We are really, really bugged by the phrases "hanging out" and "hooking up." And we'll tell you why. It's not only the terms or the words we don't like, it's the practice!

"Hanging out" for so many late-teens and twenty-somethings is the opposite of or the alternative to actual dating.

It is the excuse for not dating. It is the easy way out. You don't have to call the girl or take the initiative. You don't have to be awkwardly alone with anyone. You don't have to think or plan or come up with something fun to do.

You just find out where people are hanging and you go hang out. This can be great for young teens and adolescents who are really not ready to date, but does it really work and does it really make any sense for near-adults and adults?

"Hooking up" is a term that bothers us even more. Depending on who and where you are, it can mean anything from "having sex" (another term we hate by the way — with a totally different connotation and meaning than "making love") to just kind of latching onto someone so that you hang out with them a little more exclusively than with others.

If hanging out is the alternative to dating, then hooking up is the alternative to courtship. And both are vastly inferior alternatives.

We don't usually find ourselves longing for the past or advocating a return to the "good old days," but in this case, yesteryear was superior to now. If you liked someone, you actually dated them. You flirted a little perhaps, and then you called, you talked, you went on a date, you talked one-on-one, and if you liked each other you went on another date.

It could progress to something called "courtship," and it was quite wonderful, too. An even more old-fashioned word was "wooing."

Don't you kind of like that term? Trying to woo someone — to win their affection — it was a real challenge, and an exciting one, and a worthy one.

One problem with "hanging out" and "hooking up" is that they don't seem designed to lead anywhere. It's not a form of relationship progression. It can go on and on, in limbo, forever. Just hanging out is a little annoying and wasteful when you are 17, but it's even worse when you're 27, and it will be totally old and boring when you are 37.

As the average age of those who marry gets older and older, and the average age of childbearing gets older and older, are we sure we are OK with it?

The new "traditional wisdom" is that you have to finish college, get some financial independence, maybe have a house … then you are ready to start considering settling down. And even then, certainly it's wiser, says the new norm, to live together for a while, and really "hook up" before you decide to make the commitment of marriage.

Where did the old idea of commitment go?

Of following your heart rather than your career plan? Of struggling together rather than waiting for that elusive moment when you have everything perfectly lined up?

Is marriage something you do after the struggles or is it something you do to share the struggles, just as you share everything else.

If, as everyone seems to think these days, early 30s is the best time to start thinking about parenthood, why didn't anyone tell our bodies?

Our thinking is out of sync with our physiology. And by the time we reach that ideal age, we have a lower chance of getting pregnant and of producing healthy children.

And when you think about the timing, don't you have to ask yourself the question of whether you would trade 10 years of kicking up your single heels in your 20s or 30s for 10 years of good health and relative youth after you have raised your kids and have a little more freedom later in life? Maybe later is not always better.

We're just asking the questions.

There is no right formula for everyone. And we know that many people, particularly women, may not be able to choose just when they marry or start families.

But where there is a choice, how about at least thinking about the alternatives? Might dating and courting and actually looking for a marriage partner be more fun than hanging out and hooking up?

Might early to mid-20s be as good a time to marry and start a family as early to mid-30s?

Again, no blanket conclusions, but shouldn't we at least ask the questions? And shouldn't we get our kids to ask the questions? Tell us what you think by taking the readers' poll and responding at www.valuesparenting.com.

The Eyres' next book is "The Entitlement Trap: How to Rescue Your Child With a New Family System of Choosing, Earning, and Ownership." Richard and Linda are New York Times No. 1 best-selling authors who lecture throughout the world on family-related topics. Visit the Eyres anytime at www.TheEyres.com. For information about preordering "The Entitlement Trap," see www.valuesparenting.com.