Posted by: chuckbumgardner | October 27, 2007

Thomas Hine, The Rise and Fall of the American Teenager

I remember the moment I discovered that dating was a relatively new social phenomenon in western culture.  In college, a speaker spent an entire chapel hour discussing the means by which young men and women move toward marriage (I am not saying that dating necessarily moves toward marriage; a hallmark of dating as popularly conceived is, in fact, that marriage generally is not its intent).  He pointed out that there have been major changes over the last hundred years or so in what is acceptable in the way that young men and women relate to each other in this regard.  That chapel session spurred me to do some of my own research in this area, and I began reading Christian writers who discussed the issue of courtship/dating.  My reading has not taken me far enough yet, but I have perused spokespeople who at one level or another eschew dating, as popularly conceived: Doug Wilson, Martha Ruppert, Bill Gothard, Josh Harris, S. M. Davis, Jonathan Lindvall, and others. While their solutions to the dilemma of dating vary, they among others have convinced me that dating as popularly conceived in our culture — and by that I mean the pursuit of temporary romantic relationships — is to be avoided by believers in Christ.

I do not remember the name of the chapel speaker who motivated me to research, but I was reminded of him as I paged through portions of Thomas Hine’s The Rise and Fall of the American Teenager (Avon, 1999) this weekend, a book which was recommended to me by Greg Steikes, and which I have read before.  Hine provides an eye-opening look at the changes which American culture has gone through over the last few centuries when it comes to how 13- to 18-year-olds are viewed.  Here’s just a taste of the historical study he provides; this clip speaks of the development of dating.

Clearly, the traditional courting procedure, which was based on introductions, requests for invitations to call, and chaperonage, couldn’t survive either the years spent in a coeducational high school or the evenings spent dancing or at the movies.  Young people responded with a new social invention: dating. . . . It’s hard to believe that we have not yet reached the centennial of the first date . . . A date, as it emerged around World War I, was arranged by the two people involved — the man asked — with no family involvement.  It happened outside the home, it usually cost money, and the male was expected to pay.  The aspect of the date that seemed most radical to older pople during the teens and the twenties was that it implied no commitment on either side, no sign of the seriousness of the relationship. The couple might spend time together alone, something only engaged couples had done before, but a day or two later either or both of the two might be out on a date with different people.”



  1. Hine’s book is definitely thought-provoking material. Thanks for bringing it up, Chuck.

  2. From a practical perspective, I’ve worked with teens in my church on this one. When I came, there was a young man who was “dating” a girl. I took him out to breakfast and began to ask questions. I asked him why he was dating. He stated that he was getting to know her in preparation for a future marriage. He did not know if she was the one. I asked him if he was planning on getting married any time soon – since he was seventeen, getting ready for college, a career, etc. He said “No!” “Then why are you dating?” He couldn’t give an answer. I found out a few weeks later that he broke up with her…Just a rambling anecdote.

  3. Good point. I’m going to look into Thomas Hine’s book. History. Good to know. We are soooo myopic.

    I hope you read Elisabeth Elliot’s Passion and Purity, too?
    To God be all glory,
    Lisa of Longbourn

  4. Often the reason given by well-meaning Christian young people is something akin to “so I can know what kind of person I want to marry.” The notion, I suppose, is that they try different dating partners until they narrow down the sort of personal characteristics for which they are looking in a mate (I am assuming, of course, that the “well-meaning young person” is well-versed in what would mark a potential mate who is godly in character.) This is akin to a couple living together as sort of a “trial run” to see what marriage would be like — only in “Christian dating,” the formal living together (and, one would hope, the sexual relationship) are absent.

    A better way of going about it, I suspect, is to involve one’s parents and other spiritual authorities/mentors when seeking a mate. People who know a young person well, and who have life experience in marriage and personal relationships will be able to advise a young person as to whether a particular match seems to be a good one. And the young person is able to avoid the difficulties that inevitably arise when a young man and a young woman develop an exclusive romantic attachment to each other, without marriage in mind.

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