I grew up on a solid media diet of MTV and 80s movies that all taught me the same basic values: do all you can to be pretty, try to be popular, and get a boyfriend as soon as possible; then you’ll be a successful happy teenager. TV sitcoms were no better and don’t even get me started on the teen novels and magazines I was reading.
When I started attending youth groups as a preteen I didn’t find church culture to be much different. “Teens are going to date and it’s better for Christian kids to date each other than to date non-Christians,” seemed to be the leadership perspective. The reality was there was nothing safe or holy about dating within the same youth group. Everyone still struggled. In fact, because we were taught not to be unequally yoked and to not date someone we couldn’t see ourselves marrying, every dating relationship began based on the belief marriage was the end goal. That only made passions run higher and justifications we told ourselves about how it would all work out in the end, more destructive. There was a lot of encouragement and advice from leaders about who to date, and how to date, but never really any encouragement to just NOT date. That suggestion was considered too extreme, even for the church. Teens will be teens.
Having not grown up in a Christian home I now spend a lot of time as a parent thinking about how I was raised, how I thought as an adolescent, what lead to that thinking, and how to raise my kids differently. It’s challenging. I’m doing a lot of guessing and a lot of praying and because my kids are still in the midst of adolescence. I often can’t write about my successes, only my guesses. But, every once in a while I get a hint, that I just might be doing something right.
While walking to our car after Sunday service a couple months back, we passed a very young teenage couple standing in the parking lot with hands on each other’s hips, goofy smiles on their faces, staring into each others’ eyes, lost in a daze of teenage devotion. I saw my pre-teen daughter notice them and as we got out of earshot she quietly asked, “Mom, at what age do most people get a boyfriend or girlfriend?”
Teachable moment I thought. Now how do I respond? “Well,” I said, “It just depends. But you know from my experience when you’re as young as those two are, you’re really just pretending or play dating. It’s not going to work out in the end.” I had intended to continue to tell her more but she interrupted me with a surprising response. She laughed and said, “I know. It looks so funny when they are so young and acting like that. They can’t get married yet. Not for a really long time. It’s pretty ridiculous. I don’t see why you would date someone before you’re an adult. It does just seem like pretending.”
I was amazed at her words. I never thought like that at her age. These were things I planned to teach her when she was a bit older. I was blown away by her perspective so very counter to the one I had held for my entire youth.
So what made the big difference between our two perspectives?
I grew up on songs and movies that taught me to be desperate for love. She’s growing up being told that romantic love is for a far off season of life in adulthood and that her youth is about discovering and developing who she was created to be, for the individual purposes God has for her.
Romantic relationships do not have to be part of the teenage experience in order to look back at those years and be grateful for how you lived them. In fact, messy dating relationships in the teenage years often lead to regrets.
While we are protective as parents about what our kids are taking in on a consistent basis through media, music, and reading material, we are not trying to keep them in a bubble. We want them to be fully aware of the culture they live in, what the messages are, what their peers experience and believe, but also where the holes are in that thinking. We don’t want our teens to be ignorant of their culture. What we’re trying to teach them is to think biblically and to not passively follow the culture’s habits, when there is a better way.
How have you taught your kids to perceive dating in the teen years? Leave me your thoughts in a comment.
In Support of you and your journey,