Many people I grew up with, that I have come to know recently, and some who are currently raising kids themselves, have expressed adamant desires to not date when they are young or not have their children date until they are “ready to start looking for a spouse.”
I grew up in a similar environment, where I Kissed Dating Goodbye was the second best book to the Bible, where parents ruled their children’s high school lives out of fear to protect them from experiencing anything hurtful in life, where the light at the end of the tunnel was hopefully meeting someone that would just magically waltz into your life and be willing to wait to engage with you on a more personal level till you were eighteen and therefore somehow more ready to date than you were when you were just a wee seventeen-year-old.
At which time you would promptly, rashly tie the knot because that’s the only way to start getting some action. Bye-bye, independence. Bye, figuring out yourself. Bye, potential romantic partners of the future. Bye-bye-bye enjoying your 20s, because now there’s a baby or two on the way.
So, how did that work out?
Most of us found ways to have high school relationships anyway, we just had to keep them a secret. And most of us felt more damaged by the ruthlessly adamant sheltering of our parents than by the propensity of heartbreak that entering into relationships as a teenager brings. Some of us to this day have trouble in the dating world, whether it’s having overly high expectations about every date turning into a marriage proposal, seeing every person we meet as just a potential heartbreaker, getting in over our heads in relationships with physically or emotionally abusive partners because all we had to go off of were controlling parents, or even just having trouble being in a good, positive, steady relationship because we don’t really know how.
Maybe this kind of shit happens whether you dated in high school or not. It seems like every 20-something has a hard time understanding relationships and being in them. So, then, what’s the point of sheltering your kids from trying to figure it out early?
Just because you were really hurt of did a lot of hurting in high school does not mean you need to turn around and “protect” your kids from their right to figure out life their way, not yours. the point is, they are the kids and you are not – let them have hindsight later and learn their own lessons, just like you did.
One fairly legitimate concern parents have is one I addressed a moment ago in my slightly satirical rant about marrying young – dating when you are young, parents everywhere claim, prevents you from becoming your own person, from developing your own personality and interests and independence while not being tied to another person and just mostly becoming that person instead. And then you break up with them and have no idea who YOU are at all now.
Well, facts are, it’s true. And it doesn’t matter how old you are: while in any kind of close emotional proximity to anybody, romantic or platonic, you develop with them. Your interests often become one. Frankly, it’s kind of like taking a bunch of gen ed courses – you are exposed to all of the things that this person likes and what this person is made out of, and often get interested in them too – and that works both ways. It even happens when you have a crush on someone. “Wow, so Mike really likes Ben Folds and playing piano. I think I am going to listen to Ben Folds and play the piano since it looks like he enjoys that so much. *8 months later* Well, I’m pretty much over Mike now since we broke up a couple of months ago, but man can I play piano like a pro now, and I just wrote 16 epic breakup songs for my first album!” Bam. Positive thinking.
Many controlling conservative parents (Hey mom and dad – not you) take their rules even further – no interactions of any kind with the opposite sex. This has been proven to lead to being gay, don’t you know? Which is the lesser of two evils, y’all?
I am a 20-something who grew up being told by family and friends and friends’ families what a bad idea dating was, how damaging it was to get your heart broken because nobody in high school gets married (not true) (not my point either, but imagine if the high school sweethearts I know who are now married were not allowed to date in high school?), how dating or courtship or whatever was ALL about marriage and if it wasn’t it was sinful, and the List of Reasons just go on.
I did the sneaking around thing. While sneaking around I started to make my own choices, funnily enough, with regard to time spent dating as well as how sexually or non-sexually I would involve myself. Turns out, I was way more concentrated on swimming and school than boys, so I stopped most of my flirting completely in order to concentrate. I kept my V-card for precisely as long as I wanted to, seeing that obtaining a baby from a person I didn’t want as a father to my child was not a goal of mine, and possible STDs were not really on my priority list either. But I had to figure out all of this for myself – I’m a Leo for God’s sake. Leos don’t take advice even if it’s their own advice to themselves coming out of someone else’s mouth. It just doesn’t work that way. I also understand astrology doesn’t have a lick of truth to it but the facts are facts: I make my own mistakes, and my own decisions.
So, being that wonderful perfect age between childhood and adulthood, and having been in a beautiful, steady relationship for two years now with the best guy ever, I have some advice for young parents who are scared to let their children date (and if you are any person in general who is unsure about dating I would take this to heart as well):
Instead of shielding your children from the real world, educate them. Teach them about relationships –
– Every experience with every person is different
– Sometimes relationships don’t always work out forever
– Sometimes relationships are just about enjoying each other for the here and now and that sometimes you have to move on from each other but that doesn’t mean this experience was not worth it.
– Sometimes the other person in the relationship can be abusive in different ways, such as emotional or physical. Sometimes *you* are that emotional or physically abusive person, and which ever person you are you need to step away from that relationship and consider how you’re being treated and how you are treating the person you claim to love.
– Be yourself always and stand up for what you need, but also be a loving, caring, giving person to the other person in the relationship, because the other persons’ needs and wants is just as valid as yours.
And please make sure to demonstrate these things in your own romantic and platonic relationships.
And just as importantly, EDUCATE your kids about sex!! Make it an open and honest conversation between you and your kids from a relatively early age, not a taboo subject that they then have to turn to peers or the internet to learn and discuss troubleshooting.
Whether or not they are actually having it at any given time, sex and sexuality is a huge part of our culture these days and, honestly, the smartest way to “keep” your child from having sex is to educate them on the pros and cons of being sexually active, ever, especially at a young age. Otherwise they WILL find out for themselves, and chances are make rash decisions they don’t really know much about that will lead to unexpected things they don’t know how to deal with.
Establish a healthy and trusting dialogue with your children about sex and sexuality so that if and when it happens they feel comfortable coming to you and discussing any issues they might be having, whether it’s with pressure to have it from a partner, pressure to perform certain acts, possibilities of STDs, birth control options… the list goes on. If your children cannot go talk to YOU about their sex life in any stage because they know that sex and sexuality in your eyes is shameful, and they will just be yelled at and not helped, then again they will probably try to seek it out from another, possibly much less reputable, source. Make sex an open and honest and non-judgmental topic between you and your children now before it’s too late.
You’ll be surprised how many well-informed decisions are made by well-informed teenagers. Give your own kids a little credit, woncha?