How young is too young for my kids to have a boyfriend or girlfriend?

Published on July 31, 2023

Dear Mattsons: How young is too young for my kids to have a boyfriend or girlfriend? What are suggested guidelines to put in place to help them build healthy dating relationships? 


This topic scares me

We do not blame you, this topic scares us too! Having teen girls ourselves, it is something we talk about all the time.

We come from a posture of God’s grace. He’s going to guide you, and you will guide your kids knowing each of their wirings and their stories.  I mean, who are we to say or dictate “here’s the right time” to date or to have a boyfriend? There really isn’t a lot of research that backs us up where we could say “go according to that.”

But, what we can say is that each kid is different. And it is important to understand the “why?” For example, “why are you going to have a boyfriend or girlfriend?” It is normal to like each other, and crushes start kind of early. But, you will see differences in your kids. Some kids won’t pay attention to the opposite sex at all, and some will notice early on. 

So, the idea is to continuously talk to our kids about the purpose, and God’s design. He designed marriage, between a man and a woman, and for us to be able to honor the differences. Part of having healthy relationships is knowing who you are. And so, we get the opportunity in most of our younger years to get to know who we are. 

We have used an example in the past about rock-climbing. It’s about understanding what your kids need to be able to safely navigate some treacherous terrain. We wouldn’t just tell them “Good luck! See you at the summit – take a picture for us!” Right? In parenting, we get the privilege of being able to walk with them on belay. So, it’s not that we are hovering and controlling every piece, but rather trying to help them make decisions and navigate in a way that there is some safety in that process. And, each child is going to be different in that space based on their interests and desires, and especially as they grow. 

Back to the rock-climbing analogy. Think about when they’re little: they are on the ground, and we are working on getting the helmet and belay in place (the belay is like their relationship with God, relationship with parents, mentors, friends etc.) and that security that helps us as we start to climb up and start to have relationships.  

And, we have got to be ready to navigate heartbreak. How to be able to move through that. If you’re not ready for that, you need to talk to your son or daughter, and talk about why they’re ready for it. For example, are they ready for that if they fall? What’s going to happen if they fall?  

That’s really the scariest part, right? Because too many heartbreaks can make us jaded for what God’s design is. There is also the sexual intimacy, and the temptations there. There is the possibility of not understanding how to regulate emotions, because whoever you spend a lot of time with, you’re going to end up liking and growing that love. And so, the higher up you go in dating and being in a boyfriend & girlfriend type relationship is like the higher up you’re going on that rock climb. We just want to make sure that there is support around that. 

Sometimes we joke that we wish our kids would not date until college! The science here is clear, that 24 is when a female’s brain is fully developed, and 26 for males. Which means teenagers are traversing in this dating world without fully developed brains. So to give them a better chance, we joke about it. 

So we go back to these questions of “why” in dating that you can discuss. Is it because everyone else has a boyfriend or girlfriend? Do they feel left out? Is it because you really like them? Do they feel left out? Sometimes it can be a result of peer pressure. Well, how can you develop friendship?  

If you look down the road to marriage counseling, relationships can become all about sexuality, and pragmatics of life. And therefore sometimes couples end up missing the important aspects of “how do we become friends” or “who am I in our relationship?”  

So, we want to have time to develop that very thing for our daughters and our sons. We want them to be able to figure out who they are, and if they can do relationship, emotional intimacy, communication, and friendship. Because, all of these things are really the foundation of a long-lasting relationship. So, we want to talk to our kids about those things, starting at a young age.  
Just remember, always seek the why.” No shaming. if it’s. Recognizing who is the belay, and making sure those relationships are strong. And lastly that there’s lots of dialogue going on. 

Remember, you are the right parent for the job and Tara and I are here cheering you on! 

To get parenting advice for things you might be dealing with, checkout the Dear Mattsons playlist on YouTube!

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Jeff and Terra Mattson

Jeff Mattson (MA ORL) and Terra Mattson (MA LPC, LMFT) are Christian Parenting spokespeople and the co-hosts of the Living Wholehearted Podcast in the Christian Parenting Podcast Network.


After two decades studying and working in leadership and trauma-informed therapy, Jeff and Terra are bridging the gap between Biblical, clinical, and relational wisdom to help leaders live with integrity in the home, work, and community.


They are the co-founders of Living Wholehearted, a professional counseling and organizational development firm. Terra is the author of Courageous: Being Daughters Rooted in Grace and together they co-authored Shrinking the Integrity Gap: Between what Leaders Preach and Live. Jeff and Terra have skin in the game as they raise their two daughters just outside Portland, OR on five acres of old growth woods. There is never a dull moment in the Mattson home!

Read more about Jeff and Terra

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