I was taught, as were many girls, that you should always say yes to a boy who asks you to a dance and even a casual date. Although times have changed, that idea still persists, and while on the surface it seems great, I want to explore what we are teaching our teens—both girls and boys—when we enforce that rule.
High school dances come with a certain amount of excitement and expectation, but for some girls an upcoming dance equals huge amounts of anxiety. What if that guy asks her on a date? You know, the one who seems so sweet and kind at church but at school treats girls in a degrading way. Or what if it’s that other guy who might ask her on a date? The one who is so painfully shy he never speaks; he just stares at her with a zombie-like focus. There are girl’s choice dances for high school as well, and boys can face the same kind of pressure when they’ve been asked to go to a dance. Many boys have been taught that they have to accept an invitation from a girl or they aren’t allowed to go to the dance.
As a parent or guardian of a teen, how can we know which guy or girl is dangerous to our daughter or son and which one might just need to work on social skills? The hard answer—we don’t know everything about every person our child will interact with so we have to teach them how to discern and listen for the promptings of the Spirit.
How can we teach our children to recognize the Spirit and develop the gift of discernment? The best way is to honor their feelings. If your daughter tells you that she doesn’t feel comfortable going on a date with your next door neighbor—the one who trims your bushes for you and seems like the nicest kid—don’t argue with her. Instead, ask her to share her feelings. Does she feel that way because she’s nervous, scared, or because she has a feeling inside that is akin to a warning? I talk to my kids regularly about times that I’m nervous or afraid and how there is a subtle difference between that and the yucky or dark feeling I get when the Spirit is guiding me away from something that could harm me.
It’s worth noting that the Spirit might not warn us about every situation or circumstance. Often, those who are righteous and doing their best to follow the Spirit might find themselves in difficult or even harmful situations. Experiencing abuse, peer pressure, assault, or other negative situations while with someone you trust does not reflect on your worthiness. Even prophets throughout scripture and modern day have endured similar experiences. You are never to blame for the actions of others. But learning to listen to the Spirit can help provide us with a measure of protection and a means to heal when negative things do happen.
Another way I have explained discernment to my young children is to ask them if they’ve ever met someone who makes them feel totally at peace, happy, and almost like they’ve known that person for a long time. Or, have they met someone who made them feel uneasy, unsafe, and uncomfortable? This is discernment, and while it can sometimes be difficult to gauge emotional responses from warnings of the Spirit, we can say a quick prayer and seek to follow promptings we might receive. The tricky part is when we are introduced to someone through a friend that we trust. What should we do with those feelings? I have had situations exactly like this where someone I trusted brought me into contact with someone that gave me a bad feeling. Disengaging as politely as possible and excusing myself has never brought me harm. It was only when I stayed in that company after receiving a warning from the Spirit that I suffered negative consequences.
The gift of the Spirit is a wonderful guide to us and if we discourage our teens from following spiritual promptings to decline an invitation to a dance, party, or date, then we are in effect asking our children to ignore the Spirit. There is a fine line, but I have seen friends in my lifetime get hurt because they felt like they couldn't say no to a date. Bad things can still happen despite our best efforts, but if we are doing all we can to wear the whole armor of God, our odds against evil definitely increase.
But shouldn’t she at least give the guy a chance? Shouldn’t he say yes to that dance? Should he or she accept every follow or friend request on social media?
People-pleasing is a dangerous way to live life and is one of the most vital qualities predators look for in others. In addition, people-pleasing can complicate healthy relationships later on in life. If we want to prepare our children for the battle of life, the best armor we can give them is self-confidence in following the Spirit. We can do this by example as we model what we teach. It’s also important to extend trust and invite discussion and practice. Mistakes will be made, but that is how we learn.
Also, it’s imperative to teach our daughters and sons that it’s okay to be turned down. If boys understand that girls might tell them no and vice versa, perhaps it won’t seem so devastating. Taking a moment to respectfully remind our teens about differences in opinions and attractions will help them navigate current and future relationships.
We are raising the next generation of leaders in the Church and our society. The goal is to teach them to emulate Christ in all things and to have full confidence in the Spirit and their divine worth. We can help our teens recognize how to follow guidance, keep themselves safe, and not cause hurt to others. Our teaching and example will prepare them to handle any situation in life—not just a high school dance.
3 tactful ways to turn down someone who asks you on a date.
Honest with no excuses method:
- “No, thank you.”
- “Thank you for asking me, but I’d rather not.”
Prior engagement method:
- “I can’t go because I have other plans.”
But what about school dances? There is often more pressure for these events. Perhaps your son or daughter is undecided on what they should do. Here are some discussion points to help your teen decide if they should go on a date or not.
- Talk to me about your concerns.
- Why don’t you want to go with this boy/girl?
- What do you think will happen if you say no?
- If you say yes?
- If it didn’t matter what anyone else thought, what would you do?
What are some of the rules you have set in your home regarding casual dating and formal dance dates? I’m aware of a common rule used frequently: You must say yes to the first person who asks you to a dance. This hard-and-fast rule actually could harm our teen’s ability to say yes or no to casual dates. Take a look at your rules and make certain that there is still room for free agency in the realm of dating. Discuss appropriate ways to set boundaries and practice with your teen on how to say no in a respectful way.
If he or she is worried about hurting someone’s feelings, perhaps it’s best to forgo the dance altogether. In this situation, you can plan another event (even a grocery shopping trip) so that your teen is unavailable. The prior engagement method is a convenient and stress-free way to turn down a date, but I would still recommend the honest with no excuses method for two reasons: 1) certain kids are tenacious and will not give up as long as they think your daughter or son might say yes the next time, 2) it does not teach your teen the valuable skills of conflict resolution and ownership of decisions. These skills are critical for adults—whether it be at home as a parent or as a professional in the workplace.
Invite your daughter or son to pray for guidance, reassurance, and an increase of the Spirit. Give them time to separate worries and fears from actual promptings and guidance. This is a great time to remind your child of the best way to receive direction from the Lord. Weigh out the decision, make the choice, and then ask for confirmation.
Dating should be fun and exciting for our teens as they develop social skills, learn about themselves, and discover qualities they want in a future spouse. With guidance and encouragement, we can arm our children with the skills they need to succeed. One of those skills is the power of “No” and learning how to communicate respectfully. Yes, it is okay to say no. And hopefully there will be great opportunities to say yes in the future.
Lead image from Getty Images
Rachelle J. Christensen is the author of Diamond Rings Are Deadly Things and many other books. She graduated with a degree in psychology and lives with her family on a farm in Idaho. Learn more about her at rachellechristensen.com.