One of the more frequent topics of conversation I have with both students and their parents is dating. When I say dating I really mean dating, courting, “talking,” or whatever you call the ritual ultimately leading to finding a mate. I say that because I know as many students and parents will read this, there will be about the same number of differing opinions on what dating is, how it should be done, how it should not be done, and where it should lead. My purpose is not to answer these questions with a once-and-for-all mode of dating, but to prompt with good questions what the most godly approach might look like in a teen’s life.
I have developed eight discussion starters. The first is the big one that asks, “What does the Bible say?” All of the other questions flow from the first question and should answer to the Bible.
1 – What does the Bible say about dating?
No, the Bible doesn’t tell us how to date the right way. Yes, I’ve tried to joke with teens that if we followed what the Bible says about dating, their parents would be choosing their spouse. No, that joke never gets any laughs.
But in the Bible God gives us all the wisdom we need to succeed in life! And if the Bible is a reliable guide for life, then the first place we look for dating advice is God’s Word. The Bible tells us plenty about marriage, relationships, love, humility, sexual integrity, sacrifice, manhood, and womanhood. The Bible helps us know who to listen to and what voices to tune out.
The Bible gives us the news of an unshakeable identity that is ours if we believe that Jesus is King, if we believe he died and resurrected for sinners, and if we repent to him for our personal sin. If we have an immovable identity, then no ex-boyfriend can take it and no girlfriend can change it. A higher identity rules.
Ephesians 5 is one of many great places to begin a discussion on this question.
2 – What do your parents say about dating?
A couple of years ago I asked 20 students “by show of hands: how many of you know EXACTLY where your parents stand on dating?” Only a few hands went up.
I am always surprised how few students have a clear understanding of where their parents stand on dating. Maybe parents don’t bring it up, maybe they don’t bring it up often enough, or maybe the students have heard what their parents think and just hope they change their mind. Whatever the case, what parents think about dating is foundational for teenagers and it’s vital for them to know clearly where their parents stand.
You don’t need to leave the ten commandments to know that God thinks it’s important for young people to honor their parents. God created it to be that way. Parents, their wisdom, and their own experiences are all good gifts from God. Parents have a lot to say about dating.
I often charge students to find out what their parents think about dating AND to examine it in the light of question one. What parents say about dating is my second question for a reason, it’s more important than all the following questions but it’s trumped by the Bible. I tell students, “if your parent tells you something is okay that the Bible says is not, then it’s not okay. Listen to the Bible first, then your parents.”
Parents, I challenge you to treat your teens like adults in the way you explain your position on dating. By that I mean as your students enter the teen years it’s not enough to only give guidelines or rules. Youth want to know why. Tell them how you dated as a teenager (spare them all the details, but help them understand your experience). Tell them how dating culture has changed. Tell them your mistakes. Tell them the mistakes you saw your friends make. Tell them how God’s Word informs your thoughts on dating. You don’t need to budge on your principles in order to be vulnerable.
Pray for them. Pray with them. More questions to follow in “Part 2.”