I need help

Alright, I’m not a girl, so I don’t really understand this, (actually I was the guy on the other end of this a few times so maybe I understand it too well) but how do I as a youth pastor warn girls about dating guys who are much older than them? I have a student who is still in high school and is dating a guy who is 24. How do I show her, and all of the other girls who go running down this road that such a relationship is not only not healthy, but possibly dangerous.

It must seem like such a thrill to have an older guy like you. It must seem like you are "mature" and grown up in ways that dating guys your own age can’t quite make you feel. So how can you combat that good feeling with the truth that any 20 year old that still wants to go through the trouble of dating a girl in high school has some serious issues. That any guy who is trying to go out with someone that much younger than him is at best immature and looking for an easy relationship and at worst looking for an easy target.

In my role as a youth pastor this has to be one of my biggest struggles. How do you help students see how destructive their relationships are–especially when they "love him"? I guess some of these lessons are ones that just need to be learned through living, but I want so desperately to help them avoid some of the heartache. 

I also have selfish motives too. There is nothing that kills the involvement of a senior leader faster than meeting an older guy. It is like they are suddenly way too important to be involved. This isn’t always the case, but it happens more times than not.

I just wish there was a magic formula for how to deal with these situations and I wish just once someone would listen to me when I tried to warn them.

8 thoughts on “I need help

  1. Chris Stevens says:

    I’m afraid I have to disagree with you on a fundamental level. Allow me to preface my comment by saying that I am a born-again believer, worship minister at my church, and follow hard after God. That said, I started dating my now wife when she was 17 and I was 24. We dated for three years, got married, and have been married for five. We have two wonderful children, and our marriage is as strong as it was the day we exchanged our vows. I am not deviant, or needy, or any of those negative traits you attributed to someone who happened to date someone younger. Looking back, I can see God’s hand in every aspect of our relationship.

    That said, I understand your concerns. I don’t tend to think this is the norm. If I had a daughter, or I had kids in the youth group I was responsible for, I would have reservations. The litmus test must then be, is God in it? In the case of my wife and me, I asked her parents for permission to date her and they enthusiastically agreed. Her family (for the most part) also liked me. The pastor of our church had no problem with the relationship I considered this a "guidepost" by God that I was within His will. So, for my children, or the kids in my youth group, my question would be,"Are the other elements of your life stacking up with this? Do your parents agree with this? How about your teachers? Your pastor?" The age is not as important as maintaining the will of God.

  2. The Average Youth Minister says:

    Thanks Chris for taking time to post your story. I’m glad it worked out for you. But saying that it worked for you and taking that to mean that it is OK for everyone is like pointing to someone who had a baby at 14 and "everything worked out" and saying that it is healthy to have a baby at 14.

    I don’t know you, and I don’t want to criticize you. I am impressed with your level of commitment to seek after advice. So I don’t want to comment on your situation.

    But in every case I have ever seen I just can’t justify someone in high school dating someone who is that far out of high school. You run in 2 totally seperate worlds. You have 2 totally seperate goals and visions of the world (or at least you should).

    I don’t see how puting a "God’s Will" stamp on it makes it better. If it is "God;s Will" that you should be together (and as a side note check out the Understanding God’s Will from Relevant for some good insight into this), but if it is God’s will that you should be together then won’t it still be God’s Will in 2 years?

    Again, BOCTAOE, still I see guys who date girls who are younger as selfish. They have had time to live life beyond their parent, to live beyond high school and beyond childhood, but they don’t want to give these girls a chance to do that. They have found out who they are, and I am almost sure that who they are (at least who most of them are) isn’t the same as they were in 7 years before, or at least I hope it isn’t, but they selfishly refuse to give the girl that they "love" the same opportunity?

    Again, there are exceptions to everything. There are children who have 14 year old mothers who have great lives, there are couples who date all through high school and have great marriages and I am sure there are poeple with huge age difference who love each other and who are exactly perfect for each other.

    But 999 out of 1000 times a guy who is dating a younger girl (or a girl who dates a younger guy for that matter) is using the girl. He may not see that he is, but the truth of the matter is that he sees what he wants and goes after it and never stops to think that his needs in a relationship are different from her needs. He sees this younger girl who makes him feel good, and who doesn’t challenge him, and is much easier to date (we can get onto that subject later) and he doesn’t think about what she needs he only thinks about himself.

    Of course most teenage relationships are selfish, but when you are 22 it is time to start growing out of those selfish relationships especially if you are renting a tux for prom.

    Sorry, this is a big issue for me. I know that there are some people who have made it work, and I applaud them, but I have seen more girls torn up by these relationships than I can count. Just becuase it worked out once doesn’t mean that we should stop warning people. It it is really "God’s Will" that you marry this person then won’t it still be "God’s Will" in 2 years?

    (Excuse me for a moment while I get down off my soap box.) Alright, I will return you to your regularly scheduled programing.

  3. Brad Sanders says:

    Okay, Shane I understand your concern as well. I have seen this exact situation many times, and sometimes I’ve seen it spiral out of control–but other times it’s been just fine.

    Now, let me share with you some of my experiences. I have been on both ends of this. First of all, I too am a born again believer who is a worship leader for a small church in Texas. I am married to a woman who is 6 years older than me. When we started dating, I was 24, she was 30. Now I know you’re thinking this is totally different because one, I’m a guy, and two at that point we were both (supposedly) mature adults. Well, she was the one God had for me, and there was never any doubt in my mind. We have now been married for a little over 3 years and have a beautiful 4 month old baby girl. (As a side note, if you need any advice about the whole pregnancy-baby thing, I am a wealth of knowledge!)

    Now, obviously this is a little different since we were both out of high school and college for that matter. BUT, I always dated younger girls growing up. My wife was the first older girl I’d ever dated. Now, I don’t think that I was warped or trying to use anyone. For whatever reason, I never could find anyone my age that I was attracted too. Part of this was probably because the church I grew up in didn’t have a lot of girls my age. They were all 2-5 years younger than me.

    Anyway, I think you have to be careful to judge in this situation. The worst thing you can do is try to "fix" the problem. I have seen too many people leave church because of what they perceive as "meddling." I think if you have developed a rapport with these girls, then you can definitely talk about it. Find out what they like about the older guy. Ask if he’s a Christian. Ask her to bring him to church. If she’s even the slightest bit defensive then it’s probably a safe bet that she knows she’s not seeking God’s will. And if that’s the case, the only thing you can do as a youth pastor is pray for them. Just remember, that being a minister isn’t about fixing everyone’s problems, it’s about being a guide. If you’re hiking without a guide, you might still have fun, but you might also make a wrong turn and fall off a cliff. The key is to be an interesting enough guide that people will want to follow you and listen. I know you’re doing a great job. God bless.

  4. Chris Stevens says:

    In reading this again before I posted, it seemed a little harsh and "flame-ish" in spots. It’s not, so please don’t take it that way. I just wanted to apply some critical thinking skills to this issue. (That’s some intro, huh?!?!?!)

    Those that know me, know I enjoy a good debate, so I hope you will indulge me in a dialogue on this matter. Even though we approach this issue from different perspectives, it might help each of us deepen our understanding of the other side. From a logical fallacy standpoint, we’re probably both guilty of anecdotal evidence. So, for the sake of this argument, I will do my best to keep my personal situation out of this, though there are some relevancies. This is one of those subjective issues that cannot be re-created in a lab, and I can’t see any way that a meaningful scientific study could be constructed (sorry, that’s the engineering side of me coming out).

    You make some very broad generalizations from a personal standpoint, that are culturally based as well. For example, to say that 999 out of 1000 will fail miserably is an exaggeration, as it could only be true if we had apriori knowledge of both individuals, and their character set and situations were identical. Additionally, to point to an instance where a girl was torn apart because of a breakup with an older man, and attribute this to age alone would fall into the spurious relationship category of LFs. Was it really the age factor that made the breakup difficult, or the emotional pre-disposition of the individual? Would she have been equally torn up if the age of the boyfriend had been similar to her own? The truth is, for every one you can point out that has failed, I can point to one that has succeeded.

    Your abject criticism of these types of relationships come from experience you have had with this matter, in the same manner as my openness to them comes from mine. In our culture, vast age differences tend not to be the norm. To wit: Young women that marry old men are assumed to be gold-diggers. Middle-aged women who go after younger men are looked at suspiciously. I will grant you that the older a person gets, the less age matters. In a very real sense, we are in a constant state of flux all the years of our lives. We are mutable and ever-changing. This, even more so during the teenage years, which I will grant you. Seven years from 30 to 37 means less than 17 to 24, which means very much less than 12 to 19. In the instance of the latter, yeah, I would have some serious issues. Still, in other cultures, and even in Biblical times, vast age differences are fairly commonplace.

    “still I see guys who date girls who are younger as selfish”
    To this point, I would ask in what way? My wife participated in sports, graduated with honors, and even went out with her friends on weekends. She never missed an opportunity to do anything that normal high school girls would do. I bring this up to say that it is faulty logic to assume that because they are dating someone in a different age group than theirs, that they are somehow missing out on living or growing. Perhaps this is an individual situation. To wit: My wife always acted older than she really was, from the first time I met her. She will tell you I act much younger than I am (maybe around 13  ), but we found common ground. To broaden the scope just a bit, I think it is a gross mis-characterization to imply that any 20-something wanting to date a teenager either has an ulterior motive, or has something inherently wrong with them; or to say that there are negative consequences to the growth of the teen because of the relationship. Also, to comment that a couple of years will make a difference (i.e.: 17 to 19) seems a bit of a stretch.

    From a strictly Biblical standpoint, I can’t find anything that would discourage a courtship of different ages. I can point to references regarding being equally yoked (as far as religious convictions are concerned), keeping good company, guarding our hearts, and even a good litmus test (1 Cor. “Love Is….”, but nothing that would place a restriction on age. If this were an issue, there should be a reference, even in passing, to caution us about it. Now, I’m not saying the Bible will spell out every single possible sin or trap to avoid, but it does give some very good guidelines to principle our lives by, and I just can’t find anything that points to it. If you can, then please correct me for sure.

    In the end, I think you’ve got a tough sell on your hand, and I don’t envy your task of trying to impart to your kids what you believe is in their best interests. I believe in your sincerity, and for the most part you do have statistics on your side. It is ultimately up to the parents to impart a strong sense of self and character into their children, so they can discern when it is the right decision and when it is not. I do reject the notion that it can categorically be dismissed, and particularly with teens, my experience has been that they tend to love to be the exception to the norm. If you say,”If you speed, you will get a ticket.” They will invariably test it. I think the stance you are taking has the potential to cause a proliferation of the very thing you are trying to discourage.

  5. The Average Youth Minister says:

    Thanks to all of you for your comments. You guys do make some really good points. Thanks too for taking the time to share them and share them in such a cordial manner. I have had more comments than I can count from crazy people who are just out to call me crazy. (Which I am, but that is a whole different matter) Anyway, thanks for your ideas and for adding your voice her to nailscars.com that is what it is all about.

    I want to say that I still feel very strongly about guys who are out of school dating girls who are in school. I don’t think that these guys are deviants or preditor who are consciously thinking, "I’m going to date a younger girl because it is easier" but I do think that there are some issues with someone who goes out with people who are at such an earlier stage of life.

    But I guess I should have started this whole rebuttal process with how much I love college and how much I think taking at least a year to be on your own and away from your high school life is vital to being a healthy adult. In my church ministry with adults I see people time and time again who have relationship troubles based on the fact that they missed out on that time to grow away from their parents and away from a boyfriend or girlfriend who tied them to who they were in high school.

    I have seen so many people who were sure about who they were and what they wanted go to college and figure out that what they want is so much more. I think everyone should have an opportunity to get away from home for a while and take some time to grow up without the ties of relationships that hold them to who they were.

    I know that this isn’t something that everyone may agree with, but it is something that I have seen men and women struggle with. Of course I think there should be a law that you can’t get married until at least 20, or better yet 21 becuase if you are married you had better be able to have a drink once in a while or you are never going to make it.

  6. -B says:

    Just wanted to thank everyone for this topic being on here for so long without a single solitary B joke.

  7. Andy Crouch says:

    We just haven’t gotten to you yet, B. Actually, the more amazing thing is that none of us have said anything about our favorite youth minister yet…

  8. The Average Youth Minister says:

    Bring on the comments about the youth pastor. Part of the reason I feel so strongly about this is because I know how I was. Of course a bigger part may be because Byron would cruise Mother Goose on Friday nights. But I bet if I were to really dig into my brain the biggest part would be because of that night that I came home from college and Jason was sitting in my den.

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