I can still remember the first time I saw a pornographic image sitting in my buddy’s bedroom as a fifth grader. That first image was more than thirty years ago, and it’s still with me today. It will never go away.
That first image led to more images and a stronger pull toward the forbidden. Whether single or married, I struggled for years wanting to know why the distortion of God’s design for sexuality was digging its claws into me. It’s the same thing your son or daughter is thinking as they look at porn online. They don’t like how it makes them feel about themselves. Deep down they want it to stop, but they don’t know how. It’s not something they’ll simply “get over,” and it’s important for you as a parent to understand how it happens in the first place.
During puberty, for both guys and girls, there is curiosity with the body. Everything in their bodies is seemingly changing overnight. Their bodies are going up and out, developing pimples and zits, putting off foul odors, and growing hair in new places. It all seems so foreign to them. And for the first time their changing bodies become attractive to one another.
Unfortunately, the place teens and tweens go to to find help with sexual curiosity is the Internet. The first time most young tweens view pornography is either by accident or out of curiosity. For forty percent of children, the first time they saw porn online was because they were looking for information about sex. Don’t misunderstand. I’m not excusing even the first exposure. I’m merely saying I can see how it happens. It’s what follows after the first exposure that is more troubling.
I have worked with teenagers for more than two decades, and I have yet to meet a young man who said, “I used to look at porn, but I decided I didn’t want to anymore and quit.” Porn has just enough resemblance and satisfaction to the real thing that you almost can’t help but keep coming back. If your teenager is looking at porn, he won’t simply decide to stop. As he gets older the pressure and opportunity to look is only going to get greater.
If you’ve made an unfortunate discovery of porn on your child’s electronic device or home computer, the way that you respond could shape your relationship for years to come. The goal is to lead your teenager to purity of heart, mind, and action. Resist the impulse to respond with shock or shame. Shame and humiliation are never a good way to handle the situation or bring about a change in his heart. He already feels embarrassed about it, but calling him a “pervert” or “sick” will almost guarantee that he will continue to struggle and will do so even more in the dark. Shame causes us to move into darkness because we don’t want anyone to see us.
Remain calm and speak to him clearly about the situation. Proverbs 29.15 tells us that, “wisdom discipline imparts wisdom.” Let him hear your heart and concern. Let your words lead him back to wholeness and holiness. Here are a few steps you can take together to address pornography teenager and shepherd his heart toward purity.
Start Talking about it at a Young Age.
The average age of a child’s first exposure to internet porn is nine. Either you can act like it will never affect your child or you can prepare them for when it is likely to happen. My children were nine and ten the first time we talked about digital porn. We didn’t use the word pornography. They would have no idea what that was. We talked about what to do if a person without their clothes on pops up on a screen. As they got older the conversations become more direct .
Explain God’s Design for Sex.
Too many times kids have a negative view of sex or even their own sexuality because parents don’t take the time to talk with them about it. As they get older, they should be told the context in which sex should take place. It’s not a singular talk to have. It’s an ongoing conversation you have on an age-appropriate level.
Communicate Clear Boundaries.
Your teen needs to hear from you that pornography is never an acceptable way to learn about sexuality or to satisfy their curiosity. You don’t have to be mean about it to communicate that this is not permissible in your home. Let them know that if they have any questions, you will ALWAYS be willing to be their source of truth. This means you need to be read to give answers when questions are asked.
Establish Barriers for Protection.
Just because you are now talking openly with your tween about this issue doesn’t mean that you can solely leave it up to his self-discipline. I’ve learned from my own struggles that I can’t always manage myself in this area, so I don’t expect my children to either. I have accountability and boundaries in my life and it wise to put reasonable boundaries in theirs as well.
Be the Accountability He Will Want.
Your teenager is going to have moral failures, and if this is the area of his life that it will happen, he will need your help. The only way he will come to you is if you make it safe for him. If he gets up enough courage to talk to you about his struggles, then you need to receive him with grace and be ready to help. His willingness to talk with you is monumental and should applauded.
More than 90 percent of all 9-18 year olds have viewed digital pornography. The question is not will my child see it, rather it is when will they see it. Be watching for an upcoming post on how our culture’s overexposure to digital porn is reshaping the next generation’s views of sexuality, dating, and personal relationships. In the meantime, here are a few resources for you as a parent to help you start the conversation about digital pornography with your child.