Some lessons are easier learned than earned. We teach our children that if they play with fire, they could get badly burned. If they play in the street, they could get hit by a car. This very elementary teaching should extend to preparing our daughters to enter the world of dating.
Here are things I wanted my daughters to know before they walked through that door:
You don't "date" in second grade. You don't have a boyfriend when you're 6. Dating is for older teens and younger adults. It is a preparation for finding a mate, and you just don't do that in elementary school. It should be fun but taken seriously by those old enough to realize what it really is. In our home, it was group dating at 14 and solo dating at 16. Not a day sooner. No matter how many of your friends were going steady at 9.
Begin with group dating
Group dating is like learning to ride a bike with training wheels. There is safety in it. You watch others and learn how to just have fun without all the drama. Get your feet wet by learning how to hang out and really talk to boys. Learn to be their friend, first.
Create a wish list
As you are dating, take the time to watch and listen to the guys. Write down what you like and don't like about them. Do they whine and complain a lot or tell you what they like and appreciate? Do they use words like stupid and weird or great and fantastic? Do they like their parents? Do they brag, or are they humble? Do they take care of themselves or carry it too far, bordering on narcissism? Build a list and description of things that really appeal to you for future reference, and check the qualities you want off when you meet and date new boys.
It's OK to be alone
I see so many girls that think it is shameful to be without a boyfriend. It is so much worse to be with someone for the wrong reason than alone for the right reason. There is nothing lonelier or more heartbreaking than being with the wrong one.
You don't have to commit
It's OK to go out with more than one boy, so long as you are honest and open with them about it. One date does not a relationship make. Don't jump into a steady thing because the first date went well. Take your time and have fun.
Zero abuse tolerance
If a boy belittles you, bullies you, pressures you, or teases you harmfully, give a warning. We all say stupid things from time to time. Second offense, however, shows a pattern. If the offense is physical in nature, make it the last date and leave immediately. Right from the get go, make it clear that you are a daughter of God and will not stand to be treated as anything less. Have a two-strike policy unless he physically hurts or manhandles you. Any sort of physical abuse is end of game.
Dating prepares you for marriage. It is where you learn, make mistakes, make corrections, offend and apologize. It is the preparation for the permanent relationship of marriage. If you do something wrong, fix it. If they do something wrong, talk about it. Talk about everything. This is the time to learn to be completely open and honest. It's OK to say, "I'm not really comfortable with you looking at other girls." Or, "I prefer Mexican to Italian." Or, "Why don't we alternate who chooses the activity and restaurant or movie?" Learn the art of give and take, but mostly, learn to talk comfortably.
Look for boys who will honor your standards and respect your rules and the rules of your parents. If curfew is 10:30, that doesn't mean a casual 11:15. It means 10:30, and he should not push you to break any rules or standards you have. He should also speak respectfully about your parents, even when you don't.
You will marry someone you date
Since most of us don't take part in the arrangement of marriages, the person we marry will be someone we have dated. With that in mind, look for dates that are fun, have a great sense of humor, like to serve, love God, or any other qualities that you think are important. Don't waste time on people who need to be "fixed." That's not your job. A little training and fine-tuning is one thing, but don't jump into a fixer-upper to make you feel better about yourself. Women have a tendency to want to find the broken-down man and build him up. While that may seem like a noble thing to do, it more often than not leads to heartbreak and despair.
Sending our daughters out into the dating world is one of the most difficult thresholds we will ever cross, but sending them out prepared will ease a lot of that. They might still push the envelope, but hold to your guns and teach her to do the same.