First of all, I need to define what a teen is to me. Anyone still in high school, under the age of 18, under the protection of the laws that protect minors. I know there are a lot of teen-actors who are in college and beyond. They are also no longer under the laws that protect minors so they are not a part of this conversation.
I came to this conviction that teens should not date back in 1986. This is before Josh McDowell published his infamous book, Why Wait? This is before “True Love Waits” became the phenomenon it was. This is when I thought I as a youth pastor could be involved in my teens’ lives enough to walk with them through such things as dating. This was when my youth ministry practices were definitely Brenda-centric.
I am a big believer in dating. I never was on board with that I Kissed Dating Goodbye stuff. I have yet to read that book. I believe that the process of dating is to discover who you are. The result of this learning process will then lead you to a good match to give you that love for a lifetime everyone desires. I have always believed this. I dated a lot. I thought I could allow the teens in my ministry to date also. After all, I would be walking with them through this. But then a leader in the youth group got pregnant—with my involvement in her life. It was then that I changed this view. I have never wavered from it since.
A teen’s heart is a beautiful yet fragile thing. Due to adolescent development everything is new to them: their thoughts, their feelings, their emotions. The brain is literally growing these new neurological paths during adolescence. This is why teens have some crazy thinking at times. This is why there are laws to protect minors. This is why they are so open to the message of God’s love and hope for them. They “get it” in this new neurological level.
This is why a devastating break up can have such long-lasting damage. And of course, a devastating break up is bound to happen during the teen years. Less than 1% of all high school relationships last to be that love for a lifetime. A devastating break up creates a lot of damage to these beautiful yet fragile hearts.
The devastating break up happens because boys and girls do mature a much different rates. And because these new neurological paths don’t always connect well enough to make wise decisions to protect their hearts. It is all SO MUCH DRAMA. Every teen knows that dating/hooking up/friends with benefits/whatever they are calling it these days involves loads of drama. Yet that desire to be loved and to know they are worthy of being loved by someone is such a need. Yes, a need. This desire trumps the common sense to avoid this drama and protect their hearts for when dating becomes a more wise decision.
This is why I declared back in 1986 that teens should not date until they get out of high school. I am providing a clear boundary in the hopes to help them make this needed decision to protect their hearts.
I do not have a great track record of teens adopting this mindset. But I know the teens are getting a clear message from me with clear reasons. The teens also know I will be there for them to wipe away their tears—and not say “I told you so.” I have consoled so many teens through heartbreak. I am committed to healing those hearts so they will have a strong healthy heart to give that special someone in the future.
My message will not change. I am a big believer in dating. I LOVE my role as “dating coach” in my many many grown teens lives. But dating for me starts when they are out of high school, when they are more ready to take these brave and vulnerable opportunities to date—with a team of supporters involved.