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Reader Question of the Week

Every Monday I post a Reader Question and take a stab at answering it. This week, though, we’re going to do something a little bit different. We’re going to take a whole week to answer this question:

How do you raise teens who will make good decisions?

Lately I’ve been noticing a bit of a disturbing trend in some of the comments on older posts. Whenever I talk about setting limits for teenagers, especially when it comes to dating in high school, someone invariably comments with something like this:

The quickest way to make sure a teenager does something is to tell them they can’t. To me, maintaining a good relationship with my daughter is the most important thing to me, so we haven’t told her she can’t do things. We just trust her, and we’re there for her, because as parents, that’s all you can do.

I find that a very defeatist attitude. And so I’ve been thinking and wrestling with how to tackle it, and here’s what I’ve decided.

Today: I’ve asked Barrett Johnson, the author of the amazing book The Talk(S) (about having continuing talks with your kids), to share about when you should allow your teen to date.

Tuesday: Rather than talk myself about teens and dating (since I’ve done that already), I’ve asked my 16-year-old daughter to join us on the blog and guest post.

Wednesday: I’m jumping in to talk about how to model a good relationship with your kids.

Thursday: I’ll wrap up the series by asking my oldest daughter, who is now 19, to write about why it is that she never rebelled.

I think hearing from my daughters on this one is likely better than hearing from me!

This is going to be our “You can do it, parents!” week. You CAN have a great relationship with your kids. Your kids WON’T automatically mess up. It is possible to raise kids who won’t date too young. And so today we’re going to ask the question, “when should you allow your teenager to date?”

Here’s Barrett Johnson, author of the AMAZING book The Talk(s), guest posting. I read an early version of his book, which is all about having ongoing talks with your kids as they grow so that you can steer them in the right direction when it comes to relationships. He explains it so well, and really helps to empower parents!


When Should You Let Teenagers Date“If everyone jumped off a cliff, would you do it, too?”

Every parent has used some form of that line before. I’m not sure it has ever worked to change anyone’s behavior, but we use it anyway. It’s our attempt to convince our kids that what our world practices as normal behavior is often severely skewed and even badly broken.

I believe this definitely applies to typical teen dating habits. With clear evidence found in the horrific divorce rate and with rampant sexual sin in both married adults and young people, we cannot assume that our current western system is working. Wise parents will both realize this and then be deliberate to equip their kids accordingly.

There is not a clear directive of exactly what that looks like for each particular family. Instead of looking for that ever-elusive formula, it is our responsibility as parents to prayerfully seek God’s leadership regarding how it will look in each of our unique situations.

That is why I don’t think it is wise for parents to give their kids a set age (as in “wait until you are sixteen”) when they can begin dating.

A strict line like that is full of potential disastrous complications. Telling a boy who is 15 years and 11 months old that he cannot have a girlfriend and then a month later telling him he can (and giving him keys to the car) is too much freedom preceded by too little practice. Not much good will come of that.

While there may not be a firm recommended age where every teenager should be given the green light to begin dating, one study clearly makes the argument that it is wise to put it off as long as possible. This is especially if we desire to help our kids to remain sexually pure leading into marriage. A number of years ago, USA Today reported the shocking correlation between the age that dating begins and the percentage of those who had sex before graduation. Here’s what they found…

When Teens Date Young it has Repercussions

Age Began Dating and Percent Who Had Sex Before GraduationThe takeaway: we are free to encourage our 6th or 7th grade sons to have girlfriends and to let them “date” within the context of our homes. We have every right to drive our 13 year-old daughters to the movies with their “boyfriends.” It seems innocent enough, but don’t be naïve about this research. We can assume that this won’t happen to our kids, but the evidence strongly suggests that the earlier a kid starts dating, the more likely he or she is to become sexually active. Blindly sticking our heads in the sand and insisting that our kids are different and that they will somehow beat the odds is irresponsible in light of the data.

You’re going to have to tell you kids that they may not be allowed to date until well after many of their peers. Beginning these discussions when your kids are far away from any interest in the opposite sex is ideal. For here is the mistake that most parents make: they do not start setting parameters on dating until their kids start exploring their first relationship. If a young teen is already there and her parents start dropping rules on her for the first time, it may get ugly.

Think about Your Guidelines for Teen Dating Early

For this reason alone, it is not a bad idea for you to begin considering guidelines for dating while your kids are still in diapers. If you don’t begin to show them at a very early age what will be normal in your home, they are likely to assume that their “rules of engagement” are identical to everybody else’s.

If you haven’t told them any different, why wouldn’t they think that?

The Talk(s)Barrett Johnson is the husband to Jenifer and the father of five great kids (including four adolescents). He serves as the Family Minister at Johnson Ferry Baptist Church outside of Atlanta and his blog, INFO for Families, gets more than 40,000 hits a month. He has just released his first book, “The Talk(s): A Parent’s Guide to Critical Conversations About Sex, Dating, and Other Unmentionables.” It has been created to help every parent to equip their kids to make wise choices in a sexually-charged culture. Find out more at www.infoforfamilies.com. Get the ebook here, or the paperback here.

Tune in tomorrow for the second in our series, when my 16-year-old daughter explains why she’s not dating in high school!

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