The minute boys loosen their tie and girls kick off their heels after homecoming (or a week before to be honest) they start talking about who they’ll be asking to the next dance. Dances are a big deal in Utah. Asking and answering usually involve a creative charade– note Hans’ homecoming video– and the day of the dance starts with a day activity, a break before dinner, the actual dance and an after activity. Even the most casual dance is no small affair.
And with dances come numerous discussions: to date or to wait?
In, For the Strength of Youth (a series of guidelines for LDS youth), Mormon teenagers are instructed: You should not date until you are at least 16 years old.
I believe it’s some of the best and most prophetic advice given to youth today. And it’s not given to be mean, but to make you happy.
Let me make this clear, if you are fifteen and dating, we are not judging you at our house. We’ll still ‘like’ your Instagram photos, compliment you on your outfit, and love you for the unique and wonderful person you are. I am not writing this to shame or proclaim judgment on anyone– simply to explain some ideas you may not have considered and why I believe waiting benefits teenagers in so many ways.
Mormons aren’t the only ones to proscribe 16 as the ideal age to start dating. Most child development experts note 16 as the ‘magic’ or ideal age to date. Asian cultures usually push that age to 18 or when they start college. Dr. Ron Eagar, a pediatrician at Denver Health Medical Center said, “There’s an enormous difference between a fourteen- or fifteen-year- old and a sixteen- or seventeen-year-old in terms of life experience.”
I realize some kids mature sooner than others, but even an extremely mature fifteen year old can benefit from putting off dating.
First, taking dating off the table gives teenagers more time and mental energy to focus on schoolwork, talents and family. When dating is simply not an option, kids don’t waste time staring at the phone. Over and over, I’ve witnessed fourteen and fifteen year olds who are frantic to gain the approval of the opposite sex. “Like me! Like me! Like me!” they seem to say. Whereas sixteen year olds seem to settle into “like me as I am.”
When teenagers enter high school at age 14 and 15 I can see why waiting to date until 16 can seem not only difficult, but ridiculous. But I believe these years actually give kids a huge advantage. They have a front row seat to the ins and outs of dating, relationships and all the drama playing out in high school hallways. When dating is not an option, they can take the opportunity to form real friendships with the opposite sex without the fear of expectations. At fifteen and a half, my darling Xander enjoys the attention of girls, but this season of watching and waiting helps him sort through the initial feelings of flattery. I’m sure he’ll still make dating mistakes, but maybe a few less.
Dating too young also inhibits friendships. We all have just 24 hours in the day and even fewer to spend socializing. Delaying dating gives kids more opportunities to develop real friendships. In our years of watching teenagers date, I’ve seen so many kids form serious relationships early and then struggle to maintain friendships through the rest of high school.
Age restrictions aren’t limited to dating: you can’t get a driver’s license the day before you turn sixteen or vote when your eighteenth birthday is only a month away.
Beyond practical reasons, let’s switch to religious motivation. As Mormons, we are a covenant people. We make promises and take them seriously. We believe in a living prophet and we follow his guidance even when we don’t completely understand why. It reminds me of when my boys first started taking violin lessons. Their teacher taught them all kinds of simple skills that didn’t seem to make sense. Only later, sometimes years later, did they fully understand why their teacher insisted on a strong pinkie finger and the exact curve of the wrist. They simply didn’t have the understanding when they were small and had to rely on faith in their teacher’s wisdom. And the violin teacher wasn’t being mean, she simply wanted to teach them to be excellent musicians. God wants us to be extraordinary people. And over the years I’ve learned it’s often the small things that matter the most.
And then there’s obedience. As Hans says, “What’s the point of keeping a commandment if you break it the minute it gets hard?” I believe we will be blessed in subtle ways for simple obedience.
Hans also noted how fitting that Mormon boys becomes Priests at age 16. This means they have the authority to break and bless the sacrament. Clean hands and a pure heart are imperative in preparing the sacrament and that sanctity and reverence extends to the way they treat a daughter of God.
As saints, we also have the responsibility to be a good example to others. Maybe you feel confident about your dating skills, but your friend, who might not have the same maturity or parental supervision, might not fare so well. Our actions influence others– especially when it comes to bending standards.
Now, many don’t consider school dances to be actual dating. I’d suggest nothing could be more like a date. Dances follow the three Ps: planned, paired off and paid for. I’ve heard kids say, “I need to go as a fifteen year old because I want to attend as many dances as I can.” I don’t think that’s true. Sadly, but more often than I can count, I’ve seen kids date at fifteen then sit home their senior year.
I’m not suggesting everyone who dates early will have horrible repercussions. The consequences of these type of decisions tend to be subtle. And it doesn’t mean you won’t have sad break-ups, miscommunication and hurt feelings when you do start dating at sixteen. But I honestly believe you will have less, and as one who has made promises to God, you’ll be blessed for keeping those promises.
For a great alternative to the whole rigmarole of asking a date and planning activities, why not gather a gather a group and go stag to the next dance? Parents can lend support by supplying a venue, food and activities. Which is why Xander’s inviting your Skyline or Olympus student to our house for Monster Mash, October 25th. Dress as any super hero, come our house for dinner, swimming if it’s warm enough and a big group will go up to the school for the dance.
Trust me, you will get older, soon enough. But trust God even more, He only gives commandments to make us happy.