Parental foolishness starts early on in the pre-teens, where crushes are condoned, and the habit of living in fantasies is established. It can all sound so cute coming from a ten-year old, but any notion of seeing others as "special friends" needs to be addressed at that age. Any signs of attempts to catch the eye of others with make-up, style of dress, hair, phone calls, attention-seeking behaviour, must be addressed parentally at that age.
Dates occur in the imagination before they actually happen if children have an expectation that dating is normal. Watch for isolationism where a child withdraws into a fantasy world dreaming of being together with somebody else emotionally. We cannot underestimate the enticement to sexual impurity with which we are constantly bombarded in the media today. Our teenagers are bombarded with sensual and lustful images - commercials, movies, magazines etc. They are surrounded by peers talking about who thinks who is cute, what their first kiss was like, and they are informed about sex education material they do not know how to handle.
The difference between courtship and dating
This is a violation of the Word of God. We must train a generation that is innocent, not worldly-wise. It is the only way in which our young people will have peace. Our young people need relationships. They need to learn how to relate to members of the opposite sex. But does dating help or hinder them in this process? The antidote to that loneliness is not dating it is family and fellowship. Most teens sense alienation from their family and parents.
We call this modern phenomenon "The Generation Gap. It is unreal because there is no biological inevitability that teenagers will go through a phase of separation and rebellion towards their parents. It is real, because where parents have failed to build relationships with their children, in many instances, the Gap appears.
How the courtship vs dating debate is changing
It is a phenomenon largely symptomatic of a departure from biblical parenting. The antidote is creating, from early childhood, an atmosphere of security, love and worthwhile activities that would give no cause for a sensible teenager to want to look elsewhere for a life.
The second context where the Bible speaks of relationships is in the church, which is, in essence, an extended family. The church provides a setting where all kinds of relationships can be established with absolute purity. To belong to the Body of Christ is a wonderful privilege, enabling us to prepare our children for relationships in the world within secure boundaries. It is an extension of relating as brothers and sisters, and in a group context that can occur with absolute purity, as it did with Jesus.
The antidote to loneliness is fellowship, not dating; the need is for friendship, not sexuality, The exclusiveness of romantic relationships precludes building friendships. Dating substitutes sensual feelings for friendship, passion for honour and respect, foolish jesting for thankfulness, our pleasure for His business. Dating creates relationships built on insecurity.
There is no commitment by either party to continue beyond the first date, and there may be others they would consider dating given the opportunity. They both know that.
The main purpose of dating is to try out as many partners as possible in the process of looking for the perfect one. Thus, by definition, breaking up is as common as dating itself. There are more pop songs written about breaking up than pairing up. Dating becomes a preparation for handling divorce, not a preparation for building a permanent marriage. We were designed for sexual involvement with one partner, but we get used to the idea of rejecting and being rejected in the search for the perfect relationship.
The more dates you have, the more the boundaries become blurred. Rejection becomes a way of life, and saying "I love you'' becomes meaningless. It is no more than saying, "At this moment in time, I find you sexually attractive. If it doesn't work out, we can simply break it off. It provides no training for having to work it out for the long haul.
It is practice in divorce at an early age. Dating builds insecurity into relationships.
Imagine a marriage without scars of rejection to overcome, with a partner you can trust, because you have not been spoiled by earlier partners who have proved untrustworthy. Imagine a relationship without having other faces in your mind and the comparisons that ensue against the spouse that God has given you. Imagine having no pornographic images of Miss Universe with which to tarnish the beauty of the wife who is at your side.
They only occur in marriage, or in anticipation of marriage. God has created us to fit this biblical norm, and the romantic response is intended to come to its true fulfilment only in marriage. Recreational dating envisions a one-on-one relationship apart from marriage, but it should be no surprise when it leads to its intended climax - becoming one flesh.
God designed us that way! To try to survive exclusive relationships sexually unscathed is like fighting against the grain of creation. So how are we supposed to find a way to arrive at those exclusive relationships which prove to be marriages made in heaven? We must break out of the mould of our culture. The word about the inappropriateness of dating has got out, but I'm not entirely happy with the response - which is usually an attempt to adapt the system rather than discard it.
These attempts usually take one of two forms. Firstly, there is an attempt to take the risk out of it, so we talk about double-dating, where in reality peer supervision is no more and no less than peer pressure. Secondly, there is an attempt to put something substantial into it, so we tell our teenagers that dating is no longer possible, courtship is the way to go. Because of this misconception, we have actually made the problem worse.
Knowing that they are not allowed to have casual friendships falling in and out of love , young people are led to believe that they can have exclusive relationships with the opposite sex through courting. They can become as pre-occupied with courting as they can with dating, which is worse, because it has the added pressure of the seriousness of marriage. Teenagers do not need the frivolity of casual dating, nor do they need the intensity of serious courtship.
Courtship is not the alternative to dating. I believe in courtship, but courting is what a man and woman do in preparation for marriage. Courting is not what Christian teenagers do instead of dating. Courtship is essential in its proper place, but unessential for our young people as a contrived form of dating. What is the alternative? What should they be doing with their teenage years? It is a time for "Father's Business.
Jesus has to be the model teenager. Although we don't know much about what happened during his teenage years, we do know what his focus was. Most teenagers see these years as a time for "my fun" but Jesus saw them as a time for his Father's business. We will never evidence a radical change in our young people until we are convinced that teenage years are not supposed to be years of care-free, independent, experimental, frivolous self-gratification.
They are to be years of training and preparation.