Editor’s note: Recently at Acculturated, the issue of teen dating came up. Should teens be allowed to date or are they way too young to put themselves through the pleasure and pain of romantic relationships? Our two writers, Ashley McGuire and Amelia Rufer, weigh in with two provocative perspectives.
In one episode of Friday Night Lights, Julie Taylor breaks down in her mother’s arms and asks, “How could he do this to me?” Julie is a high school girl who has broken up with a high school boy. They got way too serious, had sex, broke up when he went to college, and now she can’t understand why he would move on with his life.
This must be the most tired and familiar storyline in American households. It doesn’t have to be. Teenagers should not date. It’s that simple.
Think about the purpose of dating. It’s not just some fun thing people do. It’s going into dating with that mindset that takes a wrecking ball to the heart.
No, the most essential purpose of dating is to seek out and get to know a potential spouse. Sure dating also entails emotional and spiritual growth. But a big part of that growth is to prepare you to be a better spouse and parent. Life and nature have this pretty stubborn trajectory, and marriage and family is the direction we hurtle, whether we like it or not.
So let’s go back to teen dating. Pretty sure there is a broad consensus that teenagers should not get married. With the exception of maybe the Duggar family, people on both sides of the aisle tend to agree that men and women should be emotionally (and heck, physically) mature before they take lifelong vows, especially if those vows are to stand a chance of actually being life-long. Ok maybe the Duggars are a bad example because Josh Duggar (married son) actually seems like more of a man than your average 30 year-old. But I digress.
Heck, call me a bad social conservative, but I don’t even think women should get married until they are in their mid-twenties and have had a little time to experience some independence after college, which yes, I think they should attend. Unmarried.
The average female body doesn’t even stop growing until around the age of 25. And call me crazy, but it seems un-ideal for a woman to have a baby when her body is still growing and developing. And considering that babies are the natural result of marriage, well – it’s worth thinking about these things.
Okay so we all agree that we definitely don’t want teen pregnancy or teen marriage. Let’s work backwards to find out to prevent it.
Babies. People should not get married unless they are ready for them. Considering that half of all pregnancies are unplanned and that contraception has a 10-30 percent fail rate – even if you think you are going to thwart nature – be prepared for things to go otherwise. Who doesn’t know at least one newlywed couple that found themselves pregnant and surprised? We want people to be married when they have babies, it works out better for everyone. Which brings us to…
Marriage. People should not date unless they are ready to marry. Not ready to marry tomorrow, necessarily. But not entirely closed off to marriage or physically and emotionally unprepared to marry in the somewhat near future. Otherwise it’s just two people stringing each other along. Add in complete emotional immaturity and surging hormones, and I present you: Teen dating.
People often scoff at teen heartache as a youthful fancy. But teen heartache is the very worst kind. It’s often the result of intense intimacy minus the emotional maturity needed to process it all. It’s pure emotional and physical mayhem. (Good grief and we all went through this before Facebook.)
The data backs this up. A recent study at the University of Toronto found that people who got involved romantically at a young age were far more likely to have behavioral problems down the road. As the Wall Street Journal reported:
Entering into intimate relationships too early can leave teens ill-prepared to handle typical problems couples face and without the support of peers at the same stage of romantic development, researchers said. These experiences can increase the risk of unsafe sexual activity, alcohol use and delinquent behaviors, the study says. Late-starting daters, while also out of step with peers, appeared to have no apparent social or emotional difficulties.
Logic and data tell us that teen dating is bound for disaster. But our culture glamorizes and monetizes teen dating, whether it’s Victoria’s Secret’s trashy teen lingerie line or Glee. Teen dating is the ultimate set-up, the worst house of cards, the biggest emotional ponzi scheme.
But if we want to take a cut at the disturbingly high teen pregnancy rate, we could start by discouraging teenagers hardly able to control their sexual urges from dating and physical intimacy. And if we want to do something about teen angst and misery, we could try stopping them from getting into emotionally intimate relationships that are laced with mines and rigged to fail.