A while ago, a Christian couple we know caught their 14 year old son viewing porn on the family computer. Their response: to spank him, adding humiliation to shame.
Recently, a father who discovered his son viewing porn wrote a letter that has been widely circulated on the internet. This dad took the “tolerant approach” going so far as to offer his son some “safe” porn sites.
The responses above are extreme; both are damaging. The first will drive a boy into isolation and toward a secret addiction, while the other opens the door wide to sexual sin.
How should parents respond when they catch their children viewing porn?
First, we need to face reality. Today’s surveys show that:
- The average age of first exposure to porn is ten. Some statistics say younger.
- 90% of eight to 16 year olds have viewed porn online.
- 80% of 15 to 17 year olds have view hard core porn.
- Four out of five 16 year olds regularly access porn online.
Part of the problem is that many in the church are still living in the ostrich position. Leadership doesn’t address sexual sin from the pulpit, and it’s not discussed in youth groups. We avoid it in the home; “there won’t be a problem in my house.”
Then Junior, who’s more tech savvy than Mom and Dad, learns about porn from his peers, many who have smart phones with unrestricted internet access. Or maybe he stumbles onto the cache of his father’s porn on the family PC. With statistics showing that 50-60% of Christian men viewing porn, it’s not uncommon.
Then one day the child makes a mistake and his parents find out. If Mom and Dad are grounded in reality the chances are higher that they respond with wisdom and care. If not, a train wreck of confusion, miscommunication, and isolation is minutes away.
Following is an approach to take when addressing porn with your family. We’ll begin with steps for preparation.
A lot of what the church does today is reactive; we wait until the building is half burned to the ground instead working to protect against a fire. Your child should hear about sex from you first, not his peers. In our pornified culture this may mean as young as age 8, depending on the maturity of the child. This doesn’t mean you need to dump the whole sex- talk truck-load on an eight year old, but at least consider the Hansel and Gretel approach of steadily feeding them a few crumbs over time. You should also discuss the dangers of porn with your children and what to do if they’re exposed to it.
Set God’s standard for sex.
God made sex for marriage only between one man and one woman. It’s nothing to be ashamed of; the Lord addresses it candidly throughout the Bible. Anything outside of marital sex is sin, can destroy your child’s life when he grows up, and will hurt those he loves. Discuss this plainly with him.
Long before your children are of the age where porn will be an issue, safeguards should be set in the home. This could be as radical as doing away with the TV, or not having cable. Every computer should have a porn blocking solution installed.
When appropriate, share your story.
As your child matures, consider discussing your past struggles with lust or porn. This will open new doors in your relationship, show your kids you’re human, and cut the lust-monster down to size when they see that God has made you an overcomer. An appropriate age for such a disclosure might be the teen years, should you decide to go through with it.
When you discover your child has been exposed to porn (I say when because the odds are heavily stacked that it will)...
Don’t freak out.
You want your child to feel safe with you so they feel free to discuss anything. If you condemn or shame them, they’ll shove sex into their “never discuss with Mom and Dad” closet, increasing the risk of retreat into the secret fantasy world of porn addiction. Isolation breeds lust; it’s critical that the doors of communication are kept wide open.
Maintain a kind, compassionate tone.
If you need to, take some time and calm your emotions before sitting down with your child. Talking it out with your spouse can help. Pray. Don’t go at it with a full head of steam.
Remember the goal…
…which is to help, guide, and walk with your kids in their journey through adolescence. Many children will be confused—and terrified of what your response might be. Think of how you’d want your parents to react if you got caught viewing porn, and how a grace-centered approach would help.
Focus on listening.
Talking too much up front can start things off on the wrong foot; especially if you’re lecture-prone. Start by asking questions. Calmly ask how they were first exposed to porn and how long it’s been going on. Ask how it makes them feel… especially if there’s shame afterwards. Ask if they’ve stimulated themselves. You want your son or daughter to feel heard and accepted; this will have the effect of releasing them from the burden of shame and fear. Their answers may lead to more questions; play that out. You may discover that they hate what they’ve seen and are relieved to be able to open up with you, which will open the door for your input on how to deal with the problem.
Without going into lecture-mode, remind them of the truth of God’s plan for sex.
You might point out that the actors and actresses in porn hate what they’re doing and many of them are drunk or on drugs when they’re “acting.” Help your child to see the lie behind the fantasy and discuss the fact that sin never satisfies.
Put them at ease.
They’ve not committed the unpardonable sin; if they were inadvertently exposed to porn they haven’t sinned at all. Re-emphasize your love for them. If they’ve been viewing porn for an extended period of time, help them to understand that Jesus died for and will forgive them; the slate will be wiped clean, along with all the guilt and shame.
Pray with them.
Lead your child in prayer, asking God to cleanse them of everything they’ve been exposed to. Confess sin with them. Bringing the Lord into your conversation may be one of the most poignant moments of your time together. If your child prefers, you can say the words and they can repeat them. Thank the Lord for His forgiveness immediately after confessing any sin so they get a sense of closure.
Make an action plan with them.
Ask your child for suggestions for an action plan so they can resist temptation in the future. This will help them take ownership for their actions and give them a sense of working with you, instead of “My parents are coming down on me.” They could also pleasantly surprise you with some ideas you hadn’t thought of.
Here are the basics:
1. Cut off the stumbling blocks (Matthew 5). Assuming they’ve been viewing porn on a PC or their phone, get an ap/software solution that will prevent this. If video games, movies, or a friend is the problem, take action, even if it means throwing away treasured items and/or severing a relationship.
2. Set up a time when they will be accountable to you; perhaps once every week or two (James 5:16). Help them understand that isolation is a silent killer when it comes to lust, and this isn’t a “check up on you to see if you’ve been bad” time. Accountability is a key strategy in the battle.
3. Pray for them daily, and encourage them to do the same. There’s a spiritual battle going on, and the enemy is sure to hit them with temptation again. I also suggest that you pray together after each of your accountability times.
Finding out that your child is viewing porn isn’t the end of the world; God is bigger than the problem. If a parent responds with grace and truth they can nip the problem in the bud, strengthen the relationship, and model how the church should respond when someone is caught in sin.
Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted.
Mike Genung struggled with sexual addiction for 20 years before God set him free in 1999. He is the founder of Blazing Grace, a ministry to the sexually broken and their spouses, and the author of The Road to Grace; Finding True Freedom from the Bondage of Sexual Addiction, available at www.roadtograce.net.
Publication date: October 8, 2012