Navigating Teen Dating

Three things to ask yourself when considering dating.

Have you ever wondered if moms still remember their first crush? I definitely remember. I was 14 when I had my first boyfriend. It was the summer between eighth and ninth grade. Steven* was the older brother of one of my friends, and I couldn’t believe he liked me. He was cute—far more attractive than any of the guys I’d had a crush on before. And yes, I got my first kiss that summer. I also got my heart broken when, after the summer, Steven moved away. 

Who will love me now? I began to wonder.

Steven’s leaving left a hole in my heart, and I desperately wanted to fill it. So sadly, it became easy to give away my heart to other guys. Years later, when I met the guy I wanted to marry, I found myself dealing with many regrets. 

I realize not all women have a teen dating story like mine. Many probably have fond memories and sweet stories to tell. But looking back, I wish I’d asked more questions—not of Steven, but of myself. Questions like: What are my values, goals and priorities? How can I protect my heart and set personal boundaries so I don’t get emotionally invested in the wrong guy? And, how can I feel fully loved and accepted by God so I don’t have a hole in my heart that I’m expecting a guy to fill?

Steven and my other boyfriends are now a part of my distant past, but the lessons I learned continue to inform me today. If you’re experiencing your own first-crush feelings and you’re talking with your parents about the possibility of dating, how about considering some of the questions that I wish I’d asked myself back then? A little clarity ahead of time can set you up for healthier dating adventures.

Question No. 1: What are my values, goals and priorities? 

When I first started dating as a teen, I was way more interested in how a guy looked than if we had the same values, goals and priorities. My emotions had been so wrapped up in Steven that it was easy for me to dream about us getting married someday. The thing was, while Steven was cute, he wasn’t even a Christian. 

Although I was young, I could have figured out I wanted to date someone who believed in God and wanted a lifelong commitment in marriage. Those simple, shared values would have influenced many of the other aspects of our relationship.

When it comes to evaluating goals and priorities, take some time to consider what’s important to you regarding family, career, spirituality and personal growth. If those topics feel too far out in the future, how about evaluating your priorities as a teen. 

Be honest about your commitment to family nights, time with friends, your sports team, drama club, youth group activities or community service. Would the guy you’re interested in dating help you succeed in keeping those priorities? Or would you feel pressured to change for him? Knowing these things about yourself will help you understand what to look for in a boyfriend.

Question No. 2: How can I protect my heart and set personal boundaries so I don’t get emotionally invested in the wrong guy?

It’s easy to avoid thinking about heartbreak until we get our heart broken. And it’s typical to consider personal boundaries only after they’ve been crossed and we have regrets. But I’m confident you can be proactive. Two of the most important components of protecting your heart include valuing yourself and believing you deserve respect and love. Once you believe these truths, setting personal boundaries will be easier.

One way to protect your heart is to be honest with yourself about your emotions. Looking below the surface of your feelings can help you understand the needs you may be trying to fill. Do you want a boyfriend just because you’re feeling lonely? Are you feeling left out at school because it seems that everyone except you has a boyfriend? Are you angry about issues in your life and simply wish you had a boyfriend to vent with? Understanding your emotions and then taking those emotions to God through journaling and prayer can ultimately help you make better relationship decisions. He can help settle your heart so you don’t get invested in a guy as an attempt to meet your emotional needs. 

Also, community can play a big role in your decisions about dating as a teen. Consider talking about loneliness with a friend who is also not dating. Or talk with your friends who have similar life goals and discover how they’ve learned to be honest about their feelings. Setting personal boundaries will be easier once you’re dedicated to protecting your heart. 

One of the best boundaries to set in any teen dating situation is a commitment to take the relationship slowly. This approach gives you time to build trust and respect by getting to know each other better. Ask plenty of questions and share what’s important to you. Taking it slow emotionally also allows you to watch for red flags that may indicate if a guy is not appropriate for you. 

Question No. 3: How can I feel fully loved and accepted by God so I don’t have a hole in my heart that I’m expecting a guy to fill?

When you’re hungry for food, anything looks good—even that stale, cold pizza in the refrigerator. The same is true of relationships. If we long for love, we’ll be eager to find it, and we might not be as picky as we could be. 

Do you believe that God loves you dearly and has good plans for your life? I know sometimes it’s hard to believe these truths, but the more you spend time reading God’s Word, the more you’ll understand His heart for you. And as you pray about these things, you’ll learn to trust that God created you to fulfill His plans to benefit you and the world. Then, when you see yourself as God does, you can confidently say, “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14). 

My relationship with Steven impacted my heart and set me on a path of seeking love and validation from other guys. Thankfully, I learned to reflect on my values, priorities and emotional needs. By protecting my heart and setting boundaries, I avoided getting emotionally invested in the wrong person. And now, more than ever, I understand that I am fully loved and accepted by God. 

May your teen years be filled with all the right questions. And may you gain a deeper awareness of God’s great love for you.  

* Name changed 

Journaling Questions

  1. What are my values? What truths guide my life? 
  2. What are my short- and long-term goals?
  3. What matters most right now? 
  4. What healthy boundaries do I need to set in any teen dating relationship?
  5. What emotions am I feeling right now and why? How can I allow God to settle my heart?
  6. When do I feel most loved and accepted by God? 


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