and understand the consequences of their actions, we can help guide them through the dating minefield.
Model healthy and loving male/female relationships in your home. Dads, cherish your wife in front of your daughters. Moms, hold your sons accountable by teaching them to respect you and respect women. Also talk about what is and is not acceptable in a dating relationship. Verbal, emotional, and physical abuse are NEVER okay. If your child is uncomfortable or injured in a relationship, teach him to speak up.
Be realistic about your teen’s dating journey. Are you married to the first person you dated? It happens, but it’s not likely. Keep in mind that dating for our teens is about exploring who they are and what they are looking for in a future spouse. Don’t push too hard or encourage your child’s dating relationship to be more serious than it should, yet don’t be so hands-off that you are unaware of what is happening.
Pray continually. I recently told a friend, “I will pray for you. It’s the least I can do.” She gently corrected me, “No, it’s the most you can do.” She’s right. We forget how powerful and effective prayer is. Bring your child’s dating relationship to God in prayer. Ask him to help your child remain pure, make wise choices, and stay safe. Also pray for a God-fearing spouse for your child someday, if they choose to marry. Finally, pray for patience and understanding and to be able to lovingly keep the lines of communication open with your teen as he navigates the world of dating.
Ann Jahns and her husband, Thad, have three sons and a recently emptied nest.
I’m a parent of 2 boys and 2 girls ages 15 to 22. I have a front-row seat to view the corn maze called courting. I admit to thoughts of electronic surveillance, homing devices, and background checks. Making it more complicated is that the way my kids date is as unique as they are. They open up to my wife and me in different ways and to varying degrees.
Along the way, I have learned a few things:
First, crushes are an innocent way of saying, “I like you and want to spend time with you.” Young teens are practicing their dating legs. They are learning social skills. The early years are building the skills they need for future and more serious relationships.
You can never prevent them from getting hurt. Sometimes a parent sees and offers caution such as, “Does the person to whom you’re giving your heart make you a better person or bring you down? Liking someone is one thing, but if he makes you feel worse about yourself, ditch him. I don’t care how good looking he is.” Yet they still get hurt . . . and your heart breaks when your child’s heart breaks.
Take their feelings seriously. I never joke or make light of their feelings. I may view it as puppy love. But when seen through the lens of a teenager, those feelings of the moment are under a magnifying glass. They are huge and all-consuming. Validate that their feelings are real . . . and realize that these feelings may change at any moment.
I’m still learning . . .
To know when to quit talking so I can be a better listener. A good listener will be able to repeat everything back. A deep listener internalizes it, mulls it around, and empathizes with a child. A note of caution—being a listener doesn’t qualify you as their “relationship fixer.” Parents can’t fix relationships. I may want to offer advice on every conversation point. But more important than getting my point across is allowing them to share. That may mean your tongue will bleed from biting it.
Not to be afraid to ask the hard questions: “Does your boyfriend drink?” “Are you getting in the car with him?” “Will there be parents supervising that party?”
Sometimes, a boyfriend/girlfriend can be controlling, like when you see a child with ONLY this one person and no longer with his friends. But differentiate between a red flag and a child who is just private. There’s a difference between hiding things and not wanting to talk about things.
Finally, I believe that the best way to model dating for your children is to treat your spouse well. It’s like the map that helps them through that corn maze.
Donn Dobberstein and his wife, Beth, have four children ranging in age from 15 to 22.
Ah, the halcyon days of dating! The excitement, the romance, the mystery! Will he call? Does she like me? But now, you are the parent, and the word dating seems more worrisome than wonderful. What is your role as a parent in Christian courtship?
Pray (1 Thessalonians 5:17). God would have us pray about everything. Certainly early and numerous prayers for our child and his or her future spouse and all things dating fall under this category.
Teach (Proverbs 22:6). Godly conversations about the blessings of dating, marriage, and sex should also start early and continue age appropriately as your child matures. Not entirely comfortable with these conversations? Christian books to the rescue! Always remind your child that he or she is a special and loved child of God—single, dating, or married.
Model (1 Corinthians 13). Actions speak louder than words! Pray that God gives you the strength to make your marriage a Christian model of sacrificial love. Show your child that your marriage is a priority and a blessing. Fathers, show respect to your wives and daughters. Mothers, encourage your husbands and sons in their Christian roles.
Advise (Psalm 119:105). As dating age approaches (in our family rules, that’s approximately age 16, because that seemed like a good age, and it’s no fun to have your parents drive you on dates), look for moments like car rides or walking the dog that are good talking and listening times. You can regale your children with stories of your own courtship and marriage. But also remind them that while dating can be fun, the ultimate purpose is to look for a husband or wife, and that is serious business. Most important, continue to point them to God’s Word. How about a Saturday coffee outing that includes a Bible study with your child, looking at passages on God’s love for us, our love for God and others, friendship, marriage, God’s timing, temptation, true beauty, forgiveness, what to look for in a marriage partner, how to handle a break up?
Host (1 Peter 4:9). As dating age approaches, plan gatherings for your child’s class—boys and girls—at your home. Encourage your son or daughter to have their boyfriend or girlfriend over for game nights, baking, movies, and devotions. We call this “family dating.” It’s a cheap date, but it’s also a way for the boyfriend/girlfriend to get to know you, the other siblings, the dog (a true test!), and the Christian values your family holds dear.
Dating. Ever since God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him” in Genesis 2:18, men and women have been seeking the perfect partner. Welcome to this exciting/scary/exhilarating/wonderful phase of parenting! God’s blessings as you pray, teach, model, advise, and host your dating child of God, relying on God’s good guidance and timing.
Ann Ponath and her husband, David, have four kids ranging in age from 14 to 23.
Author: Multiple Authors
Volume 106, Number 5
Issue: May 2019