By Keren Kanyago, Crosswalk.com
Nothing prepares you for the day your teenager pulls you aside after dinner and casually informs you that they have a crush on their classmate. You may instantly break out into an ice-cold sweat and feel your stomach churn. "Wasn't it just the other day when I held her in my arms as a snuggly sleepy newborn?" You may wonder. With their childhood memories still so fresh and vivid, such news may throw you for a loop. Many parents feel like they merely blinked, and their itty bitty clingy tots morphed into fully-fledged teenagers with romantic feelings to boot.
Although it is flustering to have your kids dip their feet into the dating world, it's important to remember that this phase in their lives is inevitable. The best parents can do is offer them guidance as they poke around. Do not leave your kids to figure out how to relate with members of the opposite sex by themselves. Your role as a parent is to bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord, even where dating is concerned (Ephesians 6:4). Here are seven dating guidelines for your kids.
1. Agree on Group Socialization for Tweens and Younger Teens
Research shows that kids start taking an interest in members of the opposite sex between 11-12 years of age (tweens). This, however, doesn't mean that they are ready to date. Usually, your tween will develop a special attraction towards a child from school, the neighborhood, or church and will swoon over them without necessarily verbalizing their interest.
At this stage, they are far from ready for one-to-one interaction with their "special someone." Enter group socialization. Group socialization/group dates will help your tween interact with members of the opposite sex safely and healthily. You can allow your child to hang out with other kids (as a group) in church, the park, the mall, etc. These should be kids you know and trust. Hanging out with other kids will help them quench their need to interact with members of the opposite sex but in a safe way and without focusing on one individual.
2. Agree on the Right Age to Start Dating
Wondering which is the right age for kids to start dating? The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) suggests that kids can be allowed to date from 16 years of age. As a parent, this may sound overwhelming because your child is far from ready for marriage at this age. You may be tempted to expressly forbid them from any form of interaction with members of the opposite sex before they are well into their twenties. But guess what? Doing that may cause them more harm than good.
Studies show that when older teens are denied a chance to date, their ability to nurture healthy relationships with members of the opposite sex is stifled. Besides, the urge to forge relations with members of the opposite sex is natural and God-given. It should therefore be fostered healthily and not extinguished. Additionally, banning them from dating will drive a monstrous wedge between you and them and ruin their trust in you. Think of it like having an itch on your scalp that you so desperately need to scratch only to have someone physically restrain you. That's extremely frustrating! What's more? Your kids may still go ahead and date behind your back, this time on their own terms.
If your child is 16 and above and desires to date, that's a sign that they are developing healthily. Listen to them and offer guidance. Help them create boundaries and ensure that you hold them to account.
3. Regulate Their Use of Phones and Social Media
Let's face it; society has evolved by leaps and bounds. These days, kids date through phones and social media more than they do through one-on-one interaction. Let your teen know how to use screens and social media appropriately. Warn them against conversing with strangers and sending inappropriate photos. You may want to follow their online accounts to keep tabs on their online activity. Additionally, ask them to notify you whenever they experience cyberbullying. Also, ensure that they do not spend hours glued to their screens by regulating their screen time.
4. Help Your Child Set Personal Boundaries
For your child to date healthily and safely, you have to agree on some ground rules and ensure that they adhere to them. Besides setting boundaries, encourage your child to stand up for themselves and not to lower their standards even while under pressure. Such boundaries may include the following.
- They should hold off dating till they are 16 years and above (or whichever age you deem best as a parent)
- All dates should occur in public places
- Both parents should know when and where the kids have a date
- Treat your date with respect
- Both children should be home by curfew time
5. Help Your Child Put Things Into Perspective
Although dating among teenagers is part of their development, it's important to remind them to take things easy. The chances are that the person they like now will not be the person they marry. Besides, it is still too early for them to be mulling over their future mates. They should be encouraged to interact with their peers on a friendship level (rather than romantically). Remind them that there's a time for everything. If they are skimping on their studies because of the relationship, help them prioritize their time and urge them to focus on school.
"To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven." (Ecclesiastes 3:1).
6. Emphasize That There Should Be No Sex Before Marriage
Research shows that over half of the teens in the US have had sex by the age of 18 years. This is awfully disheartening. Parents should not mince their words where premarital sex is concerned. In the strongest terms, let your kids know that sex is for marriage. Do not shy away from discussing their sexuality. Probing your kids where sex is concerned is not poking your nose into their business. Until they become adults, your kid's sexuality is your business. Let them in on the dire consequences of engaging in sex before marriage. Remind them that engaging in premarital sex is sinful because it defiles God's temple (1 Corinthians 6: 18-19). Urge them to talk to you if they have anyone putting pressure on them to have sex.
7. Agree on Appropriate Behavior
Remind your child that they have to conduct themselves with decorum and uphold respect as they date. Dating should not give them a license to defile their bodies. Warn them against doing things that will inch them closer to sexual temptation, such as kissing and touching. Remind them that such actions are guaranteed to place them on a slippery path.
"Can a man take fire to his bosom, and his clothes not be burned? Can one walk on hot coals, and his feet not be seared?" ( Proverbs 6: 27-28).
8. Don't Rush Your Child
Let's say your child is well into their twenties, but they have shown no interest in dating. Zilch. While among their peers, they probably stick out like a sore thumb. You may be tempted to nudge them to take the plunge. Seeing that kids develop emotionally at different rates, that's not necessary. Allow your child to venture into dating only when they are ready. Each child is unique and should be nurtured as they are.
"For you formed my inward parts, you covered me in my mother's womb. I will praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Marvelous are your works, and that my soul knows very well." (Psalm 139: 13-14).
Keren Kanyago is a freelance writer and blogger at Parenting Spring. As a wife and mom, she uses her blog to weigh in on pertinent issues around parenting, marriage, and the Christian Faith. She holds a degree in mass communication with a specialty in print media. Follow her on Facebook and Instagram and/or shoot her an email at [email protected]