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The Deadly Traps of Adolescence
Day 5 of 10
Guest: Dennis and Barbara Rainey
From the series: Dating
Bob: There are times when a conversation between a father and his daughter can be a little awkward.
Dad: Hi, Jules, how was gymnastics?
Julie: Good. I landed the double tonight.
Dad: All right, way to go. Jules, how are you doing with the guys?
Dad: You know, your mom and I have been talking about you and all those boys who call on the phone.
Dad: Your mom and I just want to make sure you know what you stand for as you get old enough to date, you know what I mean?
Julie: I know, Dad.
Dad: I want to ask you a very personal question and, listen, you've got the freedom not to answer if you don't want to, okay?
Julie: Sure, Dad, why not?
Dad: Have you thought through how far you're going to go physically with the opposite sex?
Dad: Well, then, would you mind telling me how far you intend to go?
Julie: I know, Dad.
Dad: Where are you going to draw your boundaries, Jules? Your limits?
Julie: Dad, I know what's right and what's wrong, okay?
Dad: Okay, I'll take that for an answer – for now.
Bob: And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us on the Friday edition of our broadcast. Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and, Dennis, your wife Barbara joining us this week as well. I'm Bob Lepine, and the tension in that car between that dad and that daughter …
Dennis: … did you hear her keep turning that radio up?
Bob: She did not want to talk.
Dennis: I've been there.
Bob: I've been there, too – got a few radios turned up on me in the conversation. This is a particularly difficult issue for parents to deal with, with their children. We've talked on the last couple of broadcasts about how we've got to press through some of that negative static we get from our kids, and get to the core issues around physical involvement, sexual involvement.
But one of the other traps facing our children as they walk through the teenage years is a trap that is right alongside the trap of sexual intimacy. It's the trap of dating. In fact, it may be the gateway. I think you probably have to step in the dating trap before you usually ever get to the sexual relationship trap, and that's where a lot of parents have got to be shrewd in this culture.
Dennis: You know, parents have got to realize that as our children grow up and into the teenage years, there are going to be these hidden traps, these hidden snares, that will be set for them, and I think one of the biggest ones that they will face is this issue of dating.
I think of the verse over in Psalm 142, verse 3 – it says, "When my spirit grows faint within me, it is you who know my way. In the path where I walk, men have hidden a snare for me. Look to my right and see no one is concerned for me. I have no refuge. No one cares for my life."
Well, the psalmist didn't feel that, but a teenager ought to be able to say, "I have a parent. I have a mom and a dad. I have a mom, a dad, and a grandparent who care about my way and who are looking out for the hidden snare of dating and the attraction to the opposite sex."
Bob: I think the big question, Barbara, for a lot of kids, as they approach junior high, and they start to develop some interest in members of the opposite sex is – when can I start? How soon can I start dating? And that question might creep up on you.
Barbara: Oh, I think it does creep up on you, just like a lot of this other stuff creeps up on parents of adolescents. We discovered that early on with Ashley, our oldest. We were at a conference, and we were there with another family, and this other family had a son who was a year older than Ashley, and they had been friends for years, and we just didn't think a whole lot about it. But they decided one day they wanted to take a walk together and go get a Coke, and we let them go, and then kind of later on we realized they spent some time together alone. They're 12 and 13 years old.
Dennis: Yeah, she was 12 years old.
Barbara: Yeah, and she kind of likes him, and he kind of likes her and, gosh, I think she just had a date, and we just kind of realized, all of a sudden, that we had allowed her to spend time alone with a boy, and that seemed to be a good definition of a date, and we weren't prepared for that. But, in essence, that is what happened with Ashley, is she was alone with a boy that she liked, and he liked her, and she really had her first date at 12.
Bob: Dating today has become just the accepted practice of American teenagers. It's just what you do when you're in junior high and in senior high, and many parents have said, "Well, I guess that's the way it is, and yet you all see some real dangers in the way we do dating today with our kids, don't you?
Dennis: Yeah, what we call the "dating game" is currently being played in most Christian families, and it cultivates romantic fantasy love before children are emotionally, physically, and spiritually mature enough to have a relationship with the opposite sex. And one-on-one dating leads couples to spending too much time alone at the time when the sex drive is at an all all-time peak for a young man. I mean, it's like taking gunpowder and striking a match, leaving them alone to experience some of these feelings.
Barbara: Another thing, too, that we've seen with our kids is that they don't have the maturity to make a wise choice about who to spend time with. They often make their choices of who they're going to like based on just who is available, because everybody else has a boyfriend or a girlfriend, and so they decide they need to have somebody, and so they just sort of pick somebody. They don't think through – what is this person's values? They don't think through is this person good for me or not good for me or what kind of family does he or she come from? They're just kind of desperate, and so they just pick somebody.
Dennis: And it looks like child's play, because they're children, they're not even, in many cases, into puberty yet, and yet they have these emotional attachments that they develop, romance begins to stir the soul, and it looks for a way to express itself, and the way that romance expresses itself in most people is physically. We begin to show physical affection and appreciation for the other person, and once that starts, where does that lead? And I think that, alone, is one of the biggest cases against allowing your child to date before they're spiritually mature enough and emotionally mature enough to handle the feelings that come with adolescence.
Barbara: Another thing that happens when kids begin to pair off is they begin to have their needs met by that other person, and even if your child comes from a strong home, where you and your spouse are giving that child the attention and the affection and everything that he needs or she needs to be secure, once an attachment takes place with someone else, and your child hooks up with another boy or girl, and they become an item at school – even with the best that you're doing at home, they're going to choose to get their needs met from that other person, because that's more convenient.
They're at school together all day long, so even in the best of homes these kids can hook up with another boy or girl and get those emotional needs met for love and security and attention and everything through that relationship, and then they come home and spend all evening on the phone, and Mom and Dad's influence is cut to nothing.
Dennis: And you wonder why you don't have the influence on them, and you know what? We've experienced this. We've watched some of our children establish these exclusive relationships, and we've experienced the loss. We wonder, "What's going to happen to my relationship with that child?" Well, the reality is someone else is getting that relationship, and someone else is having the influence, and someone else is shaping the values, and someone else is charting a course for that young person's life.
You know what? It's not their husband or their wife, they're not married. But, in many cases, a lot of these teenagers are acting like they're married, and they're sharing things emotionally and physically that were only intended to be shared in marriage.
Bob: Okay, well, with all of this stuff that you've talked about – dangers in dating – why go anywhere near it? Why let your kids anywhere near it? Why don't you just seal them up until they're 19, put them in a closet somewhere, and then let them get out and start …
Barbara: Mm-hm, I think that's a good idea.
Dennis: Because they lock people up for that, Bob. I think every parent listening to us says, "Yeah, I'll vote for that," but you can go to jail for that, you know, today.
I think what we want to do is we want to look at how we can help our children begin to have a healthy respect for the opposite sex, have a healthy respect for their own identity, and then begin to learn how to relate to the opposite sex and develop relationships that don't …
Dennis: Yeah, that don't necessarily become romantic relationships.
Bob: Yeah, your children, Barbara, have been on dates, but it's been different than what we think of when we think of kids dating or going together. You've really tried to ride herd on not letting them become romantically attached.
Barbara: Yeah, and the big thing is to make sure that they're not alone, because that is when all the dangerous stuff happens, is when they're alone. So what we've tried to do with all of our kids and increasingly so with our younger ones – we're getting more and more involved in this area, we're becoming more and more proactive in this area than we even were with our older ones – we are now with our younger kids, and that is when we do allow them to go out, and it is a good bit later than what probably is the norm in the culture, we've tried to create an environment where they go with another group of kids, and they have activities that they do together that are group-centered so that they're never alone.
They don't have the opportunity to enter into those temptations and then yield to them. So they go as a group, and they come home as a group, and they do things at our house with groups, and we're trying to foster the idea of developing a friendship with another guy, rather than developing a romance.
Dennis: Some parents, at this point, probably wonder if we're making too big a deal out of this. I don't think so, I really don't. I think one of the most dangerous things that's occurring today is giving our young people too much freedom before they are emotionally or physically or spiritually mature enough to make these life-altering decisions.
And moms and dads – it's us – we are the ones responsible. We must assume the responsibility God has given to us as being the guardians and the protectors of our children all the way through adolescence.
Bob: Barbara, let's say it's spring break week, and one of your children comes to you and says, "Hey, Mom, there's a group of kids going to the mall to see a movie," and let's assume it's a movie that's acceptable – there are a few of those out these days, but let's just assume there's an acceptable film there. There's a group going, and they called and "they want to know if I can go." And you ask the question – "Is it boys and girls?" And the answer is yes. How old does the child have to be before the answer is, "Yes, you can go."
Barbara: Well, there isn't really a specific age limit, although, generally, it would be 15 or 16 in our family.
Dennis: At the earliest.
Barbara: Right. Primarily the decision would be based upon the maturity level of that child. Has this kid demonstrated to us that he or she can be trusted to be alone with a bunch of kids unsupervised by adults? Then I would want to know who those kids are, how they're getting there, how they're getting back, how long they're going to be there, and just all the details – and do I need to be driving and all that kind of stuff. But if we let one of our kids go and do that with a group we would want to know those specifics about the situation, but it would all depend on that child and their responsiveness to us.
Dennis: Over in the Song of Solomon, chapter 8, verses 8 through 10, Solomon speaks of what's called "a little sister." And there were actually two of them in that passage. One who was spoken of as a wall, the other one spoken of as a gate.
The wall was the sexually pure, the one who was in control of her own emotions and one that was managing adolescence well, I think. And the gate is the girl – or for that matter, a guy – who would be too sexually open or too free with the opposite sex.
What happened in that passage was Solomon celebrated the wall, and he built a cedar barricade around the gate. He didn't give the gate freedom, he protected the gate. He celebrated the right choices of the girl who was the wall, and I think, as parents, what we've got to do is truly watch how our sons and our daughters are, and that's what Barbara is talking about here, and give them additional responsibility, additional freedom as they've been a wall, and then if they show tendencies to being the gate, pull out the cedar and start hammering away at that barricade.
Bob: You've got kids, though, in high school before they can go watch a movie in the middle of the afternoon with a mixed group of kids unsupervised – high school.
Barbara: Yeah, we do.
Dennis: And she didn't blink, either.
Bob: No, she didn't, and I'm sure some of your kids have looked at you and said, "Mom, I've got to wait until high school?"
Barbara: Well, and a lot of it, too, depends on who the kids are. Because, see, if I'm involved with my children, like I am, I know who their friends are and who might be somebody that they would be interested in romantically. So it's one thing to send my kids off in a mixed group with a bunch of truly buddy friends, and it's another thing to send them off to a movie in a mixed group where there might be somebody that they're really interested in.
So that's why I want to know who it is and who is going and how they're getting there, so you've got to ask 50 zillion questions to finally find out what the facts are.
Dennis: A couple of nights ago we had some friends over at the house, Scott and Theresa, and our daughters were all just huddled up around the table. It was a fascinating evening, and we got off talking about this. And our teenage daughters were all there, talking, and Scott asked our oldest about dating.
And both Barbara and I had our jaws nearly drop to the floor, Bob, as our teenage daughter, Rebecca, who is 17 years old, said to Scott, she said, "Well, as you raise your girls, don't let them date until they get out of high school."
Hello? And, I mean, this – this …
Bob: You ran for the tape recorder, didn't you?
Dennis: I said, "Can we get fingerprints – we've got eyewitnesses, can we get this in writing? They do begin to get the point after a while. They begin to understand, you know what? Dating ends up in heartbreaking situations where you lose your boyfriend, and you cry for nights on end, and there's …
Barbara: It's just not worth it.
Dennis: It's not worth it.
Barbara: They finally figure it out.
Dennis: It really isn't, and it's worth far more to teach them how to develop a friendship and to keep relationships at that level.
Bob: What age do they have to be before they can go on a double date with somebody, you know – to the prom in the car?
Barbara: Well, probably, it would be 17. We used to say 16, but we're getting tighter on this. It's probably going to be more like 17.
Bob: Junior year?
Barbara: Mm-hm, mm-hm.
Dennis: At the earliest, again.
Bob: What about a single date, where you just go out with a young man for dinner for the evening?
Dennis: Probably – right now, where we are on that, we would probably not encourage that to happen.
Bob: At all ever?
Dennis: In high school.
Barbara: In high school, yeah. Although, you know, there – we might make an exception, depending on who the young man is and if they really – we really feel like we can trust him and her, and this really is just going to be a friendship kind of thing, and it's not going to be – turn into anything else. You know, we might do that, but it takes an enormous amount of time and energy to figure out if that really is the case.
Dennis: And even as I said that I'm thinking our daughter, who is 17, has gone and gotten coffee with "a friend,"
Barbara: Mm-hm, a couple of times.
Dennis: And has sat there talking, but it's not a friend that she has any kind of romantic interest in. Now, here is an important point as parents ride herd on this issue. Your kids are going to look you in the eye and they say, "But I'm not interested in them romantically." If that's so, why are you holding their hand? I don't hold my best friend's hand. Holding hands is not a sign of friendship in this culture. It may be over in Europe, but it's not yet in America. It is usually a sign of affection.
Barbara: Romantic affection.
Dennis: That's right, and you know what? It's astounding, as parents, how dumb I can be. I have had our children look me back in the eye and say, "But it's just a friendship." And I go, "Yeah, just a friendship." Then I get back, and I go, "Wait a second – no, no, no. They were sitting beside each other. They were holding hands on the bus. Hold it, wait a second" …
Bob: … there's more going on here.
Dennis: What's wrong with this picture? And it's – as a parent, what is there about us that we question ourselves and our own judgment? Our judgment is not in question here. Hold it. I'm the parent. I'm counseling myself, by the way, right now – but I am the parent, and I have to be reminded from time to time that I need to reassert myself and it's almost – pull the sword out and put it on my shoulders and say, "You are the one that has the authority in this situation, don’t back off, don't become a wimp, don't lack courage. Step into that relationship, and when they give you some baloney like that and tell you it's just a friendship, call their cards out and say, "Oh, come on, no way, Jose. That's more than just a friendship."
Bob: Aren't these kinds of restrictions or rules going to make your kids the nerds of the world in the school where they're going?
Barbara: Well, it may be but, you know, I think that's okay. I think that it's more important for our kids, we've decided, to protect them as best we can from being hurt and wounded in relationships that they are not mature enough to handle.
And you can do some things to help ensure that they don't feel unduly punished by this. I mean, you invite kids over to your house, and you have lots of friends around, and you encourage them to have their same-sex friends spend the night, you know, all that kind of stuff so that they don't feel that they're isolated and left alone and stuck in a tower until they're 18 …
Dennis: … instead of the closet.
Barbara: But, you know, I just think it's important enough for us – we've decided it's important enough that I will risk that my kids will feel strange and different, and I think that's okay. I would rather they feel strange, different, feel like a nerd, and be safe than let them ride with all the other kids in the herd and get hurt and get tangled up in emotional and physical relationships that they don't need.
Dennis: Here is where a mom and a dad need to be as shrewd as they can be – single parents, same deal – you ought to rally some other parents with you. See if you can't go set up a parents' meeting and say, "Can we huddle up here? Can we all agree to something where we kind of share some common values?" And maybe you don't agree all the way down to the nth degree and, Bob, that's one of the things that concerns me about some of the movements that are occurring within the Christian community right now.
They get so exclusive, so nailed down, so tight, that anybody who is outside their own little prescribed way of doing things, they fracture and fragment and can't fellowship with them, and that's not the kind of unity we need today. Christian families need to be bonding together and banding together and helping one another raise these children on into maturity, because you know what? These teenagers today desperately need the community of Christians to make it and to finish the process of adolescence and to make it to adulthood and to become God's man and God's woman, and I just think it's time for all of us to come alongside each other and to help one another raise these children.
Bob: Well, and that's what I think you and Barbara have done in the book, "Parenting Today's Adolescent." You've come alongside us, and you're helping us think through our own convictions in this area and help us decide how we're going to live out those convictions, and how we're going to help guide our sons and daughters through these difficult and dangerous water as they go through adolescence.
And I appreciate the fact that you guys, along with people like Joshua Harris and Elizabeth Elliot and others have said, "Let's hold a high standard here for moral purity. Let's not just make the standard a standard of virginity, but let's make it a more biblical standard of purity.
There may be some listeners who think, "Oh, you're out of touch," or "You're old-fashioned," or "You don't know the culture our kids are living in today," and, again, that's where you say "All right, you don't have to buy our standard, but you have to decide for yourself what your standard is going to be and what you're going to try to guide your sons and daughters with.
And whatever you decide, the book, "Parenting Today's Adolescent," will be a helpful resource in that regard. You can get more information about the book on our website at FamilyLife.com. When you get to the home page, you'll see a red button in the middle of the screen that says "Go," and if you click that button, it will take you to an area of the site where there is information not only about the book, "Parenting Today's Adolescent," but other resources for parents of teens and of preteens because, actually, you ought to be looking at this material prior to your children's teenage years.
Again, the resources are available online, and you can order online, if you'd like, or get more information. If you prefer to call to order, it's 1-800-FLTODAY, that's 1-800-358-6329. Someone on our team can answer any questions you have about these resources we've talked about, or they can take your order over the phone, and we'll get the resources you need sent out to you.
And then this month we have an additional resource we'd love to send to you. It's a new book by Dennis Rainey called "Interviewing Your Daughter's Date." It's designed to help us, as parents, have a strategy in place so that when a young man does begin to show some kind of interest in our daughter, and maybe our daughter is showing some interest back, we can know how to engage both of them in that subject and help set up some boundaries around what the relationship ought to look like at this stage of their life, and if they are going to go out on a date at some point, to have some parameters around that event as well.
The book is new, and this month, again, it's our thank you gift when you help support the ministry of FamilyLife Today with a donation of any amount. We are listener-supported, and we appreciate your financial partnership with us when you make a donation to FamilyLife Today.
If you're donating online, and you'd like a copy of Dennis's book, just write the word "date" in the keycode box on the donation form online. Or if you call 1-800-FLTODAY to make a donation, you can just request a copy of Dennis Rainey's new book, "Interviewing Your Daughter's Date," and we'll be happy to send it out to you. Again, the toll-free number is 1-800-FLTODAY, and you can donate online at FamilyLife.com
Well, we hope you have a great weekend, and we hope you can be back with us on Monday when we're going to continue to look at some of the deadly traps that are facing our children as they go through the adolescent years, and we're going to continue to look at this subject of dating. Also, next week we're going to look at pornography and substance abuse and media, and we're going to look at unresolved anger and how that can explode in the life of a teenager. I hope you can be with us for all of that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We'll see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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