The Dangers of Dating

The inevitable happened this week.  I knew this day was coming but I honestly hoped I had more time.  I was asked the dreaded question by my son, “Dad, when can I start dating?”   My “handsome 14-year-old freshman boy turning into a man” son wants to date.  It seems like only yesterday I was teaching him how to tie his shoes.  Needless to say, this crazy dating idea of his can never happen.  He will never date.  In other news, my daughter will never marry and my six-year-old is not allowed to turn seven.  These things I have decided.

Though I have previously served as a professional youth worker (for about 15 years) and have addressed this issue with countless other parents, I honestly wasn’t prepared to talk about this with my own son.   Not this week.   He has other milestones to achieve first like graduating from high school, then college, then the Marines, then law school, then medical school, and then seminary.  After those hurdles are complete, I’ll consider the dating request. (That is if I can’t think of more hurdles for him to jump over.)  To say I was thrown off guard by his request would be an understatement.   But there we were.  Me in the driver’s seat.  He in the passenger seat – eagerly waiting my response.  I’m not even sure he has someone special in mind.  I think he is just exploring the idea of it. 

There is at least one positive about his desire to date.  Mainly his personal hygiene habits have improved dramatically.  There was a season where I had to drag him into the bathtub much like you drag a cat to the Vet.  There was a time when I had to beat   force “motivate” him to brush his teeth.   Now, he cares about his appearance, hygiene and breath and for that, everyone wins.  🙂

But dating has changed dramatically over the last 25 years when I was first doing it.  And quite frankly, after watching thousands of other teenagers date (at too young an age), I have seen it ruin many a person in the moment and many a relationship thereafter.  Dating is a dangerous exercise, even for the adults.  Below are some of my observations as to why it is not recommended for most people under the age of 45.   I’m only half-kidding.  🙂 

  1. Dating raises the emotional stakes.  The average teenage boy is barely equipped to handle the emotions of losing an X-box game.  The average teenage girl can scarcely break a nail without tears, let alone endure the higher stakes emotional “game” of dating.  There is a lot more maturing that needs to occur, particularly when the emotions of another person are involved in the matter.   To be honest, most men do not even think about the emotional sensitivity that is required with their female counterpart, let alone a 14-year-old boy.  At that tender age, they do not even know what they don’t know.   A few years of maturity will do wonders for them in this area.
  2. Dating encourages unnecessary emotional deposits. With every relationship we are in, we have an accompanying emotional checking account with that person. When we spend time with them, we make a deposit. When we think about them, we make a deposit.  Emotional deposits can occur in their presence or in their absence. Typically, women invest more emotional dollars into the accounts of men than vice versa.  When you are alone, you make larger emotional deposits into only one account. When you are in a group setting, you make smaller emotional deposits into many accounts. The reason that a teenage breakup is so painful is because one feels an emotional bankruptcy after losing all their investment in that one particular account.
  3. Dating raises the physical stakes.   Dating implies being alone.  This alone time puts immediate pressure on the relationship.  The boy wants to be funny.  The girl wants to look pretty.  Both are putting their best foot forward and trying hard to impress the other one.  In other words, they are making massive emotional investments into unstable emotional accounts.  Whereas a group setting eliminates many pressures and temptations, being alone escalates them.  Combine these temptations with raging hormones (on both sides) minus the emotional maturity and wisdom to understand the dangers – you are asking for trouble.   Pregnancy and STD’s are just two of the devastating consequences waiting to pounce on our young children who cave in to the physical temptations they face.
  4. Dating creates isolation & thus does not encourage community.  Group settings are the safest setting throughout every aspect of life.  Fish travel in schools.  Wolves travel in packs.  Gazelles travel in groups.  Interestingly, women go to the bathroom in groups of two or more.  Apparently the woman’s restroom is wrought with danger.  We even have a well-known adage in our culture, “There is safety in ___________.” (In your head you thought “numbers.”)   This is especially true in regards to dating.   Teenagers, like young gazelles, need to be protected (even from themselves) during this time of growth.  Oftentimes their bodies are maturing faster than their emotions.  Very very few can handle such intimate isolation.  The risk outweighs the reward.  Time alone is important for all romantic relationships, but only when that relationship is mature enough to handle it.  
  5. Dating shuns true commitment & cultivates the heart for divorce.  This will no doubt be a controversial point but one that I think is worth making.  Dating’s commitment is generally skin deep.  In other words, it pales in comparison to the commitment of marriage which is “till death do us part.”  When we get accustomed to “leaving” our dating partners (for a variety of reasons), it grooms our heart for the ultimate exit of an unhappy marriage.  Whereas the marriage relationship should have an undying commitment and the “D” word (divorce, shhhhhh!) never mentioned, dating (by default) has a marginal commitment.   After all, you’re “only” dating.  It’s not like you are engaged or married.   The more you date, the more your heart is encouraged to avoid commitment, particularly a lifelong, faithful commitment to one person.  If you don’t like the one you are with now, you can always just date someone else.  It can do a disservice to your heart, ability to commit and future relationships.
  6. Dating does not assist one in guarding their heart.   A human heart can be broken.  It should be the goal of every parent to guard their child’s heart.  It should be the goal of every girl/woman to guard her own heart.  It should be the goal of every boy/man to not only guard his own heart, but also learn how to guard the heart of the girl/woman in his care.   It’s not an easy task – but a necessary one when it comes to relationships.  Too many hearts are broken simply because there was no appropriate guard in place.  Because dating is so personal and intimate, it is nearly impossible to guard one’s heart while doing it.  When the heart is not properly guarded it faces consistent heartbreak which, in turn, causes it to either suffer constantly or become so calloused that it becomes cold and jaded.  Neither consequence is healthy for anyone’s heart – let alone a younger heart, still learning what love is supposed to be.   This is why Solomon (considered to be the wisest man ever to live) wrote these words, “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” (Proverbs 4:23) 
  7. Dating discourages parental involvement (in most cases).  
  8. Dating by-passes parental approval (in most cases).
  9. Dating prohibits parental protection (in most cases).

For now, I’ll leave #7-9 as bullet points.   The main point is that no one knows you better and loves you more than a parent and dating (in the traditional sense) keeps most parents in the dark.  There is more that can be said here for another time or another blog.  

As for my son’s request, he knows it’s not an option right now.  The group setting is where he’ll be or home alone with one of his parents.  He’s a great kid and very mature for his age but for now, we don’t think he’s ready.  Besides, he can’t drive and the last thing anyone wants is a parent on a “date.”  If his Mom and I are wrong, time will reveal that and all we will have lost is time.  If we’re right, we have saved him (and some little girl out there) a world of hurt.   The risk outweighs the reward and since it is my son’s heart in the balance, I’m not willing to risk it.   No 14-year-old girl is worth the cost of his broken heart, entrusted to my care.  

I would love to hear from some of the more seasoned parents on how you handled your children in this regard.  Did you let them date?  Did they date in spite of your wishes?  Positive outcomes?  Negative aspects?  Any broken hearts? 

Parenting, on our best day, is an impossible task.   Recognizing this, Mark Twain gave this helpful parenting tip.  I always laugh when I think of it.

“When you have a child, you should put him in a barrel and feed him through the hole.  When he turns twelve, plug the hole.”

No broken hearts in the barrel, that’s for sure.

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About Rod Arters

As a former youth worker, business owner, school teacher, coach and inmate, Rod has the unique ability to relate to almost anyone in whatever situation they are in. His thought-provoking blog about life, mistakes, faith, hope & grace has been read in over 175 countries. A popular writer & speaker, Rod draws from his deep well of biblical knowledge and personal pain to encourage others along the broken journey to wholeness. He hosts an invitation-only private Facebook group for men (called Brother's Keeper) and enjoys helping others find Hope in the midst of their painful situations. He currently resides in Charlotte, NC.
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8 Responses to The Dangers of Dating

  1. fiztrainer says:

    There are few people I know today who adhere to or, for that matter, agree with what you so perfectly laid out here in this post. My husband and I have taken the same stand with our kids and I will say this … my oldest did date one boy through high school and it ended up doing great damage to her emotionally. Of course, as you stated, we were quite unaware of the situation and all that she was going through until after the fact. I could write a post on all the ways that she was negatively affected because of her decision. My son, on the other hand, went through high school and is now in college and, has decided not to date until he feels he is ready. He also wears a purity ring which he takes very seriously. Quite a different story for him. We still have one more (she’s 14 like your son). She will be a bit more of a challenge (LOL), but we hold strong to our decision in this and I applaud you and your wife as well. It’s not easy to keep our kids on the straight and narrow in the society they are growing up in, but it is certainly well worth the effort. 😀

    • Rod Arters says:

      It is so nice to know I’m not totally alone in my archaic opinions on such things as teenage dating. While I don’t necessarily think pre-arranged marriages are the way to go, I certainly think more parental involvement is needed in such important areas. I’m so sorry to hear of the pain you and your daughter went through the first time around. Thank you for sharing that with me and my readers as I do think we all can learn from your pain and possibly save ourselves some in the process. If you felt it worth your time (and appropriate to share), I (and I’m sure my readers) would love to hear some bullet point lessons on how that relationship “negatively affected” her. At least you and your husband and me and my ex-wife are on the same page in this important parenting area. Keep doing the right thing!

      • fiztrainer says:

        I would love to share her story. I, like you, feel it is so important that parents realize the struggles and temptations that are there at our children’s feet. They need us as their parents to be guiding them (even though they don’t think we know anything … LOL!) Let me know what format you’d like to use (even if it’s simply in the comments here), I would be more than honored to share her story.

      • Rod Arters says:

        I think the comments section would be great, for now. Maybe I can point people to read below – that way many will see it? I don’t mean to put you on the spot but I think you probably have a valuable perspective – particularly for any critics of “our” viewpoint. Thank you for being willing!

      • fiztrainer says:

        Sounds Great! I’ll go over an share … thanks so much for the opportunity. 😀

  2. fiztrainer says:

    When I read your post here, all I kept saying in my mind was, “Amen! Amen!” As Christian parents, we want to try and find the balance where our children can feel accepted and included during their school years while maintaining boundaries where they will get to the other side of these years still emotionally intact. It’s not easy. It wasn’t easy for our parents, and it’s only gotten more difficult as the years wear on. As a couple, my husband and I were very much against our children dating while in school. And you can hear all the gasps and, “WHAAAATTT???” I know. How can you expect your children not to date in high school? i believe it’s not only possible, but imperative for all the reasons you posted here. As much as we adhered to this, my husband and I went through a very difficult time. Due to various situations, I ended up having an emotional breakdown where I wasn’t fully functioning for about 3 years. During that time, my husband tried to fill the rolls needed by my children. However, he was (at the time) Pastoring a church and running his own pharmacy business. So, it was extremely difficult to say the least. Due to the tremendous pressures and demands together with my illness, my 3 children suffered … especially my oldest. Unfortunately, she found her solace in a boy at school. She was only in 7th grade. He also was in a very difficult family situation and, because of this, I believe the emotional bond the two developed was very strong. As time went on, my daughter began developing an eating disorder. She was very depressed and began relying more and more on this boy to keep her strong. The thing that woke me up was the fact that she began cutting. It was this that snapped me back to reality and I was able to get myself somewhat back on track. However, by this time, the bond formed between her and this boy was so strong. Although the young man was a really great kid, he was ONLY a kid. As the years wore on, his family life began to erupt and he began to use his mom’s prescription drugs to help cope. He became completely addicted to these drugs that they didn’t satisfy anymore. My daughter (being the type of kid she was) never was interested in taking drugs or drinking. She is more the caretaker type and, thus, felt she had to try and be there for him. Because of his drug abuse, his moods began to swing all over the place and began emotionally abusing my daughter to such a degree that he would one day tell her, “I love you. You’re the most beautiful girl I’ve ever met!” to the next day saying, “You’re disgusting. Don’t ever touch me. You make me sick. No one would ever want you!” These are mild compared to the extreme things he would say to her. No matter how hard we tried, we could not break her away from him. She had become so “addicted” to him and was completely guilt ridden if she didn’t try to help him. He continued to plummet from doing prescription drugs to ecstasy, drinking and I’m sure many more things we don’t even know about. This went on through her entire high school years. Looking back now, my daughter will tell you how this relationship stole her school years. She really had no friends because the 2 of them had become so exclusive with each other, it alienated them from their friends. To say this was a nightmare would be an understatement. Once they were out of high school, I was happy that he ended it with her. As heartbreaking as it was to see her go through the “withdrawal”, we knew it would end up being the best thing for her. I know this is an extreme story, but sad to say, it is not uncommon. I could look at my own experiences to know that. The thing is, she was attending a Christian school at the time. As parents, we MUST be the ones praying for our children and directing them. It grieves me that I was absent during a most vulnerable time in my daughter’s life. But, every family has things they go through … these things affect our children. How imperative it is that we stand strong and maintain the right boundaries. I’d rather be called “controlling” and see my children survive these years intact. I thank God that my son and youngest daughter seem to be traveling quite a different path. I am also happy to report that my oldest is now 21 and doing very well. She works with her dad as a Pharmacy Technician. She is now dating a man who loves her to pieces. I thank God that He can take our messes and clean them up. I pray that in sharing this with you, others will see how much damage can be done when our children, who are not emotionally ready for relationships, start dating at a young age.

  3. Pingback: Rod’s Blog: 2012 Year in review | The Official blog of Rod Arters

  4. Rod, I couldn’t agree with you more. However, I wasn’t reading this really thinking about whether or not it is or isn’t healthy for a teenager to date. Rather, I was thinking about how it applies to me. I am 41 and am currently walking through some things that are causing me to pursue celibacy and make the Lord my Husband. As I was reading this, however, I was thinking to myself, “These are some excellent safeguards that I could put in place for myself.” And I agree that dating today discourages commitment.

    I recently posted to my blog…the first post since the beginning of June…last year. Why? Because I was “dating” a guy, not guarding my heart, and getting beat up by all the consequences that occur when I don’t guard my heart. It’s been painful, but I am taking the lesson this time and am applying it, come hell or high water. I am actively “not” dating right now as I am seeking to spend intimate time with God. Dating makes me feel vulnerable and I simply cannot grow in my faith with the distraction of a guy lurking in my presence.

    I hope you’re doing well. I actually mentioned you in my post a couple of days ago. lol

    -Ava

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