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The Birds and Bees of Preteen Dating

Kids these days are dating before they hit their teenage years—here are some tips on how to curb the enthusiasm

I recently overheard a twelve-year-old girl tell my daughter that she'd been out on a date with her boyfriend the night before. I had to pry my jaw from the ground before I jumped into the conversation. I wanted to confirm what I suspected—that it was a family outing and the boy was allowed to join them. Nope. She assured me that she and her also-twelve-year-old boyfriend were driven to the mall and dropped off, where they had dinner in the food court, wandered around for an hour, and then went to a movie. They were picked up after four hours alone.

My intention has always been to do as my parents did and not let my kids date until they were sixteen—hoping they'd choose to wait even longer. But I suddenly had to face the fact that I wasn't reading the situation clearly enough—I had blinders on.

You see, I didn't realize how common it was for parents to actually allow and even encourage pre-teens to go out on single dates without any supervision, or even be in the home alone with no chaperone. This astounded me—someone who often gets asked for advice on ways to help teens stay pure. Well, I'd start right here with my advice: Supervise. Everything. Constantly.

I am urging you, parents, allow no complete privacy. I'm not suggesting that you need to sit between your teen and his date at the movie theater, but there should never be a moment when they are alone without an adult in the house. Often parents lighten that control as teens get older, but the older they get, the more important is it to protect them from themselves.

It's not a matter of trust. I'm not saying specifically that your teens are too weak to withstand pressure or temptation. How could I know that? But similarly, how can you be sure they aren't? It's far better to create an environment of power and self-control, where they have you to rely on, rather than to leave them to their own devices. They will thank you one day.

When/if you allow dating:

As in many/most households, the subject of dating will come up at some point—hopefully later rather than sooner. Rather than setting a rule about an age requirement, you can take inventory on a regular basis to determine the readiness of your individual teens. Until you feel that these things are in place or achieved, I'd recommend holding off on allowing dating: Make sure your child exhibits some level of maturity; that they're able to resist temptation; that they can differentiate like, lust, and love; that they make wise selections, and that they know they are responsible for any consequences of their behavior.

So, what am I saying? That teens can't go to a movie together anymore? That they can't go out for burgers and fries after a football game? No. Not at all. Just remember that times have changed. There is nothing new under the sun as far as temptation and sin, but the disparity in the age society throws adult choices at our teens, and the age at which they're actually ready to handle them is so great, we need to step in and help our kids be kids.

But how can you know if your teen meets those standards as outlined above? One way is to ask questions: Why do you want to date? How do you feel about the boundaries we've instilled? What are your plans for dealing with pressure? What are your plans for dealing with temptation? How can I help you?

Then listen. Talk openly and regularly. Then, ask again soon so you can stay on top of, and react to, any shifts in thinking.

Parents are rarely comfortable not knowing what is going on in their child's life. It's hard to see them walk out the door and take off with a date, hoping they'll remember what they've been taught, but unable to monitor their every move. When that time comes, pray with them and pray for them—trust that you've done the best you could and ask the Lord to be with them every step of the way.

"Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life."Proverbs 4:23

Adapted from Hot Buttons: Dating Edition. Copyright © 2012 by Nicole O'Dell. Used by permission of Kregel Publications. These contents may not be excerpted or distributed without expressed written permission of the publisher.

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