How Do You Respond to Your Child’s Suspected Porn Use? | Focus on the Family Australia
How Do You Respond to Your Child’s Suspected Porn Use?
By Danny Huerta
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There have been countless times I’ve had to respond to a parent’s pleas for help after they have just discovered their child has viewed pornography. They say, “What do I do?” “How do I confront my daughter?” “How do I talk to my son about this?”

I can still recall a desperate phone call from a mum and dad who had discovered their 9-year-old daughter had been secretly accessing pornographic sites on the computer. They thought it was just a boy thing and that a 9 year old wouldn’t be interested. It turns out she accidentally opened an ad that had popped up and continued to seek it out from that point on. The same scenario has happened to too many parents.

First, don’t panic and spend some time praying! I know that’s easy to say, but difficult to do. How can parents not panic? I get it. First of all, I have two teens and sexual culture is searching for their attention just like it is any other child. God designed our mind, body and spirit to respond to sex. I wish their sexual curiosities would remain silent and just magically appear when they get married. Wouldn’t that be nice. God wants us to enjoy sex and wants us to have freedom and your children need to see that and not be lured into an illusion.

I have worked with boys and girls entangled in the grips of pornography and obsessive sexual fantasising. Let me reassure you they are able to find freedom, especially when God is at the centre of the transformation. He is the author of sex and wants us to freely enjoy the real deal. That last thing he wants is for us to get drawn into a counterfeit illusion that leaves a person thirsty, empty and loveless.

Kids initially need grace, then boundaries, intentional conversations about love, respect and gratitude. Kids will also benefit from learning how to wisely adapt to a consumer-driven, sexually consuming culture. In essence, they will need for you to model the 7 Traits of an Effective Parent.

If grace is the first step, what is it? It means approaching the situation with understanding and love. Boys and girls are desperately searching to belong, to be loved, to have worth, to feel normal, to feel they are good at something and to be wanted. That is the undertow that pornography and sexual fantasies are working off of.

Although first exposure to pornography, sexual images and fantasy are happening earlier and earlier in a person’s life, teens are usually the ones more frequently showing an addiction and a denial that it’s even a problem.

What Denial Tells Us

During adolescence, a developing brain easily falls prey to pornography. In fact, over time, viewing sexually explicit images can actually alter brain tissue and an individual’s personality. Dishonesty — with self or others—is one of the first signs the brain is changing.

Though users seldom realise it, porn destroys their sincerity. Let me give you an example. A young man I worked with said he had difficulty connecting and talking with attractive women, but no difficulty talking and connecting with unattractive women. He noticed that his pornography use caused him to only care about what a woman could provide for him. He cared a lot about the attractive women, because he wanted to have sex with them even if they were strangers. He did not care about unattractive women and couldn't care less about what they thought.

Another example involves a young woman who had multiple boys she would exchange sexual pictures with. She said she didn’t care about any of them, but that they made her feel good and would get her whatever she wanted. She expected boys to do things for her and had no concern for their well-being.

Porn use drives a wedge into a teen’s psyche, separating him or her from the person he or she used to be and the person he or she wants to become. It entraps him or her in an ongoing cover-up. Over time, it develops into full-blown denial.

Look at the Biblical account of David’s pursuit of Bathsheeba (II Samuel 11). He was in complete denial and blindness. Nathan had to use a parable to wake him up.

Denial takes many forms and can be a part of many people’s perceptions. There was a young couple living with each other. They could not understand what the problem was in their relationship. She had a subscriber only pornographic webcam service she provided her viewers and would perform as a stripper. He loved having more people in their sexual experiences besides just his live-in girlfriend. There is more to the story, but I need to go no further. The denial is completely clear here. We can see it, but both of them could not. They could not see why they felt depressed, empty, love less and hopeless?

Whatever shape it takes, denial is always a technique for rationalising destructive behaviour. And it always postpones necessary treatment.

Confront denial with grace and truth

The first step toward a child’s freedom is to confront the denial, help him face the truth and together establish a positive path forward from a Biblical perspective. With truth and grace, explain some of the following talking points:

  • Pornography is not just naked pictures. It can start with an underwear advertisement on television or the newspaper. It can also begin with a friend telling sexual jokes, a sexual fantasy novel, peers talking about sex, a sexually suggestive video online or through a scene in a movie. Read Proverbs together. Proverbs 31 is about being married to wisdom. Look at the pronoun shift in Proverbs 31:23 – that is the person who marries wisdom.

  • God has given us a brain that can change and be changed. Pornography literally rewires the brain, desensitising him and altering his personality.

  • God clearly wants us to experience pleasure. Humans are wired to respond to pleasure. In fact, reward pathway experiences become deeply etched in the tissues of the brain. Read Genesis 1 -2. God wants great things for us!

  • Choices create direction. It’s nearly impossible to erase sexually explicit images from the brain. It wants more and more. I tell my kids and clients that you cannot press “erase” in your brain. The pleasure and reward circuitry in your brain responds to what you choose to look at. It relies on you being the decision-maker of what you take in and provides the experience in response to it. Read about the life of Solomon, Ruth, Samson and Daniel. Choices made a lot of difference in how their stories played out.

  • Freedom is lost, not gained when pornography is present. A porn user begins to lose his first freedom—the ability to think—because the chemical brain reactions take over. The person becomes consumed by needing to consume and becomes hyper focused on themselves and their need for pleasure or the next “hit.” Pornography does not make you more grown up, it actually stunts maturity.

  • True steadfast love takes training, practice and a grateful heart. Porn addiction diminishes the likelihood of successful relationships, including a future healthy marriage. It removes the motivation toward the steadfast love God models and then explains in I Corinthians 13.

  • Pornography creates demands and thirst. Porn users develop a perception that sex is a “right” rather than an opportunity for bonding in love. The result: ingratitude for the gift of sex and endless dissatisfaction, comparisons, and demands. Review Proverbs, especially Proverbs 1 – 8.

  • God says in Romans 12:9, “Let love be genuine…”. Pornography use creates a mind shift in which users become consumers of people instead of developing genuine, sincere relationships.

What If That Was Your Sister?

The young man I mentioned earlier that only responded to attractive women had an ongoing sexual hunger, wanted to get married someday, loved his sister and mom, had been a Christian for several years and wanted freedom from the grip of pornography and a good relationship with God. As the deception of pornography became his reality, he increasingly pushed away God and people. He felt increasingly depressed.

What opened his eyes? The thought of others viewing his mother or sister in a similar way.

He made the decision to love and care for women by learning to have self-control. We discussed how men and women ironically find the best expression of themselves when they learn to master self-control. This is what God has been telling us all along. He wants us to be free to be ourselves, so he continually tells us to be sober minded and self-controlled. This young man wanted to find love like many other young men and women entangled in sexual perversion, sin and fantasy, but was having difficulty managing his own sexual desires. Self-control is difficult. It takes practice. It takes pursuing a goal. As a person practices, self-control becomes more natural and common place.

This young man worked toward genuinely caring about women he spoke with. As he pursued an honest relationship with others and God, pornography became less and less alluring and more sickening to him. In the times when he isolated himself from God and people, he felt vulnerable to the lure of pornography, moody and depressed. God repeatedly tells us that we can find true peace through a relationship with Him and reassurance through his statues and commandments (Psalm 119).

Intervention is a Family Affair

Healing begins when your child decides to grapple with his or her pornography use and the reason he or she pursued it in the first place. An angry confrontation doesn’t help. This is about trying to understand what they were looking for or what they are struggling with. Are they having difficulty managing arousal, stress, depression, curiosity or peer pressure? What are they running away from? What feeling are they trying to numb?

Change, growth and healing are most effective and lasting when they include contributions from a trusted support system, which could include family, friends, pastors and/or counsellors.

In a study from 2017 published in the North American Journal of Psychology, researchers found that teens with the following two ingredients were less likely to use the internet in self-destructive or problematic ways. 1

  • A strong faith
  • A strong attachment to their parents

Let your child know you love him or her and want freedom for him or her. You want him or her to experience the depths and fullness of attachment, love and connection. A strong faith would mean involvement with peers and their own personal Spiritual growth through prayer and Scripture reading. You can model a strong faith and relationship with God. I like to apply the following phrase in my own life and recommend it to parents I work with as we consider faith, “I act as if I believe… about God”

What kinds of activities do you do as a family? Do you spend time together? Are you able to put distractions aside and go for hikes, play board games together, have meals together, laugh together and conquer chores around the house together? I recommend using the Five Love Languages information to learn more about the unique ways we take in and communicate love with one another.

Check Your Emotions Before You Talk

In talking with your child, remember freedom from pornography’s slavery is your objective. You may be filled with anger and fear, but letting it interfere with the conversation will make things worse. Some parents explode and some go toward extreme reactions. The tendency is to go to defence, but the best goal now is to have open conversations about healthy sexuality and why it’s important. This is a conversation you’ll want to prepare for, and as you do, keep these things in mind:

Dos

  • Ask questions to understand what is going on and what has driven the desire for this.

  • Assure your child that you are on their side and want the very best for them, which includes filters on the devices and limits. Read and discuss Psalm 119.

  • Talk openly about healthy sexuality and set a vision toward great sex in marriage.

  • Pray with them for their freedom to love and have clear vision to be able to find and love a spouse, if that is in their future.

  • Help them see the beauty of restoration – Read Psalm 51 when David was going through a period of restoration in his soul.

  • Help them see that this is only one component of three major parts of a loving relationship. The three components are commitment, passion and intimacy. Passion is usually the first and easiest.

  • Help your child understand that God created attraction for relationship and not consumption. One gives life and the other takes life.

Don’t

  • Panic – God does amazing work in people’s brokenness and imperfections. He does amazing things with a contrite heart. This could be an amazing turning point and opportunity for growth and maturity.

  • Lecture – This is about understanding and guidance. The goal is relationship growth with your child. It is time to pursue conversations about healthy and satisfying sexuality, relationship, empathy, compassion and connection.

  • Shame – Sometimes out of fear, we want to go to statistics and scare tactics to make a person stop. Your child needs reassurance, limits, someone that will understand and listen and guidance. They need to know this is not about control or being a bad person. There is much more at stake. Not knowing love at its depths causes us to miss out on God. The more pornography becomes a reality, the more God becomes an illusion and afterthought. God is love. He is the author of love and wants us to experience the fullness of love.

  • Raise your voice or scream – Anger does not help. It creates more isolation and disconnection. Yelling creates more stress during a time your child needs connection, direction, understanding and clarity. Help them see with empathy. This will first take modelling on your part. Explain to them that the people participating in pornography are also God’s children and are mothers, fathers, wives, husbands, brothers, sisters. They are human and many are forced into this industry. Many of them struggle with depression and need prayer and love. They are empty and performing for money, survival or acceptance.

Moving Forward

Read Isaiah 26 together and discuss what it means to have perfect peace. Is there peacefulness in the world of pornography? Why did Job in Job 33 make a covenant with his eyes? There wasn’t internet then, so what does that tell us about the wiring of our minds?

Passion and attraction are an important component of a romantic love, but can be destroyed over time by the illusion and distraction of pornography making commitment one of the only things that may keep a marriage together. Marriage gets its fuel from having all three – passion, commitment and intimacy working on all cylinders with God at the core.

I consistently hear people in their 20s tell me that they are not getting married or delaying getting married out of fear of getting a divorce. They live together and assume it will keep them from being hurt. This is the consumer mindset culture has created. Let me test drive it and see if I like it. The economy of love requires the sweat and risk of commitment, the intentionality and humility in intimacy mixed with the focused, faithful and directed passion. That is the recipe your child can work towards to find deep connection.

  1. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/321680903_Adolescent_problematic_digital_behaviors_associated_with_mobile_devices ↩

© 2018 Focus on the Family. Used with permission. Originally published at focusonthefamily.com.

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