One of my readers asked if I would write about how I handle my older kids and dating. Actually (and thankfully), I do not handle this on my own. My husband and I are partners in parenting, and for that grace, I feel truly blessed. As a rule, I try not to write about my children (especially the older ones) in specific terms in order to respect their privacy. Let’s see what I can do…
I must say that I have been blessed thus far in regard to my older children and dating. Fortunately, both kids have seemed to have a pretty healthy (though not obnoxious) self esteems. Also, they have had good friends to do things with whose parents I like and respect. That’s important. I don’t think that either of them have felt the pressure to date really early, or the need to be with someone to prove their value. Helping kids to develop this feeling of self-worth at an early age surely helps when they get into the teen years – in resisting peer pressure and in feeling o.k. about themselves even when they are alone.
I have found it paramount to keep the lines of communication open – there should be no topic that teens feel like they cannot speak to their parents about. I always talk very openly and frankly about everything – including the Church’s teaching on birth control, on sex, modesty and chastity. The modesty lessons are ongoing and difficult because of the emphasis on sex in the media, however, even though we often butt heads about what we think is appropriate/inappropriate, I do think that my kids understand and agree for the most part. Basically – “If you want to be respected and loved for you, you must teach people to respect you – and part of that is in dressing appropriately.”
I do not personally subscribe to the “courting” school of thought used in some families. I know of some families who absolutely do not let their children date until they are in a position to marry. I’ve seen this backfire. I believe that if a parent is overly strict, there is a greater chance that children of certain dispositions will rebel. What works for one, does not necessarily work for them all. All children are different and should be treated as individuals.
Families who only allow their children to “court” would require that they not date one- on-one until ready for marriage. This may mean not dating until their senior year in college, or until graduate school is close to being completed. On the other hand, I was allowed to date one young man exclusively from the time I was 15 until I was 19. When we broke up, I was devastated. I don’t want that for my children either.
I say that as long as one can reasonably postpone steady dating, do so. Teens should be encouraged (if interested) to go to school dances, the movies, etc. in small groups. This helps them learn to handle themselves and relate to the opposite sex in a way where there is little pressure to become overly physical/make a commitment they are not ready to make. For my oldest, I was fortunate in that he was not really interested in dating someone exclusively until the college years. I’m hoping my girl will feel the same, but somehow, I don’t think I’ll be that lucky.
Now what happens when older children do something you don’t approve of? Well, unfortunately, it happens. You teach them ethics, faith, morality as they are growing up, and they know those lessons in their hearts- especially if you’ve tried to live it – practice what you preach. In the late teens and early twenties, young people are stretching their wings – testing their new-found independence. They will make mistakes, and you have to let them do so – after all – this is the best way to learn – through personal experience. I’m not saying, just stand back, smile and ignore what you don’t approve of. I think that our kids would be disappointed in us if we did not speak up. It’s important to respectfully voice your disapproval of the action/circumstance, reassuring the child that this does not mean that you reject/disapprove of him/her. It is so important to keep the lines of communication open.
Lastly, I cannot emphasize prayer enough. Nothing will get a parent through the dating years better than prayer. Ask God to always keep your child close to his/her family and most especially close to Him. Ask God not to let the child harm him/herself or anyone else when testing these waters of independence. Ask Him to keep your child on the right path – and if he/she should stray, to keep calling them back until they not only hear but listen and return to Him. Pray, Pray, Pray. Pray for protection when they leave the house, and pray a prayer of thanksgiving when that front door opens at midnight.