What is the ideal age for a Christian to start dating? I'm not sure when to start, but I know a very devoted Christian family who thinks the age should be 16.
Does the Catholic Church have any guidelines as to what is the ideal age to start dating?
No. There are only official guidelines for marriage: by the Code of Canon Law (book VI, can 1083)
- A man before he has completed his sixteenth year of age and a woman before she has completed her fourteenth year of age cannot enter into a valid marriage.
- The conference of bishops is free to establish a higher age for the licit celebration of marriage.
Anyway, local churches often follow civil laws for the age of marriage (18 y.o. in most of Europe)
Yes, of course the Catholic Church has an ideal age to start dating:
An excellent book for young men and young women approaching the idea of dating is The ABC's of Choosing a Good Husband: How to Find and Marry a Great Guy and it's corollary The ABC's of Choosing a Good Wife: How to Find and Marry a Great Girl by Steven Wood, founder of the Family Life Center. It states under the Chapter 4 - "Dating or Courtship"
Dating is mainly a twentieth-century phenomenon.
And that would be why the Catholic Church is staunchly against it, as well as most of what's come out of the 20th century. Pope Pius XI writing about the new ideas around the relations of the sexes says they
are simply hateful abominations which beyond all question reduce our truly cultured nations to the barbarous standards of savage peoples.
(encyclical by Pope Pius XI on Christian Marriage, Casti Connubii §52)
If you were to consider dating objectively, in the light of the Natural Law, which "No member of the faithful could possibly deny that the Church is competent in her magisterium to interpret the natural moral law."2, you'd see that dating is a cultural pattern that mirrors perpetual Marriage, Divorce and Re-Marriage as opposed to courtship, which has, as it's natural end fecundity in marriage.
Other points that the ABC book points out are that:
Personally, I would have been toast if my wife had highlighted that last point, but she highlighted 90% of the rest of the book and still married me.
Fornication (i.e. sex before marriage) in any way is always a grave sin and should be avoided because of the harm that it does to you and your future spouse. Fornication is contrary to the 6th and 9th commandments. And if that's what is meant by "Dating" Catholics should have none of it.
So, the clear goal of the faith in Jesus and the goal of the Catholic Church is to make you a Saint and live forever in heaven with Him. Dating, as such, does not fit in to this plan.
But courtship itself, can begin for the wife, as soon as she's ready, like the other answers say, there is a minimum age for marriage (14 for women and 16 for men) and if there are other laws around marriage which do not contradict Divine law (like they possibly do in China) they have to be obeyed as well.
The Song of Songs is a clear indicator of the Biblical injunction behind not marrying off too early:
"Our sister is little and she has no breasts as yet. What shall we do for our sister when her courtship begins?
If she is a wall, we will build upon it a silver parapet; If she is a door, we will reinforce it with a cedar plank."
and, with regard to marrying too late, St. Paul concedes:
but if they cannot exercise self-control they should marry, for it is better to marry than to be on fire.
So somewhere, fixed in the middle between puberty and losing all self-control at the thought of prolonging virginity, is the sweet spot when courtship, in all it's glory, should take place.