Five Lessons on Courtship
Avoiding the Romantic Trap


I. The dangers of children playing with romance

This spring, a 14-year-old boy lay brain dead in a Mississippi hospital from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. The cause of his despair was a romantic breakup with his girlfriend.

When four students and a teacher were murdered outside their school in Jonesboro, Arkansas, it was widely reported that the 13-year-old gunman acted in revenge for a romantic breakup with a 12-year-old girl.

The public soul-searching following the Jonesboro tragedy has been dominated by discussions of the danger of children playing with guns. No one has spoken about the danger of children playing with romance.

Pro-family conservatives have long preached that young people should practice physical abstinence before marriage. Liberals have labeled such advice as unrealistic. It is unrealistic to expect a teenager who has been pursuing emotional romance since age 12, and a limited physical relationship for about the same length of time, to refrain from sexual relations until he marries a decade later.

Sexually transmitted diseases, unwanted pregnancies, suicide, and murder are among the progeny of premature romance. Children in their early teens are simply too young to handle both the physical and the emotional side of a romantic relationship.

II. Protecting our children from destructive emotional entanglements

Like many home schooling families, my wife Vickie and I have chosen the courtship model for our children as an alternative to dating. Courtship requires young people to refrain from casual dating and wait until they are old enough to seriously consider marriage before entering into any romantic relationship.

In order to successfully follow the courtship model, parents need to begin talking to their kids at an early age about the principles involved in courtship. I began talking to my older daughters about the subject of marriage when they were very young girls, about seven or eight years old. All along, I let them know that their mom and dad would be highly involved in their choice of a mate. As my daughters grew older, I talked to them about romantic relationships and the principles I expected them to follow in more detail.

My daughters understood these principles before they were teenagers and far before they were seriously interested in relationships. They never expected to casually date. They always knew that my wife Vickie and I would approve and supervise their romantic relationships.

If your children are older, it’s not too late to begin following the principles of courtship. However, just as a young child can learn a language more easily than an adult, a young child can also learn a pattern of behavior more easily than a teenager. An early education in courtship principles will help protect your children from the myriad of problems that accompanies premature romance.

III.    Delaying romantic relationships until ready for marriage

In high schools, middle schools, and even in today’s elementary schools, dating is an expected activity. Often, kids feel that they must have a boyfriend or a girlfriend in order to fit in with their peers.

Rather than subject children to the pressures of the dating culture, many home schooling parents have trained their children in courtship. The first principle of courtship is this: all romantic relationships are reserved until the season of life when a person is ready to be married.

In order for a young man to be ready for marriage in a practical sense, he must be able and willing to support a family. This requirement normally delays any kind of romantic pairing off until the early twenties for young men and at least the late teens for young women. When young men and young women reach this age, they’re far more likely to be both emotionally and practically prepared for a romantic relationship.

When young people wait until the season of life when they can marry, through most of their teenage years they’re free to be friends with members of the opposite sex without worrying about the pressures of romantic entanglements. Courtship frees young teens to see each other as potential friends rather than potential dates.

 IV. Casual dating is out; friendship is in.

Many young people begin romantic relationships prematurely. Courtship first of all requires young people to wait until they’re old enough to emotionally and practically consider marriage before entering into a relationship.

The second major operating principle of courtship is that there is no such thing as casual dating. Any date is undertaken with a mutual understanding between both of the young people and their parents that these young people are checking each other out with a serious belief that their relationship may lead to marriage.

Two of my grown daughters will get married this year to the only boyfriends they’ve ever had. They have known dozens of guys because we encouraged all kinds of group activities where there have been a mixture of both sexes. But courtship has dominated their group activities and so pairing off has been off-limits unless the couple is prepared to declare themselves ready for marriage and headed on that path with each other.

Every bride and groom say to each other, at least implicitly, that they "love each other with all their heart." Little pieces of one’s heart are given away each time a romance of any magnitude has blossomed. But when my oldest daughter, Christy, and [her fiancÚ] Rich walk the aisle in August, their promise to love with all their hearts will be literally true since neither has ever had another love.

V. Parental Involvement

.The third principle of courtship is implicit in the first two principles—parents must be involved in the courtship process.

Parents, particularly fathers, should give their permission before their children enter into any kind of courtship relationship. Likewise, parents oversee the courtship and set guidelines for the relationship with the couple. Before a couple decides to get married, both sets of parents should give their consent.

This aspect of courtship is directly correlated with one of the main reasons families choose to educate their children at home. Both home schooling and the courtship model allow parents to responsibly direct the lives of their children.

The benefits of parental involvement in home schooling are well-documented. I believe that there are similar benefits for children whose parents are involved in their choice of a mate. First, young adults benefit from the experience their parents possess about marriage and relationships. Second, young adults benefit from having a close relationship between their parents and their future mate. If parents have been approving the relationship all along, the chances for family conflict between in-laws are greatly reduced. Third, God promises to bless children who honor their father and mother. Parental involvement in courtship allows young people to honor their parents and reap the benefits of this promise.


These five lessons originally were broadcast on Homeschool Heartbeat, a radio program of the Home School Legal Defense Association.

They are available on the web in audio format.

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