If you’re a parent of teenagers, you’ve probably noticed a growing interest in your teen’s desire to date. Where do you start? What questions should you be asking? And how do you balance boundaries with love in your teen’s dating experiences?
Imagine if dating were an incredibly healthy thing that truly prepared people to love another person well? Is that possible?
As a parenting expert and therapist, I often get asked the question, “should my teen date”? It’s a complicated question. There can be a lot of pain and fear behind that question. In fact, there have been many couples that have struggled into their adult relationships because of negative momentum that carried over from their teen dating years.
As you can probably tell, some teens are ready for healthy dating, and some are not. You might have a different understanding of dating from your teen.
Did you know that approximately 40% of couples now meet online?
Some would say that it is just to have some fun and to not take it so seriously. While others would say it is quite sacred and should be taken very seriously. So who is right? Can it be both?
Personal Tales from When My Teens Dated
I have enjoyed traveling the journey toward healthy dating with my two teens and several teens I have counseled over the past two decades. “Healthy dating” is a broad and subjective term. Dating in high school can be filled with excitement and drama but also various boundaries and intentions.
Think back to when you started dating. Are your memories good or shameful? You can probably remember that dating can take you on a rollercoaster ride mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. In fact, researchers explain that dating’s impact on the brain is as if you are “under the influence” when you are “in love.”
Teen Dating as a Contributor or a Consumer
I can still remember the first time my son asked me and my wife when he could start dating. Prior to him asking, we had opened up many ongoing conversations on friendships, sex, attraction, and relationships from two points of view: consumer and contributor.
Being a Consumer
- Consumers can ACT friendly, kind, loving, compassionate, and other prosocial ways in order to get something.
- In other words, they are transactional and self-focused in their approach to dating and can leave people feeling used, manipulated, and hurt.
- Consumers tend to be mainly motivated by GETTING something.
Being a Contributor
- Contributors, on the other hand, ARE friendly, kind, loving, compassionate, and prosocial out of love for the other person.
- This approach sees the other person as valuable and someone with a future worth preserving.
- They are others-focused and do things for the benefit of the other. They tend to create histories they treasure and enjoy remembering.
- Contributors focus on GIVING over receiving.
What’s the Real Point of Teen Dating?
Culture naturally trains people to be consumers within dating. What if parents began to intentionality shift the momentum by training their kids how to be contributors in a dating relationship?
In my experience, my kids have gotten to fill out a Dating Contract for two reasons. Firstly, to think through the purpose of dating. And, secondly, to make sure they are ready to be a healthy contributor rather than a consumer of a person through dating.
Proverbs 15:31-33 says, “The ear that listens to life-giving reproof will dwell among the wise. Whoever ignores instruction despises himself, but he who listens to reproof gains intelligence. The fear of the Lord is instruction in wisdom, and humility comes before honor.
If our teens followed this principle, I’m confident we would have healthier foundations to future homes and families throughout the world. To build this foundation in your teen’s life, explore more key principles to being a contributor in teen dating.
6 Principles of Being a Contributor in Teen Dating
Focus on these six principles while using the dating contract with your teen:
Paul talks about the importance of a humble mind when it comes to relationships. Research points to the fact that humility helps a person be more satisfied with the relationship and to have the motivation to maintain and repair relationships.
Let your teen know that you want them to have highly satisfying and enjoyable relationships. Humility allows for love to exist and grow while pride crushes love and relationships.
Along with humility, God uses Paul to give insight regarding the importance of empathy in relationships. The “new self” is a loving and honest self that truly cares about others. In teen dating, empathy can lead to compassion, patience, understanding, kindness, and love. All of these are incredible ingredients that can help a teen learn true intimacy apart from passion.
Researchers have validated that empathy leads to better communication, less conflict, and more feelings of love and satisfaction.
Keep in mind, though, that research also suggests that because teens can be very empathic, they might experience loneliness if their dating relationship starts to experience difficulties. Especially if a more empathetic teen dates a less empathetic teen. So, talk through how they will know it is time to leave a relationship, if necessary, and how they will take constructive feedback.
Self-control helps establish trust and contributes to the health of teen dating relationship. It’s about learning to manage and navigate what Robert Sternberg calls the “Triangle of Love.” The Triangle of Love includes passion on one corner and intimacy and commitment on the other two.
Many teens get stuck on passion, get physical, and their brain gets addicted to the dopamine rush of sexual contact. Help your teen understand that self-control in his or her passion provides room for them to learn how to have spiritual, emotional, conversational, and relational intimacy as they establish trust toward a committed relationship.
Self-control is foundational to a loving and connected dating relationship that is centered on trust and care for the other person.
Self-awareness leads to respect when understood in the context of being a contributor. Help your teen develop awareness of his or her own intentions, motivations, and emotions.
All of these can lead to consuming another person to get something. To combat this outcome, the Dating Contract provides a template to discuss your teen’s deeper thoughts and perceptions instead of focusing on simply doing the right behaviors.
Ask your teen when they are most tempted and what they do in response to their temptations. What places, times, situations, emotions make them most vulnerable to making poor decisions.
For instance, self-control decreases as the day progresses and your teen may notice that alone time late at night with their date leads to many sexual temptations. Help them be aware of these things as they learn to make decisions. Healthy self-awareness helps a person be more relational and genuinely connected.
Trust is foundational to all relationships. In the Garden of Eden, Satan put trust into question to destroy closeness and intimacy. Make sure your teen understands that trust is their most precious possession they get to maintain and guard.
Having the title of “trustworthy” is extremely commendable and admirable. Ask yourself: does the culture in our home encourage trustworthiness as an amazing goal to pursue?
Freedom and love require boundaries, because it protects us and others from ourselves. Selfishness and pride need boundaries to be redirected to healthy love, genuine humility, and sound wisdom. Help your teen embrace boundaries as a way to maintain freedom and trust.
Take time to discuss the negotiable and non-negotiable boundaries in teen dating. Psalm 119 talks about the love of boundaries to help keep the soul safe.
Final Thoughts on Teen Dating
As you pray for wisdom and guidance throughout this season, take time to celebrate your pre-teen/teen’s growth along the way. Help them notice their victories and revisit the dating contract whenever it makes sense in your conversations. The contract is there to help guide the conversation and provide rails for guidance and growth.
Remember that this is about your child learning what it says in John 7:37-38 where Jesus says, “On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, asthe Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” You’re guiding your child toward being life-giving to those around them, including in their dating relationship. The journey will most likely require grace and forgivenessalong the way. It will be imperfect and the goal is maturity and health as they learn how to be life-giving in their relationships.
You can download the dating contract as a starting point to establishing trust and constructive conversations with your child and they learn to develop the gift of genuinely loving another person.
For more practical parenting tips, visit www.focusonparenting.com
Published on Thursday, January 19, 2023 @ 5:54 PM EDT