As much as we may seek to mitigate it, we are products of our culture. Cultural assumptions naturally come from various places: family, church, school, neighborhood, friends, media. Some of our assumptions and beliefs are formed intentionally and honed over years of purposeful learning. Others are assumed, even unquestioned. Years ago, when our children were young, an elder in our church made a comment that challenged my own assumptions, proving helpful as my wife and I raised our children. His comment: The only good thing that can happen with dating in high school is nothing.
Upon reflection, I saw wisdom in that insight. His point was that high school dating offered only negatives. To be clear: the statement is not a moral imperative, nor is it a biblical mandate against high school dating. Instead, it is a provocative way of approaching a touchy issue that can have massive implications on the social, moral, spiritual, emotional, and physical development of our children.
As we consider the daunting task of raising our children to be future husbands and wives, we can find common ground on ideals: faithfulness, kindness, loving compassion, self-control, selflessness, fidelity, respect, godliness, servanthood centered on others. This calls for maturity and a disposition formed by years of nurturing and Christian discipleship.
Wisdom suggests we start with our end goal: What is our purpose in condoning dating for our high school age children? What is the best-case outcome? What is the worst-case outcome? If you were to provide the most compelling reasons for dating in high school, what would they be? Ideas may include:
- It’s good practice for their future marriage;
- I trust my child, with parental oversight, to make wise decisions;
- I dated in high school and was able to handle it without negative repercussions;
- My child has strong feelings and is ready for a relationship (with appropriate accountability);
- My child will be emotionally devastated if I don’t allow it;
- I’m afraid if I say no, my child may rebel against my wishes.
Regardless of the reasons, it is important that dating or courtship be viewed as preparation for marriage. Dating is anything but casual or disposable; it requires an intentional approach with boundaries and ongoing accountability. Negative potential outcomes include emotional and psychological stress, social anxiety, sexual temptation, isolation from friends and family, and distraction from other worthy age-appropriate pursuits. By “beginning with the end in mind,” dating or courtship is best viewed in light of a future covenantal commitment.
Positive outcomes of avoiding early dating are myriad. In fact, our school’s expectation of “no public displays of affection” and avoidance of exclusive relationships at school were crafted with several goals:
- Focused emphasis on treating all members of the opposite sex as brothers and sisters in Christ;
- Continued focus on deepening peer relationships, particularly those of the same sex;
- Seeking to be hospitable and inclusive toward others outside of the immediate friend group;
- Intentional avoidance of flirtatious behaviors and speech intended to garner attention of the opposite sex;
- Emphasis on academics, athletics, drama, music, and other extra-curricular pursuits;
- Cultivation of life-long virtues such as self-control, respect, and patience.
Parents are tasked with the responsibility of making faithful decisions in all areas as we seek to raise faithful, godly young men and women. A daunting reality is that our children will be the future parents of our grandchildren, and we want them emotionally, physically, and spiritually mature to be positioned for their role as spouses. As we train up our children in the way they will go (Proverbs 22:6), we all share the same goal: faithful Christ-centered young people who love God with heart, soul, and mind.