We should be training our children for adulthood from an early age. My philosophy was that we should protect them from the perversions that would lead them away from the Lord, but not from the problems that will make them grow. Therefore, we kept our children from doing many things that we thought would expose them too much to sin and temptation. However, we did not protect them from many of the problems and challenges of life. My son was mowing the lawn from about the time he was able to push the lawn mower. As a teen, he developed a lawn mowing business. I was willing to expose him to dangers (though I carefully taught him the importance of safety) in order to help him mature. Unfortunately, I do not see much of this today. Parents would rather expose their children to temptations while protecting them from all physical danger. As a result, their children are worldly-minded and emotionally immature.
In our society, the ages 16, 18, and 21 are all presented in some form or another as the age of manhood. We rely too much on chronological age. There are important legal changes at certain ages, but they do not make the man. The integrity of the heart makes the man. As the young man shows himself to be responsible, he should be allowed to make certain decisions--but within reason. However, as long as he lives under the roof of his parents, sits at their dinner table, and finds his life at ease because of their provision, he does not have any right to make decisions by demand. If he takes the part of a child in the accepting the provision of another, then he is a child and has no rights to claim in the area of decision-making.
Much of parenting should emphasize the development of character. As such, the child should be trained to handle responsibility; to be accountable; and, to fulfill his or her commitments. Some of this training will include allowing the growing adult opportunities to make decisions. As he grows older and especially as he has proven his responsibility, the level of decisions he is allowed to make will grow in importance.
As the young man grows, he will face some of the most important decisions in his life. What will he do as to his career? Will he marry or not? Who will he marry? Where will he live? Will he continue to practice the faith of his parents? Although he needs well-placed advice from his parents and although his parents may have much more wisdom about these things than he does, he must still ultimately make these decisions. They are personal decisions and can only be made by the one who will carry them out. The parents carry the keys of decision while the he is under age and anytime later when they are paying the bill. But the son or daughter cannot be controlled in these decisions of life. If they have not been trained to maturity by the time they are adults, they will have to live with their own mistakes.
You asked specifically about courtship. I believe in a form of courtship, but I have recently seen much harm done by the rules of courtship advocated by Gothard and others. Their courtship is a matter of full control over the process by the parents. It is often run like a high-stakes shopping trip. The prospective spouse is made to jump through multiple hoops and do a trained monkey act for the prospective in-laws. If the boy becomes a man and braces under the humiliation, he is threatened with the cessation of negotiations and the loss of his loved-one. If he marries the girl anyway, both of them are threatened with Old Testament curses. What a travesty!
My concept of courtship had a few simple rules:
- Until you are ready to consider marriage, spend your time with members of the opposite gender in mixed groups. No dating.
- Even when seriously interested in someone, stay close to others. No isolation.
- Spend much of your time together around your families. Keep them involved as much as possible.
This approach rejects worldly dating without going to extremes and without treating our children as chattel to be bargained with.