I was tempted to call them courtship years, but for many that has a negative connotation of being too restrictive and crossing the line into meddlesome. I’m not too proud to admit, though, that I don’t mind being a little meddlesome. That is, after all, part of the job description of parenting.
I should be transparent right out of the gate, however, and tell you my kids have not yet dated. My oldest four are all teenagers ranging in age from 19-13. Even I expected to have crossed deeper into these waters by this point. But the brakes have been put on in large part due to how we have chosen to raise them.
From their earliest years, we discouraged boyfriend/girlfriend match-ups and turned their attention from childish crushes they may have experienced. We didn’t not allow them we just simply kept reminding our children that they were at the age of friendship. Stronger relationships were for when you were prepared to consider marriage.
And we chose the generic age of 18 for when that might be an option to explore. Although, in this day and age, 18 is still awfully young in many respects. We haven’t yet encountered resistance from kids wishing to rush ahead. I realize that is not the case for everyone.
The issue of dating, or courtship, is one that has been important to me on many levels. Because all too often young people give away that which they can never take back. And the giving leaves them with scars and an emptiness. It changes their self-image and cheapens their view of future relationships. One of the greatest risks of entering into deep heart connections too soon is that they lead to physical connections that are hard fought and seldom won.
Telling our children what to do is the easy part; training them how to do it is a whole different thing. But that training cannot effectively begin at the starting gate of their dating years. The foundation must be laid early in childhood. Instruction must be given in the importance of choosing even their friendships well.
He that walketh with wise men shall be wise: but a companion of fools shall be destroyed. (Proverbs 12:20)
But on an even deeper level, they must receive instruction on how to guard their eyes, minds and hearts. What goes in far too often stays in and we have been given the high calling of being their filters in those early years. We have to come alongside and guide them through the mire of distraction and deprivation of a world that will stop at nothing to suck them in. Unfortunately, media sources have assumed a tremendous role in the training of today’s youth with music, television and the internet leading the pack toward destruction.
Turn away mine eyes from beholding vanity; and quicken thou me in thy way. (Psalm 119:37)
We cannot lie down on the job.
If we will purpose to fill them with good things, while modeling for them lives that seek God so the distinction between good and evil is clear, we will find ourselves standing on the threshold of their adult years with youth far more prepared than if we hadn’t invested. Because a boy who has been trained to see a girls as a daughter of God is far more likely to become a man who values the fullness of a woman, rather than chasing after a baser fulfillment. And likewise for a girl carefully trained.
As our youth age, they should find themselves with increasing independence. It’s foolhardy for us to grip so tightly to the reins of control that they don’t cultivate the habit of discerning right from wrong for themselves. They must be given freedom to make poor choices within the safety net of home. But this doesn’t mean they ought to be left to themselves. Quite the contrary.
My oldest son is a senior in (homeschool) high school. He is just over a week from turning 19 and, while I worked with him to set up his curriculum for the year, he is entirely responsible for pacing himself and getting it done. I’m here for support but he isn’t spoon-fed. If he falls behind, it is his job to catch up. I hold him accountable but I don’t carry his burden.
And so it is in every other area of his life.
Because while he needs room to spread his wings, he also needs people to hold him accountable to the high standard that he is being called to. The natural tendency of parents (including myself!) is to swing to one of two extremes: we either hold on too tight or we let go too soon. It’s far harder to find that place nestled right in the middle. It’s the process of letting go of control while hanging onto their hearts.
In friendships and one day, in the not too distant future, in relationships, it is my job to encourage wise choices and the establishment of careful boundaries. If I allow that time to come too soon, I will be in the middle of those relationships as the one making the choices and setting the boundaries. Rebellion is far more likely to ensue. But if I walk my children carefully through each stage, with the standard of God and the call to purity before them, the time will come when I can safely step back and simply be a support person as they tread those new waters.
Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? (2 Corinthians 6:14)
Communication with our youth is vital. Because when we have connected with the hearts of our children we have a better idea of what they are thinking. Of the plans they have for their lives. Of the hopes they’ve either pinned on the world or to eternity.
And the knowing of these things makes it a whole lot easier to act as a guide. To offer accountability in areas where the world says none is needed. Like in dating.
What about friendships that lead to relationships?
We all know them. The couples who knew each other from childhood and who, for many, a switch flipped and a flame was lit. It happens, more often than I even realized. But what better foundation for a relationship, or marriage, than one of friendship? Because when you can get to know a person without the physical element of distraction or the emotional bonds of romantic feelings, you really get to know the person. And that’s a good thing. But is it a good thing to allow our youth to cross the gender lines to form friendships in the first place?
I believe it is, within the framework of accountability.
In our own family we have always been open to our children having friends of the opposite gender. In most, if not all of those friendships, we have gotten to know the kids ourselves. Our interactions have been open and accepting in nature. Obviously, this has been easier for us because we homeschool. It is certainly a much more difficult task to get to know all the people your child associates with in a school setting and I recognize that. But the investment you make in your kids, and the effort you put into keeping open lines of communication, will pay in dividends.
Keep a watchful (and prayerful) eye so you can discern when a friendship might be blossoming into something more. If they are not yet ready for that new phase, help them choose to be patient in the wait.
Our goal should not be to relationship-starve our children. It should be to encourage first a relationship with God so that all others might be sanctified by it. And the best and most effect way to do that, is to model it for them. Sit at His feet and draw them so lovingly they will want to join you there.
How do you approach this topic?