Help & HealParents can help their kids heal from pornography use. We have a SMART Plan Guide for Parents to show you how to begin.
My child has viewed porn, now what?
You’re not alone. Most parents have been caught off guard by pornography.
Technology has grown more quickly than the tools or laws needed to prevent childhood pornography exposure.
Many parents have done everything they know how to protect their kids, only to later realize it wasn’t enough. Pornography’s pull is powerful, and even really good kids get caught in its trap.
When parents discover their child has been seeking out pornography, they often feel a toxic combination of fear, anger, and guilt. The most important step you can take for your child’s healing is to first recognize and sort through your own emotions.
Why is this so important?
Your negative feelings can cause your child to feel a lot of shame. Shame will not only hinder a child’s ability to heal, but will often push them further into secrecy and addiction. So before you begin helping your child, please take a moment to steady yourself.
What your negative feelings may teach your child
When parents are swimming in a toxic emotional soup, they might yell or give their child the silent treatment. In either case, the child learns to internalize messages like these:
- I’m in trouble and my parents want to punish me. If I can’t stop looking at porn, I need to make sure I don’t ever get caught again.
- My parents believe only bad people look at pornography so I must be bad. There is no way my parents can love me now. I will only let them see the good parts of me from now on.
- I have caused my parents pain. In the future, I need to protect them from this pain by making sure I completely hide the “bad” parts of myself.
- My parents are embarrassed by my actions. They are ashamed of me and disappointed in me. There must be something wrong with me.
- My parents don’t understand the world I live in. My parents don’t understand what I face. My parents are incapable of helping me with this. I am alone.
It can also be helpful for you to consider where your negative feelings of fear, anger and guilt are coming from. (We promise, this is time well-spent!)
Where’s my fear, anger and guilt coming from?
Fear: OK, the following fears may seem obvious, but sometimes it’s helpful to spell them out.
- “I’m afraid my child is going to suffer severe negative consequences from using porn that may damage their future.”
- “I’m afraid I can’t handle this problem! I never imagined this could happen to my child.”
- “I’m afraid of what other people may think about me, my parenting, and our entire family if they find out.”
- “I’m afraid because I have no idea what to do to help my child, and that’s scary! I just want my child to stop!”
- “I thought I was protecting my child. It’s hard to come to terms with the fact that I can’t always protect those I love.”
Anger: A parent’s anger may stem from a sense of betrayal if their child has been deceptive by sneaking and hiding porn use. Parents are not sure if they can trust their child again.
Guilt: The guilt arises from the parents’ belief that if they had done something differently or noticed something sooner, their child would not be looking at porn. Often this guilt leads parents to be angry with themselves!
Remember, porn is the enemy
It’s helpful if parents remind themselves and their children that they are on the same team. Remember, porn–NOT your child–is the enemy. Help your child feel that you are on their side. Help your child know that he/she will not have to fight this battle alone!
Six tips to put you and your child on the same team:
- Stop blaming your child or yourself. People make mistakes. We all fall short. Beating ourselves up won’t make wrongs into rights. Ask yourself, “How can this challenge help me grow closer to my child? How can I be my child’s coach, helping my child learn how porn can be harmful and mentoring my child in how to fight its powerful lure?”
- Openly acknowledge this situation is not their fault. Tell your child, “Even if you were curious and were searching for it, I am sure what came back at you was not what you expected.” Tell your child you are sorry that porn is so easy for kids to access; it’s not fair that kids should have to handle this challenge.
- Honestly admit you may not have taught your child all the skills necessary to avoid the pull of porn. Rejecting porn takes more than just knowing that viewing it is wrong. Explain that isn’t fair to expect a young person to know how to handle these powerful images. Let your child know that the world has changed since you were growing up and that you, like many parents, haven’t realized all the ways pornography attacks young people.
- Be understanding of your child’s fears. Your child may have been hiding their porn use because of fears of punishment and/or fears of having to stop watching it if caught. Porn can create powerful feelings of need. Reassure your child that these feelings are normal and that your goal is not to punish but to help.
- Reassure your child that your relationship is important to you. If you’ve been angry because your child has been deceptive, explain to your child that you are actually sad because you value your relationship with your child and you want to be able to trust him/her. You also want your child to be able to feel comfortable talking with you about any subject. The fact your child has been breaking family rules and hiding behavior is a sign that your relationship is in need of some repair.
- Use the words we and us. Unlike the words you and I which describe separate individuals, the words we and us convey human connection and will help a child feel safe: “We have both been caught off guard. We were both blindsided by the porn industry. When porn came after you, neither of us were prepared. We are going to work on this problem together.”
A SMART Plan Guide for Parents
For more help on what to do if your child has accessed pornography, we have prepared a free SMART Plan Guide for Parents. Our step-by-step process will help you:
- Stay calm. It’s critical to deal with your own emotions first!
- Make a plan. Don’t confront your child until you’ve figured out a game plan.
- Assist your kids to sort out their feelings: Porn is confusing to kids and parents can help kids figure out their feelings and triggers.
- Regularly check in with your kids: How to keep the conversation going!
- Train your family: Porn can hurt the entire family, and everyone needs to be involved in the family’s defense plan.
- Advice from therapists, including an explanation of why good kids get pulled into porn
- Tips for exactly what to say to your child
- Lists of questions you need to ask your child
- A discussion of punishment versus opportunity to gain trust
- Why porn is so tricky to kids and three steps to help kids sort out their feelings
- 4 tips to encourage regular conversations with your kids
- 3 effective ways to train your entire family
EXTRA BONUS: Teen Shares 7 Tips for Overcoming Pornography. With the help of his parents and his clergy, a 17 year-old teenage boy shares how he step-by-step pulled himself out of a porn habit that had gone on for years. Great practical advice!