My oldest will turn 16 in a few short months. She’ll be of dating age soon and while it does give me heart palpitations, I must trust in the fact that through the years I have prepared her to discern decent men. More often than not, when we send our teens–mostly our girls–out into the dating world, we give them a quick, five minute stern talking to about not getting mixed up with “bad boys.” Nobody ever clearly defines that for them, and so as soon as Mr. Smooth Moves waltzes in, they lose their hearts (sometimes their virginity) and are left with a trail of tears.
Sadly, with boys, about the only advice they get from parents about dating is “don’t get anyone pregnant.” Brilliant.
Deciding who you are going to spend the rest of your life with is serious business and, yet, our culture treats dating as nonchalantly as picking out shoes. I’d wager that most people put more effort into their shoe choices than they do their dating choices. The problem is, is that we pick our dates usually based solely on whether or not we are attracted physically. We are controlled by our hearts and our groins and the mind is left in the corner to collect dust. We don’t do enough to prepare our teens for dating and to teach them how to discern a good date.
I dated bad boys. I don’t mean guys that just look the part with tattoos and cigarettes. No, I mean genuine bad boys. There were warning signs present in their behavior, but I completely ignored it, because, well, they showed interest, which was flattering. Through the years, I’ve talked with my daughters about different things to look for and I thought I’d share them with you. It is my hope that you speak with your kids. It’s imperative that you start before the night of their first date. This is a conversation that should happen often and early on in their tween years.
Overly-complimentary on looks
All the bad boys that I dated were obsessed with complimenting me on my looks. It was a non-stop onslaught of talk about my physical appearance and how “good I looked.” This lasted for awhile. Then it moved to talking about other girls’ looks in front of me, which made me doubt myself and question everything they had told me early on. I was so confused. I worked tirelessly to try and achieve the desired “look,” (whatever that was) in hopes that I would win their eyes back to me. It never worked.
When I met my husband, he did compliment me, but it wasn’t over-the-top. It also wasn’t the only thing he talked about. He wanted to know me, my story, who I was, my likes, dislikes, quirks, and passions. To this day, he has never disrespected me by gushing over another woman’s attractiveness. I know that in his eyes I am beautiful, but I also know that is not all he sees.
If pornography is part of his life, he should not be a part of yours
Our country has fooled itself into thinking that pornography is not bad. In fact, it says it’s healthy for boys, “’cause boys are hormonal and visual creatures.” This is a big lie and nothing will kill a relationship quicker than pornography. It is not a teenage girl’s job to save a boy from porn addiction. While many girls think that they can love their boyfriends enough to get them out of it, it just isn’t true.
Often times, girls think they have to compete with the women their boyfriend is viewing through pornography and can likely end up agreeing to things she should not agree to. Any person who objectifies another human for their own sexual pleasure is not dating material. Period.
If he won’t meet Mom and Dad, no date
If a guy is not man enough to come and meet the parents of the girl he is interested in, he’s not serious about the relationship. If a teen boy is sincere in his interest, he will not be afraid to look Dad in the eyes, shake his hand, and speak with him in a honest and intelligent way. If the teen boy has all the wrong motives, he will not want to meet Dad, because he will know–KNOW–that Dad can sniff out his insincerity. It’s a good litmus test: If the boy won’t meet the parents, you know right away his motives are wrong and his interest is insincere.
And parents, don’t punk out on this. We spend YEARS of our children’s lives monitoring everybody they encounter and then when it comes to dating we just “don’t want to get involved.” Get involved. You don’t have to hover over them like a helicopter parent, but be engaged and watchful. I tell my girls all the time, “If your father doesn’t like a boy, trust your dad. He knows boys and your father will always have your best interest at heart.”
No ambition is dangerous territory
I explain to my girls that if a guy is content to spend the next twenty years playing video games at his parent’s house, walk away. If he has no goals, dreams, plans, or drive, he will frustrate the heck out of you and, in time, you will lose respect for him. Also, make sure his goals and plans are virtuous and purposeful. Getting stuck with someone who is only after worldly success, at the expense of others, is not to be trusted either.
If he doesn’t will your good, he’s not for you
My husband tells my girls that if a boy is asking you to compromise your values, faith, or principles in anyway, he is not loving you. A guy who asks you to break commitments, promises, or virtues is not looking out for your best good, but for his own selfish interests.
This goes for married people, too. If your marriage is struggling and you end up meeting someone else, if they encourage you to break your vows to your spouse, they don’t really love you. They are only thinking of what they want and not what is best for you and your family. If they encourage you to break marital vows, who’s to say they won’t break them with you? They will, because they have already shown that they are willing to compromise your vows; they will surely compromise their own.
Please, don’t leave the boys out of the equation. Boys need to be guided through dating just like girls. They are full of hormones and they need to learn from a man how to be disciplined and respectful. Guys like challenges and when we set the bar at “don’t get anyone pregnant,” we’ve set no bar at all. It is possible for young men to learn to have control over themselves and learn to be good men. Young guys will often rise to the expectation we set of them. If we have no greater hope than them just not getting anyone pregnant, what are we telling them? If we have confidence in them to be honorable, mature, and disciplined, they will most likely rise to that expectation. We don’t do anybody any favors by letting them just figure it out for themselves.
Choosing people to date is not like picking out ice cream. You pick a flavor you don’t like, oh well. You pick a bad dating partner and you may spend years unraveling the mess. I know from experience. I want my children to have positive dating experiences. I know I can’t keep them from all the bad, but it’s important that I equip them with tools. It’s important that I teach them that choosing to date someone involves heart and head.
Our role as parents change with each passing year. The teen years are a lot about guidance and having frank conversations with them about the realities of life. Sometimes, these conversations are a tad on the uncomfortable side, but they are too important to neglect.