Recently my friend’s neighbor showed up on her doorstep in tears. The reason? She discovered her teenaged son had been looking at Internet porn for about nine months.
She was devastated and I’m sure the usual questions flew through her mind:
What did I do wrong?
How could my child do this?
How do I fix this?
Will he ever be free?
I am not an expert in sex addiction or in children, but I can respond out of empathy because I’ve been in a similar battle – not with my children, but with my husband. And my two children? While I’ve done everything I can to protect them, nothing in this world is perfect. Data from 2008 (and the numbers are most likely on the rise) state that by age 18, 93.2% of boys and 62.1% of girls have been exposed to porn . The risk of exposure and addiction is real. As a parent, I have to be prepared for whatever might come my way.
Speaking from how my husband, Craig, battled with porn, and as a parent, here are some thoughts on how to help you child when you’ve found porn in their possession:
1) Don’t freak out (but don’t ignore it either). This is an issue that must be addressed, but fear is not going to be helpful. Know this – God is bigger than porn and He can show your child a way out. Porn is dark and evil, but Jesus longs to bring His light to this situation. His light has the power to extinguish ANY darkness (see John 1). Fear often causes us to do and say irrational things. You are afraid (and probably angry) right now and this is understandable. Express those emotions to someone other than your child and ask God to help you navigate through those emotions so you can be clear-headed when you talk to him/her.
2) This is handled best as a parental team if you have a solid partnership. If this is a son caught in the addiction, Mama will see this through a mama’s eyes and a woman’s eyes. Dad might be able to see it more clearly through his son’s eyes, being that they are both male and probably have struggled with lust. If this is a daughter, a mother might be able to relate through romance novels, the desire to be sexually appealing, etc. No matter what your child’s gender, this discovery might bring up issues for both you and your partner and you need to be as safe place for EACH other to come to talk about how you are dealing with this situation as individuals. A child’s porn use could trigger your own sexual issues/abuse, past sins, and even you own dabbling in porn. It will likely not be helpful at this time for parents to process their own issues with their child. If discussing with a spouse is not an option, please find a pastor, friend, or counselor who can help you deal with your emotions.
3) Go back to the basics (or talk about them for the first time). This is an incredible opportunity for you to discuss with your child what God intended for marriage and sex. But if you don’t know how God designed marriage and sex, you need to understand this before explaining it to your child. Craig and I talk about this in chapter 6 of our book, but you can find scriptural references that show what God’s intentions are in Matthew 19:5-6 and Ephesians 5:21-32. I highly encourage and in-depth study so you don’t get hung up on things like “submission” and really understand what God’s design is. (It might even help your marriage!)
4) Research counselors. I would recommend a Christian counselor that has been trained or certified as a sex addict counselor. As we know, teens are sometimes not stellar communicators and have even greater difficulty talking with their parents (especially about things of the sexual nature). Porn is a hole-filler. It’s used to fill a need that is not being met in a healthy way. In order to get to the root of the addiction, a counselor can help your child figure out what need is not being met and help them discover how there are healthy alternatives to meet this need. Ultimately, a relationship with Jesus is the answer, and He wants to address the behavioral and emotional issues that need to be unearthed and healed.
5) Make shame a no-no. Know that your child most likely ALREADY feels deep shame. This is a time when he/she needs to be able to trust that you will love him/her no matter what and that you’ll deal with whatever comes up in counseling, discussions, etc. If you shame your child in the hopes that it will keep him/her away from porn, you will end up contributing to the problem instead of helping the resolution and freedom from it.
6) Research with discernment. There are some articles on-line that can be helpful. My advice, though, is always pray before you get on the Internet to research for several reasons:
- It can be tempting to look at worst-case scenarios and then drown in despair.
- It can be tempting to find solutions and automatically try to put them in place. Realize your child is an individual with a problem, not a problem to be fixed (see the difference?). God’s wisdom is paramount in discovering what might work. Internet filters might be a great resource for your whole family – just pray and seek His guidance as you cull through the advice and suggestions.
- If porn is a temptation for you, be careful with your searching. Websites and URLs can be deceiving. Make sure you enter your research with protection and caution or ask someone else to gather specific links for you to read.
7) Pray. Prayer is POWERFUL. Praying out loud for your child, especially in his/her presence (even if it doesn’t feel comfortable) makes a difference. Even cracking the bedroom door while he/she sleeps and whispering prayers over him/her makes a big impact. Ephesians 6:12 says:
“For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.”
While you’re in Ephesians, talk to your child about praying the armor of God over for him/herself (see verses 13-18).
8) Hold fast to hope. With Jesus, there is always hope. Hebrews 10:23 says “Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep His promise.” You are not alone. You are fighting this battle with Jesus. With Him, we can do all things and He will never leave us.
Craig is living proof that God can work miracles. He can do this in your child’s life, too.