We are in unprecedented times. We’re all, parents and kids alike, facing new challenges. I’ve been struggling in many areas over the past few months. I’ve failed at times. Some days are better than others. And I’ve been praying for you all, especially those of you with little ones and big ones who are struggling too.
I knew that porn use would increase during this time of isolation. I knew many kids would discover porn or turn to it as a numbing agent. I knew the temptation to use porn would be quite powerful, even for some parents.
A couple reached out to me shortly after the lockdowns began. Thankfully, they’d heard my Allies talk, and they were having healthy and honest conversations with their kids about sex and porn. But they were completely blindsided by their 12-year-old son’s discovering and continuing to watch porn on his school-provided computer. (They were assured it had a filter.) In a matter of days he’d managed to watch some really terrible things. His parents were desperate, heartbroken, and unsure of how to handle the new reality. We cried, talked, and prayed. I shared a few thoughts with them, things perhaps you could use now or in the future, things that might be helpful for someone you love. (Please know that my advice below was based on their son’s use of porn, but these truths apply in cases of girls using porn also.)
- More than anything, their son needed empathy. He needed to know he was not alone. I reminded them that he’s a normal, curious child with the ability to become aroused by sexual images and experience the desire to see more. In other words, he’s just like all of us. I encouraged them to relate to his situation maybe even with stories from their pasts (general information, not sharing intimate details, is best).
- He needed to know that their love for him had not changed at all, that they were sorry that anyone had made something like porn, and sorry that he had seen it. I sent them a link to the blog post “What Would Jesus Say About the Porn You Saw as a Child?”
- I reminded them that their son would need their physical and emotional connection now more than ever. He needed to be shown how loved he was especially as he would likely be tempted to feel shame. Shame is a great inhibitor of conversation and relationships. Learning one’s true identity in Christ and as a beloved child of God is powerful, more powerful than the shame the enemy casts on us.
- We talked about the reality that the images he’d seen would resurface from time to time in his mind and what their son could do in those moments (or in moments of temptation). I suggested they help him make a list of some things to do (e.g. find a family member to connect with, read a book, play outside, work on a project, play with the dog, pray, read his Bible).
- He needed to know that the things he’d seen, while arousing, did not reflect God’s plan for sex and in fact were far from it. God designed sex to be a beautiful, respectful, and pleasurable experience for a man and a woman who’ve committed their lives to each other in marriage. Their son had seen destructive, counterfeit versions of sex. If needed, he should be allowed to process things he’d seen or felt with a parent (or perhaps a therapist). While dwelling on the information might not be helpful, at least acknowledging the destructiveness is important (e.g. scenes of hurting someone, choking, or forcing oneself on another). Today’s porn can be incredibly defiling, degrading, and violent. It would be very damaging for an adult, even more so for a child, to see these things. He might also need to process the mixture of feeling pleasure while seeing images he knew were bad for him. His body responded in a normal way to seeing naked people, regardless of what they were doing.
- They should make conversations two-way. In other words, don’t lecture but draw information out of their child through ongoing discussions. Find out what he knows or has been told. Ask him what questions he has, and assure him that they will always answer any question honestly. I suggest answers to personal questions be more generic (e.g. a question about what you and your spouse do could be answered with something like “What mom and I do specifically is very special and private. But I will share that in general a couple having sex….”) It’s okay to have a little mystery surrounding sex. One parent shared that her child asked if he could watch them! “No, because sex is very sacred and private.” But in honestly answering your child’s questions you become his or her go-to for information, not the internet nor friends. Answer questions as best you can with short, honest answers. Exactly what you say in response is not nearly as important as acknowledging the question and having your child know that you’re the one they can always turn to. (Sometimes these types of personal conversations will go better on a walk or a drive rather than face to face.)
- In response to their question about consequences (he had lied to them about something related to the porn use), I suggested they acknowledge the offense but tell their son they would talk about consequences later. I felt this was important to keep conversations productive and give them time to consider logical, helpful consequences.
- Especially for a child who’s not adept at processing emotions well, something like porn (which releases dopamine in the brain) can become a numbing agent almost like a drug. They should work to become more aware of their child’s emotional maturity and ways they can foster this. (Helping Your Kids Become Emotional Natives | Why it Matters)
- I reminded them that this might be a good time to talk about the true meaning of repentance. In the Greek, repent means a “change of mind.” My Bible study leader calls it a “change of mind that results in a change of direction.” How to repent of porn use will be different for everyone, but one idea would be to intentionally seek out ways to connect with God and/or real people. At its core, a desire to look at porn is rooted in a desire for intimacy, which is actually a good, healthy desire.
- The battle today’s kids (and parents) are facing is a spiritual battle. They should pray like they’re in a war, because they are.
Your child really needs you as an ally in today’s highly sexualized culture. An ally is someone children turn TO rather than hide FROM as they become more aware of sexuality or encounter sexual things. Most of us, as children, hid in those moments.
How do you become your child’s ally? I write about this on our blog at TrueNorth, but in very simple terms an ally connects, directs, and protects.
Connect with your child as one sexual being to another. Empathize. You were once a young girl or boy beginning to become more aware of your sexuality. Relate to what your child may be feeling or experiencing today. Then, direct your child using good resources like those we share on our website under Tools for Parents. And finally, protect your kids to the best of your ability while trusting in the sovereignty of God. We suggest the work of Protect Young Eyes for help with this.
Romans 8:28 is comforting to all of us who know the struggle of failing in the area of sexuality. God causes all things to work together for good to those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. He can and will redeem your child’s wanderings. He can draw you closer as a family. He delights in displaying His strength through our weaknesses.
I circled back with the mom who called me in March. She was so encouraged. She said that initially she wanted to run to “the law.” Her son had sinned. He’d lied. He’d visited sites that he knew were off-limits. He’d hidden things from them. But Jesus reminded her that love covers a multitude of sin (1 Peter 4:8) – hers, her son’s, her husband’s. And that God’s love could bind their hearts and make their family stronger. They were intentionally moving in that direction and bringing their other children into ongoing conversations. Her husband was organizing a small group with two other fathers and their sons to have a place to be more real, a place where their sons would know they were not alone, a place where they could encourage one another and pray for each other.
God truly is redeeming their son’s story by weaving it into His bigger story – His story of grace for our sin, strength for our weakness, and His ability to take the broken things and use them for our good and His glory. I pray you’re living this kind of story too.
We are here for you! Email me if you’d like to talk (email@example.com) or if I can encourage you on your journey. Also, we have many books, groups, and other resources on our website under Tools. Check them out!
Finally, here’s a list of some free resources you might find helpful:
- Resources in Times of Uncertainty from GROW Counseling in Atlanta
- Draw Near: A Prayer Guide for Parents, a free, downloadable resource with a TrueNorth email subscription. If you’re already a subscriber, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll send you a link to download.
- How Do You Respond to Your Child’s Suspected Porn Use? By Danny Huerta (Focus on the Family)
- Many of our blog posts will help you become your child’s ally. Pray and see how God may use this season to grow you as well. Visit org/blog.
Founder and CEO, TrueNorth Freedom Project, Atlanta, GA.
Want to help us in our mission to help parents understand their sacred sexuality, live it out in the power of Christ, and lead the next generation to do the same? Click here. TrueNorth is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization. Donations are tax-deductible. EIN 46-5767272.
Photo by Nathan Hanna