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Sweet Sixteen (and never been kissed?)

By Shelah Miner

I’d seen him at the last two stake dances and thought he was cute, but hadn’t really talked to him. But that night, things were different. We danced, and he spun me in circles as we both laughed. When we wanted a breather, I jumped on his back and he ran me around the stake center. Eventually, we ended up sitting in the hall, and when too many people complained about stepping over our outstretched feet, we moved into a classroom, where I snuggled into his side and he held my hand. At the end of the night, we walked out to the parking lot together, and just as my dad was turning into the parking lot, Matt kissed me for the first time.

I was fourteen.

After that, we were inseparable. Or at least as inseparable as a fourteen-year-old and a fifteen-year-old who live forty miles apart can be. We talked on the phone every afternoon while watching videos on MTV. We begged rides from our parents, his older brother, and any friends willing to take pity on us. We went to church dances and school dances and parties after his high school football games. We kissed. We kissed a lot. We kissed in his bedroom with the door closed. We kissed in his family’s cabin when we were the only people there. We were probably extraordinarily lucky, but we never did anything that would land us in the bishop’s office to confess. Matt and I dated on-and-off (mostly on) for the next three years, until he left for college.

As far as active Mormon kids go, we broke a lot of the rules. For the Strength of Youth says: “You should not date until you are at least 16 years old. When you begin dating, go with one or more additional couples. Avoid going on frequent dates with the same person. Developing serious relationships too early in life can limit the number of other people you meet and can perhaps lead to immorality.” We basically turned a blind eye to that paragraph. My parents didn’t seem to care. His parents didn’t seem to care. None of our church leaders seemed to care, or at least seemed to care enough to tell us to knock it off.

***

My son is going on his first date this weekend. It’s a group date, with three other couples, and they’re going to the zoo, to dinner, and to a high school dance. Sounds innocent enough, right? This spring baby of mine has watched most of his friends turn sixteen and start dating this year, and he seemed sheepish and apologetic about wanting to go to the dance, the last one for sophomores this school year, even though he won’t be sixteen for a few more weeks. He’s had to defend himself to more than one friend, and I find myself justifying the date to my friends too (even when they don’t ask for the justification).

It’s going to be an even more difficult stretch for my daughter, who won’t turn sixteen until 2/3 of the way through her junior year of high school.

It feels disingenuous of me to put down a hard and fast prohibition against dating before sixteen when I flouted that rule, and so did my husband (when he was fifteen he had his first kiss with a seventeen-year-old girl). I find myself being more of a “spirit of the law” kind of girl, but I wonder if I’m misjudging the symbolic importance of the age.

I’d love to have a discussion. Did you wait until you were sixteen to date? What were the upsides and downsides of waiting? Do you have rules for your kids or do you do the whole “teach them correct principles and let them govern themselves” thing? Is the age sixteen benchmark something that feels less like a rule and more like a guiding principle outside the jello belt?

About Shelah Miner

(Co-Editor-in-Chief) teaches English at BYU and French at a Salt Lake City middle school. She has an addiction to her Audible account, hates making dinner, and embraces the chaos of life with a husband, six kids, a dog, a lizard and four rabbits.

57 thoughts on “Sweet Sixteen (and never been kissed?)”

  1. The prophets said it – we obeyed it. That for us was the higher principle we wanted our children to learn: we follow the prophet. There are very few straight out directives. Most, such as keeping the sabbath day holy, are to be decided by the guidance of the Hoky Ghost and, to put it bluntly, our level of conversion.
    Out of all the mandates of the word of Wisdom, only 4 are specifically banned.
    In our family "no dating until 16" was a specific, clear cut mandate from the prophet. We chose to obey the prophet.

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  2. I waited when I was 16. Looking back, it makes me happy to be able to say I did it. It helps build good habits of following the prophet. It takes strength to do it even when people around you think it is a stupid rule. It's at the point where it no longer seems like a reasonable thing to do that continued obedience becomes faith.

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  3. Hi Shelah!

    My circumstance was slightly different because of the fact that I wasn't a member until I was 18. That being said, I didn't have my first kiss until I was 17.

    I totally "get" that you didn't DO anything that you would have to confess to the bishop. Because THAT is not how you were thinking.

    I read voraciously as a kid. I loved romantic movies, and musicals right along with rock'em sock'em tough stuff.

    Heroic and romantic chivalry was foremost in my mind and in my heart. To me a "kiss" was the ULTIMATE expression of love before marriage. Anything else could be figured out later. In the right time and circumstance.

    I was intelligent, outgoing, athletic and there were girls that I liked. Crushes since the First Grade. But…loving "pure and chaste from afar" was my jam.

    I had girls who were friends who I also crushed on. But, if I ever found myself alone with any of them, I suddenly remembered someplace else I had to be. Like at our eight grade grad…the after party. I slowly realized that people were disappearing to out of the way places in pairs, and suddenly I was alone with a girl who I not only loved, but respected.

    She was wanting to…go with the flow of the evening…I decided I needed to be elsewhere.

    The pressure was SO much in high school that I quit rather than takes the chance that my standards would slowly erode.

    I took a job in northern Canada as LUMBERJACK. A little over six months on the job, I found myself turning down an invitation from four lovely ladies to go skinny dipping.

    This…boggled my mind.

    I had (somewhat logically, I felt) concluded that if I personally did not make any sexual advances toward any female…then OF COURSE things of a sexual nature were off the table.

    I had no idea FEMALES could be sexually aggressive.

    Time to adjust my thinking to include these…other…dangers.

    Five months into my job and two months after turning 17, I was dating. Which introduced a different kind of complication: jealous ex boyfriend and his friends.

    Seven of them altogether.

    They announced their intentions to beat me up if I didn't stop romancing the girl in question.

    I said…"Okay. Try."

    A little bit later, just after fighting a forest fire for the entire weekend that threatened to obliterate the entire town…my clothes in blackened shambles…and in the midst of apologizing for the smell…

    I got my first kiss.

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  4. We've strongly encouraged our kids to wait till 16, and been mostly successful, but when our oldest daughter was about 15 and a half, she starting "going with" a non-member who was 16. They technically didn't date, but being as they attended the same school, my guess is that she and him carried on and did whatever they could at school. They dated for the next two years until she went to BYU. They broke it off, she went on to date other guys and eventually married in the temple. Happy ending, but she would be the first to admit that she wished she had never seriously dated so early, much less with a non-member. It cut off her opportunities in many ways to date other nice guys, particularly LDS guys. Don't think she ever did anything that would merit a visit with her bishop, but still….. My wife technically didn't date until 16, but by then had already had boyfriends at school. She kissed a couple of guys in high school and at BYU, at all hours of the day and night. She managed to keep things on the kissing level (though guys tried to cop a feel) but would also admit she walked way too close to the line of appropriate behavior. Sorry, but it's tough to spend several hours on Squaw Peak making out. Eventually, something is bound to happen. Because of her experiences, she's done her best to discourage our children from dating too early and from getting into serious relationships too early in life.

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  5. One more note: Youngest son dated a non-member girl in high school. Two years. One kiss led to two, to three, and ….. you get the picture. He rationalized their behavior all they way to end of his MTC experience, when he couldn't take it anymore and came home. He sat out another year, cleared up his life, and went back out on his mission. He'll get home in a couple of months from having served an honorable mission. While I'm sure he grew from dating the young lady, I know personally he regrets ever allowing himself to get serious with a girl as a junior and senior in high school. I am sympathetic with teens who fall into the "hormones over honesty" trap. Young love (infatuation?) is wonderful, intoxicating. But, I can't think of a high school dating relationship that went beyond a year where there wasn't some type of chastity problem.

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  6. My first kiss was at 12 and I went to dances and had the occasional date at 14. My parents were divorced and my mom used allowing me to date before age 16 as one of many digs against my dad. I wish had I had more consistent parental awareness and guidance with curfews, dating, etc. I stayed chaste and drug free, but I ended up in a lot of questionable circumstances.

    Those issues, however, are not the same issues your kids face in that they have two loving, present parents. While I wish I had waited a little longer date than I did, I too was a 15 year old junior in high school and was definitely mature enough for dances and group dates by then (though I didn't have a serious relationship until college). Maybe something to consider is the idea of 2 or so years of dating with parental guidance (curfews, meeting the date) before leaving home. That will differ for each kid according to the school year. If that is at 16, great, but 15 may be fine too with a responsible teen and aware parent. I'm still many years away from this with my own kids and would love to hear what you decide if you want to share.

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  7. You are brave to write this post, Shelah! There's a lot of judginess incited over "little" rules like this (modesty, two earrings, R rated movies, how to wear garments, etc etc), which brings out the crazy in me.

    I, too, am a spirit of the law person, but my first date was a homecoming dance a few days after my 16th birthday. Had the dance fallen before my birthday, I think my parents would have allowed me to go (they were strict about dating stuff), but my mutual crush was very letter of the law and never would have asked me.

    I have two daughters and will encourage them to wait until 16, but mostly I just want them to be honest with me so we can set boundaries together.

    I think this is a dangerous generalization: "I can’t think of a high school dating relationship that went beyond a year where there wasn’t some type of chastity problem." Maybe because I'm an exception, as were most of my high school friends.

    I also disagree with this, at least for my own life: "It’s at the point where it no longer seems like a reasonable thing to do that continued obedience becomes faith."

    Still, though, interesting to read everyone's experiences! And good luck to all of us in the parenting trenches.

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  8. My oldest is 12 and I'm getting scared about navigating the Utah high school dating world because I didn't date in high school. I waited until 16, but only because no one asked me on any dates before then. And nobody asked me after that either. There were only a few other Mormon kids at my high school–I did go to prom my junior year because I asked the only other Mormon guy in my grade. I think that was his only high school date too. I didn't really date until I got to BYU, and that was only sporadically before my mission. My first kiss was at age 23.

    So, I have no experience with this as a parent and it terrifies me a little because my kids are probably not going to be as nerdy as I was, and there are actually other Mormon kids for them to date. Plus, there seems to be an actual dating culture here. When I was in high school, the nonmembers weren't dating either. People just "hung out" with each other (and often that involved drinking or sex, which I didn't want to do).

    I'm encouraging my kids to wait simply because I don't think there's any rush to grow up at all. Of course, that's easy for me to say 20 years after graduating high school without ever dating–missing out on high school relationships doesn't seem to be a big deal at this point in my life. My daughter is in seventh grade and hasn't asked about dating or relationships with boys at all. But her birthday is in late summer and she's the youngest in her grade, so maybe in a few years she'll be worried about it. I'll probably still stick with 16 as the minimum age.

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  9. I also have a daughter who will not be 16 until mid way through her Junior year. I tend to be more loose about certain "rules." I am a firm believer in "What works for one family may not work for another." For us, we have decided that once our children are in high school, if they get asked to school dances before they are 16, they can go, as long as they go in a group. I feel that school activities and dances are such a big part of the whole high school experience, so I want my kids to experience as much as they can, besides, I figure if they can attend church dances when they are 14, they can attend school dances.

    I also liked what KR said about giving your children time to practice dating while they are still at home for a couple of years before they are out on their own. It makes sense to me that we teach our children the right way to date (meaning being mutually respectful, teaching them about consent, etc) while they are still young and giving them time to practice before they need to do it completely on their own.

    If my daughters choose to go to school dances when they are in high school, great! And if they choose to not date until they are sixteen, then that's great too.

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  10. Hi Jesse…

    My mindset growing up was that I didn't really care what other people thought. Within the first couple of years of grade school, I had people who didn't like me because I was half Native American.

    And I thought…you don't even know me, and you hate me or won't give me a chance. So I simply assumed such people were not very bright.

    The pressure I felt in high school was one of worry of entrapment . Forcing a situation where my standards were compromised.

    The other worry was being constantly around people who didn't have the same standards…would I eventually start swearing because it was all I heard?

    So yes, I left school so my standards would not erode. (I later took my GED, scored in the top one-percent in the nation, got a scholarship to BYU.)

    What I think parents have to be on the watch for is desperation to fit in.

    In school and many youth settings…popularity is the coin of the realm. And the cost for that coin is often too high a price.

    People will often say…how CAN you wait so long for sex?

    I was a virgin until I got married. Lack of sex NEVER even came close to making me die.

    The focus should be on love. Love of God and love of the other person.

    My now ex-wife had emotional and mental issues. THOSE were NOT the reason our marriage didn't last.

    Our marriage didn't last because she didn't love me.

    Every other guy wanted her for sex. I had respect for her.

    I looked good on paper and I looked good…enough.

    So she convinced herself that she SHOULD love me. But she never really did.

    Marriage involves some measure selflessness and self-sacrifice.

    Which LOVE accommodates gladly.

    Without love…it becomes resentment.

    The Prophet has said that 16 is a good time to begin to mature in understanding in such things..in a manner which limits the opportunity for sexual selfishness to kill love.

    And be better able to withstand desperately trying to gather "the coin of the realm".

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  11. I'm a rule person in general, I always have been. And while I know that following all the rules perfectly doesn't mean your life will turn out perfectly, I do think there is safety in rules, especially when they come from the prophet. So, while my children are many years away from dating, I do plan to enforce the no dating till you're 16 rule.

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  12. I had a friend who had a steady boyfriend during high school. They have no chastity issues together–but he had plenty on the side with all the girls he was running around with because she was a good girl.

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  13. We raised our children far from the "jello belt".

    Two of our children dated in high school, one had a "first girlfriend" as a freshman and always had some girl he was sweet on in high school (all of them not LDS, there were very few where we lived) but, by his choice, they kept all their interaction in group settings until age 16.

    Both of our children who dated while in high school have expressed appreciation for our request that they wait until 16. Their take on it: the extra time allowed them to develop skills in creating friendships without depending on or managing layers of physical affection. That, they said, helped them to make more clear-headed decisions when they were at the point in life where they were choosing a life partner.

    So I'm in favor of waiting. In our case our kids said it allowed them some time for social maturing and comprehension that served them well later in life.

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  14. I'm still a decade or so away from having to tackle this for real, but I'm in support of the "wait until 16" rule too. There is so much pressure out there for kids that waiting until they've hopefully gained enough maturity to better resist those pressures seems wise. (Not to mention the idea that the kids can also drive themselves away from unwanted situations if necessary.)

    I find today's "enlightened" attitudes toward marriage and dating to be rather cognitively dissonant. "Wait to get married" they push. "Be sure you're an independent, mature personality before making such a big decision." But then they turn around and say "Give your body, health and safety and sanity to whoever, whenever. And you might as well start young." People who would be appalled at a young couple marrying have no issue with that same couple living as if married in other ways.

    I am far, far from the Jello Belt. I've never lived there. I'm sure it has its own challenges but I really worry about the pressures my kids will face at that age and the lack of support from the other adults around.

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  15. I got asked out three weeks before my sixteenth birthday (1973) and my dad wouldn't budge; his reason was that people were watching us and we needed to be obedient. It was a hard thing but I made it through alive. I learned that we don't always understand and/or like the rules but they are there for our benefit. After all, we are told in Abraham that this earth would be a place where we would be tested in all things. Hold fast to the iron rod and keep pressing forward.

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  16. Standards like this are minimums, not green lights to hit the gas. The fact that so many people want to push the minimums speaks to their importance–that impulse demonstrates a focus that is somewhere other than on safety and prudence. Rather than turning 16 meaning "I can/should date now", it should be a prompt for considering "Am I ready/desirous to date now?"

    As for age-based rules in particular, remember that age actually does reflect the maturity of young brains and bodies, as well as experience. Everyone is different, yes, but everyone also has a tendency to overestimate their own capacities and often those of their offspring. If a kid hasn't been taught and practiced how to act properly in dating situations, they almost certainly won't know how. The only part of it that comes naturally is the hormones.

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  17. I absolutely agree with the wait until sixteen rule. It is wise and inspired guidance. And we will do our best to follow it as my children hit their teenage years. However, some of these comments just grated on me all night. Have we become the Jews of old that lived so strictly by the law merely because it looks good to others or because it is the law? I hope not. The law is to help us to become, not to hinder us and to provide blindly followed rules. We must ponder the circumstances, and the individuals involved and then pray mightily for divine guidance. Also, by the time someone is sixteen they should be given some input on the decision.

    This whole attitude of "It is the law and we will follow it to the T no ifs, ands, or buts," just misses the point of laws and commandments … and Christianity. And really, it is not effective parenting.

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  18. I was 3 months shy of 16 when I had my first kiss. I hid this from my parents, and that initiated me into a dating life that I felt ashamed of. I didn't "do" anything either, just kissing (lots of kissing) but I felt incredible guilt for most of my high school dating life, mostly because I believed I'd started off on the wrong foot.

    I also felt tons of guilt because my boyfriend was a non-member. Everyone discouraged me from dating him, which compounded the guilt (though not enough to extinguish my feelings for him). Throughout high school I believed I was a bad person. I felt I had to keep things from my parents and youth leaders, and that was all so, so unhealthy. With a different boy, it could've gotten real ugly real fast.

    I wish someone would have sat down with me and said, this is okay. You have no reason to feel shame or guilt. I trust you to make good decisions for yourself.

    I still have these bizarre moments when I feel guilty for enjoying my relationships. It's as though, at any moment, God could tell me that I need to give up the things that make me the most happy. The message I got from the church was that sacrifice was the end goal, not happy, healthy relationships.

    I'm not saying that my relationship was amazingly healthy (we were still teenagers, after all) but it was what I needed at the time.

    I wish my parents had asked more questions and shown more flexibility. When they did find out I was dating a non-member, they had a talk with me. They didn't ask me about my concerns, or prepare me for challenges I might face. They just let me know they didn't approve. I think this lit a kind of rebellion inside me, too. I dated the boy for too long, probably because I wanted to prove to everyone that I'd made the right choice.

    I guess I wish I'd had the space to be more open with my parents. Disapproval only gets you so far with your kids, and for certain temperaments it's emotionally fatal. Understanding is far more valuable, and it works for every single kid, no matter their temperament.

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  19. A – You bring up some very important and valid points

    "When men obey the commandments of the creator, it is not blind obedience. How different is the cowering of a subject to his totalitarian monarch and the dignified willing obedience one gives to hi God. The dictator is ambitious, selfish, and has ulterior motives. God's every commandment is righteous, every directive purposeful, and all for the good of the governed. The first my be blind obedience, but the latter is certainly faith obedience." Spencer W. Kimball, in CR Oct. 1954, pp. 51-52

    THEN…the difference between blind obedience and faith obedience is KNOWING FOR ONESELF that the instruction is from God….and that God will not give any directives that are not right, that are not designed to bless our lives.

    Harold B. Lee stated: "It is not alone sufficient for us as Latter-day Saints to follow our leaders and to accept their counsel, but we have the greater obligation to gain for ourselves the unshakable testimony of the divine appointment of these men and the witness that what they have told us is the will of our Heavenly Father." CR Oct. 1950, p. 130

    "I am more afraid that this people have so much confidence in their leaders that they will not inquire for themselves of God whether they are being led by Him. I am fearful they settle down in a state of blind security, trusting their eternal destiny in the hands of their leaders with a reckless confidence that in itself would thwart the purposes of God in their salvation, and weaken that influence they could give their leaders if they know for themselves by the revelations of Jesus Christ that they are led in the right way. Let every man and woman know by the whisperings of the Spirit of God to themselves whether their leaders are walking in the way the Lord dictates or not. (Harold B. Lee quoting Brigham Young, Conference Report, Oct. 1950, p. 130.

    "Rendering intelligent obedience to living prophets requires us to study and struggle, ponder and pray concerning the counsels and teachings that proceed from them. It is no easy task, and in large measure it rightfully shifts the responsibility from them to us. Prayerfully pleading with the Lord to bless us with a witness of the Spirit concerning their counsel yields a blessing of knowing the will of God for us individually. This knowledge makes easier our obedience to even difficult requirements. Without such a liberating witness one may be left to "kick against the pricks" – to either reject the prophetic words outright or obey them grudgingly and with a critical and murmuring heart."

    * The use of this reality to rationalize ignoring or rejecting living prophets is not uncommon, however. ..God knows when we are thus engaged. Ultimately all will be held strictly accountable for their decisions, interpretations, and applications regarding the teachings of the Lord's servants."

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  20. A practical reason to wait until 16: in states where teens can drive at that age, and have access to a car, agency has a lot more options when transportation isn't an issue. In other words, I'm in a better position to step out of a situation that's getting out of hand when I've got my own wheels. If I had to rely on someone else to transport me, or heaven forbid call my parents and say "Hey, I'm trying not to get too involved over in my girlfriend's bedroom, mind coming to pick me up?" — yeah. From another perspective, consent can get weird as well: the pressure is different when one person wants to take things to a certain place and can say, "You don't want to, but where are you going to go? You can't leave unless you go in my car."

    Not to say that public transportation or owning a car guarantees teen chastity, but transportation doesn't hurt.

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  21. Dating was not culturally acceptable where I went to high school. 16 was way too young. But that didn't stop it from happening at school where it seemed all my friends were "going out" with someone. I had strict parents who had firm rules, but I was able to talk openly with them about most things. One thing my dad would say that always stuck with me was "daughter, if I ever tell you something that is different from what you think the Lord wants you to do, listen to the Lord!" I learned to trust my parents, but more importantly, to trust the Savior and do those things which pleased God first, rather than my peers or even myself.

    At 15, I attended a youth fireside on dating where the Bishop talked about his courtship with his wife. When he said he never kissed her on the lips until after they were engaged, I remember being in awe, and having this great desire to follow suit.

    After that, I successfully navigated numerous opportunities to "go out" with boys. No cute boy could shake the ideal planted by the Bishop's story in my heart. Not until I was 23.
    I got my first kiss from the cutest boy of all as we knelt at the alter in the temple and were married for time and all eternity.

    I know my story is my own, but I wanted to share that where dating is concerned, forging my path within the Lord's standards has been a protection in my life; one that has brought great blessings and peace.

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  22. Really interesting conversation, Shelah.

    Quite honestly, I don't really recall any serious focus on 16 as a bright line, either in my youth or my children's youth. I was a responsible dater, and so were my kids, so my parents gave me lots of leash, just as I gave my kids. Trying to date at school never really occurred to me; with one exception, I only dated LDS girls (and I didn't date a lot, as I grew up in the midwest, not the west). My first kiss wasn't until I was 17. My kids were equally responsible; I don't recall ever having an argument or disagreement about it. And as adults they are both very responsible to this day. To me, putting too much stress on this bright line concept can have unintended consequences.

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  23. My birthday is in June. I didn't turn 16 until my entire sophomore year had passed. My best friend turned 16 the May before our sophomore year.

    My parents treated dating like it was tied to schooling rather than age. My friends were dating, so I could date. I was grateful, and didn't feel a tremendous need to rebel ( at least on that issue) because it seemed like a reasonable approach.

    My opinion is let them date when they become sophomores.

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  24. I'm curious– is this a doctrine or a policy or something else entirely? I know that the guideline has been in the FSOY for a long time, but I'm not sure that it's a commandment like the Word of Wisdom. I definitely don't recall seeing anything about dating age in the scriptures. I would love to know more about the history of this rule. I spent a while trying to research it tonight and came up with nothing.

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  25. I know it must have been painful to watch your son go through that experience, but that seems like a pretty big blanket statement. I know many people who dated long-term in high school and didn't have law of chastity problems.

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  26. I found the quote that started it all! During the 1970s the age of sixteen took on special significance in this regard when Spencer W. Kimball, as President of the Church, said: "When you get in the teen years, your social associations should still be a general acquaintance with both boys and girls. Any dating or pairing off in social contacts should be postponed until at least the age of 16 or older, and even then there should be much judgment used in the selections and in the seriousness" (Kimball, 1975, p. 4). As a consequence of this teaching, the age of sixteen has become the acceptable age when dating can begin.

    http://eom.byu.edu/index.php/Dating_and_Courtship

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  27. That's a really interesting perspective, Jessie. Just as you feel that not dating in high school influences the way you raise your kids, I think that having good dating experiences in high school makes me a little wary of sending my kids off to college (especially if they go to BYU or another marriage-minded school) without having dating experience. I feel very strongly that going through the experience of having a semi-serious boyfriend and breaking up and setting boundaries I felt comfortable with was something I was very glad I had the opportunity to do while I was still at home living with my parents and their security net. It's funny how our experiences color our perceptions of things like this.

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  28. Hi SuAnn! 🙂 I've always thought it was interesting that stake dances started at fourteen (hello, that is where I met my high school boyfriend) but we're not encouraged to date until sixteen. I think my policy for my daughter will probably end up being something similar to what you're saying here.

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  29. See, Kermit, and this is what makes this rule so complicated. It seems to me that in terms of emotional attachment, your son and his girlfriend are much closer than the friend my son is taking to this dance. My kids have plenty of friends who have boyfriends and girlfriends, people they text and hang out with on the weekends, but I think they would say that they're not "dating" because they're not sixteen. It's an interesting set of classifications, isn't it?

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  30. I think that it's interesting too. But sometimes I wonder if our approach is similarly messed up in the opposite direction. We say, don't date at all until you're sixteen, and then only in groups and not seriously. Then we say, go on a mission when you're eighteen or nineteen and don't date at all. Then we say, you're home from your mission– hurry up and get married. Sometimes I worry that we're not preparing our kids enough for being in mature relationships, instead of fostering the "playing house" approach you point out seeing in lots of non-LDS couples.

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  31. We all know, I tend to err on the side of liberality. That's why I ask questions like this here, so I can get perspectives and insight from people who see things differently than I do. Thanks for sharing that talk!

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  32. I also think this is really important because it shows us that if we give our kids the impression that we are going to be rigid about rules, it can close off opportunities for conversation with them.

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  33. These may help:

    “Any dating or pairing off in social contacts should be postponed until at least the age of 16 or older, and even then there should still be much judgment used in selections and in the seriousness. Young people should still limit the close contacts for several years, since the boy will be going on his mission when he is 19 years old.

    “Dating and especially steady dating in the early teens is most hazardous. It distorts the whole picture of life. It deprives the youth of worthwhile and rich experiences; it limits friendships; it reduces the acquaintance which can be so valuable in selecting a partner for time and eternity.”

    President Spencer W. Kimball (1895–1985), “President Kimball Speaks Out on Morality,” Ensign, Nov. 1980, 96.

    “Do you want capability, safety, and security in dating and romance, in married life and eternity? Be a true disciple of Jesus. Be a genuine, committed, word-and-deed Latter-day Saint. Believe that your faith has everything to do with your romance, because it does. You separate dating from discipleship at your peril. Jesus Christ, the Light of the World, is the only lamp by which you can successfully see the path of love and happiness. How should I love thee? As He does, for that way ‘never faileth.’”

    Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, “How Do I Love Thee?” New Era, Oct. 2003, 8.

    “How foolish is the youth who feels that the Church is a fence around love to keep him out. Oh, youth, if you could know! The requirements of the Church are the highway to love and to happiness, with guardrails securely in place, with guideposts plainly marked, and with help along the way.

    “How unfortunate to resent counsel and restraint. How fortunate are you who follow the standards of the Church, even if just from sheer obedience or habit. You will find a rapture and a joy fulfilled.”

    President Boyd K. Packer, President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, “You’re in the Driver’s Seat,” New Era, June 2004, 6.

    “When you are old enough, you ought to start dating. It is good for young men and young women to learn to know and to appreciate one another. It is good for you to go to games and dances and picnics, to do all of the young things. We encourage our young people to date. We encourage you to set high standards of dating.

    “When are you old enough? Maturity may vary from individual to individual, but we are convinced that dating should not even begin until you are 16. And then, ideal dating is on a group basis. Stay in group activities; don’t pair off. Avoid steady dating. Steady dating is courtship, and surely the beginning of courtship ought to be delayed until you have emerged from your teens.”

    President Boyd K. Packer, President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, “You’re in the Driver’s Seat,” New Era, June 2004, 8.

    “The Lord has made us attractive one to another for a great purpose. But this very attraction becomes as a powder keg unless it is kept under control. It is beautiful when handled in the right way. It is deadly if it gets out of hand.

    “It is for this reason that the Church counsels against early dating. This rule is not designed to hurt you in any way. It is designed to help you, and it will do so if you will observe it.

    “Steady dating at an early age leads so often to tragedy. Studies have shown that the longer a boy and girl date one another, the more likely they are to get into trouble.

    “It is better, my friends, to date a variety of companions until you are ready to marry. Have a wonderful time, but stay away from familiarity. Keep your hands to yourself. It may not be easy, but it is possible.”

    President Gordon B. Hinckley (1910–2008), “A Prophet’s Counsel and Prayer for Youth,” New Era, Jan. 2001, 13.

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  34. Interesting perspective. This seems like a very male perspective to me, since dating tradition often means that boys drive, which leaves girls, even capable drivers over the age of sixteen, at the mercy of the boys they're dating.

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  35. Thanks for sharing your experiences, Kevin. It's interesting that you seem to be reiterating a point that's come up several times– that trust and open conversation seem to be a big key in adults helping their teens navigate these early dating years.

    And wow, lots of guys chiming in on this topic!

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  36. Shelah…to quote you: "I know many people who dated long-term in high school and didn’t have law of chastity problems."

    To take a moment to ask the obvious question…Why would you know?

    You weren't their bishop.

    Unless you were with each and every couple in question every moment that each and every couple were together, it would be impossible for you to know for certain, wouldn't it?

    Bishops know when they are confessed to…or the Lord prompts them to inquire.

    Stake Presidents get the information in general terms and pass it along to area authorities, who pass the information on to the 70's who pass it along to the apostles and the First Presidency.

    Plus…there is revelation involved all along, particularly with the First Presidency and the Apostles.

    Then the Prophet and The First Presidency and the Apostles give inspired council from the Lord to address the problem.

    Just because you, or any other member, doesn't see dating before 16 as a problem, perhaps take into account that you are not actually in a position to know for certain, or even in the loop to know for certain.

    The Lord and the Prophet and Apostles are in a position to know and they are in the loop to know.

    The counsel is there for a reason and it is inspired.

    Will teenagers rebel?

    Will parents rebel?

    Probably.

    That has been happening since way before Laman and Lemuel.

    And the difference between Laman/Lemuel and Nephi's response to inspired counsel from the Prophet/Parent?

    "And it cam to pass that I, Nephi, being exceedingly young, nevertheless being large in stature, and also having great desires to know the mysteries of God, wherefore, I did cry unto the Lord; and behold he did visit me, and did soften my heart that I did believe all the words which had been spoken by my father; wherefore, I did not rebel against him like unto my brothers." 1 Nephi 2:16

    Rebelling just because they are teenagers and that is what teenagers do does not fly as an excuse to the Lord. Never has, never will.

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  37. Like Kevin, I don't remember much being said about a minimum dating age when I was a teenager in the '70s. But then, I didn't go on a date until I was 21 or 22, so I may have just been oblivious to rules that weren't applicable to me.

    If they'd set a requirement to *start* dating at a specified age, that would have created a great deal of stress in my life, and I'm sure I would remember that.

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  38. I was raised in a "Not dating even ONE DAY before you're sixteen" environment…there was a lot of consensus in my ward about this, and anyone who made an exception to this (eg: going to a formal dance with a date) would have been noted (and judged). So my first date was the NYE dance 2 weeks after my 16th birthday.

    I held fast to the strict letter of the law rules my whole life, but now I see things as a lot more nuanced than I did then. Prom the day before you turn 16? My parents would have said no. But in reality, I feel like that's ludicrous and punitive. There are times for the spirit of the law to be employed and this seems like one of those areas.

    Going to a dance in a group is not really all that different than meeting the girl at a dance, or hanging out with her at an activity. What is "Dating"? We mostly define it as being picked up by someone, and doing an activity with them and then being dropped off again. But what about just being in the same place with someone you like? Kissing before you're 16 was never proscribed. Nor was spending time with them at church dances or other activities. It's nitpicky to say "going to a dance as part of a couple in a group is a date, but meeting at the dance and dancing all night and hanging out with each other at a group activity as long as you didn't drive to/from the whole thing with them isn't".

    Tonight my son is going to the same dance as your son, with a group of other guys from his wrestling team and their dates. We're driving him to the girl's house to pick her up (because he's been sixteen since August but doesn't have his license yet), and taking them to the restaurant where they're meeting the rest of the group.

    This is going to be his first date…because he's a bit older than most of his friends (and the girls in his grade) and he's never mustered up the courage to ask a girl out before. Or even talk to one. I am grateful that he's going…just like I'm grateful that he's learning to drive while he's still got us around to guide and support him as he acquires those vital skills. It's been fun to have these new conversations with him.

    While we were out looking for his outfit for the themed dance, we saw the girl your son is taking to the dance buying her outfit. I'm sure they're going to have a fun, happy time tonight, despite being a few weeks shy of the magical 835 weeks. We're raising them to be gentlemen and teaching them to respect women and themselves. That's what matters.

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  39. I grew up in the Midwest and didn't really date in high school. I dated more at Ricks. My first kiss was with the man I married. And it's worked out great! Did I die from not dating in HS? Of course not. But I don't think my kids have to do it the same way. In fact, ideally I want them to date and even have a steady girl/boy friend in high school. Why? Because I want them to know how to date and how to be the one to put the brakes on in a relationship and how to break up and how to start a new one. I want them to learn this while my husband and I are there to counsel them.
    It seems ludicrous to expect our youth to have no experience with relationships and then come home from their missions/go to college and expect them to be able to make smart marriage decisions. Yes, it worked out for me, but it didn't work out for an awful lot of people. Whether they married the wrong person because they got caught up in the lust of the moment. Or didn't get married at all because they didn't know how to take the step from friends to relationship. Marriage is way too important to just jump in blindly.
    I don't know how my plans for my kids will work out. (they never do) My oldest will be 16 next fall and, at this point, I don't know that he'll see the point in dating since his thought is "it's not like I'm going to get married or anything right now." He's a nerdy introvert. He needs a lot of practice with social interactions.
    I grew up with the no dating till 16 rule and it really didn't impact me, since I didn't date. While my kids hear it at church all the time about no dating till 16, if one of them came to me and had a good reason for wanting to do something sooner, we would definitely consider it.

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  40. "I find today’s “enlightened” attitudes toward marriage and dating to be rather cognitively dissonant. “Wait to get married” they push. “Be sure you’re an independent, mature personality before making such a big decision.” But then they turn around and say “Give your body, health and safety and sanity to whoever, whenever. And you might as well start young.” "

    THIS. There is a lot of insanity in our larger culture.

    I think the Church's natural progression of boy/girl interactions is inspired (my husband pointed this out to me years ago). Start joint activities at 12, dances at 14 (they are supposed to be large group events, not pairing off events…in theory anyway), and then group dating starting at 16. Don't court until after the mission. It all just makes sense to me.

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  41. I was a not-16-until-junior-year girl who met a senior her sophomore year. I held to the not-until-you-are-16 thing for dances, but was way too emotionally involved with this guy and I would say that I did 'date' in ways, and I regret it for many reasons, not the least of which is that I wasted so much emotional and mental time and energy. Teenagers are prone to drama, especially around relationships. It's not just about the law of chastity to me.

    I also think kids need both the letter and the spirit, especially as their brains are still developing.

    My daughter just turned down a dance date (her 16th bday is coming soon); she decided this on her own. I admire her for her courage in doing what she felt was right. Her thought was that you can't drive one day before your 16th birthday, so why date before your 16th birthday if prophets have counseled against it. It's logic that to me is hard to argue against.

    I feel like my kids are so much healthier than I was because they value the letter of the law, and I think they understand the spirit of this counsel, too.

    I just want to add that with technology, there's a lot more of the spirit of the law that needs to be navigated. Lots of connection and drama can happen without ever dating, without ever being face-to-face! So there's lots to talk to our kids about. But I'm very comfortable with encouraging them to keep the letter of the law. I think it's wise, in part because I think it can be a vehicle for talking about the spirit of the law.

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  42. p.s. I know it may not be a popular perspective, but I deeply regret all the kissing I did as a teen (over 16) and young adult. I think the prophets are being so clear about how kids/YSAs ought not do *anything* to arouse sexual passion. Especially with all the problems with porn and such, I think our kids need clear, direct teaching about the difference between love and lust. I knew deep down that pushing lines wasn't right, but now I have a word for it. Feeding physical passions outside of marriage is lust, plain and simple, and I look back with great regret that I justified pushing lines even though "all I did was kiss." I remember as a 16-year-old thinking Pres. Kimball was extreme in how he described what a kiss should be like. I remember my parents encouraging me not to worry too much because they were worried about me freaking out when I got married because I was such a 'good girl' – strict in trying to do what was right. I was wrong, and my parents were wrong.

    I feel like the why of clear, clean physical boundaries is more clearly taught today, and I treasure that truth for my kids' sake. Again, I hope they will be more wise than was.

    I see how truth about love vs. lust is also helping so many women find boundaries and clarity in the face of their husbands' lust addictions, or even marital sexual abuse (or their own addictions) The stats about porn problems are staggering; I think our kids need us to step it up and be unflinchingly clear about why the prophets teach as they do. There are reasons and the need is urgent in today's world to have a generation that understands these things clearly.

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  43. Just one more note… I want my kids to understand this not just to be obedient, but for their own protection against others who would use them for selfish (or ignorant) lust hits (because kids can be ignorant if they don't understand the why of the standards…like I think many of us were). The spirit of the law of chastity is a great protection in this day and age. (Interesting to me how too much focus on the letter could miss the mark on this one…. Again, hoping my children will be more wise than their letter-following momma was in her youth.)

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  44. I understand the rule, the expectation, society's expectations, etc. and have always been frustrated that we go from "no no no no no" to "Yep, better get married! You've been home from your mission for 24 hours!"
    My son skipped a grade so he is the youngest in his class and in seminary. Last year, as a freshman, one of his friends, a girl, had a dance through a service organization that she invited him to, along with four or five others. The group had a great time, and I'm so grateful he went for the experience.

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