To properly discuss teen dating, we need to clarify the term dating. To some today, the word dating has become synonymous with sleeping together. Defined that way, no Christian teen or anyone else of any age should be “dating,” since under no conditions is it ever right for unmarried persons to have sex with each other. For the purposes of this article, we will define dating as “meeting socially with someone of the opposite gender to spend time together and get to know him or her.” Dating can be casual or serious; it can lead to romance or to both individuals going their separate ways.
In considering the wisdom of Christian teens dating, we need to establish the purpose of dating. Dating is a fairly recent Western idea, evolving from the earlier practice of courtship. The purpose of courtship was to determine whether a boy and a girl liked each other enough to consider marriage. Courtship involved the whole family and always involved a chaperone. In a day when marriage occurred earlier, often in the late teen years, courtship worked well as a means of selecting a life partner.
In today’s culture, most teenagers are not mature enough to consider marriage. Secondary education opportunities, financial limitations, and extended adolescence actually work against the idea of early marriage; therefore, dating sets teenagers up for a tremendous amount of emotional, physical, and psychological stress before they are old enough to handle it. If marriage is not an option for many years, then why date? There is little possibility of a good outcome. If the romance is unrequited, teenagers must deal with broken hearts, rejection issues, and distractions at a time when they need to be focused on their education and growing up. If the romance is mutual, what are two teenagers to do? Two sixteen-year-olds “in love,” but who can’t marry for several more years, are in danger of crossing sexual boundaries and creating more heartaches and deeper problems.
When evaluating the wisdom of teenage dating, we should consider how many of society’s ills have links to teen dating and sexual experimentation: abortion, single parenthood, poverty, STD’s, suicide, low-income wage earners, AIDS, rape, and school drop-out rates. How many of those problems might be greatly reduced if teenagers delayed romantic involvement until they were out of high school?
When Christian teens are grounded in moral values and see dating as a way to learn about the opposite sex, the danger diminishes. Through dating, they can discover characteristics in others that they like and dislike, gathering information for the time when they will select a spouse. They keep their dating relationships causal and involve friends and family in their times together. They limit physical displays of affection and have clear boundaries on such activity. They have an open, honest relationship with their parents, and the parents know their teens can be trusted. When all those factors are in place, Christian teens may be able to navigate the dating years without collateral damage to their bodies and souls.
As Christian parents determine how wise it is for their teens to be dating, they should consider the culture in which their teens live: pornography exposure is at epidemic proportions, cultural boundaries are nearly obsolete, and peer pressure and expectations pull teenagers away from biblical values. Is it wise or reasonable to subject impressionable teenagers to the adult situations that one-on-one dating creates? We as adults find it difficult to maintain godly standards when emotions are involved, so why would we assume inexperienced and vulnerable children have the strength and wisdom to do so? Teens are children, after all, and they need to be protected from situations beyond their understanding and self-control.
As Christians, our goals are different from the world’s goals (1 Peter 2:11), and our life choices should be different. We cannot allow our decisions to be shaped by a world that mocks biblical values. Our children are precious gifts entrusted to us by their Creator (Psalm 127:3). God holds us responsible for how well we instill His truth, represent His heart, and protect our children from the enemy (Ephesians 6:4; Deuteronomy 6:6–7). Until our teens have internalized the lessons we’ve taught them and are making sound decisions on their own, we should be careful about letting them date one-on-one.
So is it wise for Christian teens to be dating? All things considered, the wisest course is to raise children with the understanding of the purpose of dating and with the conviction that delaying romance until marriage is an option that will save them a mountain of heartaches. Succumbing to outside pressures, teenage petulance, or naiveté is no way to raise children. Wise Christian parents accept that, while their values may not always be appreciated, they are best for their children. Teenagers who gladly accept the counsel of their parents will bypass many of the pitfalls that ensnare their peers.