A Dating Manifesto--Part 2 of 3 (What)

8:53 AMHeather

Yesterday, I shared with y'all why I believe we parents of teens need to consider creating a dating manifesto.  Or, perhaps less dramatic in how it sounds--a family dating plan.  In other words, a family standard for how dating occurs so that the children and parents are all on the same page.  So that parameters and expectations are clearly outlined.  And even if you don't have teens yet, you will be there before you know it.  So read on, please.

Listen--what I am proposing is not some inflexible edict parents declare on high about how our children will have nothing to do with the opposite sex until age 30.

But hey--would that be such a bad idea?  Just kidding.  Sorta.  Not really.  I've never been a fan of arranged marriage until I became a Mom.  Then, I considered the idea of my darlings someday making their own choice for a life long partner.  And I felt a little nauseous.  After all, doesn't Mama know best?

I digress.  Back to reality.  Where we start is simple.  Parents--have a joint discussion (without children present) on this topic.  Single parents--try to broach the subject with the other parent if at all possible.  If not, I pray God's grace and strength on you and encourage you to press on!  Bless your sweet heart.  You can do this!

1.  Define dating.  I believe the dialogue starts with this question.  What is the purpose of dating?  What is all this about?  WHY do people ever date in the first place?  When you boil it down, dating is really about getting to know someone to determine if you might have a future together.   It's part of the process of finding a mate.

Not something most middle schoolers need to be considering. Honestly--not something most high schoolers are emotionally prepared for either.  Or, even some college-aged kids for that matter.  

When I use the word "dating" in this context, what I'm talking about is pursuing an ever increasing emotional, exclusive relationship to determine compatibility.  It involves time alone with that person.  What I don't mean is having a casual, good, and physically pure time with a member of the opposite sex. 

So potato, patato--you gotta be clear what words you are using and what significance they carry.  Clearly define what "dating" looks like in your eyes so that you can explain it clearly to your child.  

Word of warning--do not get caught in semantics.  As long as your teenager is clear about following the DEFINITION that is outlined, I don't think the semantics are a hill worth dying on.  Allow me to give you a case example.  Purely hypothetical, of course.  You parent a child who is a negotiator.  An independent type.  You discover a tidbit of information (yes, reading your children's cell phones is part of this process) concerning a relationship.  When questioned, the child admits they are "dating" someone.  When pressed, what that child actually means is that they have a mutual fondness with a member of the opposite sex and they see each other on a very limited basis with complete supervision at all times.  They text and chat on occasion.  Very basic stuff.  Nothing serious.  All priorities are in check.  Said child is not losing themselves in this relationship.  It's not their life--more like a side dish.   The child is following the parental perimeters for said relationship completely.  They just choose to use a word that I wouldn't use.

Fine.  Picking my battles.  What is REALLY happening is that the said child likes someone.  And those feelings are reciprocated.  And they hang out sometimes in a group setting with grown ups present.  It's all good.   Reminds me of when I was in junior high and someone asked me to go with them.  My dad would laugh and ask where we were going.  Ha ha, Dad.  SO funny.  It's just the lingo.  The details of the relationship were within the family's parameters.  SO, to me personally--the semantics are not necessarily worth getting hung up on.

You may feel differently.  And that's totally cool.  We can still be bloggy friends.

2.  Emphasize the most important things.  For me, the best way to summarize our family dating plan stance is to highlight two Biblical standards--guarding our hearts and guarding our purity.

Above all else, guard your heart,
    for everything you do flows from it.
Proverbs 4:23

THIS is where the rubber meets the road.  THIS is the goal.  THIS is the summation and pivot point for teenagers and the idea of dating.  As followers of Christ, they are to guard their heart.  (SIDENOTE:  We are, too.  Gotta be the person we want them to be!) The Biblical standard here is to protect ourselves from outside influences and anything that sets itself up against their pursuit of God.  Any potential idols, in other words.  If they can keep their heart guarded behind their first love for Christ, then all else follows.  Wherever their treasure is, their heart will be also.  They must be on guard in their relationships so that no relationship or friendship becomes more important than their relationship with Christ.  Yes.  This is a lofty goal.  Some might say too much to impose on a teenager.  

Question then.  If guarding their heart is too much to ask of a teenager, then why would we think they are prepared for some of the pitfalls of dating?  Listen, here's the thing.  We want to train our children to build a Godly marriage.  Which means setting a precedent from day one to keep their priorities in check.  God.  Then, others. 

When this pendulum begins to swing and you see your teen putting a member of the opposite sex before their faith and beliefs, then warning bells should be going off and red lights should be flashing.  It's time to intervene.  

As we train our teens to guard their hearts, of course, the companion lesson is to guard their purity.  That precious gift that can be given once.  And only once.  A gift we are asked to save for marriage--to give our purity to our beloved on our wedding night.  Listen, I'm here to tell you it can be done.  And if we engage in open dialogue with our teens about the benefits and beauty of honoring this Biblical teaching, then we can empower them and equip them to choose this path.   We gotta lay out for them how to set physical parameters within a dating relationship.  Exactly what is and isn't okay so that the situation never arises where their purity can be compromised.  Take the teaching moments to express the brokenness that can come when we allow too much of ourselves to be given away too soon.   Whether it be our hearts or our bodies. 

Another side note:  if you are parenting a teen who has already had sex or gone further emotionally or physically than they wanted, then please cover them with grace and love and be part of their healing process!  Do not let it be a millstone hanging around their neck or a scarlet letter on their forehead.  Do not let it come between you.  Walk them forward, covered in the cleansing blood of Christ, to choose His new mercies! 

3.  Set specific parameters.  News flash.  You ain't gonna get to these Biblical standards of guarding your heart and guarding your purity by pure chance.  No sir.  Not at all.  So you have to set up specific parameters for how this whole boy/girl thing is going to work.  This will look different for each family.  And even within each family, it may be tweaked and personalized for the needs and weaknesses and strengths of each child.  I mean, small tweaks.  Not different rules for different kids.  More like how you have to personalize your discipline techniques for each child.  AND, you need to be willing to shift and be flexible as you move forward.   

Here are some examples of specific parameters we have discussed with our boys (ages 12 and 14.  Not yet there in conversation with our 8 year old daughter, although we are generally setting the stage for expectations):

1. Group activities are allowed and encouraged.  Throughout high school and college and beyond.  These types of activities are fun and safe.  While you live under our roof, we need to know who they include before we give permission to attend.

2.  High school years, post driving age, may include one-on-one car dates potentially.  For specific activities such as homecoming.  These are not necessarily a given, however.  There may be exceptions depending on the circumstances and the person involved.  We don't care what everyone else does.  We are YOUR parents.  (Sorry you got stuck with us.  Take that one up with God.)

3.  You will never be left alone with the person you admire.  At least for the time being.  Don't ask for this to be changed.  (One-on-one does not feel age appropriate to us for our boys at this point).  If you should break this rule, there will be consequences.  Big ones.  Don't go there.

4.  Middle school and high school are times to have fun and make memories.  Avoiding drama helps tremendously to accomplish this.  That means keeping things casual.  We won't have your crush's parents over for dinner.  Except, of course, unless we were already friends with them first.  In that case, we are letting y'all tag along within our friendship.  Not vice versa.

5.  Keep things close to the vest.  Do not share details or break confidences about who people like, including yourself.  Limit ammunition for drama, in other words.  This is part of guarding your heart.  This pertains to face-to-face conversations, texts, KIK's, Instagrams, tweets, facetimes, and any other technology I'm not aware of just yet.  Refuse to get on the gossip train.

6.  Expect your parents to stalk you.  It is our job.  That means we WILL read your texts and such and we will ask questions and expect dialogue about anything we read that we need clarification about.  This is part of you being under the umbrella of our authority and protection.  Protection for your heart and your purity. 

7.  Choose friendships well.  Walk with the wise and become wise, for a companion of fools suffers harm. Proverbs 13:20.  This goes for people of the opposite sex whom you admire and want to hang out with, in a group.  With adult supervision.   We reserve the right, as nosy and mean parents, to intercede if we see you choosing poorly.  The company you keep reflects on your reputation.  And it influences you, of course.

8.  You are expected, as gentlemen, to treat a girl with the utmost respect.  When the time comes that you may wish to ask a girl out for real--later on--or consider her someone you might want to pursue a more serious relationship with, then you will be expected to ask for her father's permission.  She was his first.  The same in reverse for our daughter.  If he won't come talk to us and respect us, then he surely isn't suitable for you.

9.   Forget PDA.  That means both public displays of affection and private.  You are not old enough.  You may sit near each other.  A side hug is okay.  Or a high five or knuckle bump.  That's okay, too.   Please know that as you mature in these next few years, hand holding is negotiable.  Also, we aren't saying you have to wait until your wedding day to kiss.  We're just saying let's walk cautiously through these first steps of being interested in the opposite sex.  Physical touch is a slippery slope.  For now, we err on the side of caution.

Alrighty.  That's what we got.  Thus far.  You may have more ideas or suggestions for specific parameters.  In which case, I'd LOVE to hear them.  Please comment.  Let us all steal borrow your thoughts!  

Parents--here's the thing.  We gotta fill the love tanks of our kids.  Affirm them.  Show affection.  Give them our attention.  This helps to guard them from seeking it elsewhere.  And when it comes to the boy/girl dynamics--we gotta be all up in their business!  

So lay it out.  Define dating.  Consider your priorities.  Set specific parameters.  Agree together, as a couple, what your family dating plan is going to be.  Write it in pencil.  You will inevitably need to tweak it as time goes by.  Now that you have your dating manifesto in place, it's time to lay it out for your offspring.  

Take a deep breath.  Say a quick prayer.  And let's meet back up here together tomorrow for the how to tackle that next step.  To be continued...

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