Another thing I get to do tomorrow is talk about dating with a room full of teenagers. Good kids. Teaching teens, particularly good teens who are doing a whole lot of the right things and want to learn more, is a fun time. I’m thinking, since these kids are leaders, if they can set goals and meet standards, they’re likely to pull a lot of others along with them.
My aim (my nearly impossible goal) is to change the paradigm about dating. I’m not just talking about waiting till marriage for sex—the kids I’m talking to have made that commitment already. I’m talking about changing how they think so more and more of them are able to keep that commitment, maybe with more ease and less heartache.
Some of my concern stems from ubiquitous media messages to the contrary. At our house we spent a few years with Social Sphere watching a list of shows aimed at the teen demographic, about teens, in school, facing confusing and funny challenges she could relate to. Almost every show aimed at teens is about pairing off as boyfriend/girlfriend. These are Disney and Nickelodeon shows. Clean. Sex free. Almost entirely kissing free. But it is expected that young people can and should be finding “the one” to go steady with. (In less controlled media, not only are young people expected to have a boyfriend/girlfriend, they’re expected to be having sex as early as middle teens. So the shows I’m talking about are as good as TV gets.)
It is understood that a person feels incomplete without the boyfriend/girlfriend. Added to this, a young person without “a mate” feels unwanted, and possibly unwantable. Getting the boyfriend/girlfriend proves to themselves that they are valuable. They measure their self worth by this ability to get and keep a boyfriend/girlfriend. If they don’t have one, they will go to great lengths to change themselves until they fit whatever criteria it takes to get “the one.” It’s kind of sad, really.
And then, of course, they break up, because people that age aren’t capable of being fully sensitive and thoughtful about another person while trying to grow themselves. And then they feel lonely and depressed and rejected, and must find the next “the one.” It’s a mess.
Sometimes they talk about how “mature” they are, and by that they mean they are better at finding a boyfriend/girlfriend. But real maturity would mean knowing that you don’t make a commitment you can’t keep just because your teenage hormones are making you crush on everyone in sight. These TV teens also tend to talk about being committed as though these teenage pairings are practice, so they’ll be good at committing when the right one comes. So what they’re really doing is pretending to commit until they don’t want to be committed anymore, which means that, at an age when drama is high and social skill is low, they break up, often painfully. And then they do it again with the next “the one.” So what they’re really practicing is not commitment but breaking their commitment.
I’d like to see teens take these years as friendship years. Enjoy each other’s company, and do a lot of things together as groups. In the later teen years, going out on dates, to dinner or dances or movies, with several pairs, or with some pairs and some singles in the group, can be fun. But how about if everyone under the age of 18 just stops with the pretend commitment stuff and stops going steady? The casual dating gives a lot of opportunity for learning about the qualities that are appealing, but puts off the selection until a commitment can be meaningful, when it can lead to the actual commitment of marriage.
Anyway, I don’t know if I’ll change anyone’s paradigm, but I might make a few young people think. And I am of the opinion that more thinking and somewhat less following the heart could be useful for teens.