In recent weeks, I have had the opportunity to get to spend a lot of time talking with various Catholic homeschool families in my community about things such as when a teen should be allowed to start dating, whether they should "date" at all (some preferring to substitute dating for a similar but different idea of "courtship") and how much exposure a teen ought to have to members of the opposite sex. As a homeschooling parent and father of girls, these issues affect me in a very personal level.
I generally support homeschoolers in all that they do. God knows I would never entrust my kids' upbringing to the choas in the public schools, where they will be taught to denigrate Christianity, admire Mohammed and learn vice from an early age. For many homeschooling parents, the decision to keep kids home reflects a disillusionment with the system of public education, not only with regards to curriculum, but especially in the area of morality and ethics. Homeschoolers are just as concerned that their children will be exposed to bad kids as they are that they will be exposed to bad teaching. In the public schools, lack of adequate supervision and discipline, coupled with a secular mindset, peer pressure and an infatuation with pop culture tends to sexualize our children and introduce them to sexuality and sexual activity well before and outside of marriage.
I sympathize with these concerns greatly, but I have noticed in homeschooling families the tendency to react to these conditions by taking the approach that their kids will not be allowed to investigate the opposite sex at all until they are at adult age. So, for example, if in public school kids are starting to date and have sex at age 15 or 16, then the homeschool solution is to just keep their kids away from dating or from the opposite sex in general until they are at least 18 or 19. The rationale for this is that kids of this age are far too young to be thinking about relationships and that it is best to keep them away from any type of dating or courtship until they are legal adults. The core idea is a reaction against making kids grow up too fast. Furthermore, this idea is put forth as if it were "traditional" morality.
I think it is admirable to want to protect kids from impurity, but I disgaree with the premise that we don't want to make kids grow up too fast. As a matter of fact, I think in our culture kids are forced to grow up too slow. Kids are subject to something called "infantilization," which means an artificial extension of childhood. This means that they are treated as children while they are biologically adults, which leads to role confusion and teen angst as teens question their place. Consider this: traditionally, a child was said to reach adulthood when he passed puberty, and in traditional cultures, this was celebrated with various coming of age rites. You went right from childhood into adulthood. You could pinpoint the day you became a man.
Contrast this with our culture, where kids come of age through a long, drawn out and indeterminate period of time known as "adolescence" which can begin as early as 12 and go on into the 20's. Over 60% of traditional (that is, not industrialized) cultures have no word for adolescence. A child is regarded as an adult as soon as he passes puberty, and usually the new adults rise to the challenge and take on adult responsibilities with vigor and success (online source). It is only in modern culture that adulthood is postponed until 18 or 21, that childhood is drawn out, and that teen angst develops.
Given this fact, the reality is that traditionally, kids are introduced to courtship and sexuality earlier than in modern America, the only difference being that it is done within the context of courtship, betrothal and marriage. A girl is marriable at 14, a boy at 16. In many cultures, a girl not married by 21 was considered an old maid.
How does this relate back to the homeschooling issue? Well, it means this: while I appreciate the approach taken by homeschoolers of wanting to put off dating until 18 or 20, the fact of the matter is that this is just another symptom of our modern culture. If we really wanted to adopt "traditional" morals, we would be encouraging our kids to think about marriage at age 12 or 13, to get betrothed at 14 and married at 16. But many parents recoil with horror at the idea that their kids be involved with the opposite sex at so young an age.
What is my point in all this? I'm not sure. I am certainly not suggesting that we start marrying our kids at age 14, nor I am suggesting we adopt the public school "kids will be kids" permissiveness. I am simply pointing out that when we decide to keep our kids away from dating until they are 19, let's not pretend that we are being traditional. We are not. We are doing something completely novel that has no precedent in traditional morality.