One of the potentially difficult topics to get through with 21st century teenagers is the area of dating. Think about all of the pressures on family to conform to current mores in the area of dating and "shacking up." Divorce is over 50 percent both in the churched and unchurched communities. We have been through at least three generations where dating has been accepted as a healthy, normal part of teen life by the majority of Americans. And why not? Isn't it healthy for boys and girls to spend time together in pre-marriage relationships going to the movies, studying together, watching TV in the den with Dad and Mom upstairs? What could possibly be wrong with this basic American tradition? Plenty.

Our culture says it is preferable to try out relationships to see what is right for your son or daughter. Again, our view is on the conservative side, since our goal is to train our children according to biblical principle. Neither of us was raised with such a view, so it has been through study and experience that we have come to our conclusions. When young people engage in the dating lifestyle, in an effort to "learn about relationships," they actually learn how to begin and end emotional ties on frivolous grounds. Rather than learning that God intended a man and woman to have a relationship based on commitment and unselfish love, they learn how to get what they want out of the agreement or move on. This is a destructive lesson, not to mention the obvious problems of premarital sex and emotional attachment, the consequences of which last a lifetime.

It is quite possible to learn about the opposite sex through group events and interaction. In fact, we suggest it be a family habit to get to know other families and share activities together, rather than the teens pairing up and going out. Granted, the opinions we have shared are idealistic. They are based on Scriptural principle, yet the Scriptures are not as specific as we have been. In our family, we have made it a goal to communicate with our children and to have some flexibility. We have given our older teens some leeway in determining their views on the subject, and we have not been disappointed. We are really not intending to write the definitive opinion on dating, but to encourage parents to think about the standards they want to set in their home.

As we were writing our book last year, our son Wesley asked if he could share his thoughts on this topic. Actually, he expressed our thoughts quite well.
"I think that people should wait until they are mature enough to take full responsibility for a family and are ready to provide money and shelter for a family to even think about dating or courting. If you think that you have met the right person to spend your life with, then I think you can wait until you are old enough to take care of that person, to prove that you really love that person. I also think that you parents should try to be the ones to tell them the "goods and bads" of dating, if you know what I mean. I may only be 12 years old, but I do know more about this than most kids my age; my parents love me and thought enough about me to teach me the good things I need to know for life's little fastballs. I should mention that the range age I think you should allow your kids to even think of dating would have to be 17 or 18 (depending on your view of their maturity)." -- Wesley Callihan
We recently shared with some close friends that our two daughters, Rebekah, now almost 19, and Katie, 17, who are very bright, talented, beautiful young ladies, have never seriously dated, nor do they currently have boyfriends (or want them, at least now). David comically points out that if he can figure out how this happened, he could write a book and make a million bucks explaining to dads how he has gotten his daughters to think that way. Knowing how to protect your girl from the "bad boys out there until Mr. Right comes along" is at least David's goal. We imagine it is what most dads want for their little girls. The reality is, it is their conviction (which we hope we have helped them to form) to wait until they are ready to marry before they get serious about a young man.

Our children were blessed to take part in a "Someday a Marriage Without Regrets" Bible study developed by Precept Ministries. This is a wonderful, inductive Bible study about all aspects of marriage, which we highly recommend.

We need to make it clear to our young pre-adults that if they are not ready to lead a family, they are not ready for marriage, as Wesley said. If they are not ready for marriage, there is no reason to date. Obviously, they do not have to be perfect before they wed; none of us are or were. Yet, they do need to be mature enough to know their dependence must be on God.

When the young man or woman is actually ready to make a commitment to marriage it is wise for them to allow the parents some oversight of the process. By this time, they will be adults, and may not even be living at home. If you have succeeded in helping your child through the difficult teen years and have given wise, gracious, and understanding counsel to them concerning their development of relationships, they should be anxious for your input as they seek a mate and prepare for marriage.

In our next article, we will expand on the role of parenthood and how to prepare your children for it.