In my previous post, I said I believe kids should date in high school for many reasons, chief among my reasoning being:
“I am convinced that our kids need to learn the art of friend-making and friend-keeping. They need to learn to have a conversation, with someone of the opposite sex because should they get married, they will need to be talking to their spouse daily. The time in high school should not be dominated by serious exclusive relationships but should be a time, where with the help of loving adults, our kids learn how to be good friends.”
So what does that look like practically?
Rather than give you a checklist to follow I thought I would discuss principles that should be informing the details you choose to embrace. Friendship is a learned behavior.
In high school, students should learn to be good friends. Friend making and keeping is a life skill that trumps STEM knowledge every time. Friendship is different than sexual or familial love in that it is technically unnecessary biologically speaking. It is, however, a foundational skill for both marriage and family.
Teens in high school need to learn that relationships are forged through friendship and not sexual attraction. Every other influence in the lives of your children will be telling them sexual attraction trumps friendship. This is not only false, but it grossly and dangerously overvalues the temporal nature of erotic love. When kids come into my office to talk about dating, I always ask if they enjoy the other person’s company and if they like them as a person. Are they a good friend? The reality is, most likely you will both get fat, old and bald. Friendship, on the other hand, only gets more beautiful with age.
Friendships in high school should be encouraged over exclusive relationships. The effect of friendship being that students grow in their knowledge of each other and of themselves in a way that can only be understood in the application of true friendship. Friendship, and even adding friends to your circle, doesn’t divide your group but has the inexplicable ability to multiply and grow the group through each addition to it. Lewis says it like this:
“Two friends delight to be joined by a third, and three by a fourth, if only the newcomer is qualified to become a real friend. They can then say, as the blessed souls say in Dante, ‘Here comes one who will augment our loves.’ For in this love ‘to divide is not to take away.’”
C. S. Lewis
Does this mean that high schooler should only spend time with the opposite sex in group contexts? I don’t believe so. I think there is something to be said for learning how to understand social cues and talking in a one on one setting. I see no reason why two friends of the opposite sex can’t see a movie together or hang out at a coffee shop. This, however, needs to be the exception rather than the rule.
Exclusivity in friendship at this age is not helpful in learning to develop broad-based relationships that are both deep and meaningful, and so, parents, here is how you can help your kids develop deep friendships with the opposite sex.
- Kids need to learn how to text when to text, when to call on the phone, and when/what to say on the phone. How do you have an appropriate face to face conversation? I tell kids texting is informational and informal “check out this meme,” “When is our math test.” The phone is for relational connecting. “Hey, how are you doing didn’t see you in school today.” Face to face is for hard conversations, important information and is the primary way you grow and keep friends. Kids today think texting is the building block and primary mode of communication. The problem is texting is devoid of emotion and context. It is easier to say something in a text that you’d never find appropriate in a face to face conversation. True communication is a learned behavior that is slowly becoming a lost art.
- Get to know your kid’s friends. Have them over to the house, volunteer to supervise field trips, and give kids rides home. Help your son or daughter by prompting, “Jim seems like an excellent friend. What is he like at school?” Through the use of instinct and experience help your kids learn to identify who is a good friend and who is not a good friend.
- Help your kids navigate relational conflict. Learning how to forgive is indispensable in life and marriage. Forgiveness and reconciliation have a way of deepening true friendship.
- We can help our teens know how to talk to the other sex in a way that is respectful, rather than avoiding those conversations altogether. Conversing with members of the opposite sex is challenging and will always be challenging. Teaching them this skill while at home, walking them through the inevitable pitfalls, is an indispensable skill they must learn.
- Explain the Biblical truths that marriage is between one man one woman for life. If you are a Christian the mate you choose needs to be a committed Christian as well. Explain that friendship with kids at school is necessary and important – even friends of the opposite sex. When it comes to dating and marriage, the imperatives are those who, not only attend church, but who look to Christ as their treasure. In Christian marriage, you love each other best only when you love Christ first.
- Friends, family, and spouses are all the things God most often uses to make us more like himself. Sanctification happens most often in relational proximity. It is through friendship that we become more like Christ and through friendship that we see the beauty of Christ.
“Friendship is not a reward for our discrimination and good taste in finding one another out. It is the instrument by which God reveals to each the beauties of all the others. They are no greater than the beauties of a thousand other men; by Friendship God opens our eyes to them. They are, like all beauties, derived from Him, and then, in a good Friendship, increased by Him through the Friendship itself, so that it is His instrument for creating as well as for revealing. At this feast, it is He who has spread the board and it is He who has chosen the guests. It is He, we may dare to hope, who sometimes does, and always should, preside.” C. S. Lewis
Lewis is saying that, of all the good gifts that God gives us, true friendship is perhaps the greatest. It is in the good gift of friendship that we see God more clearly and understand and love the other gifts he has given us because we now see them through the eyes of the other. He ends by saying that God, “spread the board and chosen the guests”. Fiends are brought together by Providence, as a gift from God to us. “We hope he… should always preside.” In Christian friendship is that God does more than make matches of friends and stops at only bringing us together. Our hope is that He presides over our friendships, not only providentially connecting us but in His mercy daily sustains those very friendships. This is something valuable for our kids to learn about friendship and Christian marriage. We are connected by more than attraction and commonality – we are united BY Christ but more importantly, we are united IN Christ.