Just this week I was sitting in my office with the mother of a 13-year-old son who was waiting in the lobby for his turn. Without any words spoken, I could feel the fear, despair, anger, and grief of this good woman who had done all she knew to keep her family safe.
My heart ached for her! This was not the life she had envisioned for herself or her son.
So many parents, like this kind-hearted mother, have been bewildered by how easily pornography can infiltrate the lives of good kids. Pornography is ubiquitous and we cannot underestimate it. Today’s parents must actively and deliberately strengthen their children’s resilience to pornography.
I have personally witnessed how pornography destroys men, women, teens, children, marriages and families. It reaches into the most private and intimate corners of our lives without mercy and without remorse. It is no longer a growing tide of destruction; we are already drowning in its dangerous grip.
I once found myself in its grip and fought my way out through family support, counseling, and rigorous honesty. I have now dedicated my life, as a professional counselor, to preventing addiction and helping people recover. I recommend five ways parents can prepare their children to steer clear of pornography while growing up in our porn-saturated society.
Be the authority about sex
Someone is going to teach your child about the human body, sex, and pornography; hopefully it’s you! If it isn’t you, it may be a kid at school or, more likely, the internet. Your child will hear things about sex and have questions. It is your privilege to teach them about private body parts and the special importance of sexual relationships between parents.
It is essential you teach them how to recognize pornography and what they should do when they see it. As you set yourself up as the person with answers, they will continue to come back to you as more questions arise.
Talk to your kids early
While this conversation may be uncomfortable for you, children don’t have any concept of awkward. To them, this conversation isn’t any different from when you taught them about toilet training, brushing their teeth, or how to cross the street safely. There are many advantages to talking with your children when they are young.
If you wait until adolescence (around 12 years of age) your child will already be drifting away from you, looking to peers and other adults for answers. Besides this, kids are generally being exposed to pornography during the elementary school years. If you start teaching your children young (ideally as early as they have internet access) they still see you as the all powerful parent they need to rely on.
Learn to recognize the fear cycle
Many parents feel anxious when they make the decision to talk to kids about pornography. However, you cannot allow this anxiety and fear to make decisions for you. When we allow fear to take over, we slip into what is called the fear cycle. Fear can lead to excessive worry. We worry because we hope that constant thinking about the problem will lead to a solution that prevents us from having to face our fears. The act of worrying causes us pain. This pain leads us to feel further fear and anxiety. Hence, it is easy to stay stuck in fear!
Manage and neutralize your fears
Here are three ways to escape from the fear cycle:
- Choose to take your fears and discomfort to a trusted relationship. Talk about your fears to your spouse, family member, friend or church leader. Let them know exactly what you are feeling and what you think is the source of these feelings. Often fears stem from some perceived loss of control, not genuine danger.
- Journal your feelings in detail and think about how they are impacting your choices. Writing down feelings can help a person better understand where they are coming from and what to do with them.For example, you might write, “I’m afraid to use the word pornography. I never heard my parents use that word. It feels like a word that shouldn’t be used. I feel anxiety when I think about talking to my child about pornography. But talking about the harms of pornography is nothing to be ashamed of. I internalized the wrong message as a child. If I don’t talk to my child, they might see pornography and not know what to do. I want my child to feel safe talking to me.”
- Another healthy alternative to the cycle of fear is physical exercise. Taking care of yourself physically can help you think more clearly. Working through your emotions and taking care of yourself is especially important if you discover your child has been using pornography. If you need more help knowing how to help a child begin to heal from pornography exposure or use, Click Here to get our free SMART Plan Guide, which includes tips for what exactly to say to a child and what questions you need to ask. This guide comes with a bonus: Teen Shares 7 Tips for Overcoming Pornography.
Use reflective listening
As parents, we often struggle to hear what our children are telling us because we are wrapped up in trying to say the right thing in order to “fix” them and their problems. This approach does not encourage our children to clarify their thoughts or tell us more.
I encourage parents to practice reflective listening when talking with kids. This is a communication strategy where the listener summarizes and repeats back what they heard the speaker say. Reflective listening often starts with phrases like this:
- What I’m hearing you say is….
- Help me know if I got this right.
- What you mean is…
- I’m hearing you say…
It’s even more helpful if a parents can help a child identify feelings, using statements like this:
- I think I’m hearing you say you feel afraid when…
- You are sharing that you feel sad about…
- I get a sense that you feel confused because of…
You will find that your efforts to help a child go much further when you first listen and then clarify with questions. Here is an example:
Mom: “So honey, what do you remember about what Mommy and Daddy talked you about last night?”
Child: “Ummmmm, I think you said that pornography is pictures of people without any clothes on. You want me to come talk to you whenever I see it. You also said that you want me to be safe. But I’m always safe….!”
Mom: “I’m so glad you remember that Mommy and Daddy want you to talk to us if you see pornography and we want you to be safe. But I sense that it’s important to you that we trust you to make safe choices. You are saying that mommy and daddy shouldn’t have to worry about you. Is that right?”
Child: “I don’t like it when you worry. It makes you cranky.”
Mom: “Oh. So when Mommy and Daddy worry, we get cranky and you don’t like that.”
Child: “Nope. You get the most cranky, Mommy.”
It might be a little awkward to begin communicating in this way, but as you can see from the example, it allows your child to express what they really feel — even if what they really feel is a little difficult to hear! This is when you return to step two and work through your feelings by talking privately with a friend or your spouse.
It is my sincere hope that these five steps will help you to build a more connected relationship with your children. A strong parent/child relationship is the most important foundation to building your child’s resilience to pornography.