What’s your perspective on teen dating?
Do you find yourself dreading that stage with your middle schooler?
Is it causing friction with your son or daughter?
It’s a touchy subject and one that most moms struggle to navigate through with grace and consistency. Yet I fully believe it doesn’t have to be that way. Navigating through the dating years well starts with cultivating a relationship that’s open and honest. It’s not about having the perfect answers or all the right rules in place. It’s about coming alongside your tween and teen with questions that enable them to take ownership in the process so that you make the dating decisions together.
Want to know how I got to that perspective on the dating?
Pop over to MothersofDaughters.com to read the back story, but before you go, scroll down to get to the resources available to help you today.
12 Questions to Help You Embrace the Dating Conversation with Your Teen
When my oldest approached middle school, I’d began to talk with her about what to look for in a guy, especially in a future husband and how to prepare herself for that time. I’d bring up Ephesians 5 — looking at the attributes of a godly husband and wife, and considered how that might manifest in a teen guy and what she might ought to focus on more purposefully in her own development. This was more of a practice time for giving her a way to discern who to marry in the future.
Phase 1 Questions
Sometimes the conversation about dating would come up if she would mention a particular guy, and other times we’d consider a hypothetical situation based on something a friend might be going through. We talked about dating “on our way,” much like how it’s described to teach the principles of Scripture in Deuteronomy 6. The goal was to get my daughter thinking long-term, base on her maturity level at the moment, as I asked her questions like these:
- What do you find attractive in a guy/girl? Looks? The way he/she treats others? How smart he/she is? Whether he/she is athletic?
- What makes you cringe at a guy/girl’s behavior?
- How would you want to spend time together if you were dating instead of just being friends?
- What would you do to balance your time between your friends and a boyfriend/girlfriend?
- What would be the advantages of having a boyfriend/girlfriend versus just staying friends?
- What would it be like after you broke up?
By the close of her ninth grade, the season of “dating” was becoming something of a reality for her peer group — which is late compared to some of the girls I’ve mentored. And so, my husband and I tossed a new expectation into the dialogue, which is what I call “our dating policy”:
“If a guy likes you, and you like him in return, and you think you want to date, we want you to invite him for dinner so that we can get to know him.”
We felt this approach communicated a deep message of love — one we would often articulate by saying:
“Girl, we love you so much, we want to know who we’re entrusting your heart to so that we can support and challenge you when the time comes.”
After 15 plus years of working with teenagers, we realized that dating isn’t about being a certain age or in a certain grade. Rather the “right time” depends upon a child’s personality, their willingness to be open to parental (and other adult) accountability, and whether they are in a place of maturity that’s necessary for ups and downs dating.
Phase 2 Questions
In the months that followed, our daughter took us up on our policy and brought home Mr. Yet-to-Be-Boyfriend. In the weeks to follow, he spent more and more time with us, and their longing to date increased as their friendship developed. We talked with our daughter often about what it would look like practically speaking with these types of questions:
- If you think long-term, is this boy you someone you could picture marrying? If not, how would dating him be beneficial?
- Is hand holding something that we’re all okay with?
- What about kissing? And cuddling?
- Is time alone something that will be allowed? And if so, where?
- What does it mean to stay in a “public” place?
- How will you balance time with other friends, family, and homework?
We insisted that they wait a few months to begin date — as they took time to develop their friendship and really think about whether being exclusive was necessary. About three months later, this kind young man did the honorable thing by asking for our permission for them to date. Both our daughter and Mr. Boyfriend knew they were accountable, and that proved to be a critical foundation on which to build their relationship as they often turned to us for support and guidance over the following months.
Of course, figuring out the expectations and boundaries isn’t a neat and tidy process — it can often be tearful, as our teens feel the pressure from peers.
Being in a relationship requires a sacrifice of time and an emotional investment that is sometimes too great for a teen’s age and stage. It’s an imperfect and messy process, because love is an action more than a feeling. Human love is imperfect. Always.
So while I might not be an advocate of teen dating — because I hate messy heart things — I’ve also come to see that “avoiding hurt” and minimizing risk shouldn’t necessarily be the goals for our teens. Rather, giving them a safe place to learn how to love others and be loved, while making discerning choices about how to navigate a relationship, isn’t so bad after-all.
Each child is different, so let’s be committed to parenting them fairly based on what they need and how God designed each of them.
I pray that as you consider what’s the right approach for your teen, you’ll seek the Lord and the counsel of the wise in your life who know you and your daughter well. May you be able to find the words to engage her heart and discover the path that God has for you both.
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