Dating: Create a Dating Contract with Your Teenager

It would probably be an understatement to say that dating is an important part of a teenager’s life. In one study, researchers found that high school students consistently rated the time spent alone with an opposite-sex partner as the time when they were happiest and most satisfied with life. Therefore, as parents, how can you tell if your son or daughter is ready to date? Our parents struggled with this same question, especially after my (Michael’s) first serious date as a sophomore in high school.

Greg was returning home from college for the holidays and wanted to double-date the following weekend. Since I had never been on a date, I emphatically tried talking him out of the idea. However, because of that “older brother” thing, he talked me into it. As the weekend rapidly approached, I still hadn’t asked anyone. Late Thursday night, I finally called the only girl I thought would say yes. Her name was Stacey and she sat next to me in Geometry class. I reasoned that she was my best chance because we’d laughed about struggling with the same geometric calculation once. Although our previous interaction wasn’t very deep, at least we’d made eye contact. To my surprise she said yes. Obviously she had no idea what she was getting into!

Our date started off slow, and by the time we reached the restaurant, we’d spoken a total of three words. Thinking that we could deal with the silence if we had food to eat, Stacey and I went to the salad bar. However, while placing fruit on my plate, somehow I flipped a large piece of watermelon against Stacey’s forehead. Stunned, Stacey let the watermelon slowly drip off her forehead — casually kicking it under the food bar. Without saying a word, she then moved to the next food container. I was humiliated.

Did my disastrous experience mean that I wasn’t ready to date? It’s possible that I wasn’t prepared, but before that night my family and I did something that helped me make a wise decision about dating. What we did is the same thing that other families can do to help determine if their teenagers are ready to begin dating as well.


What can parents do specifically to assist their teenagers in making a decision about dating? As we help parents answer this difficult question, we encourage them to develop a dating contract. Growing up in our family, our parents required us to demonstrate that we understood three important character qualities before we could date: honor, responsibility, and resistance to peer pressure.

Having a written contract helps take the pressure off guessing when a teen is ready to date. It’s impossible to say that someone is ready to date at a specific age. Instead, dating readiness should be the result of a teenager displaying certain internal character qualities. Several months before I had asked Stacey out, my parents had agreed that I’d demonstrated the necessary integrity according to our contract. Listed below are the three areas that we needed to develop before dating.

1. Honor. Before we were allowed to enter into a dating relationship, we had to demonstrate that we understood the importance of honoring God, others, and ourselves. This character quality is founded upon the Matthew 22:37-39 principle. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'” Since honor is a general term, we encourage you as a family to determine what honor specifically means to you. Ask, “What will you be doing that is evidence that you are honoring God, others and self?” The specific behaviors derived from this question then can be included in your written dating contract.

2. Responsibility. We were encouraged to understand that we need to be responsible for our own actions and emotions. Our parents taught that it’s not what happens to us that determines our emotions; it’s how we respond to what happens. Furthermore, we knew that we needed to be responsible for our actions as well. Again, as a family, write down your own definition of responsibility. What specific behaviors need to be included? How will you know if your son or daughter is responsible — what will they be doing or not doing? These questions can help you determine what needs to go into your formal dating contract.

3. Resistance To Peer Pressure. Our parents were interested in seeing that we had self-control and could stand up for our beliefs. As parents, when you talk about these issues with your teen, determine their specific beliefs and convictions. The stronger their personal convictions, the easier it can be to state their beliefs and respectfully stand against peer pressure. We encourage you as a family to make a list of the beliefs and convictions necessary for dating. Then, write them into the contract in such a way that you can readily identify them.

Furthermore, considering the temptations that come with dating, it’s important for teenagers not to dishonor someone, especially sexually. Therefore, we encourage you to make sure that your teenager is fully aware of the consequences of premarital sex. Being informed concerning the effects of sexual experimentation adds to their being ready to date. Josh McDowell has several good books which deal with the issue of premarital sex and teenage dating.

Developing a dating contract can provide a family with accountability, fairness, clarity, security and togetherness. Like the three qualities we listed above, it’s up to each family to determine what is important to include in their own contract. As a family, we encourage you to write down what each child needs to demonstrate before they can date. Remember to make the character traits specific and easily recognizable.


Csikszentmihaly, M., & Larson, R. (1984). Being Adolescent. New York: Erlbaum.

Smalley, G. (1996). Making Love Last Forever. Dallas: Word Publishing.

Greg Smalley, Psy.D. is director of Marriage Ministries for the Center for Relationship Enrichment on the campus of John Brown University in Siloam Springs, Arkansas. Greg is the author or co-author of eight books concerning marriages and families. Visit Greg

Taken with permission from Greg Smalley, Psy.D.

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