Insights on the Issues of Dating and Courtship

Author: Sheila Kippley

[Editor's Note: In this digital ASCII edition, text that was italicized in the original is enclosed in angle brackets here, e.g., .]


by Sheila Matgen Kippley

A big question among some young people is, "How far can we go without sinning?" A related question among many parents is, "How can we best help our children negotiate the trials of adolescence and young adult boy-girl friendships without sinning or leading others into sin?" There is no formula by which you can exempt your children from the effects of Original Sin or all the temptations that are thrown at them today. There are, however, some ways you can help reduce the frequency and the level of temptation, and there are, of course, good ways to teach your children how to work with the Lord in overcoming temptation. You will find nothing particularly original in what follows, but sometimes an orderly review of the basics can be helpful.

Definition of Dating

By dating I mean a planned activity in which a couple plan to be primarily with each other, even if they are with other couples. I mention this only because I have heard of some teens saying they were "dating" if they merely walked home from school or talked over the phone with someone a few times. For some others, "dating" is a code word meaning that they have a special relationship in which they become physically intimate in ways they certainly wouldn't with someone they regard as "just a friend." They aren't fornicating yet, but they are being unchaste. For still others, dating is synonymous with fornication. To avoid these situations, it is best to do things in groups.

Early Marriage Preparation

First, there is much preparation work that goes into the formation of a good marriage partner and it usually starts at birth. The love and care that a child receives from his or her parents and the love expressed between the parents is very beneficial to that child's perception of a loving marriage. Young adults today know of too many divorces and, tragically, have often experienced their own parents' conflicts so that they have not experienced what makes a good

Christian marriage. The value of marital love and stability was brought out by a young woman who wrote the following to her parents on a recent anniversary:

"I just want you both to know how happy I am that you two have loved each other and devoted your lives to each other and to our family. It means the world to me that my parents are still married and that my only conception of a family is one with two parents living in one house. I wish that many of my friends could have been able to grow up in one household where the parents love each other and are kind and considerate to one another."

Second, developing multiple friendships with persons of the opposite sex is a desirable goal prior to marriage, and this goal can be achieved best without dating. Dating severely limits friendships to one person of the opposite sex. Being with one person often leads the couple to immoral activity. Dating which involves physical intimacy hampers good communication and friendships and is poor preparation for marriage. Instead, friendships need to be fostered in an environment that involves activities, interests, or talents. As young adults mature and become ready for marriage, chaste courtship assists them. It enables persons to use this time to determine if that "someone special" is the one with whom they want to spend the rest of their lives and raise a family.

Spiritual helps

As parents, our primary job is to encourage and motivate our children in the Faith. We want our children to have a close relationship with God and make Him the center of their lives. The following suggestions may be helpful in carrying out this goal: Receive the Eucharist often. Attend Mass and holidays as a family. Stress the importance of the sacraments. Go to confession on a monthly basis. Teach your children the value of confession and to avail themselves of this sacrament if any mortal sin is committed. Pray the family rosary. Catholic families need the protection of the Virgin Mary. Consider using The Seven Day Bible Rosary - a book that features a different set of mysteries and Bible verses for each week. (Ed Note: See our "Resources " column for more information.) Teach them the importance of obedience in relation to the Fourth Commandment. Children must learn that obedience means doing the right thing, even when it is difficult. Pray for your children before retiring each night. A "Hail Mary" offered for each child (their spouse, children or friends) certainly takes little effort or time. Educate your children at home during the grade and high school years. Their faith will be fostered, and there should be less tension between parent and child. If your children are able to attend college, send them only to the few good Catholic colleges that are available. Many people meet their future spouses in these schools of higher learning. The less preferable option would be to have them stay home and attend the local college or university. If this latter option is chosen, have your teens attend Catholic conferences and/or retreats and events that foster and strengthen their faith. Develop spiritual support with other Catholic families in the community. Meeting once or twice a month with other Catholic families offers spiritual support to parents as well as to children. The prayer support from such a community is invaluable.

Pre-marital Chastity

Some parents desire specific advice in raising their children. They want their children to remain pure for the Lord and yet not remain isolated. Teens especially crave friends. Here's another list of suggestions for that purpose, but without any particular order.

--The child has a need for friends.

Through home education, spiritual community, or church youth groups, a child is exposed to other kids. These other children are basically good choices because they are more likely to have similar spiritual goals and their parents are usually strong in the faith.

--Encourage group activities, whether they are going to a church festival, a school play, or a basketball game. Our home town of Cincinnati has parish festivals every weekend during the summertime; this provides an environment where groups of girls and boys can meet and socialize. Plenty of parents and young families are also present.

--Encourage your children to go out only one night on the weekend. The other night can be a "work" night such as baby-sitting or a night to invite a friend to visit. It can also be a night for a family outing or a family game.

One of the advantages of being homeschooled is that your child does not have to go to school on Monday and report to his peers what he did on Friday and Saturday nights. Institutionally educated kids can feel like "nerds" if they spend an evening at home. This pressure or competition with regard to having fun or just "doing something to talk about on Monday" is eliminated through homeschooling. Our 13 year old son was content to spend a Friday or Saturday night "sitting" with his grandfather. I doubt that this attitude would have been present if he had been attending institutional school.

Our son, Chris, has not expressed the desire to go to a sixth, seventh or eighth grade Catholic school dance. When a friend told me her sixth grade son had already gone to four boy/girl dances that year, I quietly thanked God I was homeschooling.

We recently attended a Friday night Mass. Due to a school dance, our after Mass social could not take place downstairs. Chris happened to go downstairs that night and saw a tennis acquaintance at this 7th grade dance. The following day, he shared with me his reaction to the dance: "How stupid!"

--We can teach our children that it is more fun to do things in groups. We can teach them that it is not good to be entirely alone with a member of the opposite sex for a long period of time nor to be with anyone frequently.

--Going to movies is popular with older children and teenagers. Be careful to screen the movies beforehand by reading critiques on them.

--Teach your children at the appropriate ages or times about chastity. Use the saints as models. When we read the life of St. Francis, it mentioned that he refrained from looking into the eyes of any woman. I used this opportunity to speak to Chris about the eyes and how we can use them to avoid temptation.

--Teach your own form of sex education to your older children or teenagers on and off throughout the year. I prefer an occasional sprinkling to a 6 week crash course. Look for ways to convey the faith and beliefs to your children: a few spoken words, an article, a chapter, a book, a video.

As parents we must provide instruction about the occasions of sin, such as bad company, being alone with a member of the opposite sex, drinking alcoholic beverages, attending certain parties, donning certain dress, and any intimacy not appropriate between man and woman or boy and girl. I include in this the casual boy's hand on a girl's knee as being too intimate. In public it conveys a statement that "you are mine." Also, any prolonged kissing and petting must be taught to be immoral and a matter for mortal sin.

--Warn Teens to Guard for Near Occasions of Sin.

Recently, Patrick Homan from the Couple to Couple League office responded to a letter CCL had received from a young woman concerned about her dating activity. Summarizing the advice he himself was given in high school, he wrote as follows:

"What are the actual rules? They are fairly simple. First, no touching below the neck or above the shins. . . Second, as far as hugging and kissing, you hug and kiss your boyfriend the same way you would hug and kiss your brother. Again, is this going to be popular? No, but it is correct. Finally and most important, if either of you start to feel any sense of sexual arousal, you stop immediately. You see, the important thing is not so much how far you can go, but understanding the absolute necessity to avoid the near occasion of sin. . . How do you do this? You don't single date. You group date. You avoid situations that would encourage or enhance sexual urges. . . Finally, I would make very sure that the boy or boys you are dating clearly understand the rules as you do."

Preparation for Marriage

Once your sons and daughters are ready for marriage and have begun to consider marriage with one particular person, I would encourage them to read my husband's book, , one chapter at a time. At the end of each chapter are several questions which the engaged couple can discuss together. This will enable them to better understand what each one thinks about important issues that will confront them as a married couple. Hopefully during their growing years, they have learned what to look for in a marriage partner by being exposed to a variety of friends of both sexes. Once they are ready for marriage, it is important to really know the person they want to wed.

As we already know, we all suffer from the effects of Original Sin, and all the techniques in the world are no guarantee that our children will live a virtuous life. If everything else is equal, a combination of the sacraments, genuine love, and proper instruction will give your children the best possible opportunity to walk with the Lord in this life in order to be with Him for all eternity.

Sheila Kippley wishes to encourage parents to continue homeschooling their children through the high school years. She and her husband John are in the ninth year of home educating their family. The family resides in Cincinnati, OH.

Reprinted with permission from , October 1994-January 1995.