Why Talk About Dating With Kids?
by Amy Diller
If you’re like me, you’ve probably never considered dating as a topic for children’s ministry. In fact, at first, it seems rather silly to think about. After all, students in middle and high school are the ones interested in pairing up, aren’t they? In 2021, the American Academy of Pediatrics said kids start dating at an average age of 12 ½ for girls and 13 ½ for boys. If that’s the average, it means kids also start dating at younger ages. Social media, TV shows, and movies often communicate the idea of young boyfriend/girlfriend relationships. These sources, as well as the influence of friends, can affect an early interest in dating, making this topic an important one to have in mind early.
We know what’s learned at a young age is more likely to stick as a child grows up. We also know that the primary voices a child should hear should be parents. Otherwise, culture will be the teacher. However, many parents aren’t even thinking about their kids dating, let alone talking about it at a young age. Left as a “someday” conversation, moms and dads are apt to find themselves playing catch up when a child wants to date. Creating expectations and rules becomes hastily done. Unfortunately, the lessons learned later will primarily be from the world around them. It is far easier to set the stage while children are young than to undo unhealthy thinking later. So, how do you help parents start thinking and talking about dating?
Since many of the parents of kids in your ministry haven’t thought about dating yet, be the one to introduce the idea. Encourage parents to think about laying the groundwork for dating in the context of teaching healthy relationship skills. Even very young children have relationships – with parents, siblings, and extended family. As they grow, they will add peers to this list and, eventually, boyfriends or girlfriends. Opportunities to teach children about what qualities make a healthy relationship occur on a regular basis. Urge parents to talk often about being a good friend and the importance of seeking out positive qualities in others. The best people to form relationships with are those who follow Jesus, exhibit kindness, serve others, demonstrate honesty, and act respectfully. These conversations not only impact today, but tomorrow as well. Help children understand what boundaries are and support kids in setting them. For example, if a child is hesitant about physical contact with others, don’t force him or her to “give Aunt Sally a hug.” Knowing it’s healthy and acceptable to set boundaries with others establishes a foundation for future dating relationships. Modeling, talking about having and being a good friend, learning about boundaries, and helping children navigate arguments in a healthy way contribute to developing a child’s ability to establish and maintain positive connections with others.
You can further impact families in this area by looking for opportunities to talk to the kids in your ministry about qualities of strong relationships – those with the Lord, family members, and friends. Find examples in your lessons of positive, God-honoring character traits and highlight them. Point to the Lord’s character as the perfect model for us to learn from. Develop classroom expectations around being respectful, trustworthy, kind, and forgiving. Eliminate the influence of social media while kids are in your care. Different families may have different rules about devices, but you can make class time technology free. Too many times, kids see and hear things before they’re ready to process the information, and they share it with peers. Assist kids in being and making good friends at church. Help them navigate disagreements and to solve problems with one another. Let children know when you see them interacting with others in a Godly way, and share these things with parents.
Moving more specifically into the topic of dating with the families in your ministry requires you to introduce the idea of parents beginning to think and talk about dating now while their kids are young. Simple steps like providing moms and dads with resources, such as this month’s parenting video and toolbox items, help open the door for parents to explore the idea of dating with the future in mind. Host a family get-together to assist parents in developing plans for what dating will look like in their homes. Enlist the help of your youth ministry leaders. They see what’s going on in the dating world of older students and can provide more information to guide you and your families. Ask moms and dads who are parenting in the dating years to give input as well. They can share how they’re handling dating with their teens, what rules they’ve created, and even things they wish they had done differently. Remind parents how important it is to make decisions based on the end game. What do they want their children to understand and demonstrate in their lives by the time they’re ready to leave the nest? What are they doing today to prepare their children for the future?
Dating may be a new and unusual topic for you and parents of younger children to think about. It may be something that’s never been considered. But it’s important for the adults in kids’ lives to do everything they can to prepare for the future because the future will come all too soon. Being more than ready to guide children as they enter dating relationships when they’re older makes that stage of life a lot easier to navigate.