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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Part 1: Mormons and the Edict, "You Can't Date Until You're 16"

In about the late 1980s I started arguing a particular point with my Mormon friends. I usually met with stiff resistance. What I suggested seemed to counteract Church teachings. It didn't, but it was different enough that their emotional knee-jerk reaction was enough to reject it out-of-hand. Even thinking about what I said seemed dangerous.

I propose it again, with support from For the Strength of Youth buttressed by a comment from President Thomas S. Monson.

So many of us who grew up in the Church also grew up with the edict, "You can't date until you are sixteen." Age sixteen became a milestone to anticipate and dread. When the happy day arrived, many of us sat home with the milestone unachieved.

Church leaders have always cautioned about the hazards of early dating. Good reasons exist for postponing it until one is mature and able to handle the experiences and problems that accompany it. However, I seriously doubt the edict, as applied in Mormon culture, helps achieve this objective.

The edict is based on a sound principle that has not been applied in a particularly sound manner. In fact, the edict has hardened into an inflexible rule. By ignoring maturity and emphasizing age, young people are rewarded for being older but not more mature. Aging requires no special skill. We can all do it.

Counsel is good, but when applied dogmatically, we tend not to think. We must always consider our unique personal circumstances. Parents should never set aside the responsibility of assessing the maturity level of their children. Parents should assess their own child and his or her readiness for any activity, not just dating.

Church leaders have never said that dating should begin at age sixteen, only that that is a target age before one considers it. Young people mature at different times regardless of chronological age. Sixteen may be too young for many. 

Dating should not automatically begin for everyone at that age. Instead of being treated like a maximum age to start dating, age sixteen should be the minimum age that it is considered.

Consider also how people typically phrase the edict, "You can't date until you are sixteen." When young people are told they cannot do something they tend to assume they are being deprived of something that everyone else has access to.

The ability to date at sixteen becomes the obligation to date. This is unfortunate. Those truly not ready to date at that tender age may feel forced to date -- whether they are ready or not.

No one should be forced to date by requirement or expectations. Consider this recent statement by President Thomas S. Monson in the May 2010 Ensign





Begin to prepare for a temple marriage as well as for a mission. Proper dating is a part of that preparation. In cultures where dating is appropriate, do not date until you are 16 years old. “Not all teenagers need to date or even want to. … When you begin dating, go in groups or on double dates. … Make sure your parents meet [and become acquainted with] those you date.” Because dating is a preparation for marriage, “date only those who have high standards.” Thomas S. Monson, “Preparation Brings Blessings,” Ensign, May 2010, 64–67.
This pulls from guidance in "For the Strength of Youth: Fulfilling Our Duty to God"
Do not date until you are at least 16 years old. Dating before then can lead to immorality, limit the number of other young people you meet, and deprive you of experiences that will help you choose an eternal partner.
Not all teenagers need to date or even want to. Many young people do not date during their teen years because they are not yet interested, do not have opportunities, or simply want to delay forming serious relationships. However, good friendships can and should be developed at every age. 24.
So, some teenagers don't need to date and others don't want to. Forcing or expecting kids to date when they reach age sixteen is not consistent with principles taught by Church leaders. Unfortunately, it is consistent with mindless, dogmatic application sometimes present in Mormon culture.

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