© Dan Blankenship 2003
I find it disturbing where society has taken us concerning interpersonal relationships, especially when discussing dating. Children are not allowed to drive a car solo unless they have reached the age of sixteen and have prepared for such a task; not allowed to enter a legal and binding agreement until the age of seventeen; only able to vote after the age of eighteen; and cannot legally purchase alcohol unless they prove twenty-one birthdays have come around. Yet, for some unknown reason, society has decided to allow children to date at almost any age. In fact, it is considered healthy and normal by most.
Now, before labeling the messenger a nut-case, allow me to point out a few things. Number one, next to our decisions concerning our spiritual beliefs, or lack there of, the single most important determination we eventually make, often involves who we want to become our intimate partner, along for the journey through this thing called life.
The second factor I would like one to consider, before labeling this author a “prune”, is how much more serious people are about decisions of a lesser value. I know individuals who spend more time examining their options concerning a cell-phone purchase than on when and whether their children should enter the rough terrain of dating. Now I have heard many parents mumble the following words when confronted by those who shy away from youthful dating: “That’s how you learn about life” or the now famous “Ya can’t keep them in a box.” I believe the not-dating option has the exact opposite result of trapping one in a box; believing instead that serious dating during the educational years can close opportunities and creative endeavors at a furious pace. And I’m about to prove it. Read on, if you dare…
How many times have we all heard the words, “So what are you going to do after graduation?” It is an important question, and it is a question that seeks information about a person’s goals, interests, and commitments. The general concept of “preparing” for a period in our lives when we are ready to decide who and what we want to be, but more importantly, acting on it, is a widely accepted practice. Smile guidance counselors, I submit you as exhibit “A” in my justification. The very existence of such a position on our school campuses emboldens the argument that our nation’s youth are in the process of molding themselves into their future selves. In more simple terms, the very process of deciding whom and what will shape the rest of their adult lives is not finished yet, and therefore we don’t tell children to leave the educational system until all is complete. So I am compelled to ask, at what age does a child receive the training necessary to understand interpersonal relationships on a romantic level? Other than Hollywood and MTV, where are America’s youth modeling the concept of a perfect dating relationship?
Imagine, if you will, someone telling her fourteen-year-old daughter, “I would like you to go out and purchase a home for you to live in.” After the initial shock, the teenager may just try and take the parent up on such an offer. But after further consideration, mainly contemplating the lack of a down payment, any visible means of support, and probably a very low credit rating, the juvenile may decide she is not ready for this responsibility. Is this scenario really any different than if the parent told her daughter, “Hey, you know what? I’d really like it if you started an intimate relationship with someone who is really nice – kind of an extension of the family, but you don’t have to get married or anything like that. I just think you’re ready to handle the pressure of a romantic relationship without the real commitment that should come with it.” I have exaggerated the wording, but the underlying message is not overstated at all, just conveniently overlooked by a system of parenting more concerned with befriending a kid than raising a child.
Now I realize every mother and father who has chosen to let their children date are yelling “off with his head”, but it is not my intention to criticize anyone’s parenting skills. The purpose of this presentation is to, as they say, influence others to think “outside the box.” If one truly examines the ambit of teenage dating, they might come to the conclusion that it makes about as much sense as spending a week pricing new Jaguars, for possible purchase, with only a twenty-dollar bill to your name. The ability to make a long term commitment a working reality isn’t there, and even if it was, the price one pays may be more than they bargained for. I’m talking about dating again, not the Jaguar.
Most parents advantageously invoke selective memory concerning their own experiences as a dating teenager. It makes it easier to balk at the notion that a parent should explain all the negative aspects of dating to their offspring. After all, there are bills to be paid, grass to be mowed, dishes to wash, and a host of important television dramas that must not be missed. A real thought-provoking discussion concerning the pros and cons of dating is something one might see on a rerun of My Three Sons, but I doubt it is a popular dinner table discussion these days. We, as parents, have become our children’s best friends, manipulating the role of parenting to involve little more than providing food, water, shelter, and planning transportation to and from extra-curricular activities.
It is not my goal to inspire mothers and fathers to clip this column and post it for their teenagers to examine. I doubt my prose will inspire most teens to rethink their decisions involving who they want to date, before deciding what college they would like to attend or where they would like to live. Priorities have become skewed, and it’s going to take a lot more than a column in the newspaper to put them back where they belong.
What I would like for people to do, is examine the history of dating; personal history I mean. If you are a parent, how did your dating experience rate as a teenager? Did it affect your grades? Did it limit your ability to plan for a future career? Did it ever cause you so much pain that suicide crossed your mind, even just for a moment? And how many people do you personally know that let their education go to waste because they were more concerned about a significant other who is no longer in the picture? Honestly answering these questions accurately may be a wake-up call to the realities of where society has taken us concerning teen dating.
If you are a teenager, how many times have you experienced anxiety over a dating relationship when your concentration should have been focused on another task? And how many times have you or your friends become depressed over the roller-coaster-like terrain of dating? Lastly, has dating increased your focus on who you want to be, or has it so dominated you emotions, that concentrating on your dreams and aspirations has taken a back seat to the here and now?
In closing, I would like to challenge people see teen dating in a different light. Put it into perspective concerning the rest of your life. If one decides that all of the current emotional, physical, and educational stresses of adolescence aren’t enough, and that more can be heaped on, then do so. But at least take the time to weigh the option of not dating. Examine your personal history concerning this subject and make notations to organize your thoughts. At the end of your analysis, you may decide that you have taken this dating thing a little too lightly; many have. The third leading cause of death among people age ten to twenty-four is suicide. Some of those suicides occurred because of one’s inability to see past a broken relationship.
There are two excellent books that give an in depth analysis of teen dating: Joshua Harris’s “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” and Justin Lookadoo’s “Are You Dateable?” are great resources to help one think “outside the box”.
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WELL DAN, MY CHILDREN ARE ALL GROWN AS WELL AS MOST OF MY GRANDCHILDREN, BUT I WILL PRESENT IT TO THE YOUNGEST OF THESE...I JUST WISH I HAD THIS ARTICLE TO PONDER OVER WHEN MY CHILDREN WERE AT THE "DATING" AGE. THANKS FOR SHARING. JUDITH JOHNSON KYPTA
God blessed you to speak on a problem that has existed for far too long. In areas like Japan, and India, dating is definetly secondary and education is first. Today's society is in a hurry and somehow we've gotten our children in a hurry too, to the tune of promiscuity, having babies out of wedlock, constracting dieseases, and having a broken heart and some very grown up issues to deal with all before your 16th birthday. If parents allow them to do it all now...what does the future hold...thank you for allowing God to use you as a vehicle to speak to us. God Bless.
Wow. Thanks. I have a wise fourteen year old daughter and I will give this to her. She is the leader in her group and is the shoulder they cry on when their relationships sour. Yet I know she often feels different and is deemed wierd for her beliefs. Maybe this will help her solidify some of her thoughts. Her dad has been gone two years now and I am committed to purity and not "dating" the American way but waiting for the Lord's timing for any future relationship. Thank you for your thoughts and for this well-thought out article. Perhaps it will help parents struggling with this issue. Bobbi Buchanan