Can I Date Yet?
Barrett and Jenifer Johnson, authors of "The Talks," speak to parents about teen dating. The Johnsons encourage parents to recognize their responsibility in helping to protect their children's hearts and communicating their family's values about dating long before their children are old enough to date.
About the Guest
Barrett and Jenifer Johnson encourage parents to recognize their responsibility in protecting their children’s hearts and communicating their family’s values long before their children are old enough to date.
Can I Date Yet?
Bob: It can be pretty awkward, as a parent, to have conversations with your children about sex; right? Well, guess what? Barrett Johnson says it’s pretty awkward for your kids too.
Barrett: Anytime you step into a conversation related to their sexuality, development, changes—even birds and bees / pornography—all these things—when you step into that conversation with your older kids—your teenagers / your middle-schoolers—rarely will your kids look at you and say: “Oh, Father, thank you so much for bringing this subject up. I was so looking forward to having this conversation with you.” But still, it’s important. Our kids don’t know what they don’t know.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, August 15th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey; and I'm Bob Lepine. Okay; so it’s always going to be a little awkward when you have conversations with your kids about sex; but we’ll see if we can’t help it be a little less awkward today. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us on the Tuesday edition. If our listeners want to know the truth, you started your sixth-grade Sunday school class—way back in the day—you started that primarily because you wanted to communicate things to your own kids and the class was a perfect way to do it; right?
Dennis: The truth is—I started teaching it with the right motive of wanting to train those kids; but I realized: “This is a really sneaky way to teach a bunch of stuff that I want to teach my kids without it being formally taught at the dinner table, where they roll their eyes back in their heads. [Laughter] Instead, their peers are affirming the value of what’s being taught as a class.”
We have a pair of folks who give leadership to a ministry called INFO. You can explain what that stands for, Barrett.
Barrett: Well, it says INFO, obviously, INFO for Families, but INFO is an acronym for Imperfect Normal Families Only, which, in our determination, is basically everybody.
Bob: That’s right.
Barrett: We live in a culture that, if you’re not careful, you can believe in this myth of this perfect family out there that has it going on. You compare yourself to those families on social media; and you think: “Everyone else is hitting it out of the park; and at home, we’re kind of struggling. Our marriage is kind of sucking wind right now, and our kids are not doing what they’re supposed to do.”
This is where we kind of remind everybody: “We’re all kind of there, but God has a plan for us. God directs it for us; if we align ourselves with Him, and His way, and His Word, we can move ourselves toward what God wants us to be.”
Dennis: Barrett is joined with his wife Jenifer; and the Johnsons come from Atlanta, Georgia. They’ve written a book called The Talks. Let’s discuss this whole issue of dating, because I think this one takes a lot of parents by surprise.
They’re not ready for their fifth grade, sixth grade, seventh grade child to come back and say, “I’m going with somebody,” or “I want to be their boyfriend,” or “…girlfriend.” How did you start with your kids to proactively address the issue of dating?
Jenifer: Well, we were not proactive; and that is why we are trying to help other families be proactive. We were always playing catch-up, like we said before. My daughter came to me on a mission trip in Los Angeles, and we were sleeping on a church floor. She lay down next to me and said, “Jake asked me to be his girlfriend, Mom.” I’m like: “Oooh! What am I going to do with this?”
Barrett: She was probably a seventh-grader at the time.
Jenifer: Yes; yes.
Dennis: Seventh grade.
Barrett: Seventh grade.
Jenifer: Yes; yes. I know I was just pleading, “Jesus, please help me,” as I stared at that ceiling. I feel like what God dropped into my brain—and only God knows what to say to each kid—so we really do have to be walking with God. He will help us—I promise you He will—but I feel like what He dropped into my brain is: “Walk through with her, practically, what it was like for you to be someone’s boyfriend or girlfriend in middle school.”
You do not have a car / you do not have—I mean, you’re not dating—and back then, we didn’t even have cell phones yet; I don’t think.
So I said: “Well, I love Jake. He is handsome, and I love his family; and he’s just a wonderful guy.” Don’t ever demonize that, because it’s good to like the opposite sex—and we want them to. So I said, “What do you like about him?” We just had a great conversation about what a wonderful young man he is.
But I said: “You will answer yes to being his girlfriend—you’ll sit by each other in church; you’ll see each other and stuff like that—but at some point, you’ll get sick of him; or he’ll get sick of you. One of you will break up with the other; and then, from that day on, it will be awkward. You will not want to talk to each other and sit by each other. So, go back to Jake and just say: ‘Jake, thank you so much for asking me to be your girlfriend; but I want to tell you I want us to be friends forever. Let’s just be friends and not date—be boyfriend/girlfriend; break up; and it be awkward.’”
We just talked about what it really looks like, in middle school, to date and talked about what it could look like in the negative—that it could make it awkward and they wouldn’t stay friends.
She went back to that little boy and said all of that and he goes, “Okay!” You know, and we were done.
Barrett: And as they do get older, though, there’s an interest that develops. They’re like, “Well, I want to go steady or go out with…” or whatever the phrase our kids are using today—or even just go to a dance. For one thing, I think we lived in a different culture 40/50 years ago. You could go on a date to the movies with somebody and then, next Friday, go for a date with someone else. In our culture today, though, there is this—one date means you’re in a relationship, and there’s this intensity that’s entered into very quickly. What we’ve seen more and more often is—kids that are in these emotionally-deep relationships—they don’t have the maturity to handle. It’s lousy practice for a long-term marriage, honestly, especially when it gets physical.
In Scripture / in Song of Solomon, you have three different times the bride in the story, who is passionately in love with her man, says to her little sisters: “Don’t awaken love until it is ready. Don’t awaken love until it’s time.” It’s like she’s saying, “Hey, this intense boyfriend/girlfriend or husband/wife relationship is so powerful. Little sisters, don’t go here until you’re ready to open this can of worms and all it entails.”
I think we live in a culture that encourages our young people to open that can often and frequently and younger and younger. So when it comes to dating, Dennis, we tell folks, “Parents, push it back as far as you can.” When our kids were in ninth or tenth grade, they went to a dance with a friend / a group of friends. We were okay with that, as long as we were clear with what it is and what it’s not. This is not an intense relationship—it’s just a one-time deal.
Dennis: Now, I want to stop you there and say: What is a date? Did you have a definition for the kids?” Because we found, as the kids emerged into this dating culture, that they wanted to “go out” with the opposite sex alone. That’s pretty much what Barbara and I defined it as.
Barrett: And that is a date, and that requires a measure of accountability and supervision. So, you know—when we start coaching parents about: “As your kids start entering a stage of life where they want to begin to pursue relationships,”—we encourage them to take it slowly / wait till there’s a measure of maturity.
In our book, we provide some benchmarks of: “You’re not ready to date or enter a relationship until you hit some of these markers.”
The overarching truth is—we’re going to provide some parental supervision / accountability to this. No; we’re not chaperoning a date, necessarily, but we made it very poignant and very clear to our daughters, as they were growing up: “Hey, the first time a boy wants to take you on a date, he’s going to have to have a long conversation with me, as Dad.”
Young man—when you want to take that girl to a dance, you make sure you call her dad first. Maybe that dad will think you’re being old-fashioned, but I guarantee that dad will appreciate a 16- or 15-year-old man: “Hey, I want to take your daughter to the homecoming dance. This is who I am. We’re friends. Here are my intentions…” Every dad appreciates that, even though it does feel a bit old-fashioned along the way.
Bob: You guys know that Dennis wrote a book on this—
Barrett: We love that book.
Bob: Yes; it’s called Interviewing Your Daughter’s Date, where he lays out for a dad: “Here’s the talk to have with a young man who wants to take your daughter out on a date.”
When that book was done, and we talked about it on the radio, we started getting calls from moms who said: “Well, that’s fine if you’re raising girls, but here’s our problem. Our cute, eighth-grade boy is getting flooded with text messages and pictures sent to him from aggressive young girls who are, not just flirting with him…” You’re nodding your head—you know what’s going on in this culture.
That’s what led Dennis to write the book, Aggressive Girls, Clueless Boys, because again, if you’re not preparing your son for these girls, who are going to come up—I heard from a boy one time who, in ninth grade, had a girl, who was in the tenth, come and she just gave him a hug and whispered in his ear [whispering], “I want to have sex with you.”
Dennis: Now, when you’re a ninth-grade boy, you better know what your response is going to be.
I have to share that I plagiarized that book title—
Bob: The Aggressive Girls, Clueless Boys?
Dennis: That’s right—from Proverbs, Chapter 5 through Chapter 7.
Listen to what it says in Chapter 5, verse 1: “My son, be attentive to my wisdom; incline your ear to understanding, that you may keep discretion and your lips may guard knowledge.” In other words: “Son, you’re clueless. You’re about to walk out into a world, where you’re going to be preyed upon; and I don’t mean p-r-a-y.
Dennis: “You’re going to be preyed upon. You better know who you are, and whose you are and how you’re going to respond before you get hit on, as a young man.”
Bob: And I want to go back to the answer, Jenifer—that you gave your daughter when she said, “Jake wants me to be his girlfriend.” I thought it was brilliant. There’s one thing I’d add to it, because this is what I said to my kids—I said, “Anybody in your class who are boyfriend and girlfriend now?” and they would then come up with, “Well, So-and-so is.”
And then, “So-and-so was, but they’re not anymore.” I would go, “Well, what happened there?” “Oh, well, this happened.” I would go: “Huh. Do you think that happens often with these kids?” rather than just saying, “…because then you’ll break up…”
Jenifer: That is so good.
Bob: Just to be able to say, “Have you seen break-ups happen?”
Jenifer: That’s right.
Barrett: In our book, we recommend: “Pay attention to the couples around you to see what they’re getting for their efforts.”
Bob: And these kids will look at that—and my kids would go: “Oh, yes. I don’t want what my girlfriend, Susan, went through when her boyfriend broke up with her. She was a wreck for three weeks. I don’t want that to happen to me.” I think it was just kind of a sober reminder: “This really is stupid.”
I also said to my kids, “Kids, look—you’re not going to marry the person that you date in high school.”
Dennis: —more than likely.
Bob: Now, two of my kids—
Bob: —married the kid they dated in high school.
Jenifer: One of ours did too. [Laughter]
Dennis: Bob, you’re a liar!
Bob: I know! I know, but you know what?
I’d rather be proven a liar in that moment than just have them go through what you described, Barrett—the serial relationships that teach them, not how to form a healthy relationship, but how to break up over and over again. That sets a pattern for them that, when you get into marriage and you have conflict, what do you do?—you break up.
Barrett: Well—and when you have the physical component of a relationship as well—we do a lot of study and research on the impact of oxytocin in our bodies. If you don’t know what oxytocin is, it’s a chemical inside your body / a hormone—that when you have physical, emotional, sexual contact, it breeds an emotional bond with that person. That’s what God designed in Scripture—two become one flesh / “What God has joined together let no man separate.”
God invented oxytocin to bring couples together; but in a dating relationship—when you’re immature, and you’re hormonal and sexual desires that aren’t really organized—Proverbs 5 speaks to that very clearly—you have a tendency to bond with someone that you have no business bonding with. Maybe the relationship doesn’t have any substance—the relationship is shallow and meaningless—but there’s a physical bond you can’t seem to break up.
That’s why you see these couples that are young—they’re together, and then they’re broken up / they’re back together again—they can’t let go of one another; because that oxytocin that God put in them is being abused, if you will.
Bob: When it dawned on you, “We better be having these conversations with our kids and we better start early,” were you comfortable?
Barrett: Anytime you step into a conversation related to their sexuality, development, changes—even birds and bees / pornography—all these things—when you step into that conversation with your older kids—your teenagers / your middle-schoolers—rarely will your kids look at you and say: “Oh, Father, thank you so much for bringing this subject up! I was so looking forward to having this conversation with you!”
Jenifer: Never; never; never.
Barrett: But still, it’s important. Our kids don’t know what they don’t know. In these areas, they are literally clueless; because they don’t know. We know from our lifetime of experience and the impact of poor choices according to God’s design what we should be doing.
Parents, even though you get pushed back—and parents, even though, as someone who does this for a living or encourages parents for a living, I still get sweaty, and my face turns red, and I get uncomfortable and nervous when I have to step into this—but I know that God is with me; I know that God is for me; I know that God wants me to have courage to go and to do something that doesn’t come easily to me but yet that I know is critically important to my kids.
Dennis: Okay; let’s talk about a hot topic in the culture today, and that is the multiple choices of genders. What’s your coaching of parents, who are raising young people—and by the way, this is not a subject you wait until they’re teenagers to get into—and you almost feel like you’re robbing their kids of their innocence to have these conversations too early—but I have to tell you—I would rather encourage you, as a parent, to have the conversations / engage around some of these things where you’re talking about it in a healthy way than to wait too long and let the world create its own image or images of what a man is or what a woman is.
Bob: And here’s what’s going on with junior high-age kids today—it’s conversations like this: “I think I’m probably 70 percent hetero and probably 30 percent gay.” And somebody else will say, “Well, I think I may be 60/40.” Well, it’s not: “Are you gay?” or “Are you straight?”—it’s just a perception that you’re a little mix of all of that.
Dennis: Fluid is the word.
Bob: Yes; that’s right.
Barrett: There’s fluidity to it all. It is a whole different dimension in our culture that most of us, as parents—it’s a shock to our systems—but our kids are being raised in a culture that fully endorses and embraces this. That’s why you have to start early; because if we play catch-up, our kids are given a worldview and see a worldview around them in their peers and entertainment and media and then we come back later on and go, “Yes; but here’s what God’s Word says...” I think we’re already coming from a place of weakness, because we’re late to the argument / we’re late to the discussion.
When our kids were young, we started to define it to them, very early on: “This is what God made to be male and female / what God made marriage and relationships to look like.
“And since God is the Creator of gender and God is the Creator of marriage, God gets to decide how it works. Here are the parameters God gave us for how it works,” and you can walk through all those with your kids. So when they do see something is different—and they will / I mean, this is an issue that, as a culture, we have swung to this extreme; and it’s not going back.
The body of Christ—we have to stand up for what’s truth and what’s right—but arguments to say: “Let’s change it. Let’s make the culture come back to us,”—I think we’ve lost this argument. But with our kids and in our churches—to be salt and light in this world, we have to teach our kids: “God’s the Creator of this. He gets to decide how it works.”
Dennis: Okay; dad—so your third-grader comes home with a note that, at school, everybody is going to wear purple to celebrate the sexuality of people who aren’t male or female. How would you handle that with your third- or fourth-grader?
Barrett: I think that’s a perfect lesson to teach what we should be teaching our kids from birth to 25 years old—that we are called to be different from the world. We are called to be salt and light / we are called to be set apart from the way the world operates. So when we don’t fit in, as followers of Jesus—that should be normal for us. There may be some key moments along our lives; and that’s a great example of it, where we’re not going to fit in / where we’re going to have a response to that.
Now, one thing we—we’ll stay home or we’ll choose not to do it. They can’t make us do anything. It may be that you’re ostracized, or you’re criticized, or you’re persecuted for that choice you made, as a third-grader. As a family: “Here’s why we do what we do,”—that’s not an easy choice to make, and that’s very difficult; but it’s a great time to teach your kids, “Hey, if this world fits, then we’re not living our life correctly as people of the Kingdom who are different from the rest of the world.”
Dennis: This is really easy for us to talk about in a studio, but to send your child off to school among his or her peers to be different, as in countercultural—at an age of eight, nine, ten / pre-teen—I mean, it’s not a matter of them having the emotional or spiritual maturity to be able to process all that would be thrown at them, but we are trying to raise our kids to be, number one—be young men and women who have love for other people, who are not condemning people, pointing their finger at people, but who also have firm convictions.
Frankly, of all your answers that I kind of zeroed in on, I thought: “Ooh. That’s a good one!”—you said, “Maybe the child stays home on that day.”
Dennis: I think that might be the best way to approach it, and not make a giant deal out of it with the child—say, “I think we’re going to go to the zoo”; you know? “I think we’re going to have a fun picnic on that day,” so that you’re not forcing the issue prematurely with a child.
I’m not copping out here / I really am not.
Dennis: I’m just trying to recognize that children may not—well, they don’t have the emotional maturity to sort out all these things that are being placed upon them.
Jenifer: That has to be prayed through by the parent: “Is this kid able to do this and stand up?” That’s the thing with the whole talks-thing is—there’s no formula. Not having a formula on this topic and, also, parenting five children has sent me to the floor of my bedroom, crying out to Jesus, because I was thinking, “Man, I’ll do whatever I do with the firstborn with everyone else.” But no matter age or sex or whatever, you really do have to seek God and say: “God, how do I reach this child with this message? Do I let them go to school, or do I not let them go to school?”
But one thing I want to bring up, and—I just have to say it—my husband has been in ministry for 27 years.
We are called to the church that we go to because God called us to serve there. So many times my kids would come home and say, “Mom, you always taught us that we were going to be aliens; but I thought that was just going to be in school. I feel like an alien at my own church.” I mean, I think our godly kids, who follow Jesus, are going to feel like aliens a lot of the time.
Barrett: And on these issues, this is definitely the fork in the road, where some parents say, “We’re going to be intentional, from when our kids are young, and first exposing them to truth—the birds / the bees—to guiding them to make godly, biblical, wise decisions regarding their relationships and their sexuality,”—some parents are intentional about that—and some parents kick into: “Well, let kids be kids,” and “What are we going to do? Every generation does this…blah, blah, blah.”
But again, this culture today is unlike any generation we’ve ever seen before, where the stakes are so very high. Parents cannot afford to be casual or passive about coaching their kids to navigate their sexuality.
Bob: And no matter what age your child is today—whether he’s two or he’s seventeen—if you haven’t been in the game on this up until now, that doesn’t mean you just go, “Well, I guess we missed it.”
Dennis: No; it’s never too late. I’m glad you brought that up, Bob. It’s never too late. What you have to have—back to what Barrett was just saying—you have to be intentional, but you have to have a plan. And this book, The Talks, I think will stimulate moms and dads. You may not agree with everything that Barrett and Jenifer taught their kids and how they did it; but my question is, “Okay; if you disagree, what do you stand for?”
Bob: “What is your plan?”
Barrett: “Get a plan.”
Dennis: “How are you going to do it?” The point is: “Do it. Engage on the issue; because, frankly, the stakes are high.”
Bob: Yes. We do have copies of the book, The Talks: A Parent’s Guide to Critical Conversations About Sex, Dating, and Other Unmentionables, written by our guests today, Barrett and Jenifer Johnson. You can go online at FamilyLifeToday.com to order a copy of the book. By the way, this is a great book for moms and dads to have to help you with some strategies for how you’re going to make this a part of the conversations that go on in your family.
Again, the title of the book is The Talks. You can order online at FamilyLifeToday.com. While you’re on the website, check out some of the other resources we have available: Passport2Purity®; Passport2Identity™ for young men or for young women—that’s for ages 14 and 15—some of the books Dennis has written, Aggressive Girls, Clueless Boys / Interviewing Your Daughter’s Date—all of those resources can be ordered from us, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or call to order: 1-800-FL-TODAY / 1-800-358-6329—that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
By the way, I should mention—if you want to order Passport2Purity or Passport2Identity, our team has agreed they’ll add a copy of the Johnson’s book in with your purchase at no additional cost. So, again, check that out, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com.
You know, the subject we’ve been talking about today is something we’ve been talking about, on and off, for two-and-a-half decades. This is a perennial issue for moms and dads. It’s an area where parents need help and, frankly, need some coaching, especially as the culture keeps shifting around us.
Our goal, here, at FamilyLife is to provide practical biblical help and hope—for couples, for moms and dads, for families—and we’re able to do that because we partner with listeners, like you, who help extend the reach of this program as you contribute to the cost of producing and syndicating FamilyLife Today. In fact, we did some math recently and found out that it costs about eight and a quarter for us to reach about 1,000 people—and that doesn’t include those who are listening via podcast or online—that’s just those who listen on your local radio station.
Every time you donate a little over $8, 1,000 people get help and hope for their marriage and for their family. It’s a pretty good investment.
And in fact, this month, it’s an even better investment; because we’ve had some friends of the ministry who have agreed that they’re going to match every donation we receive, during the month of August, on a dollar-for-dollar basis, up to a total of $800,000. So when you donate this month, your gift helps us reach twice as many people as we otherwise could. Would you consider making a donation today? Go to FamilyLifeToday.com and donate online, or call 1-800-FL-TODAY to donate over the phone. Or you can mail a donation to us at FamilyLife Today at PO Box 7111, Little Rock, AR: our zip code is 72223. If God’s used this program in your life and your marriage as you’ve been raising your kids, we hope you’ll consider helping support the work and helping us reach more people.
And we hope you’ll join us back again tomorrow when we’re going to talk about how we help our teens develop the kinds of good patterns and habits in their lives that will serve them throughout their lives. Dan Dumas is here to talk about how we can help our kids live smart. Hope you can tune in for that tomorrow.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with special help from Mark Ramey. I also want to thank our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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