January 07, 2009

The Top Ten Dating Mistakes Parents Make (Part 1)

Written By Cary Schmidt

How Parents Let Their Kids Go Too Far, Too Fast, Too Soon

This is the first in a series of three articles.

Over the years, the Lord has allowed me the privilege to serve families and students in their journey together. Hundreds of teens have graduated from our student ministry, and the vast majority of them are living faithfully for the Lord—all by God’s grace and to His glory. In the day-to-day efforts, my wife and I have been involved as counselors, mentors, and sometimes disciplinarians in literally hundreds of budding and developing “dating relationships.” Not long ago, we sat down together and listed the ten most common mistakes that we see parents make when it comes to their teenager’s romantic attractions.

At the start, I must say, I don’t like the word “dating.” It carries with it too many varying connotations and secular implications. For the purpose of this article, I’m referring to the 7th-12th grade age groups (and in some cases, early college) when young people tend to become attracted to each other—too fast, too far, too soon. Unfortunately, all too often, when we have helped families through moral failures, we have counseled parents who, albeit unwittingly and unintentionally, indirectly facilitated serious temptation for their kids. In simple terms, they dropped their guard.

Thus, the Lord placed on my heart to put these “mistakes” into print—that parents and student ministry leaders might consider them, teach them, and avoid them.

While I’m not pro-dating for high school students, I’m also realistic enough to understand that God-given desires and attractions naturally awaken during the teen years. Kids are going to be attracted to each other, and there’s nothing we can do to change that—nor would we want to.

If we “ban” all communication and contact, they respond by taking their attractions underground—hiding them from authorities and sneeking around rules. If we lower the bar and drop our guard, then dangerous emotions and physical desires will destroy them. So I have long written and taught that we should strike a careful, biblical balance—teaching and nurturing our kids in how to manage these emotions and how to keep their friendships healthy and Christ-honoring until the Lord intersects their paths with the right person at the right time.

With that foundation, let’s consider the ways that parents often allow their children’s relationships to go too far, too fast, too soon. Just to be clear, these are the “doors of temptation that were left open” in many difficult counseling sessions we’ve conducted.

1. They let a sibling be the chaperone. I’m assuming you already have a standard that your teenager is never to be alone with the opposite gender. To put it mildly, siblings make horrible chaperones! Younger siblings are easy to deceive and honest older siblings are not always as vigilant as they should be. If you could sit in my office and see the tears, you would never, never ever allow a sibling to chaperone your teenager’s “friendships.”

2. They go to bed when a friend is still in the house. Usually this mistake follows closely with the first. Parents get tired and they feel bad about making a friend leave so they can go to bed. So they leave someone else in charge and sign off for the evening—often while the other parents are presuming adult oversight is in place. This is never a good thing. You have two choices—make the friend go home (probably the best choice) or stay up and be vigilant. Whatever you do, don’t go to bed.

3. They allow “minimal” physical contact. We tend to reason that “our kids are so much better than we were.” We think that holding hands or minimal touching will generally be safe. We couldn’t be more wrong. Teens are not equipped to deal with adult physical desires that grow stronger with even “minimal physical contact.” By allowing what we feel to be “minimal touching,” we reason that we’re helping them. We’re actually enlarging their temptation a hundred fold! Beware parent. What you allow them to do “in front of you” will be far worse behind your back, and you may be placing them on a fast track to moral failure.

Well that’s the first three mistakes that often lead to terrible outcomes. There are 7 more that we’ll discuss soon. For now, think about these and ask God for insight. Parents, stand guard for your child’s heart and seek His wisdom when it comes to establishing healthy relationships. Feel free to share your thoughts or insight to contribute to this article.

Proverbs 22:6 Train up a child in the way he should go:

Proverbs 4:23 Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life.