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The Washington Times
April 21, 1998

Courting ties that bind: Delay dating until 20s

By Michael Farris
The Washington Times
April 21, 1998

Last Saturday, a 14-year-old boy lay brain-dead in a Mississippi hospital waiting only for his organs to be removed for transplanting. The cause of his death was a self-inflicted gunshot wound. The cause of his despair has been a romantic breakup with his girl friend.

In the initial news reports of another tragedy—in Jonesboro, Ark., in which four students and a teacher were killed outside Westside Middle School—it was widely reported that 13-year-old Mitch Johnson may have acted in revenge for a romantic breakup with a 12-year-old girl.

The public soul-searching that has followed in the wake of Jonesboro has been dominated by discussions about the danger of children playing with guns. Not one voice has been raised highlighting the danger of children playing with romance. The Mississippi boy who took his own life and the Arkansas boy who is accused of taking the lives of others were both playing an emotional game that is simply inappropriate for children of these ages.

Many home-schooling families agree that a great advantage to their educational methodology is that it removes our children from the pressures and dangers of immature dating. Home-schoolers have trained their children in “courtship,” which takes a completely different tack on romance from the practices that dominate U.S. culture.

Under the philosophy of courtship, all romantic relationships are reserved until the season of life when a person is ready to be married. There also is a strong view that a young man is not ready to be married until he is ready to support a family. That normally delays any kind of pairing off until the early 20s for young men and the late teens for young women.

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

Pro-family conservatives have long preached that young people should abstain from sexual intercourse before marriage. Liberals have scoffed at such advice as unrealistic platitudes.

Home-schoolers who have bought into the idea of courtship believe the liberals have a point. It is unrealistic to expect that children who have been “falling in love” since age 12 and “messing around” since age 13 will remain virgins until they marry a decade or so later.

The solution is not found in issuing condoms in elementary schools and birth-control pills in middle schools. Rather, parents need to understand that their young teenagers are simply too young to handle either the physical or emotional side of a romantic relationship.

Sexually transmitted diseases, unwanted pregnancies, depression, academic decline, suicide and murder are among the progeny of premature romance. When love and marriage remained linked, many of these problems are reduced substantially or eliminated.

Two of my grown daughters will get married this year to the only boyfriends they have ever had. They have known dozens of guys because we encouraged all kinds of group activities with a mixture of the sexes. Pairing off has been off-limits unless the couple were prepared to declare themselves ready for marriage and headed on that path with each other.

Brides and grooms tell their marriage partners implicitly, at least in the beginning, that they love each other with all their hearts. For those who have dated, in reality, they can only say that they love their intendeds with the shreds of their hearts that remain. 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 fiance, Rich walk the aisle in August, their promise to love with all their hearts will be true because neither has ever had another love.

I know the idea sounds terribly old-fashioned and perhaps radical to a culture addicted to premature and illicit sex. But aren’t Jonesboro and the sad experience of a young boy in Mississippi enough of an impetus for all of us to think a little differently?

Michael Farris is the father of 10 home-schooled children and chairman of the
Home School Legal Defense Association

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