Welcome to part Four in my All things teen/pre-teen boy series.
I hope you have enjoyed the series so far. If you’ve missed any, catch the introduction, and first three posts here: Intro, Preparing for Puberty, Kids and Porn, and What to Expect When Your Son Starts Puberty.
But here’s a little secret: I like those first three topics because they are pretty straight forward. Puberty, for the most part, is predictable and pretty easy to talk about. Sure, I shared some personal convictions about things I believe every family should have in place before their boys become teenagers, but overall, the first three posts in this series were objective and fit for all kinds of families.
Now I promised a post about teenage boys and dating. And this is where my series will shift from being straight forward to a little…sticky.
You see, today’s post enters the zone of personal morals and family convictions. And though I am happy to share what we do as a family and why, I am well-aware that plenty of readers will take a different approach than we have.
And that’s ok.
So I won’t be writing this in a “Do this” and “Don’t do that” format.
Instead, I will do two things:
First, I will share some of the dating-related issues that I suggest you discuss before your son starts dating.
Next, I will share our approach to teens and dating.
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Here is a short list of things that should be considered and discussed before your son starts dating:
1. At what age can your son date?
2. What are your dating rules or expectations? (Can your son date one-on-one or only in groups? Any places off-limits? Curfew? If your son drives, will he be driving or who is it ok to drive with and how do you work all of that out?)
3. Is your son prepared to be physically involved with a girl? If so, will you set limits for him, or how will he determine how far he should go physically, and when?
4. Does your son have a healthy respect for the opposite sex? Have you talked to him about how to treat a woman, and about mutual consent?
5. Does your son have personal convictions about drugs and alcohol? Does he understand the effect that drugs and alcohol can have on him and how he would behave around the opposite sex if he is under the influence? (This topic of course will be covered in a future post, but as far as it affects dating I wanted to include it here.)
6. If he plans on being physically involved with a girl, is your son clear on all of the things related to sexual involvement? STD’s, pregnancy, and the long-term effects of being intimate with another person. (and a sub-topic of course would be birth control if he is planning to be sexually active.)
7. Does your son have someone in his life that he would turn to for accountability and support? Is there someone you know that he can be completely honest with and he would go to as he makes decisions about these things in his life.
I know, *GULP*, right?
Some of you have a five, or eight, or eleven year-old, and I just freaked the heck out of you, right? But we all know that in the blink of an eye that little guy will be fifteen. And fifteen may even sound young…but it’s not.
(Just yesterday someone told me that just when they realized they hadn’t had the “sex talk” with their fifteen-year old son, they sat down to talk to him and discovered that he had already had sex. And more: He had a pregnancy scare.)
But we shouldn’t be surprised by all of this, right parents? You were fifteen once, and if you weren’t sexually active, I bet you had friends who were.
But it’s still hard for most of us to talk about this stuff.
Well, the good news is if you have done the work of opening up the Sex Talks with your son, then hopefully there is an open door to continue the conversations.
But when? And how much? I mean, (a lot of you have said,) do we really need to pique their curiosity if they are not already asking this stuff?
And this is where it can get a little sticky.
So many variables come into play here that I cannot give you a one-size-fits-all approach to how you should approach talking to your son about dating, and all of the messy stuff that goes with it.
My best recommendation is for you as parents to sit down together and discuss this stuff first. Maybe you can take the list above, (tailoring it how you think is best) and come up with where you stand on these issues. Hopefully you are already united on many of them.
Next you’ll have to decide when is the best time to talk to your son about it, and how much to cover at once. You’ll need to judge these things based on your son’s school situation, social activities, and the kinds of friends he spends time with. In most cases I recommend having this talk quite a while before you think he needs it.
Once these issues are opened up, you can hope that your son will consider you a safe place to go to continue the communication. It might feel awkward at first but the payoff is huge.
Now I’ll go into a little of…
HOW WE DEAL WITH OUR BOYS AND DATING
Before I jump into dating and where we stand, I thought I should explain a little bit about our family’s foundation and why we do what we do. Dave and I are Christians. Though our backgrounds are very different from one another, we built our marriage on our commitment to loving God first, and honoring Him in all that we do.
It goes without saying then, that we have raised our kids using the Bible as our greatest guidebook. We have taught our boys about God’s love for them and His plan for their life. We also encourage our boys to question, challenge and wrestle with spiritual truths in order to come to their own personal faith. We encourage questions because we believe that if it is truth, it will stand.
Dave and I also try every day to live out our own faith in a genuine way. We want our boys to see that we are not just church-goers, but we are Jesus-followers. We actually believe that life goes well when we do things God’s way…That He loves us and is always looking to protect and provide for us. So it is our natural way to apply Biblical truths to the things we face all of the time.
And so far, all of our boys have chosen personally to follow Jesus. They have each pursued a relationship with God, and they are each making personal choices to invest in things that build up that relationship. They have a lot of friends, but they choose to spend the most time with Christian friends who share their values. Each of our boys is involved in youth group, enjoy going to church, and look up to role models who are following and honoring God with their lives…Including but not exclusively their mom and dad.
All of that lays the foundation for where we are as a family.
So when it comes to dating, things are really not so complicated. In fact, so far, it’s been pretty simple.
Our boys truly want to honor God with their lives. They read what God’s Word says about marriage, sex, and relationships, and they actually believe that they will be happiest when they follow it. They see it working for people they love and respect, and they want the same thing for themselves.
With all of that said, we really haven’t had to lay out a whole lot of RULES about dating.
Most things are just common sense in light of our desire to honor God with our lives.
And really: It takes a lot of the sticky out of this whole subject.
Dating, marriage, and family become a very positive and exciting thing when you’re doing it God’s way, in God’s timing.
Our oldest son, being very practical and logical, has expressed his personal conviction to wait until college to consider dating. In his words “Why would I date someone now? What would it lead to? Obviously I’m not going to get married when I’m a teenager, so it would only lead to temptations and pouring my time into something that will not last.”
I love that. I can’t promise that my other boys will feel the same way, but we’ll see.
Now, while I’m talking about our family, we need to acknowledge the obvious: We home school! This changes everything. It’s not so hard for my funny, smart, attractive sixteen year-old to avoid temptations when he isn’t surrounded by girls all of the time! Sure, he sees girls at youth group, and he has some (girl)friends that he surfs or dives with, so it’s not like he is never around girls, but it is a world of difference from how it would be if he was shoulder to shoulder with girls in a school setting every day, all day.
(And one more reason I love homeschooling. 😉 )
Keeping busy/active: Another thing to note is that we keep our boys very busy with activities that expend energy, capture their attention, and keep them focused on positive, healthy things. From surfing and skating, to playing music, pursuing interests in nature, math, science, computer coding, birding…they don’t have a lot of spare time to sit around and think about girls.
Peer influence: Further, as I mentioned friendships (and more on friendships is coming in the next post,) my boys’ closest friends share their faith and their convictions, so that certainly helps. They also spend time with kids who do not share their exact morals, and they do not judge them, but I have heard them shut down a conversation when it was disrespectful towards girls. (yes!)
If (or more likely when) the day comes that one of our boys shows a special interest in a girl, our first reaction will be to encourage him to get to know her as a friend. To do things in groups and find out more about her that way. And when the day comes, our hope is that boys will be intentional in dating. (The word “courtship” can mean many different things, so I hesitate to use it.) At this point we aren’t into a bunch of rules or structure, but hope our boys will spend time with girls with the goal of marriage in mind, not just recreationally hanging out and getting physically involved.
I love to talk to my boys positively about how great it will be when they meet “the right girl,” and they are ready to begin that next stage of their life. They know I’m crazy about their dad, and I certainly hope that casts a vision for how their own relationship will one day be. But we talk about it very practically; Marriage is not a fairy tale but a committed relationship that takes a lot of nurturing and ongoing efforts to stay healthy and strong. I’ve also taught my boys from a very young age to begin praying for their wives consistently until they meet her.
And I’ve got to say: Whichever girls ends up marrying my boys (at least if they continue on the course they are on,) will be seriously blessed. I know well the awesome gift of a young man who is healthy, pure, and has prayed for his wife since he was young, because that is exactly what my own husband did.
So, in summary, this topic of teens and dating is not always a simple one. There are many factors to consider, and at the very least I urge you to talk about things, decide where you stand on the issues, and teach your sons what they need to know to handle relationships with respect and integrity.
On the other hand, I believe that teens and dating doesn’t have to be so complex. Sure, it takes a bit of paddling upstream, and probably the fact that we home school and have a unique lifestyle makes it a little easier to do, but I do believe anyone can make the choices we’ve made and enjoy a happy, healthy teenage life.
Now, I would love to answer any questions or hear from you in comments below — You might share your own family’s positive stories, or areas of concern…
Some of you might feel like it’s too late, your kids are already dating, or don’t have the personal convictions that I talk about my boys having. Maybe you’re feeling like you want to make some changes in the direction your family is going. If so, please let me know. There is seriously SO MUCH on this topic that I’m trying to figure out the best way to encourage and equip families who desire to raise kids with wisdom and intention. This is also why I want so badly to reach families of younger kids, who are still forming their own family values, with a vision for the future. (Please consider sharing this with families that you know!)
One more note: if you do not agree with how we do things, or have a different approach to teenagers and dating, I respect that. Please keep comments positive, and trust me when I say that this topic took a lot of thought time, and raw nerves to put together. Thank you for your kindness.
A couple books I suggest:
My boys are reading this with their youth group: Every Young Man’s Battle: Strategies for Victory in the Real World of Sexual Temptation (The Every Man Series)
And I recommend for all parents: The Power of a Praying Parent (Power of Praying)
(These are Affiliate Links: That means that clicking through those links and purchasing will help support my blog. There is no difference in price for you, Amazon just compensates me for sending you their way.)
PS A Q & A post will be coming soon! There are a few topics that have been requested but just didn’t fit into this post, so don’t worry if you’re still waiting. For example: How much to share with our kids about our own past, Kids and online dating, sexting, etc. Feel free to leave more suggested topics in comments below!