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INSIGHTS ON THE ISSUES OF DATING AND COURTSHIP
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
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
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.
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
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.