During one particular season of the year our family has a hard time holding Family Home Evenings on Monday nights. So during that season we hold them on Sunday nights. Tonight’s was especially enjoyable and significant. We invited our four youngest children (ages twelve down to five) to teach our sixteen-year-old about dating.
When we suggested the idea to our youngest four, one of them said, “How can we teach anything about dating? We’ve never even been on a date!” And, yes, that’s a pretty good point. But not good enough to get them out of the assignment. Here’s why: For the Strength of Youth…
I know that the way Mormon youth date makes Mormons a bit different than many other people in the world, but we’re ok with that. In fact, I’m thankful for it. Yes, Mormon youth date a little differently than others. Here are a few things our children taught our oldest, and they come from the standards taught by prophets and apostles:
- Dating is about developing social skills, making friendships, having fun, and eventually finding a spouse. In our church, dating isn’t really about sex (which seems to be much of the goal for many if social media is any indicator). We hope it is a little less dramatic or adult-oriented. There will be years and years and years full of intimacy after marriage, so we’re in no rush. We also believe youth shouldn’t start dating until they are 16 years old. Certainly there are youth who are emotionally ready to date a bit early, and some who aren’t really ready to date until a bit later, but our prophets have taught the youth that 16 is a good “line in the sand” for dating, and wise youth also look for ways to follow the teachings of prophets, yes, even in their dating decisions.
- We don’t really believe that dating, during the teenage years, ought to develop into serious relationships. This is a tough one for some youth since the media focuses so heavily on serious relationship in high school. But it seems as though developing too serious of relationships too early closes a young person off to a wide variety of fun relationships and can possibly lead to sexual experiences that youth aren’t really ready to have. In our family, we have the expectation that our children will not date the same person twice in a row (This isn’t a commandment/law/rule in our church, just an expectation in our family), and that our children (and the parents) will be aware of how frequently they are dating one particular person over an extended period of time. This helps with #1 above.
- We really feel like young people have an obligation to protect one another’s virtue on a date. That makes it important for our teenagers to choose to date people who will make it easy to live their personal standards. Luckily, there are many, many youth in high school that are committed to high moral standards inside and outside the LDS religion.
I suppose that some of these standards may seem a bit confining relative to what is depicted on television, in movies, and on Twitter. But in my experience, most LDS youth have a pretty good understanding of these standards and don’t feel too limited. Certainly there are a number of Mormon teenagers who disregard these standards and principles, but the youth who seem to be most at peace in high school also seem to be striving to live these standards.
Here are a few principles and thoughts that support the principles taught in For the Strength of Youth:
- Youth needn’t be in such a hurry to experience the adult side of life. If a teenager will spend their teenage years following these standards, they will still have ample time to develop serious dating relationships, fall deeply in love, increase the appropriate level of physical intimacy, court, be engaged, and be a married couple. There is no rush!
- There is an expectation that many of the youth in our church will serve as full-time missionaries in their late teens and/or early twenties. During missionary service there are fairly strict rules regarding relationships between men and women (the purpose is to remain fully focused and committed to the work of serving others and sharing the gospel). At this point in many missions men and women will be working together while sharing the gospel and they need to be able to not develop romantic or dating relationships with each other while serving as missionaries. High school is a great place to practice spending time together with other attractive, smart, successful people without having to develop serious dating relationships. If a youth can do it now, they can do it as missionaries!
- High school is an almost perfect place to develop self-discipline. Hollywood would have one believe that if a person develops romantic feelings for another, those feelings ought to be acted upon with very little hesitation. This is a false notion. If a young person can resist developing serious relationships with every person they find themselves attracted to, they will be more able to do the same once they are married.
- Finally, the teenage years are complicated enough as it is. As I’ve watched youth through the years, the ones who lighten up when it comes to dating (meaning they avoid serious relationships, they date a lot of people and make a lot of friends, and they avoid serious physical intimacy) seem to be more confident, less stressed, less dramatic, and bring less baggage into their future marriages than those who ignore the teachings of the prophets.
I loved watching our younger children be the teachers. Our sixteen-year-old was very encouraging and supportive of his little siblings’ efforts. As parents, we’re pretty excited to enter this stage of life!