UB David + I'll B Jonathan, Inc.


Teen Issues: Friendship, Dating and Sex




Questions from real-life teens with answers from well known columnist, Tim Stafford.

Content originally appeared in Campus Life magazine. Copyright © 2001-2005 by columnist, Tim Stafford. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

UB David + I'll B Jonathan, Inc.


Teen Issues: Friendship, Dating & Sex

Teen Issues: Friendship, Dating & Sex

Questions from real-life teens with answers from well known columnist, Tim Stafford.

Lesson 4: Dealing with Differences

Dealing with Differences


Do Age Differences Matter?

Question: Why is it so wrong to date someone when there's an age difference (say, seven years) if both of you are on the same intellectual and maturity level, and both devoted Christians? What about our parents and grandparents who had large age differences but were also married early? Why should it be unacceptable for our generation if we're in love?

Answer: I'd never say it's wrong or unacceptable. I'd just say it's usually unwise, for two reasons. First, it's easy to fool yourself. In reality, age differences usually (not always) go with differences in experience and maturity. When you're very different in age—say 14 and 21, to use the seven-year spread you suggest—there's almost always a subtle way in which one person dominates the other. Sometimes the older person "knows all about" what the younger person feels. Sometimes the older person has much higher expectations for commitment. Sometimes there are sexual expectations. In any case, they're really not coming together as equal partners. That makes for a lousy relationship in the long run.

The second reason is practical. Our society is different from the one our grandparents grew up in. Today, most women go to college and have careers. When there's an extreme difference in age, the life stages of the two partners don't fit well together. Just when one is ready to start college, the other is ready to settle down and start having children. When one is graduating from high school, the other is working nine to five. This creates many obstacles for the couple. It's not impossible to overcome them, but it's quite difficult.

That's why most adults discourage dating people a lot older or younger than you. Why start a relationship that is so likely to bring trouble?


Is Interracial Dating Wrong?

Question: What does the Bible say about interracial dating? I've heard people say the Bible says it's wrong, and then others say the Bible says it isn't. I have a crush on an African-American who is a Christian, but I'm not going to ask him out if the Bible says it is wrong.

Answer: The Bible doesn't say it's wrong. On the contrary, the Bible teaches that all people are descended from Adam and Eve—which means that racial differences are superficial, and we're all from one family. It also teaches that in the end all the races and ethnic groups of the world will be brought together as family under God's loving care. All racial hatred and prejudice will die out! You can read about this in Isaiah 11:1-9, Revelation 15:4, and many other places in the Bible. How could it be wrong to date someone with whom you will spend eternity? That's not to say that interracial dating is always wise. Interracial couples encounter all the troubles that other couples do, and then some. They face prejudice, and they sometimes have to deal with cultural differences that make it hard for them to understand each other. But if two people look at those difficulties clearly and prayerfully, there's no reason for them to stay apart.

Question: I've been dating a girl of a different race, and my parents don't agree with it. In fact, they don't know we're still together. We've been dating for a couple of months, and I really like her a lot. I think I love her, and she always tells me she loves me, too. My parents say I'm just dating her because I'm curious about her, and that she's with me so she can brag about it. I think they're wrong, but I don't know what to do. I know you're supposed to honor your parents, but what do you do when they want you to break up with someone for the wrong reasons? Plus, I really care about this girl, and I don't want to break up with her.

Answer: I couldn't tell from your letter whether your parents have given orders or merely advice. If they have given orders, then unfortunately, you should comply. Don't deceive your parents. Instead, obey them until you're old enough to be on your own. Don't worry. If this girl is really the one for you, she won't disappear in a puff of smoke. She'll still be in your world when you are an independent adult. If you're forbidden to date her, perhaps you can still maintain a friendship with her until you can date.

Advice is another matter. Parents often try to influence their children to make what they consider good decisions. Perhaps your parents are afraid that a girl from a very different background than yours won't make a good marriage partner. It's true that interracial relationships face special difficulties because of the partners' different cultures and the attitudes of people around them. Most parents of any race will feel concern for that. If your parents are giving advice, honor them by taking it seriously, by listening and by calmly explaining your point of view. If they see a level-headed, thoughtful response from you and your girlfriend, they may reconsider.

Again, if your parents are simply giving advice, you don't have to agree with them or take the advice, but you do need to listen respectfully. Try to see whether you can understand and answer their concerns. If you believe your parents are rejecting your girlfriend based on stereotypes about interracial relationships, respectfully tell them so. Tell them about some of the good qualities you and your girlfriend see in one another, and share some of the ways you've grown in this relationship. The back-and-forth of dialogue may help you find a solution that gives them more security, while still leaving you free to date her. For example, has your girlfriend come to dinner at your house? Have your parents and hers had the chance to meet? If your parents got to know her and her family, they might see the same good qualities you do.

Question: I've been pretty close to taking a few girls out on dates, only to have them back out with some lame excuse. I recently found out some of them backed out because I'm Korean. Why are they afraid of my being Korean? It really bothers me and I don't know what to do. I know a girlfriend isn't the most important thing in life, but I think it would be nice. Why won't God let things work out?

Answer: I wouldn't blame God for it. The Bible makes it clear that in Christ, there are no distinctions between people of different races and ethnicities (Galatians 3:28). God is the Father of us all. Through Jesus, he gave his life for us all. As God's children, we ought to have no place for discrimination.

Unfortunately, people don't always get that. People often fear anyone who is different. Prejudice crops up everywhere. It's ugly and hateful to God, and I'm so sorry you've experienced it.

If you get a chance to speak out against prejudice, do so. Even if you don't change anybody's behavior by your words, your protest becomes a strong statement against evil. It will wear on people's conscience. In time, you can help change people's attitudes.

At the same time, don't let some people's prejudice take over your life. Yes, some people are prejudiced, but not all. Other girls won't care about your ethnicity; they'll care about your personality. Even when there's no ethnic prejudice involved, finding a boyfriend or a girlfriend can be difficult. People write me all the time with that news! You have to persist until you find the right one. After all, you don't really want to go out with a prejudiced person. You want to find someone who will appreciate you for who you are. Such a person is worth waiting for.


We have Differing Views about Sex

Question: I lost my virginity three years ago, when I was 14. I haven't had sex since, and I know I've been forgiven. I'm currently seeing a guy and we have very different views on what sexual sin really is. He's a virgin, and he thinks that as long as we don't have sex, then kissing, touching and fondling is OK. But ever since I lost my virginity, I've feared falling again. I feel guilty even kissing a guy, because I know that's where the problems began for me before.

We're both Christians, and I've tried to explain my point of view without telling him I'm not a virgin. (I would rather not tell him right now.) He doesn't seem to hear anything I say. He tempts me a lot, and I sometimes feel like he's bringing me down rather than lifting me up. He thinks I'm closed-minded and that I'm not facing reality. I think he hasn't walked on the road I've traveled. What can I tell him to help him understand?

Answer: I think you're right: You have been sobered by experience, and your boyfriend has not. Still, even if you were to explain what you have been through, it might not change his outlook.

Here's something you can and should tell him, though. It's always wrong to try to badger somebody into doing what they're not comfortable doing. What could be his motive, other than selfishness and lust? If he cares about you, he should respect your conscience and your boundaries.

Although 1 Corinthians 8:9 was written about a different issue, it provides an important principle: Whenever two people have different standards about what's appropriate, the one with the more tender sense of conscience should have her way without any argument at all.

It sounds like you're still recovering from what happened three years ago. For you, I think the best way to get over lingering guilt is to learn what a healthy relationship is like. If your boyfriend doesn't respect your conscience, you'll need to leave the relationship. You'll never get over your fears if you stay with somebody who pressures you. In the right relationship, with the right person, exaggerated fears will wither up and blow away.


We’re Not on the Same Spiritual Level

Question: I am crazy about this girl in my youth group. The problem is we aren't on the same spiritual level. My thirst to know God is greater than hers, and I'm afraid it might cause problems for the relationship. What do you think I should do?

Answer: Your concern is good, but let me say it's not always easy to read a person's spiritual level. Different personalities express themselves in different ways. Sometimes people who seem less concerned to follow God possess a very deep and private faith. Others who seem on fire may turn out to be shallow.

Even so, you'd be wise to take it slow—especially if there are things in her life that could drag you down. Does she have behaviors that keep her from growing closer to God? Does she have habits that are harmful to her? Does she, for instance, have an attitude toward sex that could lead her—and you—to make some bad decisions? If so, then I would encourage you to simply build a friendship and not a romance. She doesn't need you out of her life. She just needs you to be a solid friend, and not a boyfriend. And for now, that might be all you need from this relationship, too.

Still, I assume you like her for more than just looks. Something about her attracts you—and perhaps you can't even define exactly what. I'd explore that further, but again, take it slow. Keep checking the spiritual pulse of your relationship. You can't control anyone else's spiritual life, but you do want to make sure she's not leading you away from God. In time, you'll see whether you're spiritually and personally good for each other.


He's Not a Christian

Question: I'm 15 years old. I have been a Christian my whole life, and I have always been dedicated to the Lord. At the beginning of this school year I met a 16-year-old guy in my gym class. He takes school very seriously, tries hard to get good grades, is completely in charge of a pretty big volunteer project at my school, and is nice to everyone.

I like this guy, and it is pretty obvious that he likes me too. However, he told me he goes out and gets drunk every weekend. And he's not a Christian. But he totally respects me being one, and even asks me about what I do at church.

There is a huge possibility we could go out someday. Please tell me what I should do—if I should even be hanging out with this guy. I love the movie A Walk to Remember, and I have had dreams of that story becoming real in my life between this guy and me. I know this isn't the way things work out in real life, but I don't know what to do. I really like him, and I've been praying for a long time that God would make something happen between us.

Answer: You're right, we shouldn't base our important life decisions on what we see in the movies. And while it may be fun to dream, you need to deal with reality.

Trust me, this guy may seem like your dream guy, but someone who gets drunk every weekend will quickly become your nightmare. Alcohol abuse is something you shouldn't ignore. That alone makes this guy off-limits.

Besides that, you're a Christian. Again, life isn't a movie. Dating someone who isn't a committed Christian is simply asking for trouble. Here's my advice: If he asks you on a date, tell him no, but then invite him to your next youth group activity. If he wants an explanation, you can say that your relationship to God means a lot to you.

If your friend is open, introduce him to your pastor or a youth leader who can invest time in him. If he's not open, then forget him.

Given what this guy has told you about his life, he doesn't seem likely to be good for you and your relationship with God. You can tell him that—or write it in a note, if saying it is too hard.

Don't be afraid to share your concerns about this guy and all your relationships with God. He can make your romantic dreams come true, if you trust him.

Question: I've been dating my boyfriend for about eight months. We've gone pretty far, but never all the way. We hope to get married in a few years. A few days ago, some of the topics my small group talked about made me start thinking that my boyfriend and I should probably slow down a little bit. The problem is, my boyfriend isn't a Christian. He seems interested in God, though—I guess I'd call him a "seeker." He respects me and my decision not to have sex, but I don't think he really understands that I made that decision out of my Christian beliefs. How do I explain that to him?

A yoke was a curved wooden bar used to harness two animals side by side

Answer: If you read 2 Corinthians 6:14-17, you'll find absolutely clear warnings not to be "yoked together with unbelievers." The image is very striking. A yoke was a curved wooden bar used to harness two animals side by side, to pull a plow or a wagon. It only works if the two animals have similar outlooks. If you try to yoke animals who each want to go a different direction, they will pull against each other, and nothing good will be accomplished.

That's you, if you're planning marriage with a non-Christian. You have different outlooks, hopes, ideals and beliefs. Your standards don't match. That's what you're discovering about sex. Your boyfriend may go along with your decisions, but he doesn't really agree with them. You're pulling in different directions. Those differences will only grow stronger as your relationship gets more advanced and you face more intimate decisions about how to live your lives together.

I don't see how you can explain your Christian beliefs about sex. Your boyfriend surely knows that you aren't completely serious about following your faith. He's seen you compromise what you believe. Until you put God first, your boyfriend probably won't understand your faith.

Unfortunately, the problems you are experiencing are one of the very real reasons I believe committed Christians should only date other committed Christians. As difficult as it will be for both of you, I don't see any way around the fact that you need to break up.


Is it OK to be bisexual?

Question: For a while now, I've been wondering if I'm bisexual. I feel sexually attracted to both girls and guys. I was wondering: Is it OK to be bisexual? My pastor says it's not OK to be gay or lesbian because you can't have kids and God didn't intend for us to be that way. But if I'm bisexual, I can still marry a man and have kids with him, right? Doesn't that make it OK?

Answer: Many people today are fascinated about the whole issue of sexual identity, spending a lot of time wondering if they're heterosexual, homosexual or bisexual. I don't think that's a healthy fascination, and I wouldn't recommend labeling yourself or anyone else too quickly. Sexual feelings often float freely, especially when you are young. Lots of people feel attracted to both sexes, at least for a short period of their lives. But feelings are not destiny. Having bisexual feelings does not make you a bisexual. It just makes you a person who, right now, is attracted to both sexes, and has to figure out how to deal with that.

The Bible doesn't condemn people for their sexual attractions. What's wrong, the Bible says, is "exchanging natural relations for unnatural ones" (Romans 1:26, NIV). God designed men and women to marry each other and have children together. It's how God wanted people to express their sexuality.

If you put the stress on behavior, not attraction, you won't have any trouble seeing what God wants for you. A woman who's attracted to both sexes might find it difficult to marry and be faithful to the man she married. But difficult is not the same as impossible. We are all in control of our behavior. If God calls you to marry, you can choose to be faithful.

For those who feel only homosexual attraction, following God's way is more difficult. But there is hope. I know several homosexually-oriented people whom God enabled, through a gradual and patient process of discipleship, to develop a healthy attraction to the opposite sex and relationships that led to marriage. Because of how I've seen God work in their lives, I would never say that homosexuals cannot hope to change or to have loving, healthy marriages to people of the opposite sex. However, it can be very difficult.

Your feelings aren't right or wrong. They just are. You can't help them, any more than you can help liking or disliking certain cars, clothes or movies. What you do with those feelings is something different. When it comes to acting on our feelings, right and wrong apply.

God offers us wonderful and fulfilling lives, but not necessarily easy lives. For this reason, it's important to have wise, caring people involved to counsel you and pray for you. I'd encourage you to seek out a Christian counselor who can help you sort out both your feelings and your behavior.


Questions from real-life teens with answers from well known columnist, Tim Stafford.

Content originally appeared in Campus Life magazine. Copyright © 2001-2005 by columnist, Tim Stafford. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

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