Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Homeschooling & Dating

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.


Anonymous said...

I am somewhat in agreement with you on this issue. I think the idea here is to start to educate children at the "traditional" age of adulthood and allow them limited adult responsibilities. If the early "Catholic" traditions are taught correctly then children are ready for adulthood at, say 13 to 14 years of age. It has always been that the age of 7 was acceptable for a child to receive Confirmation, which allows them to be considered basically adults in the faith. Present day bishops (Novus ordo mentallity) have determined that they are not ready until 13 or more years of age. This is ridiculous just as thinking that a "teen" isn't ready for adulthood. If the teachings are proper and sound and the faith is instilled deeply and properly, then a "teen" is in fact ready. I have 2 teens and 1 adult offspring. Unfortunately, circumstances had prevented me from homeschooling. However, teaching them the values of faith and morals has somewhat curbed the all out assimilation into the present day culture. Each had their fall, but each is on a return path. They each remember what I taught them and have a sadness about today's society. Of course, I am more traditional than most in my way of thinking. For those who have the opportunity to homeschool I commend you. Follow the traditions truthfully and your children will be the example for the world.

Muscovite said...

Here's my take on it: the purpose of dating/ courtship is finding a spouse. Marriage is one of the single most important decision in one's life, and can influence a soul toward heaven or hell.

Since the purpose of dating/courtship is finding a spouse, certain things follow (in our minds): (1) any one who is not in a position to get married should not be dating seriously. (2) No one should date anyone who is not "marriage material," i.e,. someone who has been ruled out as a potential spouse. (3) Since it takes awhile to get to know someone well enough to marry him, teens and those not currently in a position to marry should concentrate their socializing among groups of people of both sexes in order to build non-sexualized relationships, get to know potential "dates" without unnecessarily entangling hearts, and forge friendships and foster positive peer pressure.

As far as the "traditional" stuff goes, this is what I think: Thirteen- and fourteen-year-old girls, whether or not you consider them adults with a deep knowledge of the faith, do not have the wisdom to judge the worthiness of a potential spouse. Sixteen- and seventeen-year-old boys do not generally have the means to support a wife, let alone a family, unless their families have bestowed an early inheritance on them. In the "traditional" setting, marriages were usually arranged, the idea being that the parents would choose more wisely than a teenager. If we're not willing to force our children into arranged marriages, we'll have to encourage them to wait until they have the wisdom to make a good choice. But allowing them to date at a "traditional" age, and then telling them they have to wait to get married until they reach "modern adulthood" opens them up to all sorts of unnecessary temptation and heartbreak.

Boniface said...


I am not promoting that we allow kids to get married at 14, or allow them to date at that age. In this culture, it is not feasible. All I'm saying is that parents who do not let their kids date until much older ought to realize that this is not "traditional" family values but a unique and novel response proper to our own time in an attempt to deal with the problems of American "teen culture."


Anonymous said...

maurus said....
Here's my take on it: the purpose of dating/ courtship is finding a spouse.

and then....
Confirmation, which allows them to be considered basically adults in the faith

I can not imagine how one could want to be serious about another without some time spent dating. Arranged marriages, perhaps??

Who gets to just "observe" who. The guy or the gal? True, one should have the potential of a life-mate as a proper concern at any time. Dating is the way we learn social skills, and how we express ourselves to others..... so that a good choice can be made. Courtship might follow. Too many of our young seem to skip the influence of prayer in the process.... perhaps because their confirmation did not make them spiritual adults.

Confirmation gives one special graces to confront evil. But the challange would be for you convince me that any child, recently confirmed is an "adult" in the faith. Perhaps we have a different idea of what an adult is.

I would think it would include maturity.

Anonymous said...

It's obvious that my point was missed. Training and education in preparation for marriage is a part of learning about life. If done properly at an early age and nurtured by parents who understand this can help their children develop into very mature responsible teens unlike the majority of those in our society today. In fact, i don't think I mentioned anything about dating, but when the do start to date, they will have a very strong foundation. My statement about "limited adult responsibilities" covers a wide range of issues. To isolate ones thoughts to one specific issue in dealing with our youth is not always wise.