What 10 Parents Learned When Their Child Was Caught in a Porn Trap [Part 1]

by Jun 4, 2019Help Kids Heal, Prepare Kids to Reject Pornography

In this 3-part series, follow along as 10 parents describe their journey of helping a child overcome the addictive pull of pornography—and the advice they hope to pass along. You can read Part 2 of the series here.

Over the past three months, I’ve listened to the profound stories shared by parents from homes across North America. They’ve told me about their amazing kids. Kids who are kind and considerate. Outgoing and funny. Smart and ambitious.

Kids who in the blink of an eye (literally) found themselves caught in the porn trap.

As you continue reading, do your best to set aside fears, doubts, or pre-conceptions of what it must be like to raise a kid struggling with porn. Unfortunately, many good kids do get caught in the porn trap. Maybe they weren’t warned. Or maybe the pull to look was just. that. strong.

Either way, overcoming pornography is a challenging road — one we don’t wish upon any child. What we’ve discovered is that these good kids fare much better when they have parents who are willing to walk beside them, fight for them, love them … and never give up.

What 10 parents want you to know

These parents agreed to share the details of their experience because they want you to know:

  • First, how urgent it is that we start this conversation TODAY and keep following up.
  • Second, some of your closest friends need your support and understanding.
  • Third, you’re not alone if you have a child struggling with pornography.

Finally, these parents want you to know that if you’re helping a child find their way out of the porn trap, recovery and healing are possible.

The stories are anonymous — all names have been changed.

Reaction, realization, and reflection

In this first part of a 3-part series, parents describe the journey they’ve been on since first discovering their child’s pornography habits. As you continue you will learn more about their:

  • Initial reactions and the frustration of finding adequate support
  • Understanding obstacles on the road to recovery
  • Realizations about their role in their child’s recovery
  • Reflections, progress, and practical advice for other parents

We know these stories will increase your compassion for those fighting to free kids from the porn trap.

NOTE: There isn’t time or space to share each family’s full story. Because we are recounting the real-life experience of families overcoming trauma, it may seem discouraging at the outset. Keep reading. You will soon find yourself in a beautiful story of redemption. It’s true! The hardest trials in life are often what lead to our sweetest and greatest moments.

PYM: How did you first react when you found your child was looking at inappropriate things?

Some parents happened upon pornographic materials in their child’s search history. Other discoveries were more extreme. Toni’s son (age 11) exposed himself to a young neighbor girl (who by good fortune, immediately told her mother). Ruth learned that her son (age 15) had downloaded a file containing hundreds of child abuse images when the police showed up to search their home.

Regardless of the circumstances surrounding discovery, each parent expressed that they felt overwhelmed by the situation and ill-prepared to offer their child practical solutions.  

I assumed we could talk through the crisis

“We did our best with the knowledge we had at the time. Our initial solution was to talk it through, lock down the internet for a time, and help our child (age 12) make plans to do better. We assumed that would be enough. But we weren’t accounting for the cravings pornography had introduced to our son.”  — Sharon

I had no script for that

“I thought I was prepared to handle the idea that my son (age 12) was looking at pornography. I’m not saying I condoned it. But I had grown up knowing that my dad had a stash of magazines in the house. What I was not prepared for was the nature of the pornography we found … It was so far beyond what I could have imagined. I didn’t have a script for that. I’m sure I made all sorts of mistakes trying to make sense of it.” — Josh

We had no one to turn to for help

“Our son (age 13) was masturbating up to 7 times a day and had constant thoughts to expose himself. This issue was bigger than anything anyone had ever seen before. The school was of no help. Our church was of little help. We found therapists and programs geared for adults. But it seemed there nothing for children.”  — Toni

We needed better tools

“We first sought counseling through our church. But back then, no one was making the connection on how porn affects the brain. Or how the brain affects behavior — not even therapists. Their focus was on getting my son (age 14) to replace his unhealthy habits with more uplifting thoughts. Unfortunately, these weren’t the tools that could help him.” — Alana

“Have you wanted to talk to your kids about pornography, but didn’t know what to say?! I’ve felt that way for quite some time and finally found a solution – Good Pictures Bad Pictures. . . I highly recommend this book to all people with children. A must have for all parents!” – Amazon Review. CLICK HERE to learn more about Good Pictures Bad Pictures: Porn-Proofing Today’s Young Kids.

PYM: What have been some your child’s greatest obstacles in overcoming the pull to return to pornography?

Most of the parents pointed out that their timeline for their child’s recovery and their child’s own timeline were very different. Even when children understood the negative impact of pornography on their lives, they were hesitant to put in the effort needed to make changes to their behavior. SImply put, for the child at that point in time, using pornography felt too good to give up.

The attractive nature of pornography

“I don’t think he was ready [at first] to commit himself to the idea of letting go. He still liked it too much.” — Sharon

Their natural character traits get hijacked by porn

“Our oldest son is very outgoing. He’s also incredibly smart and investigative by nature. In a way I think that made him more vulnerable to pornography. His thirst for information drew him back in time and time again.

And yet, his younger brother, who is more socially introverted, also struggled. For him, pornography was likely used to fill a gap left by loneliness and boredom.” — Alana

Related: How Porn Hijacks Young Brains

Mental health problems complicated our son’s recovery

“Not long after our son had begun using pornography we noticed significant changes in behavior (violent outbursts). With the help of a therapist, we learned that our son was suffering from OCD. Pornography didn’t create his illness but it was intensified because of it. Understanding there were other factors a play helped us set better expectations all around.” — Macey

Note: When pre-existing mental health issues were discovered parents agreed on two things:

  • First, pornography use exaggerated their child’s negative behavioral symptoms.
  • Second, understanding their child’s mental health became a key factor in helping them overcome their reliance on pornography,

“Our son became so depressed in the sophomore year that he ended up leaving school for a time. We didn’t understand what was going on then. Now, I realize that there were signs of depression even from when he was younger. Once he was diagnosed properly and got the meds he needed, he started to succeed at school and life again.” — Sarah

Struggling with his identity and searching for answers

“I had to understand two things before I could appreciate my son’s struggle with porn. First, he was dealing with same-gender attraction. Second, porn is absolutely EVERYWHERE. The accessibility is ridiculous.” — Josh

PYM: What have you learned while helping your child heal from pornography?

A general theme among all the interviews was that parents felt they needed to find a way to support their child’s recovery without being overbearing. Still, even when parents learned to relinquish control, their involvement was in no way passive. Rather they learned to become proactive minus “the panic.”

Let go of the blame and shame

“Porn is a real problem in the real world. It’s a challenge that hits a lot of kids hard. I needed to recognize that my son was going through his own life experience — a big oops — that with concerted effort he could eventually put in his past. At first, I felt an overwhelming sense of blame, shame, and panic. But that wasn’t helping either of us.” — Sharon

I cannot take his addiction away

“I’ve learned to give my children space to grow their own strong roots. I am a very protective mother by nature. I want to step in and do things for my children. My son was very young when he was first introduced to pornography. I cannot blame him for that. But I’ve also learned that I cannot take his addiction away from him. He has to do the work himself.” — Sarah

Live in the present moment

“I needed to see my child for the individual he is; rather than a walking version of my future fears. I do so much better when I’m able to stay in the present. I try to take the approach of ‘what can I do at this moment that will help my son?’ If I start to panic about the future that’s when things get really scary.” — Macey

Look for the right kind of support

“When there’s an addiction involved, the best thing is to find your child a therapeutic level of support — something that combines the science of addiction with the spiritual aspect of healing.

I am not in charge of my child’s healing or how fast that happens. I can not save my child. No human can save another human. My role is to love, support, and believe that they will heal. The timing of when and how that happens has everything to do with him, not me.” — Toni

Related: Does My Child Need Counseling? Reassuring Advice from a Porn Addiction Therapist

What advice would you give to other parents? Is there anything you would have done differently?

Kids need tools they feel good about

“Get involved immediately. Help your son or daughter find the tools that work for them. Be aggressive. Check in regularly. Find out what is helping and what is not. Fighting pornography addiction means retraining your brain, learning to avoid triggers, and responding differently when an impulse starts. It’s not about will power. Kids need tools they feel good about. And the right tools make all the difference!” — Alana

One recovery resource that is available to all ages in any location is Fortify. It’s an online program designed to equip individuals struggling with compulsive pornography use – young and old – with tools, education and community to assist them in reaching lasting freedom. Their mission is to help spark an uprising of people tired of porn messing with their lives – and ready for something far better. Check it out!

Be prepared beyond prevention

“Honestly, I thought we had nailed it. We were having open dialogue about the harms of pornography, activating parental controls on all of our devices and filtering our Wi-Fi. It was on a week-long visit to his grandparents that he found unfiltered access to pornography. For our son (age 13), it became an immediate obsession.

One night I woke up to find him standing over me in our room. In my half-sleep, I thought he’d had a nightmare and was needing comfort from mom and dad. In reality, he had used my fingerprint while I was asleep to unlock my phone to access porn. He had done it successfully once but the screen timed out. It was only on the second attempt that I was awakened.” — Macey

Don’t ignore unusual behavior

“I kept his phone at night and checked it regularly. All our devices were set with passcodes. Plus, I was never shy of talking to my kids about pornography. I had even explained to them about child pornography and that it was abuse. Looking back, I now recognize a few vague clues that he was using pornography.

For example, he spent too much time in the bathroom with his phone. And there was one night he freaked out just as I was about to check his phone. He threw a total fit, punching a hole in the wall. We got so distracted by his outburst and subsequent trip to the ER that I forgot to check the phone. If I had, I think I would have found the files sooner.  

I feel terribly guilty. I often wonder if I could have done something differently. But I don’t have an answer that makes sense.” — Ruth

Face the issue straight on

“I wish I had realized the kind of media that was really coming into our home through various sources. It’s definitely tougher to filter content coming at our kids than it should be. So along with filtering, I think parents should face the issues straight on. This is not something I would ever hesitate to talk about with kids.” — Josh

There is so much more to this story

As I said, we only have time to scratch the surface of these powerful stories. If you’ve stuck with us this far … thank you! By learning from the experiences of these beautiful families you are more prepared to initiate change in your family and community.

We will hear more of their stories in Part 2 and Part 3 of the series. For now, know that all of these young people have grown stronger in their fight to overcome pornography because of the support they receive from their parents. They are great kids (some now grown with kids of their own).  Each has hopes, dreams, and exciting aspirations for their future.

Here are just two of the amazing experiences these families shared.

I have no thought of shame

“I remember my son calling me from the hospital when his first baby was born. His wife was resting and he was holding his brand new babe while we talked. He said, “Mom, this is my little girl. And I have no thought of shame in my head. I fought so long to free myself so I could be safe. And worthy to be the kind of father that could protect my kids.” — Toni

Seeing our whole family together

“One of our daughters got married a few months ago. She asked her brother to be a Master of Ceremonies at their reception. He went above and beyond in his role. He was so amazing and helpful. He might just be the best MC ever! Of course, the wedding was the highlight. But seeing our whole family together in that way was fantastic.” — Sharon

3 take-aways for parents

  1. Every child, every family is vulnerable to the porn trap. Harmful habits can form quickly. Sadly, kids are naturally inclined to keep dangerous habits a secret — especially when they know looking at inappropriate things online is wrong. Parents can do their best to create a safe zone where kids can share their challenges and get unconditional love and support. Children may or may not choose to reach out for help right away, but it will make a difference in the long run.
  2. Children are unique. Pornography can target individuals in different ways. Natural personality traits and mental health issues can become additional roadblocks on the path towards recovery. Parents are in the best position to take the whole child into account and look for the help they need.
  3. Parents and children usually have different timelines for when to tackle recovery in earnest. Ultimately, recovery must come from the individual struggling with the addictive habits. However, a parent’s love, support, and interest in their child’s recovery play a significant role in their child’s future success and ability to believe in themselves.

What’s coming in the rest of the series

A child’s pornography use affects everyone in the family in some way. Part 2 will look at how parents learned to manage their own painful emotions and find their own recovery.

Wouldn’t you love to sit down with these parents and learn what advice they have for you and your family? Part 3 will offer practical advice from those who have walked this journey and what helped strengthen their relationship with their child.

Marilyn Evans
Marilyn Evans is a popular speaker, writer, and coach. She is best known for her honest and real-life approach to helping families confront uncomfortable topics like pornography.


Marilyn holds a degree in Family, Home and Social Science from Brigham Young University. She is the Founder and CEO of Parents Aware. As well, she co-hosts and produces the Media Savvy Moms podcast.


Marilyn is the mother of five sons and has lived to tell the story. She and her husband currently live in southern Ontario with two of their sons and their dog Mandi.

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