Ben Stuart gives some guidelines for parents to consider as they prepare their kids for the dating years.
Ben Stuart gives some guidelines for parents to consider as they prepare their kids for the dating years.
Michelle: Parents, you have a difficult job. I mean, you're rearing the next generation, and some of them are glued to their phone; some of them mouth off to you; and all disobey. But Ben Stuart says there's more to your job than getting them to behave—much more.
Ben: Part of parenting is giving people wisdom, and what is wisdom? It's understanding how the world works and how to work within it, and kids usually have a very narrow view of their world. So, as parents, if we've cultivated an environment where we can have ongoing conversations, then, yes, I can start to ask, “Well, what would you be dating for? Well, who's dating people? How's that going for him? What is it that they have that you think is advantageous?” And, “I don't know that this is such a good idea to do this or that,” and kind of help them reason their way there.
Michelle: Okay, parents, you're going to want to listen up, because Ben Stuart is going to share some wisdom in parenting and also help you get your kids ready for the dating world. That's coming up next on FamilyLife This Week.
Welcome to FamilyLife This Week. I'm Michelle Hill.
I was talking with a friend last week some time. She was sharing about her son who's in school, and he was minding his own business in between classes one day, and all of a sudden, this girl walks up to him and just starts having this conversation like they’re girlfriend and boyfriend; like their dating each other. Now, her son had done nothing to lead this girl on at all. Does that story sound familiar to you at all?
Okay, well, here's the kicker. This boy and this girl? They're in first grade. We're having to have conversations with our children about dating a whole lot sooner than we ever thought we would. Now, I know that this story might be a little extreme, but I think it's happening more often than not.
So parents, we need to help our kids live with wisdom now, and we need to start having some of these conversations—relational conversations—with our children. So I turned to Ben Stuart. He's a pastor and author, and, in fact, he wrote the book, Single, Dating, Engaged, Married. He loves to work with young adults and especially likes to help them on this topic of dating.
Here's my conversation with Ben Stuart:
Michelle: Okay, so I am going to start off with a hard question for you today, Ben.
Ben: Oh, man!
Michelle: And that is, how do parents help guide their kids in the dating world? How do they talk to their young adults about dating today, because it's different than when their parents were dating?
Ben: Well, it's fascinating that you're asking me this, because I have done some conferences recently, and I did one—I was the only guy at a women's conference.
Michelle: How did that feel?
Ben: Fantastic! They're wonderful women; but I sat in the back where everyone that was teaching at it was together, and any time around people, I'm like, “What are you doing with your kids? How are you talking to your kids?!”
And you realize, all of us are doing this, because none of us know the rules anymore. The game has changed so much, because technology has changed so much. And so I think where it starts is, early and often, having a conversation about technology, because that's been the biggest factor that's changing the nature of dating lately; and it's changing in a lot of different ways, but one of the ways that's going to tie into young kids—elementary and junior high—is, “What are you going to encounter online?” And “What is it telling you?”
And, for young men, you know the statistics now for young men between the ages of eighteen and (I want to say) twenty five—I mean, one of the most recent studies says that 86 percent of men are saying they're looking at pornography once a month; almost 50 percent in the last week.
Michelle: And how early does that start?
Ben: That data is guys in their twenties. I read another reporter, out of Britain a little while ago, that, you know, it's beginning around age eleven that you're encountering it, you know? But as soon as you get online, you can start encountering things you're not looking for; but the repeated exposure to pornography overtime—now we're finally getting intel on what it’s doing to young men, and it is really affecting their ability to socialize; to look people in the eye; and to treat women not as objects.
And so, how young men perceive young women and talk to them is being shaped by this thing. And so I would say it backs up earlier than just eleven, twelve, or thirteen, of saying, “How do I protect my kids from times on screen so they can learn how to socialize in a healthy way with other human beings?” Because porn is messing with how young men see women. It's also messing with young women. Was it Gail Dines who called it the pornification of young girls?
Ben: They're saying, “My value—I'm looking for worth. I'm looking for value, and I'm seeing it comes from my overt sexuality.” And so you have to start talking them early on like, “Hey, let's look at what you're looking at on screens, and what's it telling you about what a woman is or what makes woman valuable?” And so I think the conversation’s about what you're seeing and the message they're sending—that's where it starts.
Michelle: That's good. Are you teaching that with your children right now? Because you have a what? An eight and a nine year-old?
Ben: Well, seven, six and three.
Michelle: Oh, seven, six and three!
Ben: Yeah, but I'll tell you honestly, it starts now. It does.
Ben: Because you watch with kids now, and you see it, even at this age: how do they learn to interact with people? I would have guys come up to me and say, “So if I think I like a girl, I should just talk to her?” I was like—
Ben: Yeah, man. Yeah, And it was that a lot! But [it’s a] text-based culture, it's not—your not—used to having conversation with somebody, or even how to initiate it. And I realized, “I'm not mad at you. No one taught you this.” So for my kids, it's screens down in the couple of hours we have in the home, you know, before you go to bed, and, “Let's talk to each other and have conversations and sit at the table.”
Ben: And we really do this as a family. We sit around at dinner, and say, “What was the best thing that happened today? What was the worst thing that happened today? How did this go?” You know what? My kids do that to people! [Laughter] I watch my kids do it to other kids: “Hey, tell me about your day! What happened today?”
Michelle: That’s funny!
Ben: And I was talking to a buddy of mine. He's got teenage daughters, and he was like, “We do the same thing, Ben!” And he goes, “You know what's crazy? Their friends come over, and their friends want to hang out at our dinner table.” He said, “You know why they do? It’s because we talk.”
Ben: And they're like—and their friends will say it: “This is crazy. Your phones aren’t out.” And it's just socializing and humanizing people. And I think what we're seeing in the culture today is a lack of empathy, because we're not humanizing other people.
Michelle: Yes, and it seems like, online, there are so many diverse ways that we're using online. I mean, they can go through the social media apps; they could stumble onto porn; they can stumble on to so many different areas that it's scary.
Michelle: It's very scary.
Ben: Yeah, and so I think cultivating a culture of dialogue in your family is really good. I was talking with a guy the other day, and I didn't ask his permission to tell, but you would all know who he is. [Laughter] Like a really influential guy who raised great kids.
And we were talking about that; and he was like, “You know what, man? We just always had dinner at our table, and our kids knew, we're going to talk about everything. They just got used to that: ‘Mom and Dad talk about everything!’
And when our daughters were interested in a guy, it was like, ‘Well, of course he's coming over for dinner!’ And ‘Of course, he's going to sit here, and we're gonna all talk, and he's going to interact with our social dynamic. And then, yes, of course, he and Dad are going to go.’”
And they just knew that, and they knew their dad wouldn't like swagger and feel weird and try to bully this kid, but they're like, “Of course, Dad is going to say to him what we've always talked about, which is ‘Hey, you and my daughter are about to go to this dance, and I know the way some people dance, grinding on each other. You're just trying to arouse each other sexually. And I don't know that you love her. I don't know that you want to marry her, so I really don't want you to use her sexually; so I'm asking you not to put your hands all over my daughter.’ And just looking at him real directly; not being threatening, but telling him, “Hey, I’m going to ask you about it later tonight when you bring her home.’”
And these young men wanted to be around. They’re like, “This guy is talking to me like I’m a man.”
Ben: “And he's being a man. And he's not being—he’s not being—rude. He's not trying to bully me. He's just trying to help me rise up to be a good human.” And his daughters liked it. You know, they would kind of roll their eyes, but they also loved it. They felt safe.
Michelle: Well, there's that respect there. That's what it sounds like.
Michelle: This is a respectful conversation.
Ben: To everybody involved!
Ben: And that's where I think—you know, CS Lewis talked about it once like, “Why do kids not like coming home?” He said, “Listen to conversation sometime, and imagine if it was between people that weren't parent and child. If your tone is disrespectful; if your way of responding to them is condescending, of course they don't hang out with you.”
And I think about that with my kids. I always want to talk to them in a way that’s respectful; that's genuinely interested in what they're interested in. So, you know, for my son, he's three, and Batman is all consuming. And so, when he's all fired up about the next Batman thing: “I'm with you, man!”
Ben: “I care about what you care about!” Because when suddenly it's a girl, “Dad always cares about what I care about. He always wants to hear about it.”
I don't want them to think I don't really care, because when they think Dad doesn't care, when something big or scary comes up, they're not going to bring it to me. You know what I mean?
Ben: And I want them to always feel like they can bring stuff to me, and that's cultivated early on in, “Hop in the car! Come with me.”
Michelle: That’s important.
Ben: “Let's walk together. Let’s take rides together.”
Michelle: So that's Part One of my conversation with Ben Stuart. We need take a quick break, but we'll be back in two minutes. Stay tuned.
[Radio Station Spot Break]
Welcome back to FamilyLife This Week. I’m Michelle Hill. I'm talking to Ben Stuart today and, you know, there's this hard issue: if dating is for those who are ready to get married, then should we allow our teens to date? That's a hard issue. That's a hard question. And so I'm trying to stump Ben Stuart and figure out just what all he knows. Here's Part Two of my conversation with Ben Stuart.
Michelle: So for the dad or the mom who all of a sudden hears from their fifteen year-old, “Jake at school is interested in me. Can I go out on a date?” I mean, how do you go back and reverse all of that?
Ben: Oh, man, yeah, that's tough, folks. Well, you know, I'll give you a general principle, and then we can play with, kind of, the winds and mirrors, you know?
Michelle: Okay, sure.
Ben: Like at the end of Song of Solomon, you know, there's that question that’s from brothers raising a sister?
Ben: “What do we do!?”
Ben: And, you know, they come up with this metaphor, you know, like “If she's a wall, we’ll adorn her with battlements.” You know? [Laughter] “If she's a door, we're going to bar it shut.”
Basically, they're saying it really depends on the character of our sister. Like if she has a good defense against guys that are losers, then we're going to be more inclined to kind of bless that and adorn that. But if she does not have a good sifting criteria of who's a good guy or not, then we're going to be more protective.
So to me, that's the general principle is you're also watching your kid, and going all of parenting is mitigating exposure. If it's all protection, you form a weak kid. If it's all exposure, you really damage that kid. So parenting is constantly protect and expose, protect and expose. And you have to look and go, “What can my kid handle?”
And you may have a girl that you can just tell emotionally is really figuring out a lot about herself and unsure about it all. And then some boy with a lot of popularity suddenly shows great interest in her, and you may just say, “Hey, sweetie, I don't think that's a good idea. I don't think the two of you need to be off alone together. I do not think you need to be in his house. I don't think you need to be alone in this car. Hey, that's not what we're going to do as a family. If you want to have him over, great! And y’all can visit out in the backyard . . . by a huge window!” You know, that kind of thing.
Ben: But if she's like a wall and you go, “You know what, she's got it straight,” then you would still probably say, “Y’all don't need to be alone for long periods of time. You don't need to be off alone. People need to know where you are.” But you may have a daughter who's like, “Of course!” And you say, “Okay, well, then y’all can go to a movie and then come back.”
But some of that is really by the time they're fifteen. I mean, you read the book of Proverbs. The way the dad's talking to the kid—it’s less authoritarian, and it's more counsel; pleading with him.
Ben: And that kid was thirteen, you know what I mean?
Ben: So to me, whenever I read Proverbs, I'm like, I have to build a relationship where
I'm talking my son like this; not just, “Hey, stay away from sexual brokenness.”
Ben: But like, “Hey, son, here's how it's gonna come at you, and here's how you need to think about that.”
Michelle: That's a good point. That’s a very good point, because I know, for me, as I was raised and also as I am a person now, when people say, “Don't do. . .”
I'm always like, “Oh, what are you talking about? Could I go up to that line there?”
Michelle: But if they come alongside and they say, “But watch out,” or “Here's why,” or you know, walk alongside of you rather than “Don't do!”
Ben: Yes, yes.
Michelle: It’s hard.
Ben: We even tried it with my daughter recently. There's a kid that was picking on her at school, and she was really distressed about it emotionally. And so we were just like, “Man, what are some of the options?” And I was like, “Well, I mean, you know, you could punch her in the face.” My wife kind of looked at me, and I was like, “I'm just saying that's an option on the table, you know,” Like, “Hey, if she's coming at you—” And my daughter started laughing, and she was like, “No, Dad, I don't want to hit her.” And I was like, “Alright, well, you know, it's on the table, but yeah, I'm kind of with you; you probably don't want to do that. So what are some other options?”
And I wanted her to feel empowered. “You have options. You're not just a victim. You can make decisions.” And so she landed on the best options she had: “I walk away. I tell a teacher.” And I can’t—but I'm helping her kind of build the tools to process, “What are my options, and what's the best one?”
Ben: And I think what I've seen with teenage kids and dating, I think helping them see, “What's the point of dating?” So when someone says, “I want to go on a date,” you go, “What's the point? What I would say is, dating is an evaluation process; evaluating what? “Do I want to marry that person?”
So if you're in high school, what I ask people is: are you ready to get married? “No.”
Then why are you trying to hurry up and expedite this? Because all you're doing is positioning yourself in a place where you're going to try to import some sexual benefits while holding off commitment, you know?
Michelle: But the fifteen year-old is going to say, “But I have this pressure on me, because all my friends are dating,” you know?
Michelle: So how do we even try to coach them through that?
Ben: Yeah, it's—it is tricky. I mean, then, honestly, you're looking and going, “Man! The circumstances are so varied in how this could play out.”
Ben: But that's where I think part of parenting is giving people wisdom. I mean, what is wisdom? It's understanding how the world works and how to work within it; and kids usually have a very narrow view of their world. So, as parents, if we've cultivated an environment where we can have ongoing conversations, then yes, I can start to ask you: “Well, what would you be dating for? Well, who's dating people? How's that going for them? What is it that they have that you think is advantageous?” And, you know, “I don't know that this is such a good idea to do this or that,” and kind of help them reason their way there.
Ben: I did this the other day. I spoke with a group of college students, and I was talking about how technology has changed so fast. And I said, “Imagine not having a social media world to curate, that you had to constantly keep up, and update, and whatever.” My landing was going to be, “That's how most human beings have lived, always.” But before I could say that statement, they started cheering.
They started cheering! And so, as parents, that's why I think we have to go, “Hey, you know what? I'm gonna give you a break from this. Hey, for these three hours in our home, we put the phones down. I know that means you'll miss this or that the other; but watch after a week or a month, and you'll realize you're still alive socially. You're not dead in the water. And you’ll actually be a more socialized human.”
Online's not all bad for your kid, but we as parents need to go, “Hey, we're going to turn it off.”
Ben: “And I'm gonna parent you here for a minute. And hey, at five o'clock, all the phones land on the counter in the kitchen, and from five to eight, we're taking a break.”
Michelle: So we've been talking about dating. We've been talking about socialization. Now, on the flip side of dating is singleness.
Michelle: Well, I guess you're single when you're dating.
Ben: Right, right, right.
Michelle: But when I was growing up, my parents never prepared me for a single life.
Michelle: And I'm not saying, you know, forever, but just for even a few years out of college, I was never prepared. And I don't know of anyone who has been prepared.
How can we prepare our young people for those single years?
Ben: Yeah, well, I think it was huge for me when I was 22 or 23, and read, you know, Paul in 1 Corinthians, about singleness being a gift. That was usually said with a sigh in the church.
Michelle: Oh, I know, because it's like, “I just want to give it back! That's not a Christmas gift I want.”
Ben: Yeah, exactly; but then, you know, he said it's to secure an undistracted devotion to the Lord. And I just remember really sitting in that, because I had always felt like (when I was in college) people were like waiting by the well; just waiting for that person. Some of that mentality was good, about being patient. But it was—it kind of, in my context, created this mentality of like, “You're basically waiting to get married, and singleness is this waiting tank and, I don’t know, “Let’s play some video games, hang out and throw something off a bridge. Let's just wait around ‘til we get married.”
And that sentence blew me up! Oh, it is about securing an undistracted devotion to the Lord. That that relationship’s the primary one, and every other one was going to flow out of that one. So I'm like, “I can understand that. I can get good at that.” And that became real clarifying for me every day, when I was like, “What do I do with my free time?” I'm like, “Well, priority one, I already know!”
And so I really—I have been like a Christian for years, but it was in my twenties that I was like, “I exist to know God.” I really do! And so I'm going to know Him. And so, every day, I'm going to a coffee shop, and I started writing out books of the Bible.
Michelle: Just word-for-word?
Ben: Yeah, yeah. And I just remember, I was like, I'd come home, and I just didn't have good discipline with the TV; because I was single. TV—I’d end up watching TV real late; prolonged; be tired the next day, And so, for a season, I got rid of my TV, and I started listening to a lot of sermons and messages, and I really was like, “I'm going to chase knowing God really well and being involved in what God's doing in the world.” And then when I started thinking like that, I started getting into these avenues with people that were trying to make a difference in the world.
And so I think, with kids, that's the motivation. “You exist to know God, man! Let's get to know Him! Let’s get great at that! Let's be involved in what He's doing. Let's go! Let's jump on; let's do this.” And I'm trying to do that now with my kids. If I can throw them in the car with me when I'm going to do something, I’m like, “Let's go! Let's do it. Let's go, and let's be a part of what God's doing in the world.” And do it in a way that doesn't pressure them to be missionaries they’re not ready to be.
Ben: But, you know, I just want them to think like that. “Hey, I'm not waiting around for something to happen.”
Michelle: Well, it's being on the lookout: “What is God doing? Let me join.”
Ben: Yeah, and then you get around a really compelling and interesting group of people, and that's the dating pool you want them in any way! So I do think giving them a vision of: “Every human being on the planet is born single, because this is the relationship they're going to [have to] get right. Really know God.” And, “You want that, and you want to chase after Him. And Paul told Timothy, “Flee youthful lusts. Pursue righteousness, love, joy, peace, along with those who call out to the Lord out of a pure heart.”
“You start running after God, and what's going to happen is there are going to be people to your left and right that want Him as bad as you do, and you want to run with that crew. And for a while, the ones left and right may just be mentors, but that's a win.
They may just be friends, and that's a win, but eventually they’ll be friends, mentors, and somebody cute.” [Laughter] “But they’re running the same direction as you!”
Ben: And that's the pool you want to be in. So I would really tell them, “Let's not waste a second. If anything, in your single season, you get freedoms you can leverage that you won't get later.” And I think sometimes that’s said in a way that's like it’s a consolation prize.
Ben: But I don't really see it that way. I didn't see it that way and, I tell people all the time, I loved my singleness.
Michelle: Do you see the benefits of your singleness? The leverages that you were able to—
Ben: I loved being single! And people always hear that as like a knock on Dawn or something. I'm like, “No, I just knew, this is a season with a unique set of benefits that will go away. This chapter will end, and I don't want to say, ‘You know, I really blew off what God said that chapter was for. I just kind of folded like a lawn chair; was a bit of an emotional cripple about it.’”
I was like, “No! It's either going to end with me get married, or it’s going to end with me dying, but when I hit the finish line, I want to look back and not go, ‘Oh, man, I kind of—.’ I want to know, “Dude! I went after it.”
Ben: And that's how I want approach my life. Like I don't want to live a safe little life.
Ben: “Let's go!” And so, with singleness, that's how I felt about it. “I'm going to run hard!” And what I found was, I was discipling a lot of young people; I was studying a lot; I was starting to teach more; I was getting to go places and do things; and I was like, “I might be single the rest of my life.” And I had some people around me who really love me.
I wanted to get married, but it wasn't this all-consuming thing for me. I could feel that loneliness, but some of the emotional needs were being met in a communal space, and I was running hard. Now I love being married, but I loved being single, too; and I think you need to present it that way.
Michelle: Well, and it sounds like you can look back on your singleness—those days in your twenties when you were single—and say, “I don't have regrets, because I was learning to love my God, and I was learning to do what He asked of me.”
Ben: Yeah, and I look now, and it's crazy, man, because so much of what I'm doing now, people will be like, “So did you go to seminary? Oh, you had a leadership degree, or you got a business degree, I can see.” And I'm like, “Man, so much of what you hear me saying, and so much of who I am, was formed when I was a young single guy.”
Seminary was awesome. I'm not against it. School was awesome, but it’s when God had my complete attention and was really forging me. And I love being married, but it does—it costs a lot more money. [Laughter] It takes a lot more time! And you feel it, man!
Ben: You're like, “Oh, man!”
Michelle: It slows you down just a little bit—
Ben: It totally does!
Michelle: —because when you're trying to run out the door, and you've got her and then the kids. [Laughter]
Ben: Well, just in a practical way for me with seminary: there are five books per class; take five classes, that’s 25 books to read, and then write all these papers. “Okay, let's do it!” And then, when I got married, I was like, I still have another book to read, and I'm just—I'm going to—not, because I need to talk to my wife today.”
Whereas, in the past, I used to keep going. And I realized, what I would say to myself is, “Win at life,” and then I would shut the book. And I would go, “I'm going to get B's, because I need to be a husband.” But I watched single guys. Then, when the tsunami did hit in Thailand, I remember my single buddies went, and I was like, “I ain’t got any money, ‘cause I just got married.” I'm like, “I'm not going.” And I was like, “Okay, those are benefits I don't have any more.” And so now I'm like, “Alright, I got a trade-off. I got a wife, and that's a win! And I feel great about that!”
So I love being married, but I think what the enemy wants us to do is just kind of amplify the limits of our stage and amplify the benefit set of another stage, and just make us feel bad; whereas I think the discipline is to say, “I can acknowledge the limitations of my stage, and really trust the Lord with them, because He's not calloused. He cares about this.”
Ben: But I want to amplify the benefits and go, “But then what do I have? Let me run after those.” And I think with your kids, you want to, as much as you can, help them live a life of adventure with your family and your community, and cultivate that.
Michelle: My conversation with Ben Stuart, talking about dating, and singleness, and how to prepare our kids for life. And I hope that you've been encouraged as you've listened and maybe gleaned some conversation starters on what to say to your kids and how to really guide them on this issue of dating.
Hey! I have a question for you: how many times a day do you laugh or have fun?
More importantly, how many times a day do you laugh and have fun with your family?
Next week, Ted Cunningham and Dave Stone are going to join us and talk about the importance of putting a little fun in our family relationships. We're also going to hear from funny man, Tim Hawkins, and actually his mom's going to join him. It's going to be a great, fun show, so I hope you can join us for that!
Hey, thanks for listening! I want to thank the President of FamilyLife, David Robbins, along with our station partners around the country. And a big “Thank you!” to our engineer today, Keith Lynch. Thanks to our producers, Marques Holt and Bruce Goff. Justin Adams is our mastering engineer, and Megan Martin is our production coordinator.
Our program is a production of FamilyLife Today, and our mission is to effectively develop godly families who change the world one home at a time.
I'm Michelle Hill, inviting you to join us again next time for another edition of FamilyLife This Week.
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