It’s the age old question. I hear it from parents all the time. “When should I allow my teen to start dating?” That’s a great question. I’ve avoided this one for awhile because I know everyone has a VERY different and VERY strong opinion on it, but it just seemed like a necessary follow up to our adolescent development mini series.
By the way, if you didn’t check that out, it would be super helpful before you read on. Here are the links
Pre-adolescence (8-10) – http://wp.me/p2tr6c-3k
Early adolescence (10-14) – http://wp.me/p2tr6c-3r
Late adolescence (15-19) – http://wp.me/p2tr6c-3u
Now that you’ve brushed up on what your child is experiencing in their brain development, emotional development, and identity formation, let’s talk dating. I see and hear all the ranges. “Mom and dad say I can’t date till I’m 30”, “I’ve had a boyfriend or girlfriend since elementary school”, “My parents don’t care when I start dating, they let that be my own decision”, “They said I could date once I got a job and a car”…the list goes on. So which one is best for your child…if any? Well, let’s go through the three stages together.
Pre-Adolescence: Let me just be honest and blunt with you. Your kid is too young to be dating at this age. I know what you’re thinking…”But it’s not like they go on dates. They just hold hands and say they are boyfriend and girlfriend. It’s cute!”
It may be cute, but it’s harmful.
However you view their “relationship” it’s real to them and honestly, they have no way of comprehending what an actual relationship is yet so why give them the chance to majorly screw it up? The second problem is that you are making their dating window, during their most immature stages, WAY to long. If you are letting your child start “dating” during ages 8-10, and the average person doesn’t get married until their mid to late twenties, you are giving your child 15-20 extremely immature years to fall into sexual sin. Your child cannot and should not handle a relationship at this age so don’t even let them pretend.
Early-Adolescence: Ok, now we are in the one where it’s ok for them to date right? They’re in middle school now, it’s all good isn’t it? NO! They have hormones raging like crazy, they don’t have the ability to think about consequences before they commit to their actions, they are experiencing a major formation of identity and this is basically the worst possible time of your life to bring a significant other into the mix. Here’s why…
At this stage in life your child is still figuring out who they are, and the last thing you want is a boy or a girl who they develop that identity in. You’ve probably noticed that kids dating at this age (especially the 14-15 range) are attached at the hip. They begin to find their worth and identity in a boyfriend or girlfriend instead of in Jesus. Also, at this age self-image is a major issue. When kids are still becoming confident in who they are, it is very difficult for them to fight temptations in a relationship. Another issue I have with students dating at this age is simply a maturity issue. There is still so much maturing left to do, regardless how mature you may think they are, or they may think they are. This will have a heavy impact on their relationship. Students this age, when dating, will have a tendency to ignore all of their friends and family and become infatuated with their significant other. This is extremely detrimental to their development and causes severe emotional issues during a break up. Also, don’t forget those hormones! Allowing a student to date in this age range is setting them up for sexual failure with the amount of time you are allowing them to be with someone of the opposite sex before they are anywhere near old enough to get married.
Late Adolescence: Do I think teenagers should ever be allowed to date? Absolutely. And this is the stage for them to do it (16-17). There are serious benefits to your child starting to date as a teen as long as it’s at the right time. One benefit is that students can begin to learn about relationships. They begin to get a feel of what works well and what does not cope well in regards to characteristics in a significant other. Also, they begin to learn how to act in a relationship. I personally learned so many valuable things from dating in high school (both what to do and what not to do) that have been a huge help to how I act now in my marriage.
Another benefit is that dating allows students to have these types of relationships in a controlled environment. You do not want your child dating before they have undergone some serious development and identity formation, but the last thing you want is for your child to have zero dating experience with you around and then have them go off to college where there is no supervision or accountability. It is much smarter and safer to have a child date when you know where they are supposed to be, when they are hanging out at your house sometimes, and when you see them after every date.
So what’s the official answer? If you asked me straight up I would say either 16 or 17, but the real answer is where YOU have to be a parent. Students should not date until YOU feel they have a WELL ESTABLISHED identity in Christ, as well as self worth. If you recognize that your child has a tendency to find self worth in other people, help them work through that before you allow them to enter into a relationship. When our cup is empty, Jesus is the one who is supposed to fill us up and satisfy, not a boyfriend or a girlfriend. If your child has not embraced this yet, they are not ready to date. Not only are they not ready, it’s harmful to them if they do. Make sure your child is ready to handle a dating relationship maturely where their identity is found is Christ, they spend a healthy amount of time with friends as well, and they have a clear understanding of what a healthy and God honoring relationship looks like.