How much should parents be involved in teaching their kids how to date?
Here are a few ways I’ve helped parents and youth leaders to be involved in teen dating relationships:
- Be ready to accept them for who they are
One of the hardest issue parents have to deal with is growth and change in their kid’s life. There is a natural “growing up” that has to happen before our kids can go off and make their own choices, become good citizens, and handle the pressures of their own careers, families, hobbies and spiritual investments.
The problem with some families happens when either Mom or Dad forgets the natural process. We have visions of those little boys climbing in our laps, needing our every minute of attention. We have dreams of those little girls looking deep into our eyes and saying “Daddy.” And let’s be honest, we’re scared those days are coming to an end. We fear change. We fear the inconsequential fact that we’re getting older. We fear we’ll never have the chance to relive those moments. And you know what? We have every right to fear.
But God didn’t give us a spirit of fear.
And it’s not our responsibility to keep our kids needy.
They need to be raised to make their own decisions, to understand the pain of failure, to celebrate the mountaintop of success, and they need to have mentors and coaches they know will believe in them, not matter what.
Out of fear, parents and youth leaders often hijack their relationship with teens and students by coming across as more concerned with losing their position of authority than strengthening their position as a mentor.
If you’re going to speak into a teenager’s life concerning dating, you must recognize that they are on a journey from childhood into a place of adulthood. Every day is a day closer to a place where they can make their own decisions. Every day that little girl is transforming into a beautiful woman. Every day that little boy is turning into a handsome man, and we must prepare them, especially concerning dating.
- Make sure you have a healthy relationship with your teen or student
A mentor of mine once told me to think of friendship like a bank account. It feels great to put money in and watch the numbers continue to climb, but it really hurts to pull money out. You don’t want to take money away from your savings unless it’s absolutely necessary.
Relationships with our kids aren’t that different.
Think of the currency of relationships like this:
Encouragement = money in the bank
Compassion = money in the bank
Time doing something your teen or student enjoys = deposit
Discipline = withdrawal
Accountability = money going out
Raising your voice = void
When you add up all the times you spend with your teenager, you want to make sure your encouraging times always outweigh your discipline times in the same way you always want your checking account positive. It gives you the platform to be a leader, a mentor and a friend.
I recognize you’re called to be the parent (or leader) and I know there are some arenas where you won’t have a choice but to lay down the law.
But make sure you’re also spending time on the other end of the ledger.
Teenagers aren’t that different from adults. They long to know that people care for them. They want to have people they can count on. They’re interested in participating in life with people. And they need clear direction.
- Be prepared to set some boundaries
After you’re sure your bank account has enough currency for a withdrawal, you’ve got the right to set down the rules. You’re the parent, and it’s your responsibility to protect and guide. I know it seems a little strange to follow such an ooey-gooey relationship section with a rules section, but we’ve got to have standards and boundaries. They add structure to the ooey-gooey. If we’re going to teach our students how to date, then we need to make sure they understand that it’s a learning process. I remember teaching my oldest son how to ride a bicycle. We started with the training wheels, and I pushed from behind. Slowly, as he grew enough confidence and got the feel of the bike, I took the training wheels off. After pushing, I’d let go a bit. He’d fall down, and then we’d get back on and try again. Teaching a teen to date isn’t that different.
As you gain trust by keeping the emotional bank account full, these simple guidelines for dating won’t seem weird or out of bounds. Rather, teenagers will begin seeing opportunity for you to be involved in their dating lives.
Meeting the date is essential. You have the right to know whom your son or daughter is going to spend an evening with. Make sure you set the standard for meeting your teen’s date before they go out. No exceptions.
Setting a curfew: it’s up to you. Kids complain about so-and-so’s mom who lets them stay out later. Teenagers don’t mind a curfew as long as it’s not ridiculous. Let’s be honest: how much good happens after midnight anyway?
- Be real, flaws and all
We can’t exercise our ability to develop deep relationships if we’re hiding things in the corners of our lives. For years, Christians have thoughts “if I only show them a good face, they might believe in the God we worship.” But what kind of life is that? Frankly, it’s a lie.
Sometimes people feel sad, and it’s OK to walk though life and mourn together. Sometimes people mess up, and it’s OK to admit it. It’s OK for people to know you. It’s OK for you to know others. It’s the difference between being human and acting human.
So when your teenagers try to play the privacy card or throw out the “you don’t trust me!” line, just remember the essence of humanity is knowing each other and being known by each other.
This is probably where I see the biggest failure of parenting or mentoring, and it’s an honest mistake. We don’t want our kids to know the “old” us. We all have history with dating. We all have stories we’d rather not share in detail, probably because we don’t want to give our kids any ideas. Or maybe we see the failure in our own lives, and we don’t want our kids to go down the same road. But just because you failed in a certain situation doesn’t mean you can’t tell them and show them where you’re coming from.
If you see a teenager going through a situation you know is going to be harmful, pull them aside and help them to see how that same situation shaped your life. Be transparent about your past. It doesn’t mean you have to go into the gory details, but a teen hearing about a personal experience from someone they trust can help them gain a glimpse into the possible future consequences.