What’s Love Got To Do With It: Navigating Teen Dating
In 1985, when Tina Turner won a Grammy for her #1 hit song, “What’s Love Got to Do with It,” I was a middle school student with my first crush on a boy. In some ways, budding romances back then played out no differently than what I have seen with my own teenagers today. They flirt with each other at school, which leads to having their friends investigate whether or not the feeling is mutual, and then they scheme up a weekend plan that includes both groups of friends so they can see each other.
But with cell phones, media, sexting, and pornography, today’s dating landscape can quickly escalate into something very different than what I knew as a teenager. Not that dating was purely innocent then, but when I was singing along to Tina Turner on the radio, it never crossed my mind what her lyrics really conveyed, or how pervasive such thinking would become.
“What’s love but a second hand emotion? What’s love got to do, got to do with it? Who needs a heart when a heart can be broken?”
Sadly, in today’s hookup culture these lyrics ring true for many young people who think love doesn’t have anything to do with sex, that relationships can be void of commitment. Regular hookups with multiple partners is the norm on college campuses, and not outside the realm of the typical dating experience for high school, and even middle school teens. As a high school senior, my daughter, after just two casual dates with a guy she was interested in, was asked by a friend if they had slept together yet.
My daughter was shocked that it was even a question. But in today’s teen dating scene, sex with a boyfriend is no longer taboo, and casual sex with virtual strangers is accepted and even bragged about.
As parents of teenagers, and as believers, we can’t stay in the dark about this reality, which is exactly why I recently read American Girls: Social Media and the Secret Lives of Teenagers by Nancy Jo Sales (as hard as it was to get through at times). We need to know what is happening in our culture to help parent and prepare our kids through it. Even still, I know that talking about sex and relationships with our kids feels awkward. But we must thoroughly think through the implications of not talking about it, and go to the hard place of having these necessary discussions with our kids.
When we began these on-going conversations with our own children, my husband enjoyed retelling this particular story as a way to begin shaping their biblical perspective on dating. He taught middle school for many years. After going off one day to a group of seventh grade girls about how boys are “Bad, bad, bad,” one of the girls thoughtfully asked him, “When will a boy ever be good, good, good?”
His reply, “They won’t. Not until it’s the one you’re going to marry.”
While this may sound extreme, being a Christian does not disqualify us from sin; it does not preclude us from struggling with sexual promiscuity. This is often most confusing for kids who consider themselves Christian! As humans, we were created with a God-given desire for the opposite sex. Our teens need to know there is no shame in that. The fact that they want to be intimate with someone they are attracted to is normal. And because it is normal, we must paint for them a bigger, better view of sex than the one our culture offers. In doing so, they will better understand that the rules and boundaries we put in place for dating is out of love, because we want God’s very best for them.
If your child is anything like mine though, he or she will still think they don’t need the rules because they are strong enough to not give in to sin. Therefore, what they must hear from us over and again is our sinful – “bad, bad, bad” – condition, and God’s grace to sinners. They need to understand that in an instant, their desire for God and the things of God can fall by the wayside as sinful mega-desires, or ruling false gods, take over. All of the sudden something they say and think they will never do becomes the very thing they fall prey to.
This is why our teenagers need us to navigate dating with them, throughout their teen years, until the day they say “I do.” It is our responsibility to guide and protect. One such practical way to help guard their hearts from becoming too emotionally invested is to restrict the amount of time spent with their significant other. They need to understand that a young dating couple does not own each other’s time, nor should either one’s identity be wrapped up in the other. Similarly, in considering issues like co-ed slumber parties, we must not be naïve to think that in allowing such, we are not opening the door to what’s next. Becoming too comfortable with each other (even friends of the opposite sex) is the precursor to couples napping together and “playing house” in college.
Parents, dating is an area where our kids stand to become the most wounded and shame-ridden, so we must not bury our heads under the sand. I know we won’t all come up with the same “Rules of Dating,” which is why I’ve deliberately not made an extensive to-do/not to-do list. May we begin by rightly understanding our human hearts, and the culture around us, and then prayerfully (and with much wisdom and grace) enter into the conversation with our teens; because love has got everything to do with it.