"We are not measured by the trials we meet -- only by those we overcome."
- - Spencer W. Kimball
October 30, 2008
Don't allow kids to date before 16
by Orson Scott Card

You know that rule about how teenagers aren't supposed to date until they're sixteen? Does anyone remember how old that rule is?

I'm 57. That rule was already in place when I got to dating age in 1967.

It never affected me much. It's not like girls were clinging to their phones, hoping I'd call. Plus, I didn't get a driver's license till I was 23. That really crimps a guy's style.

In our ward in Greensboro, that rule seems to be universally respected. Including the often-ignored stipulations that even at 16, they should be group dates, so that couples aren't alone together until they're 18 or older.

But I suspect that our ward is actually unusual.

I keep hearing stories. And seeing examples. I remember one ward I was in where the bishop and his wife decided that their daughter was so "mature" that she could date at fifteen.

And a good friend of mine -- a lifelong Church member -- told me the other day about what happened when she was fourteen. The "boy of her dreams" asked her on a date. He was a Mormon kid, and he was sixteen.

Of course, at age 14, and believing herself to be in love, she yearned to go on the date. And so she asked her parents, knowing that these strait-laced, conservative parents would say no.

Only they didn't. They said, "You're so mature and dependable, we've decided you can go."

My friend was outwardly grateful, but inside she was saying to herself, "What? Now I actually have to go! What will I do! I'm not ready for this dating thing!"

Over the next couple of years till she turned 16, her parents were hot and cold on this point. Sometimes they'd say yes. Sometimes they'd say, "Let's stick to the Church rule."

They did her no favor at all.

When the Church first instituted these rules, they didn't seem all that radical. Now, though, I see the dating age get younger and younger in the world around us. Fourteen, thirteen, twelve ... even younger.

Of course, before age 16 somebody else has to do the driving. But that's part of the problem. Adults openly sanction their children's pairing up at ridiculously young ages.

Another thing has happened. The word "dating," at least for older teenagers, has been sliding along toward coming to mean what it now seems to mean for adults: "hooking up," "in an exclusive sexual relationship."

It's been twenty years since Phil Donahue pronounced that "You can't stop kids from having sex." Even then, the statement was obviously false. Back in the early 1950s, without easy birth control, without legal abortion (and with illegal abortion extremely rare), but with 16-year-old drivers and drive-in movies, the number of illegitimate births in our country was minuscule.

Now, with birth control and easy, legal abortion, we have millions of babies born to unwed mothers.

How were we stopping kids from having sex back in the 1950s?

Repression, folks!

People talk as if that were some kind of crime against nature, to impose sexual repression on our children (and on single adults!), but there has never been a shred of evidence suggesting that repressing your sexual urges between puberty and marriage ever caused anybody to explode. Or even get a headache.

Back when we taught our kids that good people don't have sex when they're not married, back when we chaperoned dates, back when no respectable girl would go into a bedroom alone with a guy -- and no respectable guy would ask her to -- we actually did succeed in stopping the vast majority of kids from having sex.

Now, we practically push them into it.

Our TV shows take it for granted that except for a "you gotta really really really love him" speech from an utterly helpless parent, there is no barrier to teenagers having sex and no reason to consider it to be a problem.

But it is a problem. It's a devastating, life-ruining problem for millions of girls who give birth to babies and then try to raise them without a husband and father.

Which brings me back to those Mormon parents who decide their child is "more mature than average" and so they grant an exemption to the rule.

Let me make it plain, O ye my fellow parents: It's our responsibility to keep our children from having sex until they're ready to marry.

There is no child under sixteen who has any need for or will derive any benefit from dating.

There is no child under eighteen who is ready for unchaperoned dating. "Maturity" is irrelevant.

If you make exemptions for your teenagers, you hurt them and all the other Mormon kids whose parents are trying to help keep them safe and unspotted from the world.

You not only expose them to the risks of early dating -- especially given the way the world defines it these days -- but you also teach them to treat the teachings of the prophets with contempt.

In our ward, all the parents support each other, and our kids all understand that part of being Mormon, of being different from the rest of the world, is that we follow the Church's rules on dating.

Even if you have already granted exemptions to any of your kids, gather them together in family home evening and openly repent. "We should not have let you (or your older brother or sister) date before age sixteen. We showed disrespect for the teachings of the prophets and we exposed our beloved children to needless risk. It will not happen again. This is going to be a family that obeys the rules."

And when you get the inevitable whining, you give the same answer again and again: "We love you too much to endanger you. We love the gospel too much to ignore the prophets. We love our fellow Saints too much to make it harder for them to live by the rules."

And your exceptionally mature kids will understand and comply.

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About Orson Scott Card

Orson Scott Card is the author of the novels Ender's Game, Ender's Shadow, and Speaker for the Dead, which are widely read by adults and younger readers, and are increasingly used in schools.

Besides these and other science fiction novels, Card writes contemporary fantasy (Magic Street, Enchantment, Lost Boys), biblical novels (Stone Tables, Rachel and Leah), the American frontier fantasy series The Tales of Alvin Maker (beginning with Seventh Son), poetry (An Open Book), and many plays and scripts.

Card was born in Washington and grew up in California, Arizona, and Utah. He served a mission for the LDS Church in Brazil in the early 1970s. Besides his writing, he teaches occasional classes and workshops and directs plays. He also teaches writing and literature at Southern Virginia University.

Card currently lives in Greensboro, North Carolina, with his wife, Kristine Allen Card, and their youngest child, Zina Margaret.

More about Orson Scott Card

Orson Scott Card currently serves as second counselor in the bishopric.

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