Thursday, August 1, 2013

Worse things than "dating"?

There is a thought going around in some circles of Christian parents that their teen children should not "date". They prefer a concept called "courting" that is more restrictive, more committed, and more targeted towards marriage than the typical definition of dating.  To these parents, "dating" borders on being sinful and claim that dating is destructive to the social development of their teen child. Although there may be some truth to that, the alternatives that they have come up with (or allow) are not without unintended consequences.

Teens are teens. They will to some extent look for loopholes and technicalities. Many teens desire to have a relationship with someone that extends beyond casual friendship. Teens whose parents don't allow them to date have created a third option between "casual friends" and "steady boyfriend/girlfriend".  "Bestest friends" is this third option. Bestest friends do the same things that steady boy/girl-friends do but without overtly displaying physical signs of affection...and under the radar of their "my child is not permitted to date" parents.

There are problems associated with this third option. Even though different words are used, the emotions and sentiments attached to "bestest friends" are the same as those reserved for a steady boy/girl-friend.  So when a couple are no longer "bestest friends", neither party has the right to be emotionally hurt. After all, they were "only friends". This leaves the jilted party with no viable way to cope with the emotions of separation, rejection, and pain that they are feeling.  On the flipside, the one who ended the relationship is not held accountable if they ended it in a dishonorable way. Again, they were "only friends".  Teens engaging in "bestest friends" relationships don't learn how to deal with the emotions and responsibilities of being in a relationship.

Because the relationship isn't formally recognized as a committed relationship, either party is free to flirt with others. This begins to set the expectation of these teens that it is acceptable for their partner to flirt and pay attention to others. Without correction, this will lead to dysfunctional relationships later in life.

For special occasions like birthdays, Valentine's day, anniversary, and Christmas, "bestest friends" don't necessarily exchange gifts. Depending upon the circumstances, it is preferable to NOT recognize the special occasion because that would draw the attention of parents. The giving of gifts would (or at least SHOULD) cause the parent to question their child as to the nature of their relationship.  This has the unintended consequence of training teens that it is not important to recognize special dates of remembrance.

The "bestest friends" social construction allows teens to develop emotional attachments to another person but without the responsibility and accountability that goes along with a publicly recognized committed relationship. Whether it is endearment, affection, personal interest, or "love", those feelings need to be expressed by tangible actions. Obviously anything that is prohibited by Scripture is not acceptable... but the courteousness of a young man opening a door for his special girl, the thoughtfulness of remembering a birthday, doing kind and self-less things for each other are all part of the deal but are optional and sometimes discouraged in the "bestest friend" relationship.

"Bestest friends" text each other late into the night. They'll post on Facebook how they "ended their evening with their bestest friend" and awoke first thing in the morning to a text from them.

I believe that there are dangers in replacing formally establish committed relationships with the casual committed relationship of "bestest friends".  Honor, respect, and accountability are missing and if not corrected will result in these teens entering adulthood with a very distorted view of what a committed relationship looks like.

Every parent must do what they believe is the best to raise their children, but I believe that the overemphasis on "the evils of dating" have resulted in alternatives that might have just as many (if not more) pitfalls than properly supervised dating.

I find it somewhat ironic and disturbing that parents who refuse to allow their child go on a "date" with a peer proudly trumpet their "date night" with their child.  What is THAT all about?!

(continued in part 2)