They’ve Turned Sixteen—Now What?


Helping teenagers face the dilemmas of dating

The day you’ve been dreading for years has finally come. Your daughter has turned sixteen and informs you she’s going to hold you to your promise to let her date. It’s panic time.

As members of the Church, we are counseled to marry in a temple of the Lord. And we marry those we date. Yet for many Latter-day Saint youth in areas throughout the Church, there are few members around to date. And what about the admonition to share the gospel with all people? Do our teenagers date only worthy members of the Church? If they do date nonmembers, will they remember their commitment to a temple marriage? Several families who have successfully handled these issues share their views below.

We have always encouraged our seven children to friendship nonmembers—to include them in activities in our home and at church. We have seen lives change and baptisms take place through the friendshipping of the youth in our ward.

However, we view dating as more than just being friends. So, when our oldest daughter was almost sixteen, we held a family council with her and her sister (who is just eleven months younger than she is) to discuss some dating rules and policies. As we discussed ideas together, we came up with three clear-cut rules. We decided that they would follow President Spencer W. Kimball’s counsel and not date before the age of sixteen, that they would not single date in high school, and that they would not pair off with nonmember friends unless they were with a large group of Latter-day Saints. We found that these simple rules were sufficient to cover any problems or questions that arose.

When our next two daughters were old enough to dream about dating, we held a similar family council with them. We wanted to hear their thoughts and feelings and to adjust the rules if necessary. Again we decided on the same rules. As our three youngest sons near the dating age, we will have another discussion. Jerrold B. and Mildred H. Foutz family, Holbrook, Arizona

We have tried to instill in our children the desire for a temple marriage long before the dating years. We have pictures of and books about the temple in our home, and we take trips to various temple grounds. We have also pointed out examples of good temple marriages to inspire our children.

As our children grew, we emphasized character development and spiritual maturity over social success. We taught them that their worth as a person was not dependent on the number of dates they had. As our girls have grown, they have thanked us for not pushing them into the social scene.

We discussed our dating rules with our children before they reached sixteen years old so they would know what to expect. These rules (used for our high school students) include no mixed group parties before the age of fourteen, no dating before the age of sixteen, no dating any one person two times in a row, dating only those who are sixteen or older and still in high school, letting parents meet the date before you go out, and dating only those with high standards. My husband used to tease our girls that the boys they dated would have to pass a priesthood interview. Of course, there were never any interviews, but our children understood what the standards were.

We have never restricted our children to dating only members of the Church. We have encouraged them to have a friendly attitude towards everyone, and they have involved both their member and nonmember friends in their activities. Their friends are aware of their standards and respect them.

Our rules may seem strict, and they are quite limiting. Our daughters have not dated heavily. However, they enjoyed their dating years, and they have developed rich personal friendships. Their characters have not been hampered by a lack of dates, and they are well on their way to living the kind of life we have taught them to live. Loren and Karen Marie Skousen, Arlington, Texas

We have always taught our children the value of a temple marriage. And we believe that our regular temple activity has helped reinforce their desire to be married in the temple.

Our guidelines for dating have been simple—no dating until you are sixteen; do not date anyone you actually feel you would not want to marry; and date enough different people so that you discover those traits which you want in a mate.

We have never restricted our children to dating only LDS youth. We have always welcomed our children’s nonmember friends into our home. One thing that has helped our children in dating nonmembers is that our children have always been very open about their standards. Their dates know from the beginning that they are determined to be married in the temple. This understanding keeps them from becoming involved with someone—either member or nonmember—who could not help them reach this goal, yet still allows them to develop many good friendships and introduce a number of nonmembers to the gospel. All three of our married children have been married in the temple. Jerry and Norma Martin family, Columbus, Ohio

As the parents of four children, my wife, Emolyn, and I believe in teaching our children correct principles and then letting them govern themselves. The principles we have tried to instill into the lives of our children include the following:

1. We are children of our Heavenly Father and have the eternal potential of becoming like him.

2. We must set and accomplish goals in order to reach our objectives in life.

3. We only have to make important decisions once.

4. Each young man should prepare himself for a full-time mission.

5. Each young woman should encourage young men to serve missions.

6. We should prepare to be married in the temple.

7. We marry those we date.

8. President Kimball has counseled us not to date before the age of sixteen.

9. We should develop “building” relationships. We should seek after friends that respect and support our standards.

10. Living the law of chastity is very essential to our personal happiness.

When I served as bishop of our ward, I saw on more than one occasion how young people can be positive influences on those they date if they keep these principles in mind. One young man began dating a young lady who was not a member of the Church. Before he became emotionally involved with her, however, he explained his beliefs, standards, and goals in life, including a mission and temple marriage. She was impressed and wanted to know more. For many years she attended our ward and was fellowshipped by our youth.

One day when I spoke to her Laurel class, I emphasized the importance of encouraging young men to serve missions. Unsure that she wanted to send her friend away, she struggled with the concept. But eventually she gained her own testimony of missionary work, was baptized, and sent her friend on a mission. Now she is attending college, is active in institute, and is preparing for her own temple marriage. Gordon T. Wilson, Brownsburg, Indiana

We began early to teach our children of their responsibility to their Heavenly Father and to themselves. As they were growing up, we taught them to be an example, to accept responsibility for their own actions, to choose good friends, and to have the courage to do what they knew to be right, even if their friends were doing otherwise.

As they approached sixteen, we added some guidelines to help them in their dating. We encouraged them to date only those (members or nonmembers) with high standards, always remembering the importance of marrying in the temple; to date just for fun, saving serious dating for after high school; to act responsibly with the young man or woman they dated; and to remember that their date is a son or daughter of God. In addition, we told them that they were always to let us know where they were and that we expected them home on time. We encouraged them to date in groups and to feel free to bring their dates to our home.

As parents, we have tried to do our part in helping our children. We have opened our home to our children’s friends and have tried to get to know them. We have often had impromptu parties and get-togethers.

We have found, too, that we always need to be available to listen. Sometimes our children are ready to talk at two in the morning. So we listen. They may not be as ready later.

Finally, we have tried to remember that each of our children is different. Just because one of them has a certain problem doesn’t mean all of them will. We also try not to judge them by our actions when we were teenagers.

Three of our children have been married in the temple. One son told us that because he planned to go on a mission, he was careful to date just for fun. One of our daughters chose not to date nonmembers. She centered her thinking on encouraging the young men she knew to go on missions. Her friends used to joke, “Get to know__________, and go on a mission.” She was also very missionary minded, sharing her testimony with her nonmember friends.

Our children’s experience with dating has not always been easy. One young nonmember became very serious about our daughter, but religion was not a part of his life. The tension this relationship brought into our lives almost caused us to lose touch with our daughter. After much prayer, fasting, and faith, we felt that she should have a long discussion with her mother. Under the influence of the Spirit, she promised her many blessings that could be hers in the next few years if she would wait for them and be faithful. They had a spiritual experience together that night, and our daughter made the correct decision.

As parents we have learned to exercise faith in our children and in the principles we have taught them. We have found that as we guide and instruct them, with the help of the Spirit, we are able to accomplish much. Zella B. Webb, Holbrook, Arizona

In helping our children weather the sometimes rough teenage years, we have felt that our example as parents would be a great help to them. We have felt that if we are happy in our own temple marriage, our teenagers would want to have that happiness for themselves.

We have also established certain practices in guiding our children toward a temple marriage. We are involved in our children’s activities. We know who their friends are and enjoy them as much as our children do. We plan fun parties for our children and hold most of our teenagers’ activities in our own home, inviting nonmembers to join with our family. We also have a picture of the Los Angeles Temple in our home, reminding our children each day of the place they should be married. Lorraine Canning, Downey, California

We have six children from the ages of sixteen to twenty-eight. All three who are married were married in the temple. As our children have gone and are now going through the dating ages, we have used the following guidelines.

Dating Age and Curfew. We have been very firm about not allowing our children to date before they were sixteen. This has helped relieve them of the pressure of peers who urge them to date early. Some of our children have been glad for the help; others have pushed us to see if we really meant it—but we have not given in.

We also have a set curfew they are expected to meet, unless they call for permission. If they aren’t in on time or don’t call, we take the time they exceed their deadline and subtract it from their next outing.

Dating Partners. We let our children choose their dates, either member or nonmember, but have encouraged them to choose friends who share their standards. While they were in junior high school, our children were not allowed to go to social activities on Sunday nor attend the boy/girl parties that many of their friends held as early as the sixth grade.

We support and encourage their desire to participate in sports, music, and other activities where they can find friends who have discipline and high goals.

Our oldest daughter chose never to date nonmembers. Our oldest son, on the other hand, dated a nonmember steadily for over a year and a half. We learned several lessons from this experience. One of the first was that we needed to accept his girlfriend and make her feel welcome in our home. We learned to stress the similarities instead of the differences. Until we learned this, the two spent more time at her house than ours.

Our experience taught us the need to discourage “going steady,” so we established a rule that our children could date the same person no more than three times in a row. In looking back on his experience, our son (now on a mission) can see where this would have been a good idea for him. Lowell and Ellen Ralph, Columbus, Ohio

We have found the following to be helpful in guiding our teenagers through their dating years:

1. Use family home evenings to teach the importance of temple marriage.

2. Emphasize the importance of missions. Since not only their father but both sets of grandparents have served full-time missions, our children have a rich heritage to follow.

3. Have private discussions on the subjects of sex and chastity. We feel our children need a quiet, rational, and spiritual approach to these subjects to counter the negative influence of the world.

4. Consistently hold family prayer.

These principles have helped keep us together as a family and have given us a basis to use in discussing specific dating challenges.

As two of our eight children approached sixteen, we talked with them of their expectations in dating and of their goals in life. Aaron, our oldest, told us that he already had plans of a mission and temple marriage. Such goals, he said, were the natural outgrowth of our family home evenings and family prayers. J. Kent and Linda K. Millington, Dallas, Texas

[illustrations] Illustrated by Dilleen Marsh