Friday, September 23, 2011

Dating Culture: Junior High

Heads up! This and the other posts in the series about the dating scene are simply my own perspective; it is not Church teaching, nor does it necessarily reflect the views of anyone affiliated with me personally or professionally. Okay, you can put your head back down.

By the time I was about 12 years old, most of my friends were “going out” with someone. It became cliché for our parents or our friends’ parents to sarcastically ask, “Oh? And where exactly are they going?” We would roll our eyes at the irritating, patronizing, and embarrassing question. Sometimes, if we felt up to it, we would push back: “Mommm, it doesn’t mean they go places. They’re boyfriend and girlfriend. [Insert deep, exasperated sigh here].”
“Going out” in junior high meant couples held hands, talked on the phone, couple skated at Friday Night Skate, passed notes in school, walked around at the mall together, sat together at lunch, etc. Physical boundaries varied from hand-holding, to hands venturing to where they certainly do not belong. Many of the serious conversations were accomplished through a liaison, some mutual friend who would go back and forth between the boy and the girl, bringing messages such as:
“Barbie likes you.”
“Ken says he likes you too. I’m going to push him at you when we pass your locker.”
I desperately wanted a boyfriend. I don’t know if it was because I wanted to be just like my friends, who were the coolest girls I’d ever known, or if I thought that having a boyfriend would make me feel pretty. It was probably a mixture of the two.
Fortunately, I didn’t have a boyfriend during this period of my life. That poor boy would have been saddled with the burden of my insecurities—a burden that could only be lifted by God (and eventually was, when I allowed him to do so). Thank God, I grew up experiencing the love of Jesus in my home life; otherwise I probably would have been even more desperate for a boyfriend, and more disappointed if I’d had one.
Junior high is tough. Everyone is fighting to fit in, while balancing new freedoms, looking at different high schools, hitting puberty at different rates, and more. The unwritten law of junior high culture is: if you don’t want to get made fun of, the best defense is a good offense. Be exclusive or be excluded. If someone is making a joke that you don’t understand or that you don’t like, you had better laugh anyway, or you’ll be the next punch line. It’s no wonder that junior high girls want boyfriends to make them feel beautiful, popular, and loved*.
Dating is not the solution. A girl longing to feel beautiful and loved needs solid relationships with friends, family, and above all, with God. Interest in and curiosity about boys is normal, natural, and healthy. But why would we leave her to her own devices to figure out what to do with that interest? She may not always admit it, but she needs guidance. Instead of treating junior high culture like a joke, those of us adults who have a relationship with a junior higher ought to encourage her to practice her unique talents, improve at being a good friend, develop a relationship with Christ, develop firm values, and think for herself.
“Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it." –      Proverbs 22:6

*This statement is based on my own observations, experiences, and conversations with junior high girls.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Dating Culture: What Parents & Publishers Don’t Know

What the parents of my generation seemingly don’t realize or weren’t prepared for is the fact that, at some point, dating structure and boundaries mostly went out the window. I’ve been through countless great books and programs about Christian dating/relationships that still operate under the assumption that teens date. In reality, dating has (d)evolved into a formless, nameless social scene. These otherwise great books and programs presume an order and a vocabulary that, in my experience, are more or less obsolete. As a result, parents and publishers are outdated before they open their mouths or type a word.
I’m told that knowledge is power, so my hope is that the next few posts will empower parents who might not realize how my generation rolls. My other intention is to encourage my peers to re-think “dating” as we know it, by taking an honest look at some of the dating cultures that we have survived.
I assume that most of my readers share my genes or at least know me personally, but for any outliers: I grew up in a friendly, middle class suburb, graduated from a Catholic high school in 2007, attended a very secular college, and transferred to a very Catholic university. I am 22 years old, and have always had close friends who have dated in every dating culture that I intend to describe. If this were a court, I’d be a witness. What I mean is that my perspective is that of a friend, not of a girlfriend (since my only direct dating experience took place in another country with a very different dating culture).
If you want the perspective of an experienced “dater,” I’m afraid you are reading the wrong blog. However, I encourage you to verify them with your son or daughter. If their culture doesn’t match up with mine, have them explain the differences! It would be a great way to deepen your understanding of their world.
Parents, your kids need you to be “in the loop.” They are probably more willing to talk about their dating culture than you realize, but they might not know how to talk to you about it. They might think that you won’t listen, or that you will react in an unloving way. I say this, not to tell you how to parent, but as a young daughter who has had to learn the benefit of discussing dating and sexuality with my parents and with other adults who share their values.
When it comes to teen “dating,” it’s kind of a mess out there. However, the mess can absolutely be navigated, especially if you know what your child faces, and how to dodge the traps that lie in wait to break his or her heart.

Please note: This blog is aimed more at teens, so if you think you know of a parent who would appreciate reading these posts, please send it to him/her. More importantly, this and the following "dating culture" posts are simply my own perspective; it is not Church teaching, nor does it necessarily reflect the views of anyone affiliated with me personally or professionally. Some restrictions apply. Batteries not included. Please see store for details.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

A Gift of Self on 9/11/01

Authentic love courageously perseveres and selflessly sacrifices, putting others' well-being first.

"To humanity, which sometimes seems to be lost and dominated by the power of evil, selfishness and fear, the risen Lord gives the gift of his love which forgives, reconciles and reopens the soul to hope." - Blessed John Paul II

Friday, September 9, 2011

What's in a Name?

In preparation for the upcoming school year, I have been redesigning and reordering many of the materials we use for the In Control chastity education program. I was particularly struck by one that lists some of the freedoms gained through practicing the virtue of chastity:

Freedom from:
1. Sexually transmitted diseases
2. Being used
3. Guilt
4. The hazards of birth control
5. Cervical cancer
6. Unintended pregnancy
7. The pressure to abort, the pain of making an adoption plan, and the demands of pre-marital parenting
Freedom to:
1. Build relationships
2. Understand sex and sexuality
3. Overcome temptation
4. Put others first
5. Follow Christ
6. Become who I was created to be
I couldn't help but notice that the first list is conditions/outcomes, while the second is free actions. Chastity often makes the difference between "ending up" with negative results and voluntarily choosing a course of action.

It's no wonder that our program is called In Control.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Nice to Meet You!

Hi, I'm Kelly, the new girl. I am 22 years old and the fourth of five children in a cradle Catholic family. I have played soccer since I was four, and I love to sing and make people laugh. For as long as I can remember, I have had the habit of twirling my hair and an irrational fear of needles. I laugh loudly and often, my favorite color is pink, my favorite food is sushi, and my pet peeves include morning radio and losing things.
I transferred to Franciscan University of Steubenville as a junior catechetics major and, in my two years there, I sang in music ministry, was a cast member of Pun Intended (an improvisational comedy team), and active in the household Carae Domini. I played varsity soccer my junior year, became captain my senior year, and served as the assistant women’s coach during my final semester at the University.
I founded Puritas Ministries when I was 18 years old as a response to my friends’ need and desire for an understanding of the virtue of chastity. Since then, with the help of amazing volunteers, I have developed and expanded the mission of the program to serve young women more holistically. The program continues to emphasize chastity with a wider focus on understanding how to be women of faith as God created each of us to be.
Spreading the message of the freedom found in chastity is one of my favorite activities, so of course I am super pumped to jump in the classrooms and talk to students in the Cinci area. Working with this beautiful organization (plus the wonderful staff, board, and volunteers) is a sincere privilege, as serving women is a deep desire of my heart. I am so pleased to be joining Pregnancy Center East as a chastity educator and I look forward to all that lies ahead. May God bless those who read this blog.