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The Case Against Teenage Dating

I have a confession to make. Several, actually. At least once a week, I’m too tired to cook so I let my kids “forage” for dinner. We eat condensed soup from a can–sometimes, literally from the can. At least a few days a week, we  stay in pajamas until noon…okay, all day. We only clean the house really well when company is coming. And–try not to gasp–I not only let my kids watch Spongebob, but I watch it with them.

As a Catholic homeschooling mom, I’ve known for a while I’m probably more slack than most with my kids. And I’m okay with that, because I LOVE our jello-for-dinner and Spongebob-laden family culture. But there’s one decision my husband and I have made as parents that’s decidedly countercultural, and will no doubt earn us the title of “Freakish Catholic Zealots” as our kids get older: we’re NOT going to allow our teenage children to date.

Why? Because there’s really only one legitimate–and by that, I mean edifying–purpose to dating: to find a spouse. And unless a person is certain he’s called to marriage at a very young age, nothing spiritually or emotionally good comes from dating in your teens.

I felt called to write about this because it seems kids today are dating at earlier and earlier ages. Call me old fashioned, but it’s shocking to hear kids as young at 10 or 12 are “dating” or more scarily, “hooking up.” Yet what surprises me even more is that often, it’s the parents who allow and even encourage this.

A few months ago, I saw someone post pictures on Facebook of “spa day” with her 10-year-old daughter. The day–complete with manicure and newly highlighted hair for the daughter–was to prepare the girl for her first date with a classmate. A few days later, Mom posted pictures of the happy couple on their “first date” at a pizza parlor.

The girl was in FOURTH GRADE; she hadn’t even hit puberty yet. And she’s “dating?” The only explanation I had was that the mom was especially anxious to be a grandmother.

Let’s think about what happens when you do start dating “the love of your life” at 11. A friend’s 12-year-old daughter came to her a few years ago and asked permission to have a boyfriend. Being the norm among her peers, naturally she wanted one, too. (Sorta like an iPhone.)

My friend wisely asked, “If you have a boyfriend at 12, what’s left for later? If you start dating now, what’s left to happen later, say, in three or four years?”

“I’ll have a deeper relationship with him then,” said the girl.

My friend showed marvelous restraint at this point and didn’t burst out laughing (or, as I would have, started yelling) at her sweet, innocent daughter’s naivete. She instead calmly explained that a “deeper relationship” to most teenagers (especially the “in love” ones) almost always means one thing: sex.

“Sweetheart, boys and girls are so pressured into thinking that the way you express ‘deeper love’ is to share your body. That’s so dangerous for many reasons, but the most important is that it puts your very soul in mortal danger.” She added, “When you’ve been romantically involved with someone for years, you WANT to show him how much you love him. You WANT to be with them physically. But it’s not like you can get married when you’re 16.”

This mom is right. We’re designed by God to bond not just emotionally, but physically. Yet if we want our kids to save the total gift of themselves for their spouse, why put them in situations with adult-sized temptations that they’re ill-equipped–emotionally or spiritually–to handle?

Teens who lack adult guidance or supervision, who are lonely, or who suffer low self-esteem are especially vulnerable to the temptation to have sex while dating. For these kids, the risk of being pregnant or contracting an STD is almost entirely eclipsed by their desperate desire to feel loved and attractive.

Some parents take the middle road and allow “courting,” where older teens are allowed to spend time with the opposite sex in situations designed to build friendship first. The teens spend time with one another in a group, either of friends or family. Private time together is limited, if allowed at all. And even then, it’s usually only allowed under the watchful eyes of adult chaperones.

It’s true that courting typically doesn’t expose teens to the same physical risks as dating. But I still don’t see the point, unless your child is convinced they’re called to the vocation of marriage and called to that vocation especially early in life. As my friend said to her daughter, what’s the point of developing a romantic relationship when marriage realistically isn’t in the cards?

Most parents today have succumbed to the idea that dating is an acceptable recreational activity on the way to being mature enough to get married. Beneath this is the misguided idea that it’s better for young people to “try on” several relationships (and let’s be honest–partners) before settling down. “You wouldn’t buy a car without test driving it, would you?” is the analogy I’ve heard most often, as if getting married is the equivalent of picking out the best model.

Things have changed dramatically since the days when unmarried young people hid their sexual activity from parents. Today, a disturbing number of parents are more likely to encourage their kids to have premarital sex than to condemn them for it. My late mother-in-law, for example, once said she was glad her college-aged daughter was sexually active so she could “make sure she doesn’t marry someone she’s not sexually compatible with.” Never mind that the intensity and euphoria of a sexual relationship can blind you to the other person’s selfishness and immaturity, opposite traits of what you should be seeking in a spouse. (And don’t even get me started about contraception’s impact on our ability to choose a good spouse.)

Allowing teens to engage in emotionally intense relationships is fraught with danger, and I’m not just talking about the sexual risks. More damaging, in my opinion, is the emotional consequences of recreational dating. Teens who date develop romantic attachments…romantic attachments that inevitably end. These attachments can be profoundly intense, even when they don’t involve sex. A teenager opens her heart to someone who says, “I love you…until I don’t.” And when it does end, her heart is wounded. She’ll open it again, most likely, when the next guy comes along, but certainly not as fully as she did that first time. And with each breakup, her ability to trust and believe she deserves unconditional love will be eroded.

Then one day she’ll meet the person God intended for her all along. And then that man, who deserves full access to his wife’s heart, must instead spend years if not decades taking down the wall around his beloved’s heart, brick by brick. The one she built up to protect herself after each fresh promise of unconditional love evaporated. Sexual compatibility may get you into a marriage, but only love, vulnerability, and trust will keep you in one.

From the time our kids were three or four, we’ve stressed that they need to ask God what vocation He has planned for them: marriage, the single life, or the consecrated life. For most of them, the call is likely to be marriage. But individually, we don’t know that and neither do they at 12, 15, or 17 years old. Not only does allowing teens to date expose them to very real emotional, physical, and spiritual dangers, but it distracts our children from being able to discern if they’re even truly called to marriage in the first place. When you get on the dating track so young and experience all the euphoria of “falling in love” (again and again), it’s just going to be harder to hear God’s call to any other vocation.

Right now, our oldest is just 10, so we haven’t faced down the dating demons just yet. Given the peer pressure out there for today’s teens to date, we aren’t naive enough to think all our kids will accept this family policy with gratitude. With at least a few of them, we anticipate some knock-down, drag-out fights about it. Not to worry, though–we’re already investigating convents for the especially resistant. (We’re leaning toward the ones with 12-foot walls.) We’ll probably get some grief from other parents, too, who think we’re depriving our children of a normal childhood. But honestly, after having been Catholic for a decade, we’re used to that accusation.

We want our kids to have the freedom to figure out who they are during the teenage years, and to accept that regardless of peer pressure. We want them to grow their relationship with God, so that when they leave us, they’ll have a foundation that will carry them through life with the Lord and on to heaven. It’s much harder to focus on God and where’s He’s leading you, though, when you’re distracted by immature romantic entanglements and all the drama and pain that comes from them.

Seasoned parents know they have to pick their battles. (I obviously surrendered on the Spongebob and getting dressed every day one.) But for my husband and I, witnessing and experiencing the bitter fruits of recreational dating has made this one hill we’re prepared to die on.

About Misty

Misty converted to Catholicism from atheism 10 years ago, just a week after becoming a mother to her first child. Prior to becoming a stay-at-home mom, she worked full-time as a magazine writer and editor. She has been married to her best friend for nearly 15 years and looks forward to many more decades by his side. Her days are now spent cooking, doing laundry, freelance writing, and homeschooling her four children. After spending so much of her life in spiritual darkness, she revels in the joy of being Catholic. Without a doubt, the Lord’s greatest gift to her has been saving her from a life without Him.

August 16, 2012 - 8:04 am

MyBrokenFiat - You’re not alone. My mother was of the same mindset as well (though I did the whole knock-down, drag-out fight with her because of it).

However, because I knew early on that my mom was against dating until I was in college, I sorta didn’t put too much pressure on myself because I knew it was a no-no. So I did push it off until I was about freshman in HS. That was the first time I actually wanted to date someone (a far cry from my friends who, in 5th and 6th grades, were hooking up).

My mom didn’t let me date him, but we’d try to sneak away after school or little things like that. It happens. After him, though, I didn’t “date” again until Senior year.

So I don’t think you’re out of your mind. I think I would agree with you mostly. It obviously worked out somewhat decently for me (though my poor mother did go through hell with me… sorry, Mom). Looking back I certainly understand why she did what she did.

Good luck – from a child who put her mother through hell because of exactly what you’ve decided to get yourself into. Ha ha. In the end, though we kick, scream, tell you we hate you, and beg – things turn out okay.

I’m happily married to my husband of five years and we’ve got a little boy. I’m planning on keeping him from dating as long as possible, too. :)

August 16, 2012 - 8:30 am

Rebecca - I’ll confess, when I started reading this and saw that you didn’t have any teens yet I was thinking you don’t have enough experience to comment on the subject. (Before you had kids, how many things did you think you would do better as a parent than you have actually done? Multiply that with teens.)

But I was still interested, because I agree with your position. And I have two teens so far, and SO FAR, we have been able to make it stick. In fact, I am so impressed with what you wrote, I’m going to have my teens read it!

One thing to take into consideration, is that some people really are ready to get married at 18 or so. It is no longer a part of our culture, but I think both Dorothy Day and Andrew Pudewa (IEW guy) had daughters that married relatively young, and it was a reflection of their maturity, not immaturity.

August 16, 2012 - 9:42 am

Lauralita - It’s so good to hear this!

I’m a Catholic teen, just starting college. My parents never had a really strict rule about dating, and it’s good to hear your reasoning. I wish that instead of just saying it’s a bad thing, my parents would have taken the time to explain why. I understand it now – I’ve done my research, but it would have been nice to come from my parents. I’ve never dated, and I’ve always thought it was stupid for my friends to date when there was no way they could get married. At this point in my life, I know I could get married in the next several years, and have thus made the decision to date if God puts the right person in my life :-)

August 16, 2012 - 9:42 am

Maureen - Excellent. I totally agree.

August 16, 2012 - 10:12 am

Allen Hebert - Great article, I completely agree, and we have 3 teenage girls (18, 16, and 14) and are taking the approach you present in this article. My wife says that dating is practice for divorce. After enough breakups, you get used to it. Too much drama and if you are not ready to get married, why put yourself through that. The longer you wait to start searching for a spouse the more mature you are as well as your potential spouse. Maturity in courtship is huge and avoids many of the problem areas found in the teenage dating scene. My girls are very happy and have lots of friends who are both male and female. They are getting to know members of the opposite sex and that will help them determine if God is calling them to married or consecrated life.

This approach, coupled with reading Carmen Marcoux’s books – Arms of Love and Surrender, have really enhanced our relationship with our children. Keep the faith, even if everyone else thinks you are crazy, it is well worth it.

August 16, 2012 - 10:43 am

Augustine - Sexual compatibility? Call me naive, but as long as one’s spouse is of the opposite sex that’s all the compatibility necessary. Or perhaps what’s really meant by this is that the spouse will accept being sexually used in certain ways – likely seen in porn – that offends the dignity of others. This is not love, quite the opposite.
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August 16, 2012 - 11:23 am

THURSDAY AFTERNOON EDITION | Big Pulpit - [...] The Case Against Teenage Dating – Misty, Catholic Sistas [...]

August 16, 2012 - 11:58 am

Janine - One of the things we lose when we start dating so early is the ability to have strong, platonic friendships with the opposite sex. When every opposite-sex relationship is seen in the light of “dating” from as early as kindergarten (as in, “Oh, isn’t that cute! He has a little girlfriend!”), there’s never any time put into learning how to relate to each other in a way that doesn’t include an undercurrent of sex, potential or realized. Not being someone who develops relationships with women very easily, I spent a lot of time with guys during my school years, and there was an unbelievable amount of outside pressure to turn those relationships into something other than what they actually were — good friendships. I hope to be able to help my kids remain free from that pressure, and to really discern what they want in a mate (if marriage is their calling) before forming exclusive dating relationships. Given all the changes going on during the teen years, I don’t see that time as being conducive to clarity and discernment, generally speaking! So, Misty, I totally concur. There may be exceptions, but in general I don’t think teen dating is a very wise idea.

August 16, 2012 - 12:38 pm

JulieF - I could not agree with you more. There is absolutely NO reason to date if you are not even of age or mind to be married. When I was in school I saw the break-ups and hurts left after these ended relationships. They then move on to to their next romance and before you know it have had 10 or more sexual partners before their 18th birthday. I can’t imagine what it is like now. My children can court when they are doing so for the purposes of finding their future spouse… or when they are out of my house!!!

August 16, 2012 - 12:59 pm

JulieF - BTW, I have to disagree with Rebecca’s notion that you have to have teenagers to have an opinion on the matter. It is important to reflect on the future of things to come, make a decision on how it will be handled and implement. That is why God made me the parent, to do the job the best that I could. If teenage dating is not in that equation my children will not do it. Can you say you won’t let your teenager watch porn even if I don’t have a teenager yet? ABSOLUTELY. Somethings you don’t need to have to be in that exact circumstance to have an opinion. That is like telling a single person they can have no opinion on whether divorce is wrong or not.

August 16, 2012 - 3:20 pm

Christine the Soccer Mom - Excellent stuff! We might go a middle road, but honestly haven’t set an age in stone for our girls. It will have to depend on their maturity and whether or not they actually do feel called to marriage. (I knew at a young age I wanted to be married, felt that calling, but had very few boys interested in me at all for a long time. My girls won’t be that “lucky” with the boys thing.)

Some people do know at an early age, and marrying early might be in the cards. Our culture thinks early marriage is a bad idea generally, but when a couple is approaching it with maturity (something sorely lacking even amongst the 30-40 year olds getting hitched for the first time), it works just fine. But that maturity just has got to be there.

Thanks for a great article with lots of food for thought. :)
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August 16, 2012 - 7:20 pm

chris early - The idea of “courtship” as opposed to what society currently promotes (dating) is great. But I think teenage courtship is better than not courting. Children should be taught from an early age that we are all called to marriage (good article about that here: http://www.hprweb.com/2012/07/discerning-marriage-as-natural-vocation/) and how to do it. Sure there will be some relationship disappointments but that will happen if they start courtship when they are older too. Done correctly, the relationships will not be more emotional trouble than they can handle. I think God did not make a mistake in making us physically ready for marriage as teenagers but somehow not psychologically ready. I think in many ancient cultures early marriage was the norm and while some cultures may not have done marriage right I don’t think so many could get it wrong. I think catholics should be counter to society by teaching teenagers how to court correctly instead of retreating from courtship. Young marriage can be done properly.

August 16, 2012 - 9:47 pm

Tally Marx - As a discerner whose search for God’s Will has been complicated all too much by not being emotionally chaste from a young age….I say right on. Your kids will thank you later.

August 16, 2012 - 10:57 pm

LJ - Love this!!! I have 3 daughters, 13, 11, 9 and a 3 yr. old son. My 13-yr old is chomping at the bit to get dropped off to “hang out” with friends at various locations (mall, ice skating rink, etc…) to which our answer is an absolute NO! She asks when she can date and we don’t have a good answer but we know it will be no time soon. When I asked my mother why I couldn’t date at 15 she said (almost the same as you but not so eloquent), “if you start dating too young, you will eventually want to hold hands and then eventually kiss and pretty soon, kissing and holding hands will not be enough. It doesn’t matter who you are”. I understood then (didn’t like it but I got it) and I understand it now. I like your wording much better, though. Meanwhile, friends and family members with children of the same age are bending over backwards to “meet the parents” and encouraging and supporting this dating concept. Thanks for not making us feel alone in this. God bless.

August 16, 2012 - 11:34 pm

[email protected] - I pray daily that my children (one of each) will be as oblivious to the dating culture so prevalent these days. As a teen, my parents saw “the look” in the eyes of some of my guy friends. I, however, did not & vehemently denied any attraction that way. When I was 15, one of my guy friends bit the bullet of asking me out to a school dance. Even then I insisted that we were just friends. We were alone together a lot, horseback riding in the woods before my parents built the house on the land. After a couple dances & numerous people insisting we were a couple, I finally admitted it. We dated for 6 years until his untimely death. I honestly can’t recall when I knew I was called to marriage, but I knew before he died that I wanted to marry him. when he died I was devastated. Then I was back in denial of guys wanting that type of relationship with me.

Then I met my now-husband & within 6 months we were engaged. This December we will reach our 6 year anniversary. In our short (relative to my parents 35 years, since she was 17 & he was 19) marriage we have dealt with some very heavy blows (an almost fatal horse accident, 4 miscarriages, breast cancer while pregnant, continuing complications, etc) without being knocked out of love.

I pray that my children aren’t touched by tragedy like I was, but I’m undecided what to do when they want to date. Hopefully I can teach them to be friends first & most importantly before they’re hit with sexual “romance”.

Good luck with your children! God bless!
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August 17, 2012 - 5:41 am

MM - GReat article! We have the same rule for our kids (oldest is 14). I didn’t date until I was done with graduate school at 24. When I dated it was for the purpose of find a spouse. I was a virgin when I got married. There is absolutely no reason to date until you are ready for marriage. One thing though is I have never heard that definition of courtship. When people in my homeschool group talk about courtship they mean dating for the sole purpose of finding a spouse.

August 17, 2012 - 6:03 am

Shaunacey - I love the way you wrote this article. I am definately going to save this and print it out for future reading since my oldest is only 3 now. Teenage dating did nothing for me but add layers of emotional scarring that took years for me to come to peace with. I truely feel sorry for todays teens and what everyone considers “normal behaviour”.

August 17, 2012 - 9:02 am

Katie - Thank you! What a wonderful and insightful read. Being that we have one teenage son who just turned 15 and 2 much younger daughters, it is extremely helpful to find others who share our sentiment on dating. May we, as parents, be lights to those who would buckle under the pressure of modernism and mediocrity through the power of Christ Jesus!

August 17, 2012 - 9:18 am

Maria - Great article! My children range from 10-22, and this reasoning has been almost identical to ours. I also ask them if they think mommy, daddy or our priest should date. They of course say, “Ewww, no!” because they instinctively realize that they shouldn’t date if they aren’t looking to get married. This helps them understand.

You can do this, and if they know the rules early on, they’ll respect them more. One caveat, if there is a child who really LIKES someone (and we can’t control who we are attracted to) I think it’s better to arrange some ways they can see that person in a healthy setting, such as family to family get-togethers rather than a complete ban which tempts them to sneak around. But make it clear that it’s not “dating” and it shouldn’t be advertised as such to friends.

One more thing, in marriage we are romantically/sexually joined to only one person but have many friends of the opposite sex. Shouldn’t we practice that, being friends without being romantically involved?

And from one lazymom to another, it makes those teenage years WAY easier!

August 17, 2012 - 9:59 am

MaryJo - In a perfect world, I would agree with you. However, I was raised in a very conservative home, did not date anyone until I met my husband in (catholic) college. We “dated” (no physical stuff) for 1 year before we got married. We were both Catholic and virgins. And after 2 years of marriage, we were both miserable. In trying to hold our “dating” relationship up to some higher standard, we missed the boat on actually getting to know each other. Yes, we prayed together and held the same core religious beliefs, but other than that, we had nothing in common. He loved sports. I hate sports. He loved to fish. I get seasick even looking at water. And neither of us had any idea what to do sexually. It was embarrassingly awful. Yes I said awful and I am not making that up. After the first year we didn’t even try anymore. Our parents couldn’t understand why we were so miserable. Our priest said some married people might be called to a celibate life. That was when my husband moved out. He filed for an annulment and it came through several years later. So, at 30, I met someone else. I did things completely differently and we have been happily married for 25 years. You bet I am encouraging our teenage kids to date! I want them to date several people and really get to know them. Our oldest is engaged and while they are not living together and they are not sexually active, I know they have been on trips together, seen each other in good times and bad, and will have a much better chance than my first husband and I did. We still live in the same city, by the way.

August 17, 2012 - 10:30 am

Fr. Dennis Brown, OMV - Have you read the book “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” – an anointed book. There is no intimacy without commitment.

August 17, 2012 - 11:03 am

Kathleen - This is an interesting discussion. While I do not have children, I remember my own adolescence and that I did not date. It’s not that my parents didn’t allow it, they just set up an atmosphere of ‘danger’ regarding sex and boys which did not help in understanding God’s plan for male and female in a marriage. There perspective impressed upon us that boys were ‘bad’ and that we should just stay away, and that’s a shame.

Don’t get me wrong, my parents taught me and my siblings morals and values, however, when parents put this aura of ‘sex is bad’ that doesn’t help the teen understand the truth that sex is meant for marriage only.

I believe dating in the right situation for the mature well-taught teen provides an opportunity for the young guy and the young girl to learn how to treat each other with respect in social situations(for guys – chivalry -, e.g., holding doors open, pulling out her seat at the table in a restaurant, the art of conversation and really listening to what she has to say, putting the phone down and actually being a social human being, etc.).

When I got out of college I met young men who didn’t know the first thing about how to treat or talk with a girl in polite company. Chivalry was lost (and still is to some degree). The feminist movement has all but destroyed that virtue in young men. It was sad, because it turned me off to even thinking about marriage. If this was what the male population was like, maybe it’s just not worth pursuing it.

Fortunately, God steered me in the direction toward marriage and put a pure gentleman in my path. Now we are man and wife and still enjoying ‘dating’ each other.

I think it’s important for young men to learn how to treat a lady and learn discipline of himself in social situations with women. If they do not, then once they are on their own they may just go where their hormones take them.

Young women, especially of my generation (30s – 40s) are sometimes confused and struggling with men and dating because of lack of chivalry and the feminist ideals of ‘having it all’ and ‘I am woman, hear me roar’.

So I would encourage parents to instill chivalrous values and behavior in their young sons and courtesy and respect for the man in their young daughters. If this is done then dating doesn’t really have to be an ‘all bets are off’ kind of thing.

August 17, 2012 - 11:21 am

Misty - MaryJo,
I see the situation you experienced and what I’m recommending as two different things. With all due respect, I hope my children have a broader set of standards for their potential spouse than just that they be Catholic and a “nice guy/girl.” I met a woman once whose only standard was that her husband be Mormon, because she wanted to be Mormon. She ended up, like you, married to a man that she was completely incompatible with. And whose personality traits and brokenness (because even strongly faithful men can be broken) has brought years of misery to her.

I honestly don’t think MOST teenagers really understand that love is an act of the will and not just about feeling attracted to someone. I’ve had men that I was deeply attracted to, but who clearly would have made terrible spouses and fathers. There were other men who would have made great husbands, but that I wasn’t attracted to. In our marriage vows, my husband and I both talk about our friendship. Friendship, between any two set of people but especially between spouses, ought to be based on common interests, goals, and values. But this mature mindset is not something most teens have…have you really heard a teenage girl or boy be able to maturely discern whether they have a good friendship with the person they’re dating and whether that friendship is rooted in the common interests, goals, and values that will sustain a marriage?

Our goal as Catholics isn’t to shelter our children. It’s not to send them out into the adult world naive and ill-equipped to make good decisions about spouses. I would never suggest that my daughters choose a spouse based on the shallow standards of him being Catholic, reasonably attractive, and a nice guy. I have one daughter who is 10 going on 16 and as others here have said, it’s entirely possible she may be mature enough to discern her vocational call to marriage at a young age. If that’s the case, I’d happily allow her to seek a future spouse through dating as an older teen. But that’s the key here–until you’ve discerned what GOD’S call is for you in life, dating doesn’t serve a legitimate purpose. We tell our children that God could call them to religious life, marriage, or even the single life. I see advocating dating before that call is discerned as imprudent (and almost as harmful) as if I were to push my children into religious life from a young age. Marriage may not be God’s call for them. But if it is, the only way I would consent to them taking on the perils of teenage dating (and what you describe isn’t teenage dating–it’s young adult dating) is if they convinced me they had solidly discerned that call to be married and be married young.

August 17, 2012 - 11:33 am

Misty - The only other thing I’d add is that the goal is to help your children understand that while they obviously won’t be dispassionately choosing a spouse (at the very least, they need to be deeply in love!), they ought to be mature enough–and sufficiently detached emotionally–to really discern whether an individual will make a good life partner. I went into dating my husband with a mental checklist of what I wanted and didn’t want. But that was a list I compiled after years of painful, damaging experiences with other men. I’d rather my own children not have to go through what I did, but can instead look at their relationships with the opposite sex objectively enough to know whether it’s prudent to marry that person. How many times have we seen someone have a whirlwind romance (which almost always involves sexual activity) and go into marriage with someone we KNOW is going to make them miserable? It’s usually the intensity of sexual activity that makes it very difficult to really see your partner’s true character. I was sure I was going to marry half a dozen men as a teenager/young adult, but only because I was sexually involved with them and that clouded my ability to see them for what they really were: controlling, selfish, lazy, chauvinistic, exploitive. Had I started those relationships later in life and not been caught in the throes of sexual euphoria, I most likely would have seen those danger signs much earlier and saved myself a lot of pain and grief. I would have gone into my marriage with the amazing husband I have now without the trust issues I have now. But as a teenager, no one gave me any guidance on how to choose a spouse and what situations can impede my ability to make a good decision. That’s all I’m advocating here: that we give our kids the best shot of making a good decision. I personally just don’t think most teens are mature enough to make good decisions about something as important as a life partner. And with the pressure on them today, as well as their own internal desire to commune with someone they feel strongly about, I don’t want to put them in a situation with temptations they’re not ready to face down.

August 17, 2012 - 2:06 pm

E - Thanks for the article, Misty. I am a single 30 something who does not have children of my own…yet, but I wanted to take a moment to comment because this topic is so important. While I was permitted to date in high school, the situation never presented itself. After messing up in dating in college, once I graduated I read a few books, assessed a few things and determined that teens shouldn’t date. They should take the time to make friends, get to know themselves and discern what God is calling them to as their vocation. However, recently in watching my sister raise her teenage daughter, I have changed my mind. Parents teach their children all they can to prepare them for college and the rest of their adult life. Many kids leave home for college and experience freedoms they have never had before. The biggest source of freedom is the ability to be around the opposite sex and the watchful eyes of parents. I do value the concept of courtship and I have come to think that, if the high school student is mature enough, they should be permitted to “practice” courtship under the instruction of their parents so that when they leave for college, they know how to actually apply the principals of courtship once parental supervision ceases. Like I said, I don’t have children and maybe I’ll change my tune once I do, but to me, I want my children to know what courtship should look like, more than just reading a book about the topic. Life will inevitability bring various situations and I want my child to be prepared to make the choices and decisions that will uphold their dignity and that of the person whom they are courting or being courted by.

August 17, 2012 - 4:51 pm

That Hat Lady - I think you should re-think your family’s addiction to Spongebob and fast food. Allow your kids some real exercise and socialization with other devout Catholics. My 16 yo.o. daughter isn’t homeschooled, but she gets invited to social events hosted by homeschooled kids because we belong to a Teens For Life group in a very orthodox parish. They have adult chaperones at group dances. They dress up, learn ballroom dancing and develop a taste for traditional swing music. This has fostered a much-needed social life for my daughter outside of public school dances, where immodest dress, groping and dirty lyrics are the norm. Before that, she stayed home lonely.

August 17, 2012 - 11:39 pm

Practicing Mammal - I have a couple of thoughts on this. I dated as a youngish teen. I was sexually active by the age of sixteen. I married the guy as a means out of the guilt for being sexually active.

I believe this is a fairly normal response to dating young, being tempted, falling into sin, and trying to get out of the sin by “making it all okay”, in my case, by marrying someone not really fit for marriage.

I didn’t “sleep around.” In fact, I was a good girl, who was in a committed relationship ((insofar as that is possible for an unformed sixteen year old can be!), but I knew, that marrying him appeared to me at the time, to be the only way out of my guilt for having given myself away.

I can see this being a problem for good girls and bad alike, and for Christians who fall into sin. Avoid the temptation altogether! Court when you are older…

Also, our older children, now 15 to 25, all read “The ABC’s of Choosing a Good Husband/Wife set by Steve Wood. Totally appropriate reading material, addresses courtship versus dating, and lots of other questions about relationships. But, more than anything, I think these books provide awesome forum for discussion regarding relationships for older kids and their parents, with a real eye on the longer term goal of marriage.

Good stuff! Love you guys!

August 18, 2012 - 7:28 am

Jen - THANK YOU FOR THIS! As a mother of five, three of them girls, I have been very, very surprised by all of the dating I’ve been seeing lately. As a woman who dated in her early teens, got pregnant at 17 (first boyfriend, first sexual encounter…it happens people!), then had an abortion….dating should only be for when you are ready to find a spouse. That’s it! You have NO idea what you are getting into as a teenager. Sorry. It’s the truth. I have a dear friend that said this not too long ago. My oldest is 11 and as she enters jr high, I’m finding I’m having to pull her away from her old group of friends because of the laxity of the parents watching them when they are in mixed group activities. Or laxity in what the kids do because the parents aren’t watching. And don’t get me started on what girls are wearing (and boys too)…sometimes it’s all I have to not pull them aside and start with “let me tell you something about those daisy dukes and halter top you’re wearing…” I’ll get off my soap box now.
Jen recently posted..Being Catholic is not easy…and it shouldn’t beMy Profile

August 18, 2012 - 10:31 am

Elisa - I remember seeing an article about a study (forget which European country it originated) about teens dating a few years ago. One thing I remember from it was this: the chances for physical abuse increase.

August 18, 2012 - 11:32 am

Colleen - I’m 100% in agreement that kids are pushed into dating WAY too early these days. But I’m not so sure about no dating at all in high school. For most kids these days, the end of high school marks the end of living at home in a family environment. Is it really better to hold them off until they are out in the world, on their own, before they start to learn how to handle a dating/courtship relationship? There are two pretty extreme results that could come about from that – they listen to their peers and jump into a “modern” dating relationship, or they draw back in fear because they have no idea what they’re doing. I was in the latter group – in college and my later years, I would have given ANYTHING to have my mother on hand to talk to about things, help me figure out what I should be looking for in a boyfriend, and what warning signs are there. So then I ended up at the opposite end of the spectrum, jumping in without looking because I wanted to prove to myself that I COULD have a relationship with someone.

I know I’m an extreme example, but I just want to caution against an absolute rule of “no dating.” I think it’s much healthier to keep an open dialogue with your teen about what he/she is thinking about, and lay down healthy guidelines – staying in a group, don’t ignore the warning signs, think about what you’re really looking for. It’s not IMPOSSIBLE to meet the person you’re going to marry as a teenager (in fact, my sister, now 24, is getting married to her high school sweetheart). And as much as we’d like to hope, even with marriage in mind it’s most likely we won’t find “the one” on our first try. So you can’t protect them from heartache and breakups forever. But you can teach them how to learn from their relationships and grow into the person they want to be.

August 18, 2012 - 3:41 pm

Loud - Don’t tell any of the other teens, but I agree wholeheartedly with you on this. Teenage dating makes no sense. I have tried, belive me, I’ve tried, but can’t find an answer to the “where would we go from here?” question that comes with dating while your still a kid. Especially now. I have an older brother who just got married last month, though he hasn’t even known his wife for a year quite yet. If that kind of connection can be made in four or five months, then what do you do when you reach that point and your only 18? Or 17? or 16? Or worse?
It seems to me that in relationships of all kinds, the relationship either grows or withers, so when your age causes you to reach the wall, and your not old enough to jump it, you fall, and end up worse off, or broken up. Sure, love finds a way, you can recover. But why tackle re-enforced doors when they will open up anyway? All your doing is makeing ‘the person who could open it’ cringe and wait for you to stop. ‘Love is patient’, and that is what we teens need to be.
Shushhhhh!

August 19, 2012 - 11:02 am

Kitty - I have read this with interest and am quite frankly amazed at the responses. I think that the author, based on other posts i’ve read, had a pretty horribly experience as a young adult. I can see how that might bias one into thinking that a ban on dating is a good idea. However, I just don’t understand the mentality of “dating is for when you want to get married.” I had several dating relationships in my teens and twenties. They all led me to be the person I am today, and to the wonderful man who became my husband. I think dating is about learning how to interact with the opposite sex, and learning how you feel about that interaction. I agree that the early sexualization of EVERYTHING is a problem, but think that there is still room for social dating in one’s high school years and beyond. Maybe some people do meet that special someone right off, but I think most of us need a little trial and error along the way. I think that the beginning is best accomplished when you still have your parents and perhaps older siblings around to lend an ear and a shoulder. I’m in the midst of teen parenting at my house and encourage co-ed get-togethers (not overnighters) at our house. School dances are also a great opportunity to “date” a friend. I just don’t see dating as something to fear and avoid. So my good experiences have colored me just as the author’s bad experiences have colored her. A funny aside; I had a very chivalrous boyfriend in college that I knew after a few weeks wasn’t right for me, so I introduced him to my sister. They’ve been married for 10 years!

August 19, 2012 - 3:07 pm

Musing - I came from a family where we were not allowed to date until age 16. With one exception out of seven children, every single one of us learned to lie and deceive our parents, and started dating before this age. The surrounding pressure of dating added to the hormones of that age were simply too much and we all succumbed. Was that right? No of course not. But because we all knew we were lying and sneaking, the option of asking our parents for help was gone. I wasn’t able to ask my parents for help or talk about being sexually assaulted at a party at 15 because 1) I lied about where I was going and 2) I had been drinking and 3) there were boys there, one of whom I was “dating”. Because there was this strong sense of ABSOLUTELY NO DATING, I was terrified of getting punished, grounded and (deservedly, I admit!) my parents not trusting me, that I kept all of this a secret. They don’t know to this day, and I’m guessing that they shared their “dating ultimatum success” with other parents.
With my children, I don’t know what I am going to do. Certainly at the age where I am responsible for driving them around, I can have control. But once they literally can start sneaking around if they chose to, even though I would hope our relationship would be different (my parents thought ours was!) I realize that most of what I can do is just really talk about why mom and dad believe and prefer that dating is for older ages. I also pray and hope we can have the kind of relationship where if one of my kids is in a dangerous situation they will call me instead of worrying about if I will be angry or punish them.
I do agree with other commenters about early marriage…. it is our culture that has warped us into late marriage, and why should we necessarily support that? Our bodies are designed to have interest in sexual activity as teenagers, and in most traditional cultures, this is when marriage happens. How contrary to God’s design does it seem to put off marriage until mid to late 20′s or even later!

August 20, 2012 - 8:23 am

Anna - ThatHatLady- I think she was being facietious. Given the tone of the article, I’m sure Misty’s children have every opportunity to meet fellow Catholic youth. She is simply taking a different approach to their interactions.

I was homeschooled and part of a large Catholic homeschoooling youth group of about 100 teens. We did a lot together- movies, dinners, sports days, etc. Sure, there were “romantic” interests that naturally developed but never acted upon. Why? Because we weren’t looking for a spouse. It was an unspoken rule and the group dynamic helped chaperone us. When we graduated, then we talked about relationships but very few came to a dating relationship. I continued on to college and focused on that rather than dating. Sure, I had friends and social events, but I wasn’t ready to find my spouse. And when I did, he turned out to be one of my good friends. After a chaste courtship, we now are happily married with 2 children. I am grateful that I waited to seriously date. In high school, I wanted to have fun with my friends. The last thing on my mind was impressing one individual and focusing on a relationship when I wanted to just hang with my friends.

August 20, 2012 - 10:57 am

Misty - Musing,

I’m incredibly sorry to hear you were assaulted at such a young age and felt you had to go through that experience without your parents’ support and help. Yet to me, your story exhibits the wisdom of “no teenage dating” better than most. It’s clear that your judgment as a teen wasn’t the best (and isn’t for most of us) if you were lying to your parents, sneaking out, drinking, etc. I actually shared your story with my 11 year old, who said to me, “Mom, if she was doing all that without her parents’ permission, what would she have been doing WITH it?” She has a point–is it reasonable to think that allowing you to date would have eliminated the dangers you encountered, or is it more likely to have increased the dangerous situations you were in?

I also don’t think that “kids are going to do it anyway” is a valid reason for parents to permit ANY behavior in their kids. There have to be limits and expectations. Most parents have a policy of “no drinking” for their teens, yet they’re able to communicate that if the teen is in a dangerous situations, such as not having a ride home because the driver is drunk, the parent will come get them. If there is communication and parents stress that the child’s safety is the most important thing to them, even over discipline and consequences, I think most teens would go to their parents if they found themselves sexually assaulted. At least, I hope I can convey that to my own children–that there are some burdens they’re not supposed to carry alone and that some situations are so serious (such as your assault) that they need to step outside of their fear of punishment to let us help them. OF COURSE parents are going to be upset and disappointed that their child disobeyed them. But loving parents get over that when faced with their child being endangered or violated. Wise parents know the consequences are likely going to be enough of a lesson for the child not to do it again.

I don’t mean to diminish what happened to you in any way, I swear I don’t. But there are consequences for sin. A teenager–especially a Catholic one–is old enough to know that lying to his parents, drinking, and sexual activity are wrong. I tell my kids that when we choose sin, bad things often happen to us. I did many, many foolish and wrong things as a teen/young adult, and I suffered terribly for doing them. It’s only with maturity that we can look at a situation and discern whether it’s safe and healthy for us and the reality is, few teens possess that maturity.

I wonder if your situation had been different if your parents had explained all the reasons why dating/partying at such a young age is a bad idea? I mentioned the emotional consequences. Someone else mentioned that there’s a greater chance for physical violence. And your situation illustrates that sexual assault is common. At least for me, as a parent, these potential consequences are more than enough to convince me that my kids will be better served by waiting until they’re older and more mature to seek out relationships with the opposite sex.

August 20, 2012 - 11:19 am

Misty - Kitty,

I think my experiences with dating were similar to what most teens experience when dating–breakups, heartache, temptation (and often, indulging that temptation). I see some difference between what you’re describing–which is very similar to what Anna described as being her experience–and the exclusive dating scenario so common among teens today.

I think folks have the idea that I intend to isolate my children so that the first time they’re exposed to the opposite sex is when they move out of our house. When in fact what I really intend to do is have them learn to make FRIENDS first with the opposite sex, because I believe that’s the best beginning for a romantic relationship. As Janine mentioned earlier, this is something we don’t stress often enough–teaching our children to develop friendships, because the cultural expectation is that we size someone up as a potential partner upon meeting them. When dating is the norm and expectation (just as it was with my friend’s 12 yo daughter, who is homeschooled, BTW), kids have a hard time developing normal, healthy friendships with the opposite sex. I strongly do believe that even when there is a physical and exclusive attraction, building a friendship FIRST is a stronger foundation for marriage. Because it’s the friendship that will sustain your marriage through the hard times, not the sexual chemistry.

I also think it’s entirely possible to go into the world at 18, after having been taught how to be friends with both sexes, and decide (as Anna did) to date or not to date. An 18-year-old who has been taught that God’s plan for her life will unfold in God’s time will not feel so pressured to date and find a spouse right away. She may feel like that gives her the freedom to concentrate on her studies or traveling or getting established in a job. The key, as I’ve stressed before, is BEING CERTAIN you’re called to marriage at all. I’ve noticed that nowhere among the detractors here is this even a relevant question: “Is God calling me to marriage?” I do believe we’d see many more religious and single vocations if we taught our children to be open to God’s call and not to automatically assume His plan for them is marriage. Most, obviously, will be called to marriage. But maybe not…or maybe they’ll be called to later or earlier marriage. I really hope to stress to my children that they need to listen to God about the direction their life takes. And as I said, if one of my children came to me and told me they were CERTAIN they’re called to marriage as a young adult, I’d support COURTING at 17 or 18. I just don’t see the wisdom of teaching teens to “try on” partners as potential spouses so they can see what they like before settling down with the right one. Frankly, how a man treats you as a friend is a far more effective indicator of what kind of spouse he’s going to be than how he treats you while dating, when trying to impress you.

August 27, 2012 - 9:03 pm

Kristine - No high school dating is the rule here. Our oldest is now in college – and lived through it. At times it wasn’t easy (meaning I felt like a heel) but we stuck to our guns. You start to date when you’re ready to look for a mate. And no one in my house will be looking for a mate in 4th or 11th grade for that matter. Seriously. We did let her have friends over in groups with contant chaperoning. We did let her go to two homecoming dances and a prom – but they were with friends. The boys had to come to the house a few times first to spend time with our family, and we had to meet their parents. We did it lovingly and as compassionately as possible. (Because it was tough.) We purchased Jason Evert books and other printed material on chastity, etc., and left them around the house. And she picked them up on her own. One day, when driving home from a school event in her senior year, out of the blue, she thanked me. She said she saw what other girls her age were going through and was grateful she hadn’t had to deal with it. She aslo was acutely aware that most boys were much less mature than she (she was born mature). Now as a soon-to-be-junior in college, I’ve watched her approach dating with a solid sense of what she’s looking for in a mate. It’s a beautiful thing. The other children are learning from her example. And our success (so far) with the approach makes it easy to carry it on. But let’s talk about that again once I live through that practice with my oldest son – whose multitude of admirers pushes me right out of my comfort zone. Breathe. Pray. Have faith that you know what’s best.

August 28, 2012 - 2:17 pm

Eileen - I agree, dating should be used to find a spouse. However, I think blatantly stating that any teenager isn’t ready to find a spouse is close-minded. Most are not, but there are a few who are. I began dating my husband when I was 17 and a junior in high school. We are both Catholic and have a strong marriage. His parents had the attitude that “dating isn’t for teenagers.” They wanted nothing to do with me and they openly disapproved of him developing a serious relationship at such a young age. Nearly ten years and one grandchild later, their initial attitude and snide remarks about me aren’t easy to forget, and they have hindered my relationship with my in-laws and my son’s grandparents.

I think you have to really assess each individual child to know when they are ready to date. A blanket no-teen-dating policy might negatively affect not only you but your future family. Just my two cents.

August 29, 2012 - 1:08 am

Misty - I didn’t blatantly state that NO teens are ready to date. If you see, the article says several times that I’d reconsider if my older teen told me she had discerned she was 1) called to marriage and 2) called to marry young. It’s the absence of that discernment and dating purely for recreational purposes that seem anything but edifying to me.

May 20, 2013 - 9:53 am

Kayla - I myself am a teenager, and I just finished my junior high schooling. The reason I read this post was because lately I have felt more and more upset about the topic of teenage “dating”. I know that the church teaches that the purpose of dating and relationships is to find a spouse, and I solely agree with this. However, I myself have engaged in “relationships” earlier in my life. In sixth grade, I began “dating” a boy that I liked and who liked me in return. I do not attend a Catholic school, but I am from a small town (1,500+) that is predominantly Catholic (I’m assuming around 95% of the population). I would say my family is one of the more devout Catholic families in our community, and the boy I “dated” had a mother who worked as a secretary in my church’s office. Neither of us really thought of ourselves as dating, but we enjoyed feeling that we were important to each other. We hadn’t gone on dates or anything of that sort, and our “relationship” wasn’t full of drama like the other kids’ in my class. We would go and play tennis together over the summer, we went with a group of our friends to the movie theater a few times, and we went with our Church’s youth group to Holiday World, but besides that we really didn’t do much with each other besides sit next to each other at lunch. Even at that age, I understood the importance of chastity, and I didn’t even feel any yearning to do anything even semi-sexual with him. I “broke up” with him before Christmas break in 2012. There hadn’t been any drama in our relationship, I just didn’t have strong feelings for him anymore. When we came back from break (beginning of 2013) I “asked him out” again. (Yes I know I “broke up” with him for a total of about two and a half weeks) We started talking to each other more, and basically we just became better friends. I broke up with him again at the end of February, because again I didn’t “like-like” him. I knew over the whole period of time that I was “dating” him that it wasn’t a real relationship. We both knew that it wasn’t like we were going to get married or anything like that. I posted this because I feel like relationships in junior high aren’t really “relationships”, they are just ways for kids of the opposite sex to get to know one another better. It’s perfectly normal for kids my age to develop feelings for people that are more than just friendships. I mean, it’s still a friendship, but it’s a closer friendship. I feel like you should let your children “date”, but just make sure that they understand that it’s not anything serious. My “boyfriend” and I weren’t in love, and we both knew that, and we didn’t even particularly like the title of “boyfriend” and “girlfriend” that we had, but we still enjoyed spending time with each other. I feel like if you tell your children that they can’t “date”, then they’ll feel like they can’t even develop friendships with kids of the opposite sex. Some of my best friends are boys, but I don’t feel the need to “date” them. I’m not, and never was, an insecure person, and I didn’t have family issues, so I didn’t/don’t use boys as an escape from my own personal issues. I currently like a boy in the class above me, but I don’t feel any yearning to “do” anything with him. Obviously, being a teenage girl with raging hormones, I yearn for a man in my life, but I have been taught and I recognize the fact that I can’t just bow into these wishes. There isn’t even any particular boy in my community even that I can picture myself spending the rest of my life with. There’s nothing wrong with teenage dating, just as long as the kids involved recognize the importance of chastity and the true meaning of a relationship.

October 18, 2013 - 8:56 pm

Marie - Speaking as a teenager who has had a few ‘homeschooler relationships” (pure, no dating, but still emotionally involved) this is amazing! It’s true that a girl can feel like she doesn’t deserve unconditional love after being dumped a few times; I struggle with the same feelings myself. But I know that if God wills me to get married I will bring up my daughters in a family that will discourage these immature, shortsighted, unnecessary, and ultimately hurtful “relationships.” I was under the impression once upon a time that Catholicism discouraged having feelings for someone of the opposite gender until you reach the “marrying age,” but I’ve come to realize that a girl could be very attracted to and greatly admire a guy, no problem there- the problem is when she acts on these feelings prematurely. Keeping those feelings to yourself is a WONDERFUL sacrifice for your future spouse, whether he ends up being someone completely different who you meet later, or- the less likely alternative- he ends up being your highschool crush. (it’s not impossible!) So thank you for this lovely post- and I wish you the best of luck with your daughters, Misty! <3

May 12, 2014 - 7:59 am

Kevin - Dating even at a young age has become a cultural mandate in this day and age. Your insights show the uneasiness that is caused by premature relationships and touch on some of the reasons why. The term ‘dating’ is loaded with expectations that are unrealistic and possibly damning to those practicing. Instead of having just a ‘best’ friend, there needs to be the stigma of a romantic encounter on top of it by using the term ‘dating’. Viewing the situation from a spousal point of view, it makes perfect sense not to get involved until it is possible to act on the impulse and get married. I believe however that the general public views dating more as a recreational thing. The desensitization that you clearly illustrate has become a way of life, either via movies, books, music… I have even seen parents that vicariously live through their daughter’s or son’s exploits with the opposite sex. The danger comes as you have so aptly put, when children on the cusp of adulthood begin engaging in roles they will embrace in the future while their focus is still on themselves. Good relationships require caring more for the other person than towards oneself. In the teenage years, while it may feel like it is about the other person, the motive is what they themselves can get out of the pseudo relationship. This can have damaging effects on future relationships. Another point is that once being placed into a romantic encounter, getting to know the other person gets put on hold. It is better to get to know the other person and what their likes and dislikes are, prior to becoming romantic. Dating needs to come after getting to know the person and not before. The backwards way we as a society view dating is all about selfishly having fun and what we get out of it for ourselves. Love on the other hand embraces serving the other person, selflessly. Sadly, we are not going to change the culture on this point because it is a type of addiction that feeds selfish desire especially in those just learning to identify who they will become. Kudos to you and your blog; this is a dialog that needs to be broached for the sake of our children.

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