When my oldest child entered middle school, I was surprised to find that one of the classes on his schedule was Healthy Lifestyles. I called the school to ask about this class and what I heard shocked me. The class included teaching kids to make healthy and wise choices, but also covered the subject of dating and how to practice “safe” dating habits. Excuse me? These kids were eleven years old. The administrator told me that kids are dating at this age and they needed to know how to avoid contracting HIV and other diseases. I responded that my children would not be dating during middle school and she scoffed at me. She said, “As far as you know they might not be dating, but the fact is all these kids date and this class is very important for them to know how to be safe.” I politely told her we were not interested in this class and she needed to substitute another class in its place.
While some kids don’t date in middle school, the sad fact is that many of them do and the school encourages it by not only offering this class, but also by sponsoring dances and other social activities that are not appropriate for this age.
With a house full of teenagers, and more to come, we’ve had many discussions about dating. I have a daughter who will celebrate her 16th birthday in a few weeks so we’ve been discussing rules and expectations quite a bit lately.
We’ve been counseled to not let our children date until they are sixteen. From the pamphlet, For the Strength of Youth, it’s very clear, "Do not date until you are at least 16 years old.” It’s important to explain to youth why this counsel is so important and it needs to be explained long before they turn 16.
“Dating before then can lead to immorality, limit the number of other young people you meet, and deprive you of experiences that will help you choose an eternal partner” (For the Strength of Youth, p. 24). When I taught a lesson on dating to my Beehives, I asked, “When you begin dating at 12, what do you think you’ll be doing at 16?” Most of them shrugged their shoulders (I love the innocence of Beehives). I said, “More likely than not, you’ll be breaking the Law of Chastity.”
If youth start dating at an early age the whole handholding jitters is soon replaced by the next step, which is followed by the next one. By the time they’re 16, all the jitteries from holding hands, sitting by each other during lunch, or talking on the phone are gone. They’ve passed that stage and want to explore far beyond that innocent handholding phase of a relationship.
Even if the early dating doesn’t lead to sexual transgressions, the time that the youth have spent worrying about the relationship and concentrating on each other is wasted. That time is much better spent meeting many different people, gaining new experiences, having fun, going to dances, attending football games, and focusing on helping themselves grow and reach their own potential. It is not a time to worry about sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancy, or adult emotions. There will be time enough to worry about adult problems, it shouldn’t have to be when a kid is still a teenager.
As parents, we should encourage our teenagers to wait until 16 to date and then to date in groups until they are 18. A tremendous amount of maturing happens during those two years, and the youth that wait to steady date until then will be better prepared to make good decisions.
Of course, teenagers have their own free agency to make decisions contrary to what they’ve been taught, but the more we can encourage proper dating habits, the more likely it is that our youth will make better decisions about dating.
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