Dating and Christian Faith(fulness) Part 2
In the previous post, we looked at some of the course corrections in popular Christian dating advice over the last few years. And one is the challenge many parents experience in how to teach their children and teens how to view dating, romance, sex, and marriage.
The problems are obvious and sometimes feel unavoidable. Here are the two main challenges I see among parents and the community of faith surrounding young people:
1. Am I absent? The danger in mind for parents trying to help their children navigate these issues is that they don’t want to shirk a valuable role. Romance and dating are confusing. So if we love our kids, we want to be a resource to them, not avoiding things. I know many Christian young adults who said their parents simply never talked to them about sex. Not just that they did not help them navigate complexities or prepare for marriage. I mean never had a conversation about human reproduction, birds/bees, etc., and that their parents even grew visibly disturbed at the mention of the topic.
In the best-case scenario, it’s easy to imagine a parent feeling ill-equipped and afraid, hoping that youth group and school will fill in the gap. In the worst-case scenario, apprehensiveness around sex and romance can silence children when something very much should have been said (e.g., this lack of conversation creates an arena of silence surrounding sexuality that those who abuse children look for and exploit).
This dereliction of duty may sound extreme, but my experience, from counseling many Christians, is it is not unusual for people to receive almost no direction about dating and sex from their parents.
2. Am I overbearing? Others struggle in a way opposite of what I’ve just shared, and that is the issue of the unhelpfully-involved (or controlling) parent or community. In a recent statement, Joshua Harris points to a resource by Thomas Umstadtt (Courtship in Crisis) to understand the existing movement that Harris took mainstream:
“By the 1990s, Baby Boomer conservatives had grown frustrated with the promiscuous nature of Modern Dating. They didn’t want their children to repeat the mistakes of the Sexual Revolution. Parents became more involved in their children’s love lives and in some cases took it over entirely.”
The challenge with all leadership is to help people do things without doing those things for them, to delegate without micromanaging, to allow space for the person to act, to risk making mistakes, to face challenge, and to mature in the process. Fear can drive both overbearing involvement and absentee parenting. May God help us speak truth in love, entering into the complexity but helping young believers move toward godly self-stewardship, and a sense of agency within Christian community–exercising both dependence (Gal 6:2) and independence (6:5).
It is hard to improve upon Eph 6:4, “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.”
The Wisdom of Trust + Action. We also want to speak and act. It’s risky. There are times when speaking up, for example, when we see a very young person already experiencing manipulation and violence. Your son or daughter may side with an abusive person against you. In general, giving any dating advice to friends or family may complicate our relationship with them. To suggest anything other than a green light to move forward is risky, and even the green light can add pressure to make the relationship work. .
The challenge we face in all areas where we have leadership is to both trust and act. We entrust ourselves, our children, and everything else into the hands of the Father for safekeeping. It’s never safer in our hands than it is there.
Other resources to consider:
- How and When to Tell Your Kids about Sex: A Lifelong Approach to Shaping Your Child’s Sexual Character, by Stan and Brenna Jones
- Relationships: a Mess Worth Making, by Paul Tripp and Tim Lane