When Tommy came to visit my office, he was very upset about his girlfriend breaking up with him. They went to church together, and he could not understand how she could dump him. He was the quarterback of the football team, voted “best looking” at school and was always the life of the party. As Tommy shared more of his story, it became clear why his girlfriend left him. Tommy believed he was entitled to call his girlfriend a “broad.” This was embarrassing to Tommy’s girlfriend and she asked him to stop. The term always got him a laugh from his peers, so he refused, telling her she was unreasonable. Tommy found that his good looks and charm were not enough to excuse his hurtful behavior and he lost his girlfriend as a result. As Tommy and I discussed his options, he agreed that an apology was in order and agreed to make better choices.

How do we help develop character in our teens and help them make good choices? We focus on the heart. What emanates from the heart is what we believe about God, ourselves and others. Teens find other teens attractive who feel good about themselves and we feel best about ourselves when we’re living true to our heart’s convictions. When teens are living by Godly morals and standards that have been taught in the home, they make better choices for their dating lives.

God gives some great guidelines in His Word about dating and, as parents, we must reinforce these guidelines in order to offer our teens wisdom on dating. II Corinthians 6:14 says, “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?” God is reminding us of a very important command that will save our teens much heartache in the long run. If your teen is a Christian, they are to date and marry only those who have a heart after God’s heart. Statistics show that when teens date non-Christians they are more likely to marry non-Christians. When our Christian teen enters into a relationship with a non-Christian, inevitable heartache is the result because it goes against God’s Word. Your teen can avoid the drama that often goes with dating by simply dating God’s way.

Several issues arise when our teens begin dating and parents often ask for advice. The following are some questions I have heard most often. First, at what age should a teen begin dating? While many factors must be taken into consideration, and each situation is different, accountability must be part of your decision. Is your teen accountable for their dating life? Do they talk with you? Do they have a Christian mentor or other adult in their life with whom they will share their dating details? If not, accountability must be put into place before dating begins. When your teen is ready to have someone remind them of Godly standards for their relationship, they may be ready to date. Having an adult who will talk with them about their temptations, and one who will pray with them about their relationship is a sign that your teen is ready to stand accountable for their dating life.

If you would like to be your teen’s accountability partner, be sure that you are able to listen objectively. Some things may be tough to hear and you must be able to listen without criticism or judgment. This can be extremely difficult because we want the best for our children and they are a reflection of us.

If you are unable to be your child’s accountability partner, allow youth directors, grandparents, pastors, teachers or other Godly adults you trust to speak into your child’s life. It’s amazing how our teens often “hear” the truth we have been telling them for years when it is spoken from another adult’s lips. Pray for those who are speaking into your child’s life, and pray for your teen as they listen. Another question we must take into consideration is, “Are they dating for the right reasons?” Many of our teens begin dating for fun and friendship. Others date because they are lacking a true sense of identity. Reminding our teens that they are complete with or without a date is important. Two halves don’t make a whole; two WHOLE people make a WHOLE relationship. Remind your teen of their special qualities, and reinforce the importance of finding someone to date who appreciates those positive qualities. Talk with them about the “fantasy” aspect of teen dating. Too many times teens grow disappointed because their date does not live up to the fantasy planted in their mind by the media. Discuss reasonable and fair expectations of dating with your teen.

Another great thing to do is have your teen list the qualities they are looking for in a future mate. Not only will this initiate interesting discussion, it gives your teen something concrete to remember when making their choices. Teach your teen how to recognize others with positive qualities as well as how to identify those who may present themselves in one way, but live another. Anyone can say they are a Christian, but if your teen’s date is mean, controlling, cussing, yelling, checking phones, making fun of how your teen looks or giving the cold shoulder when they don’t get their way, help your teen understand the detriment to their relationship. Remind your teen that they should want to date someone who will help them become the best they can be. More than likely, they did NOT include negative characteristics on their list of qualifications for a future mate.

Another frequently asked question is, “What if I don’t like the person my teen is dating?” If you are like most parents, there is the likelihood that at least one will come along that you don’t hold in high regard. If there is no physical, emotional, spiritual or psychological danger to your teen and you just don’t like their date, stand by and try to gently lead. Telling them you don’t care for the person often drives them further away. Talk with your child about why they enjoy dating that individual. Keeping an open line of communication will help you know more of how your child is being affected in the relationship. Downgrading, fault-finding or belittling their date will only shut them off from you.

If you find that your teen is trying to “save” the person that you are not fond of, discuss the hopes your teen has and list their limits. Listing their limits in the relationship will help your teen realize how little control they have over the person they are dating. I will warn you, however, that it may take longer than you hope for your teen to realize they cannot change their date. This can be hard to watch as a parent, but stand by because they will need you soon enough.

I know a mom whose daughter insisted on seeing her older “crush.” She would sneak out, talk with the older boy without her parent’s consent and invite him over to a friend’s house where she would stay. Frustrated, the mom decided to try a different approach. The mom told her daughter she could spend time with the older boy under one condition – she must be present everywhere they went. The daughter reluctantly consented, and the mom accompanied her at all times. Although it was somewhat taxing on the mom, it paid off. The older boy got tired of mom tagging along and decided to end the relationship. Although the daughter was upset, she realized the older boy was not willing to make the sacrifice in order to spend time with her and the relationship dissolved.

Parents, based on statistics, we have reason to be on guard about our teen’s safety in the area of dating. One in three teenagers report being hit, punched, kicked, slapped, choked or physically hurt by their date. One in four teenage girls who have been in relationships reveal they have been pressured to perform oral sex or engage in intercourse. More than one in four teenage girls in a relationship report enduring repeated verbal abuse, and only 33% who have been in, or known about, an abusive relationship said they have told anyone about it (“Dating Abuse Statistics”). Furthermore, less than 25% of teens say they have discussed dating violence with their parents (T.E.A.R). All of these statistics give us great reason to continually be involved in our teen’s dating life. If you find that your teen is dating someone abusive or who is an addict, get professional help. These are areas that can force your teen onto a road they are not intended to travel. Seek help immediately if you are made aware of any such happenings in your teen’s relationship. When your teen is with their date in your home, insist that they stay in rooms where others are present or where they may be easily accessed. All doors should remain open. Talking with the parents of your teen’s date can also be helpful. Let them know that you have expectations in your home and find out those of their home as well. This may help you in making decisions about where your teen spends most of their time.

Some practical exercises that we can use to teach our kids to date God’s way are below:

  • Recommend that your teen and their date pray together. It may sound awkward at first, but just “talking” to God before or during a date is a powerful way to keep the relationship focused in the right direction.
     
  • Teach your teen that being a good listener can make for a great date. There’s no need to solve their date’s problems, but listening is a huge part of showing respect in a relationship.
     
  • Suggest your teen do a devotional with their date. This is a great way for your teen to find out if there are “deal breakers” in the relationship. For example, if your teen is dating someone of a different religion, recognizing that there are things they cannot agree on might ultimately be the end of the relationship. It’s better to find out on a date than after they are married.
     
  • Give your teen some ideas for great dates that don’t compromise their convictions. A museum, local zoo, going for coffee or ice cream, a carnival, a fair or a Christian concert are great alternatives for a fun dating experience. Notice these are all PUBLIC places.
     
  • Always have and execute a plan if you find yourself in a compromising/uncomfortable position and let your parents know what your plan will be before you begin dating.
     
  • No more than two dates per week.
     
  • You must always inform your parents of your plans, as well as when plans change. Call your parents and if no answer, leave a message.
     
  • Modest dress is a must for all dates. (Discuss what that looks like before your daughter/son begins dating).

Parents, the most important thing to remember is to try to relax and help your teen enjoy these years. If your teen expresses no desire to date, don’t be alarmed. Some teens focus on careers, school work, scholarships and friendships before beginning their dating journey. Remember, you have great opportunity to speak into the life of your teen regarding their dating life and when you guide them God’s way, great things can transpire.

Shannon Perry is a conference speaker, author, recording artist, TV and Radio show host whose new book is entitled The Overlooked Generation. Prior to going into full-time ministry, Shannon taught for over 14 years in the public school system and holds a Master’s degree in Education and Counseling and is a Certified Instructor for Crisis Counseling and Parenting Classes. Her TV show, “Grace in High Heels” airs twice weekly on the NRB Network. Her website address is www.ShannonPerry.com.

Publication date: October 1, 2013