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We often hear complaints from readers about the confusion, hurt and sexual sin they've encountered despite their best intentions.

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Then tell them, “Just three more years, and you can date.” Just kidding -- sort of.

The system today's young men and women have inherited for finding and marrying a future spouse leaves a lot to be desired.

Still, we have a tendency to take dating so seriously that we never even make it on a date!

Or, we throw casual dating out the window and expect to marry the first person we date right off the bat. Aristotle said that virtue is the mean between two extremes. Thomas Umstattd wrote a great article in defense of casual dating; he argued that courtship (which made a comeback in Christian culture with the book by Joshua Harris) puts too much pressure on people to marry the first person they court because it’s taken so seriously.

At Focus on the Family, we've offered a range of resources and expert advice bringing biblical principles to bear in this area.

Some of the messages we've presented have taken the position that Christians can apply their faith in such a way that they can still work within the system they've inherited.

Ray Guarendi As a family psychologist, I am often asked by parents when their children should begin dating. Let’s suppose that you’ve decided to begin dating discussions when your daughter turns 16.

They usually hasten to inform me, “All his (her) friends are dating.” My quick answer is: When they’re married, and only with their spouse. Now back in the old days — the early 1980s — you met resistance for such a decision mainly from the children. You can’t wrap a moral bubble around them; they have to deal with life. A recent survey suggested that if a child has a first date between the ages of 11 and 13, he or she has a 90% probability of being sexually active during senior year in high school. Key factors to consider in granting any type of dating freedom are your child’s: • moral maturity • independence of thought • history of conduct in other social settings • strength of will • social judgment • choice of friends • responsibility toward schoolwork • respect for authority.

Seriously, dating age depends upon all kinds of factors, and varies from child to child, even within the same family. Never consider your neighborhood’s “average age” when making your decision. Parents used to expect instinctively to be challenged by their kids, especially in judgments of how fast one should grow up. If you make kids too different, they’ll feel like weirdos who don’t fit in. First date at age 14 leads to a 50% chance; first date at age 16, 20% chance. I figure if I make the list long enough, my kids won’t be eligible to date until they move out.

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