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Dating Debate: Should Teens Play the Field, or Date Exclusively?

Posted by Elisabeth Wilkins

Remember the “Teen Pregnancy Pact” story back in June? Recently, EP reader Toni Vitanza weighed in with this comment on our blog about teens and dating. The question for our readers: Do you think it’s better for teens to date around, or is it OK for them to commit to one person? Don’t forget to post your opinion below!

I’m a middle-school parent/teacher, and I have a couple of observations I’d like to hear discussed. One is that we as parents too often encourage (subtly or overtly) our teens to date exclusively and at increasingly younger ages. A lot of folks just think it’s “cute” or they give in to their kids’ requests (demands? threats?) to allow it because it’s too hard to vet every boy or girl their child sees, and just easier to welcome one steady person into family events, etc. But I think this is a total mistake. “Dating” at ANY age, but especially for teens, should be “dating AROUND”….I was substituting in a computer research class for 8th graders this spring and they were researching the impact of the original Star Wars movie (1977). These kids know me well, and so I told them a story about how, when the movie came out, I was 16 and saw it three times in one weekend because I had accepted dates with three different boys for Friday night, Saturday afternoon and Saturday night. Of course, all three boys were dying to see the big hit movie and of course, I sat through it all three times for their sakes, since I really didn’t care, not wanting to rub it in that I was dating others, but with that fact UNDERSTOOD by all the boys involved and the other girls they might have been dating as well. I told the story to the class to illustrate how BIG the movie was, but the teachable moment was not about that at all. It was about what DATING is. What I was doing that weekend was not being promiscuous or trashy or untrue or unfair. IT’S called DATING. And my 8th graders were totally shocked at this. But what’s so shocking? That teens don’t tie themselves to each other in some kind of weird adolescent commitment scenario? Why do we encourage this? Why do we welcome our adolescent’s “boyfriends” and “girlfriends” to every family event? I’ve seen formal family portraits with the “boyfriends” of the teen daughters included. It’s boundary-breaking, big-time! It teaches our kids (especially our daughters) that you HAVE to have a PARTNER. You don’t! It doesn’t create an environment that says, “You have a long life, a lot of education ahead of you, a lot of dating, before you find the person you want to date steadily and only maybe eventually marry. Even then, marriage isn’t for everyone. Take your time. There’s no rush to commit.” Especially not at 15 or 16!!!

–Toni Vitanza

Now it’s your turn. Do you think it’s healthier for teens to play the field, or date one person exclusively? I’d love to hear from teens on this one, too!


About Elisabeth Wilkins

Elisabeth Wilkins was the editor of Empowering Parents and the mother of an 10-year-old son. Her work has appeared in national and international publications, including Mothering, Motherhood (Singapore), Hausfrau, The Bad Mother Chronicles, and The Japan Times. Elisabeth holds a Masters in Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the University of Southern Maine.

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