Ask ten committed Christians their philosophy on dating, and you're likely to get ten different answers. I've lost track of the current trend among Christians. Should we encourage our teens to "kiss dating goodbye" or "give dating a chance?" There is, however, one thing that all ten of those Christians likely would agree on: Our culture's model of dating is not a healthy model for Christians. First of all, dating as we know it from our teen years is all but obsolete. Ask a sampling of high school or college girls how many official dates they have, and you're likely to find that few will need more than one hand to count them up. It's sad but true. So what are boys and girls doing if they aren't dating? Hooking up for one. Talk about a win/win for the guys. Girls pay their way; guys get their way, no strings attached.
Of course, as a woman, you know better. There are always emotional consequences for the girls. Whether a girl admits it or not, she wants to think she is important enough to merit a guy working up his nerve to ask her out, pick her up, pay her way, and hopefully, call her the next week. Girls were not wired for casual hookups.
Perhaps, the courtship (i.e. antidating) movement among Christians in the late 1990s was a response to the growing trend of hook-up that was all too common. The antidating movement produced happy endings for some and disillusionment for others. At the time of the courtship wave, I was in ministry for college students, speaking to many groups across the country. I cannot tell you how many sharp, wonderful, Christian young men approached me with sad tales of how they had nobly attempted to ask their Christian sisters out on dates only to suffer harsh rejection. Some were even scolded for having the nerve to even think such a thing was possible. They would practically beg me to address the issue among the girls. On the other hand, courtship seemed extreme to me, but as a mother of soon-to-be teens at the time, I could certainly see its merits. However, as time wore on, the movement died down. It didn't prove to have staying power among the majority of Christian teens and singles. My guess is that it became clear to many that the odds of finding a suitor who embraced the same radical courtship ideals were highly unlikely. In Texas, we call this "slim pickin's." While a noble goal, girls who adhere strictly to courtship and the idea of waiting for a guy to jump through all the necessary hoops required by this model may find themselves waiting indefinitely. Likely, the only way courtship would work is if the environment in which the boy and girl are raised lends itself to such a model.
"Hanging out" now also appears to be popular among teens and is my personal favorite choice for my own sons. So important is this concept of hanging out in groups of friends to my husband and me that we added a game room into our house when my son entered high school. When it was complete, we announced, "This is the hangout, and your friends are always welcome here." It has been a huge hit, not to mention a safe gathering place for my kids and their friends. While my son has had a few inconsequential girl relationships along the way, the majority of his high school years have been spent hanging out with his group of friends - both guys and girls.
While it is my preference that my own teenage kids hang out in groups, I am not opposed to them "going out" on occasion. Several years ago I held the position that they would not be allowed to go out. As they got older, I realized that if handled properly with boundaries in place, the going-out experience can actually be a great training ground when it comes to future serious relationships.
Let me stress that this is what my husband and I have determined works best for our family. It may not be a good model in your home. In the end you will have to decide what is best for your child. Even so, I believe it is important to avoid being too extreme in your approach.
I had many lofty ideals on this subject when my children were younger. I even passed judgment on parents who allowed their teens to go out and silently branded them weak-willed. Once my own kids reached an age where they expressed a desire to go out, God began to show me in my prayer time that my position on dating had more to do with my own fears that my children might make some of the same mistakes I had made in dating. Once I allowed God to minister to my fears, I began to reevaluate my position. I recognized that with the proper boundaries and training in place, going out could provide my teenager with some experiences better learned and better dealt with while under my roof and supervision.
Again, this is the system my husband and I feel works best in our home. God may lead you and your husband to have an entirely different position based on your teenagers' unique temperaments and levels of maturity. The most important thing is that you come up with a system that both you and your husband agree upon effectively communicate to your teenagers. Without a system in place, they will, by default, embrace the world's model of dating.
Excerpted from Your Boy: Raising a Godly Son in an Ungodly World (Broadman & Holman Publishers). Copyright Â© 2006 by Vicki Courtney. Used with permission. All rights reserved.
Vicki Courtney is the best-selling author of TeenVirtue, a national speaker, and founder of Virtuous Reality Ministries. A former agnostic and feminist, she professed faith in God during college. Vicki lives in Austin, Texas, with her husband and three children.