Sometimes what was intended for mindless laughs presents a picture of a troubling reality that all of us as youth leaders should heed. It all depends on your perspective. Consider if you will the soul-shaking motion picture 50 First Dates

OK. Soul shaking is a stretch, especially when Adam Sandler is involved (In all fairness: Sandler’s performance in Reign Over Me was unbelievable). For those who have not experienced this epic tale, allow me to summarize:

Henry Roth (Sandler) lives an enviable bachelor’s life in a Hawaiian paradise, spending every night with a different beautiful female tourist in search of an island fling. It’s a sweet life with no strings attached…until he meets Lucy (Barrymore). He and Lucy hit it off over waffles at a local dive, but the next day she acts like she doesn’t know him. It seems his “do-unto-others-as-you-would-have-them-do-to-you karma” has come around to kick him in the rear. Not so fast. Actually, Lucy has short-term memory loss, the result of a terrible car accident, so every night all memory of her day is erased. What ensues are the hysterical lengths a man in love will go to win over the girl of his dreams, even if that means having to find imaginative ways of doing it over again every day.

During my second viewing of 50 First Dates, I was stunned by a chilling thought: The present teen-dating scene mirrors the concept of 50 First Dates. Guys and girls alike in our culture have short-term memories as it relates to dating. They are consumed with the seductive search and all that gaining the attention of that someone special entails. But once they get their undivided attention, they are ready to move on to someone else. The game is over. The thrill is gone. So its back to square one so that they can experience those same feelings again.

Why such a troubling twist in teen relationship world? Before you rush to judgment, check your own pulse: how excited do you get when you have a new friend request on your own Facebook account? Who is this person that wants my attention, to be my friend? Do I know them? Are they a total stranger? A high school classmate? Interesting, isn’t it, that we all want to be known, to gain the attention of someone. And if that is true of you and me, multiply that numerous times as it relates to teenagers.

It is no secret that our highly sexualized culture magnifies and glorifies the tease, the flirt, the feeling we all have experienced (or want to) of a first glance, touch or kiss. Are those experiences fundamentally wrong? NO! I can still remember the first time I laid eyes on Kellee. Our first kiss is branded in my heart. And the hopeless romantic in me desires that, any and every time Kellee and I are together, those same feelings we both felt almost 21 years ago would overwhelm us (Cue Foreigner’s Feels Like the First Time). God placed that desire, that longing, in the hearts of men and women. But you and I know from experience that it is only a mature and centered heart that can handle that desire correctly.

As far reaching as my point may be, what cannot be denied is that we are observing, interacting with and ministering to a generation of teens that, for the most part, do not exhibit maturity as it relates to relationships with the opposite sex.

1.   Most teens don’t do relationships with the end in mind. They do relationships with a feeling in mind.

2.   Once the thrill of the “hunt” is gone, so are their feelings for each other, and they move on to another “hunt.”

3.   Unintentional as it may be, this hyper short-term relationship model subverts a teenager’s capacity for mature, high quality relationships.

4.   A question that I can’t answer but I certainly fear: Could this lack of maturity be a contributing factor to the splintering of marriages in our culture and the startling reality that more and more singles are waiting later in life to get married?

So what do we do as youth leaders to address this monstrosity of an issue with our students? Let me be emphatic: this must become the mission of parents, much more than your mission as a youth leader. Any and every attempt we make as youth leaders to correctly frame the dating ideology, whether through xp3’s incredible curriculum or intentional relationship building, must be filtered through how we can impact the dating ideology of parents. The home should be the thermostat for the relational development of sons and daughters. Unfortunately too many homes are more like a thermometer, gauging the temperate norm of culture and going right along with whatever.

Can I get personal for a second? Kellee and I are the proud parents of a 16 year-old son. He is a good-looking guy (see Mommy), and the girls have certainly taken notice. As more and more girls show more-than-normal attention to him, we have had many conversations regarding the importance of friendship, the values he holds to and desires in a friend, and the ultimate end of a significant relationship with the opposite sex: intimacy. As these conversations have grown, what has become apparent is that very few of his friends think, feel or even consider the things we are talking about. Many of his friends are only after the quick thrill, the sweaty palms. Quite honestly: our son and his parents feel like aliens on a planet that is not our own. And that is a very uncomfortable place to be.

A principle Dave Ramsey uses in the world of financial freedom has become an adopted principle for dating for our son and daughters: Live like no one else now so that you can live like no one else later. Easy to say and remember… so hard to live out in this culture. Why? We were not prepared for and have been floored by the complete lack of foresight on the part of other parents in this arena. Please do not be so quick to rush to judge the seeming immaturity of your students. What we are realizing is that parents are playing a major role in instigating this culture of 50 first dates. From pointing out cute boys or girls to planning dates to throwing elaborate parties to arranging meetings, the lengths that Moms and Dads go through for a high school (or even worse, middle school) son or daughter to experience a feeling simply boggles the mind. It is no wonder that we minister to so many relationally retarded teenagers.

At least Lucy had an excuse…

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