You can remember her braids, dolls and favorite blanket like it was yesterday. Yet your teen daughter may have caught up with you in height (or surpassed you) and is now a young woman. She's navigating an exciting and challenging season of greater independence, friendships, school and social activities. And then there are boys.
The teenage dating scene can be intense and full of drama — from exciting new relationships to painful breakups and ruined friendships. As parents, we want our daughters to mature and engage in healthy relationships, so it's important for us to help them navigate these experiences so they will be prepared for that one most important, committed relationship down the road.
Her identity in Christ
A large part of preparing your teen for a healthy future relationship is helping her first become a healthy individual who finds her identity in Christ and who isn't looking for a relationship to keep loneliness, insecurity or discontentment at bay.
Mary Anne Locke, a godly friend of mine who raised two daughters, used to gently remind her girls, "The times when you find yourself looking for a boyfriend because you feel like you 'need' one are the seasons when you are actually furthest from being in a healthy place to date someone." Why? At those times, they were looking to date in order to feel more important, more accepted or more popular.
Mary Anne used these times to emphasize to the girls their significance and worth in Christ alone. She taught them that, ultimately, a healthy relationship isn't supposed to fulfill them, but rather enhance the person they've already discovered themselves to be.
Who she is as an individual
Mary Anne also encouraged her girls to pay attention to the things that made them feel most alive. For one daughter, it was every weekday afternoon when she visited a local elementary school to read to younger children. Through this experience, she discovered her love of teaching and decided to become an educator. For her other daughter, it was a study-abroad experience that made history come alive. Helping your daughter know herself and see her own strengths, passions and God-given calling allows her to discern if someone she is dating truly complements her strengths and rounds out her weaknesses.
Every relationship counts
Teens need to understand that every flirtation, date or relationship in which they engage matters. It can be easy to think, It's only one date, or We're just having fun. But according to Laura Gallier, the author of Why Wait? and Choosing to Wait, every encounter they have either lowers, maintains or raises their standard for what is acceptable with the opposite sex.
Establish a standard that emphasizes honor and respect. For instance, you can let your daughter know that anyone she wants to go out with must agree to meet you and be respectful toward her in front of her friends. These may seem like old-fashioned ideals, but without establishing standards, she may adopt an "anything goes" mentality — based on avoiding embarrassment and wanting to belong.
Encourage your daughter to expect even one-time dates to treat her with the same respect she would want from her future husband. How she allows these young men to treat her now paves the way for how she'll allow her husband to treat her in the future.
Value patience and boundaries
High school is not the time for any experience to reach its pinnacle, according to Mary Anne. The teen years are just the beginning. This is important for girls to understand because a relationship that develops too quickly often has a way of shrinking a teen's world rather than expanding it. The teenage years are for friendship, growth and preparation.
Contrary to what our culture communicates, we need to teach our kids that dating is not primarily about being with someone your teen finds attractive, Laura Gallier says. In the teen years, the purpose of dating is to learn about the opposite sex and begin figuring out the kind of person your teen would want to spend the rest of her life with. Before your daughter says yes to a date, remind her about the big picture of exploring healthy, God-honoring options.
The teen years are a time to establish the foundation for healthy relationships so that once the wedding day comes and goes, the commitment to honor vows and continue on a path of love and faithfulness stays strong.