Catholic Activity: Teaching the Dangers of "Going Steady"
One of the most disturbing trends of postwar America is the sharp lowering of the age at which boys and girls pair off and begin to go steady. However, the Church has always maintained that a male and female should not deliberately confine their companionship to a single member of the opposite sex unless they are prepared to marry within the very near future.
Some parents of teen-agers apparently find it difficult to understand why priests object so firmly to early dating and going steady. The fact is that from their vast experience, priests know that early dating often leads to serious sins of impurity, teen-age pregnancies and illegitimate births, and to teen-age marriages which have scant hope of success.
Scores of researchers who have interviewed teen-agers who go steady report that such youngsters increasingly believe that they are entitled to take sinful liberties with their boy friends or girl friends. For example, Eugene Gilbert, a specialist in studying the habits and opinions of adolescents, made a survey of 5,000 high school students for This Week magazine. He asked the pupils how far they thought a boy and girl who went steady could go in intimate contact with each other. Only one teen-ager in ten thought that such a couple should do no more than kiss. Another one in ten thought that "light necking" should be permitted, while two in ten thought that petting would be allowable. The most shocking fact was that six teen-agers in ten thought that the boy and girl who went steady should be permitted to engage in "anything they want." In a newspaper poll, fifty teen-age girls were asked if they petted on dates. Thirty-six replied in the affirmative, most of them adding that "everyone else does."
The consequences of such beliefs are what one might expect. In November 1958, the Ladies' Home Journal quoted a high school educator as saying, "many of our high school girls get married because they have to get married, and an equal number of girls in school get pregnant every year but don't get married — they just disappear for a semester and then come back without any baby." Another high school principal reported. "We had so many marriages this last year that I can't even keep track of them. Students start going steady when they're thirteen and during high school most of the girls are wearing a boy's ring on a necklace. If they aren't officially engaged by the end of their senior year, they think their life's ruined."
Largely as a result of the growing practice of going steady in the teen years, the average age at which Americans marry has become lower and lower. In 1900, the average American bride was twenty-two; in 1957, she was twenty, and one bride in three was nineteen or younger. About 300,000 boys and girls under eighteen in the United States are now married. With rare exceptions, those who enter such early marriages are ill-equipped emotionally and intellectually to accept the responsibilities of marriage and parenthood; usually the bride soon runs home to her mother and the bridegroom runs home to his. If there are children, the likelihood that the father will desert his family to evade the responsibilities is greater than in any other age group.
In a significant study made by Dr. Henry Bowman of Stephens College, it was found that more than half of all broken marriages occurred when the couples were in a hurry. They started going together when they were too young, they were too impetuous to investigate the qualities of their prospective mates, or they married at an earlier age than the average.
Parents who permit — or worse, encourage — their teen-agers to go steady allow them to be harmed in many other ways. Few young men realize how terribly their whole future as a breadwinner and provider is being affected by a serious romantic attachment at an early age. By going steady, a boy and girl lose the common enjoyment of adolescence of doing things with a crowd. Through being tied down continually by one person, a youngster loses the opportunity to meet others of the opposite sex and to learn how to be congenial with them. Going steady also tends to discourage the development of gracious, pleasant habits. The boy and girl usually take each other for granted, and do not feel that they need extend themselves, make sacrifices, or practice their best behavior in each other's company. Some girls prefer going steady so that they always will have an escort at social affairs. But when a teen-age girl places such a premium upon security, she becomes completely dependent upon her boy friend. It is not unlikely that he will recognize his position of superiority and demand that she "give in to him" lest he form an attachment elsewhere.
Activity Source: Catholic Family Handbook, The by Rev. George A. Kelly, Random House, Inc., New York, 1959