But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion. — 1 Corinthians 7:9, ESV.
We do not know how old Mary was when the angel Gabriel visited her . But according to Jewish customs, she could be as young as 12 years old . Now, assuming she’s really 12 as per what we inferred from Jewish customs, then is it appropriate to let our children start dating at such a young age?
I think, before we begin, let us clarify some cultural differences between modern culture and ancient Jewish culture in Jesus’ time. First, we do not know how children were educated in antiquity. But in modernity, we teach children to place their studies and career first before finding a suitable partner and settling down when all is stable. Hence, for this context, I’ll use the word “premature” to describe the experiences of these children before they were legally educated about sex and relationships if they were to begin dating at a young age.
Now, if we do let our children start dating at a young age, few things might happen. First, they’ll be “prematurely” exposed to sexual desires they’ve never had. They could seek affirmation with their chosen partners through physical intimacy. Second, they will be “prematurely” exposed to responsibilities they never knew they should bear. Think about what must they do when they get pregnant. Third, their education and careers might be affected because they might not be able to concentrate on what society deems important for them.
But I think, on the other hand, if they begin dating young, children may be less exposed to sin.
“Physical desires” is like a ball. The more effort you put into hitting it and changing its course, the harder it’ll bounce back. However, if we let it go its own way, it will be easier to manage.
Here’s some food for thought.
When it comes to the age when physical desires begin developing for our children, we as parents may pay attention to the likings of our children and see if the ones they like are in accordance to Biblical values (children of the opposite gender in the Christian circle). Then, parents may engage with the parents of the other children and preferably work something out — Something like a betrothal.
With this, the two parents begin working together to teach them proper biblical values about marriage and guide them in their walk with Christ together. Values such as mutual respect, filial piety, the sanctity of the body, mutual edification, can be taught through this arrangement.
On one hand, we limit the children’s urge to keep looking out for partners to affirm themselves. On the other, we will be able to guide them to respect one another as well as others around them. Issues that feminists pointed out such as the “male gaze” and “sexual objectification” will be minimized when children are exposed to the right values of mutual respect from a young age. These children will grow up to treat one and other with respect, harbouring desires for intimacy with only the one they’re “betrothed” to.
You might ask, what about pregnancy, and starting a family, and careers and education?
I think that’s when Biblical education comes into play, (No, I’m not referring to Sunday school. Rather, I’m referring to an active role of discipleship and walking with the child from a very young age.) children will grow up rooted in proper marriage and family values grounded in the Bible.
When Bible-centered parents come together and guide their children together in their relationships, they will ensure that boundaries should not be crossed. They should teach their children to view one another as brothers and sisters with the utmost respect for one another. They should also teach their children to be careful to provide the affirmation and care that each of them requires.
In the family welfare association that I support, it was brought to my attention that a co-worker encouraged children from as young as 13 to start dating if they have a mutual liking for one another and if my co-worker thinks that they are ready to begin a relationship. As I spoke with her, I learned about the point of view (what I’ve discussed above) that she has and how she used it to guide the children. Over the course of a few months, we begin seeing improvements in their grades, confidence, and sense of responsibility. They begin working hard as an encouragement for one another, hoping to give each other a better future. The mutual affirmation they give to one another build up their confidence level. We see a decline in the problem that arises from BGR (also known as “boy-girl relationship”) with non-Christians. Gang affiliation dropped among the children in our association and parent-child relationships improved.
Were there failures? I think they were good learning points. When adults fail to guide children in their walk with God, we see the curiosity within children leading them to uncharted territories. When we let children pick whoever they want beyond who we know, we see children joining gangs unknowingly or getting themselves into serious trouble because their chosen halves told them to do what they did. When we do not provide adequate Bible-centered family education, we find that children may fall into the temptation that will lead to pre-marital sex. But when we put all of these learning points together and guide the children on Biblically grounded values, we see that there will be a holistic improvement in the children’s overall well-being.
So, when’s the appropriate time to let your children start dating? I think the answer lies with the parents. Are we ready to provide the model to let our children model after? Are we so rooted in the Bible that we can provide the guidance they so needed? Are our marriages healthy so as to ensure a healthy next generation?
I think the core of the matter is this — we must be firmly rooted in Christ in order to build a Godly Family. As to the question of when should our children start dating, we should relook Jewish traditions and evaluate our own spiritual health before making a decision.