Shepherding Your Teens to Adulthood
Mark Clifford Brunner
Teen dating? Perhaps, it’s time to assign these words to the dustbin of outmoded phrases. At least, if most 15 year-olds had their way, they would be happy never to hear these words again. We “get together” or “hang out.” “Dating? What does that mean?” Yet, despite such “clarifications,” for Christian parents teen dating has and will continue to be a valid concern. There are ways, however, to make the experience a stepping stone for spiritual growth for both you and your teen.
“Getting to know you, getting to know all about you!” These lyrics from The King and I aptly describe the way Western culture views dating today — an exercise in “knowing” and a continual quest to “find out more” about the other person. Two people are drawn together to share time, experiences and each other in the quest to satisfy “the need to know.” The challenge for Christian parents is “how can we continue to provide for the needed supervision and guidance for our children within the confines of our cultural settings?” The answers, of course, lie within God’s Word.
Dating: Where Have All the Flowers Gone?
“Where have all the flowers gone?” There was a time when a first date called for a corsage, a definitive destination, and a lot of preparation, whereas today, corsages and dances have been replaced by chips and videos. First dates used to evoke images of sweaty palms, nervous preparation, and a whole bunch of anticipation. First dates were events and normally both parties treated them as something special. Regrettably or not, these experiences of yesterday’s youth may be permanently archived in some remote cranial recess, never to be relived or eagerly shared with a son or daughter. Times have, indeed, changed. Just as at one time couples were betrothed without the benefit of formal introductions as we knew them. Today’s teens are more comfortable with a social arena defined not by tentative and nervous “first phone calls” but rather, by informal and spontaneous gatherings of like-minded and comfortable peer groups. Many teens enjoy “going out” with a group of friends. Hanging out at a friend’s house and watching videos or talking, going to the mall, whatever the event is often done as a group of teens who are friends, not couples. Invariably, over time, teens within the group will pair up and begin seeing each other outside the group setting as well. Eventually, the group sees the pair as a couple committed to each other.
Parents need to be aware of the terminology used by their teen and should ask him/her what the terms really mean to them. Parents should also take note of where their teen is in the relationship process, making an effort to guide their child each step along the way with a loving and knowing hand.
Dating: A Christian Parent’s Role
It is not surprising that many parents find themselves lost when it comes to understanding their proper role in this evolutionary cycle of teen/peer relationship growth. To properly understand our God-given roles as parents, we must first come to an understanding of what God expects of us as leaders within our families. Parents, and especially fathers, should begin preparations for leading their children through these exciting times long before their children reach the teenage years. God expects parents to take the reins when it comes to parenting. Parents are God’s representatives here on earth, and, as such, are afforded by Him great responsibility. Martin Luther wrote in his explanation to the Fourth Commandment, “…he distinguishes father and mother above all other persons on earth, and places them next to himself” (Luther’s Large Catechism). Parents are, therefore, charged with acting for God, right below God. There are no intermediaries between God’s authority and that of parents. Let the following characteristics of leadership be your guide to disciplining, training, and guiding your children from an early age. They will form the core of a solid Christian approach to guiding teen relationships later in life.
- Be alert! Strive to understand and detect the temptations that face your children on a daily basis.
- Show initiative! Don’t wait for things to happen. Set the agenda for what your children are doing early on, especially through the elementary school years. Be a pro-active family planner and get your children used to following your lead by exampling Christian character in your marriage and personal life.
- Be courageous! Step in to right wrongs when they are apparent and don’t be afraid to make decisions for your children based on God’s will. Being a parent isn’t always popular. Make your will known early on and then don’t procrastinate on what you say you will do.
- Be responsible! Get involved in what is happening in your home. Don’t pass off responsibility to others because it is convenient. Make sure that decisions facing your family are decided expeditiously by you.
When your children eventually reach their teen years and “dating” relationships are realized, you will thank yourself for “plowing the ground” ahead of time. Supervision of the teen dating scene can be facilitated far easier if some structure is already in place before the request to “date” is made of you. Your teens will know that you are in charge of all activities that concern them because you have shown them through leadership that you care and you act when the situation merits action.
Dating: The Rules of the Game
As you and your teen enter into the dating years, it is important for parents to sit down with their sons or daughters and establish guidelines for dating that are clear, concise, and non-debatable. When your child reaches the age of 12 or 13 years, it would be a good time to sit down with them and explain your expectations of them in the forthcoming years. Preface this discussion with the thought that you are all entering into a new phase of life when, along with the inevitable physical changes that will take place, life will become more complicated as will the rules that govern it. Ultimately, making God-pleasing decisions is what it is all about. There are four basic rules that are observed in my household regarding teen dating:
- Consent is only a parent away! Teens should ask their parents first before consenting to any activity. This includes dating.
- Parents have the right of first refusal! Parents should always take the opportunity to meet the unknown before it meets them. Ask to meet any new acquaintances and be sure they know that you are actively involved in your child’s life.
- Time is of the essence! Dating is subject to time constraints. Set a curfew and abide by it. Be flexible when necessary but be sure that you are making the decisions. Dates that revolve around unknown departure and arrival times should be avoided. Although your teen is responsible for knowing what time it is, you are the timekeeper.
- To God be the glory! Whether or not a date will be allowed is totally dependent on whether or not the activity is God-pleasing. This may be a difficult decision for a parent since, on the surface and possibly to your teen, it may seem to be a pretty subjective decision. It is important for both parents and teens to sit down and discuss each dating opportunity keeping in mind that there will be times when the decision is difficult.
Whatever the case, make it your routine to share all dating opportunities with the Lord in prayer. Do this jointly with your teen when possible so that they understand that you as well as the Lord value their prayers highly.
Dating: Shepherding Your Flock to Adulthood
Ultimately, our role as parents is to train and nurture our children in the way that God would have them go. But ut should always be remembered, dating is not expressly spoken to in Scriptures. Because of that, parents need to recognize that God has given them some liberty to make decisions about dating for themselves. This need not be an arduous or agonizing process if parents simply recognize that God has given them the authority to govern their children and expects them to use good, Christian judgment in the application of God’s commandments. His commandments tell us what He wants us to do in regard to His honor, our honor, and finally, how God, out of love for us, has set up guidelines for daily living that we all honor.
Yes, there are inherent dangers in teen dating just like there are dangers in all aspects of daily living. Children and parents can be hurt, trusts can be broken, and hearts and lives disrupted. Setting up guidelines for our children will help us govern better as parents but they will not eliminate sin and the consequences of poor choices. Talk with your child often and remind him or her that dating is a matter of trust. They need to abide by the guidelines you establish if they wish to “date.”
- Remind them that although dating may take them outside of their home, they are never removed from the authority of their parents and their God.
- Remind them that God’s standard for sexual purity is also a standard in your home.
- Remind them that this is a time to learn and grow both as a person and a Christian.
Dating is a time of transition for parent and teen but it need not be a time of departure. Parents should not look at this time as an opportunity to “let go.” Rather it is a time when parents should draw even closer to their teens. Childhood does not magically disappear when a child reaches 15 or 16. Parents need to help shape their child’s life now more than ever. We need to pour ourselves into our children and fill them up with the wisdom, understanding, and love God has given us. Teen dating – “to God be the glory!”
January 8, 2005