This blog post should generate a lot of interest. If you are a student pastor or a leader in a youth group, you probably have been faced with this concept and question in your mind at some point. If you are a student reading this post, you probably have been faced with the frustration of the rules that a youth pastor or leader put on you for dating. I want to post today about “should we allow dating in our student ministry?” Here is the reality: You cannot control dating. That is a parent decision. It is not up to you to tell students that they cannot date someone of the opposite sex. That is the parents’ call on those type of decisions. So, the answer to this blog post is fairly simple, you cannot control it, but I want to take this discussion to a different level, how do we approach dating in our youth group? I tend to take a more conservative approach to this than most. I look at teen dating as a waste of time, personally. Please do not be offended by that, but the odds are slim to none that a relationship in middle school and high school will continue. Some do, and that is great, but many do not. More often, I see relationships built in student ministry, and then a result is horrible and ugly break ups that affect the friendships, cause drama and, in a lot of cases, tend to be uncomfortable for other students surrounding these dating issues. I want to share some of our philosophy on how we deal with dating:
- Teach the students and their parents that youth group is not a dating activity. It is frustrating when you do a youth group activity, and you have a few couples who cannot bear the thought of leaving the side of their significant other (some are in 8th grade)! This is crazy. I try to teach our students and parents that when they come on a youth group function, it is not an opportunity for them to get some “much-needed” alone time. Teach your students that they will regret one day not enjoying time with some of their friends on youth functions while they were spending every waking minute with their girlfriend/boyfriend. It is a group activity, so be a part of the group.
- Do not allow physical contact. Now, you may have a different approach, but this is the best approach that we have found. I have found that if you give them an inch, they are going to take another inch. They always will take you further, so in this area, I set the standard pretty high on youth functions. I do not allow physical contact. This includes holding hands, kissing or holding each other inappropriately. We have had some visitors come and do these things, and that is a different issue. You do not need to lose students over this. If there is a visitor, you are going to deal with them much differently than a regular attendee. I am speaking specifically about the regular attenders. Have this rule and communicate it to the students and leaders. Teach them that this is for their protection. Teach them that holding hands in and of itself is not wrong, but that it is the best principle and formality to have on a youth group trip.
- Be loving about this. This is where we can go wrong. You must be loving in your approach. Do not come down so hard that you lose the students in this issue. Be patient with them, and work with them if they make a mistake. Students take offense to a rule like this because they see it as another harsh rule that they are being held under, and it makes them feel like you are trying to be the parent. This is why it is important to explain yourself correctly, and show them a great amount of love.
- Always be in a group of three or more on youth functions. This should eliminate any grouping up by themselves. This also provides a help to them not to be tempted. I always set this rule on trips so that students will be put in the best positions to do what is right.
- Do not be afraid to discipline a student if they continue to break this rule. This is where it gets tough, but if they continue to break the rule, there has to be a consequence. By the way, tell the youth group the consequence up front so that they were warned, and cannot come back with, “I did not know.” Discipline is never fun, but it has to be done so that the students will learn the value in obeying authority, and learn the value in consequences for breaking a rule.
I would love your thoughts on this, and if you have found something that works better, please comment to let me know.