Most teens today are drawn to the concept of dating or going out because it makes them feel grown up and popular. It’s flattering to be liked by someone, especially in the cruel world of junior high. By high school, these same teens are so accustomed to possessing a boyfriend or girlfriend that they feel lost without one.

Unless they are challenged to think otherwise at an early age, they will assume that pairing up in guy-girl romantic relationships is normal. That is why dating is such a trap for teens, especially during the early years of adolescence. Without any restraints, kids can be led by their emotions and hormones into a multitude of mistakes.

There are four convictions that you should challenge your teen to embrace as you work to shape his convictions about dating.

1. Focus on building friendships rather than romantic relationships with the opposite sex.

An obvious starting point for training in this area is to discuss the purpose of a date. (We recommend you use the Dating Questionnaire found in the Unforgettable Lesson in chapter eight of Parenting Today’s Adolescent.) After you have worked through the Dating Questionnaire, ask your child a few more questions, like:

  • Why do your peers at school go out?
  • What does it mean to go out?
  • What do your friends do who go out?
  • Do they hold hands, kiss, hug?
  • Why do they do those things?
  • Do you think it is wise for them to do that?

Your teen needs to understand that the purpose of dating is to find someone to marry. Therefore, until he is much older, his focus should be on building friendships, not romantic emotional attachments, with the opposite sex.

As parents we need to wisely steer our teens to a higher calling—that of waiting to date until they are much older. In the mean time, parents need to build the protective boundaries and provide healthy alternatives.

First of all, make your home the place to be. Help your son or daughter build several strong same-sex friendships. Encourage those relationships. Let these groups of girls or guys do fun things together. Then when they are old enough to begin doing mixed-group activities, be involved in planning those, emphasizing the friendships.

Try not to let the groups be evenly matched with boys and girls so they don’t think they are to pair off. Another good protective measure is to include siblings. Plan something for your seventh- and ninth-grader together, for instance. It’s healthy, more family oriented and less likely to lead to pairing off.

Also, begin to tell your teens about the process of trusting God to give you a mate. Share how God brought you and your spouse together. Talk about the benefits of the single years, and how they need to commit themselves to growing in Christ until God leads them to someone. Give them the goal of becoming the right person rather than finding the right person. In addition, talk about the qualities they should look for in a mate.

2. Accept parental involvement in dating relationships.

Help your child to understand that as his parent, you have been appointed by God as the protector of his innocence, the guardian of his purity, and the gatekeeper to his soul. Therefore, your involvement in his dating relationships is a necessity. This involvement can take several different forms:

Help your child learn to avoid compromising situations. The Scriptures tell us to “flee immorality.” Train your teen to keep his distance from situations that could tempt him to make wrong choices.

Our teens, for example, have had a hard time understanding why we will not allow them to take someone of the opposite sex to their upstairs bedrooms. In their minds, why is taking a friend who is a boy upstairs any different than taking a friend who is a girl? One reason we’ve shared with our children, which refers to many other situations as well, is to avoid any appearance of evil or wrongdoing. It’s based on the idea from Scripture that believers are to be above reproach.

Another Rainey family rule is that no one comes to our house when a parent is not home, and our children don’t go to another child’s home when his parents are gone. This rule has been easy to transfer to boy-girl situations, because for our teens it’s nothing new. The rise of two-income families has allowed a lot of teen couples to become intimate because there’s no one home after school.

Hold him accountable for what he does on dates. When your teen does go on a date, don’t hesitate to find out what the plans are in detail. Know who the teens are, who is driving, and where they will be going, and agree clearly on what time they are to be back. Then spend some time the next day debriefing with him.

Play the Decide in Advance game. Even though your child may just be a preteen, start rehearsing different situations he or she may face later. What should a girl say to a boy who wants to park with her late at night? What should a boy do if a girl starts making moves on him? What should your daughter do if her date refuses to let her go unless she gives in to him? (Date rape is a big issue today on college campuses, and is occurring in high school as well.) The best time to make these types of decisions is long before they might occur. The worst time is in a car with a boy or girl whispering in your teenager’s ear.

When she was 13, Ashley found herself in a situation with a boy whom she liked as a friend. He told her he wanted to kiss her.

“Well, I’m not going to let you,” she replied.

He was surprised and said, “Well, I’m going to do it anyway.”

“No, you’re not.”

“Yes, I am.”

Ashley looked sternly at him and said, “You are not going to kiss me because you are like a reed blowing in the wind, and I am like a steel pole set in concrete.”

What a line! She held her ground and prevailed.

Finally, don’t be afraid to step in to limit the scope of a dating relationship.

Far too many parents are backing off when they should be stepping in. Two of our teens began to get involved in a boy-girl relationship that became too exclusive and too serious in their later years of high school. We encouraged them to back off and put some distance in the relationships. We repeatedly sought to help them understand that they were becoming too emotionally attached.

Initially, our teens felt defensive about our observations. We had to put some limits on time spent together to help them pull back to more of a friendship. In one of the relationships we insisted they break up and stop all communication. It was most difficult, but it was clearly the right thing to do. Our son agrees today, but at the time he had a hard time seeing it.

3. Treat members of the opposite sex wisely and honorably.

We often tell our teenagers, “When you go out with someone, you’re going out with either your future mate or someone else’s future mate.” It helps our children treat the opposite sex with dignity and honor.

4. A track record of doing the right thing, even when no one else is around, earns parental trust and increasing freedom.

It has become increasingly important for our children to develop some very fundamental convictions as they move into junior high and high school. Our children must be in the process of determining where they stand morally on issues related to dating and sex before they are given the freedom to attend a party, dance, school function, or go on a double date.

This doesn’t mean that their convictions are fully in place, nor does it mean that they have perfectly obeyed us in the process. It just means that they are taking the steps to grapple with and develop their own set of beliefs to live by.

They must demonstrate that they are responsible, teachable, and accountable. We aren’t looking for perfection, but for progress and for a desire to do what’s right.

Adapted from Parenting Today’s Adolescent: Helping Your Child Avoid the Traps of the Preteen and Teen Years. Copyright 1998 by Dennis and Barbara Rainey. Used by permission of Thomas Nelson, Inc., Publishers.