Parents, have you recently asked, ‘What can I do to protect my child from being exposed to pornography?’ If so, we’re of the same mind. As a father of two young boys, and Marriage & Family Therapist, I am also concerned knowing this substance has become a prevalent part of our world that can be easily accessed through many different avenues. I speak from experience, having been first exposed to porn when I was a child and having seen its effects on my life and on my marriage. The fact is that our children are extremely vulnerable, not simply to being exposed to pornography, but to the real potential of developing an addiction to it through continued usage over time. Therefore, we as parents have an important responsibility to help protect them from porn to the greatest degree possible; and the more prepared we are, the more effective we can be in accomplishing that end. Here are a few tips that can help ou in addressing pornography with your child.
BE AWARE OF THE RISK FACTORS
Parents who educate themselves on the prevalence and harmful effects of pornography can more effectively prepare to discuss those factors with their children. Let’s briefly cover some of the information parents need
Developmental Considerations : countless children are coming into contact with pornography in their pre-teen years.
- 9 out of 10 boys, and 6 out of 10 girls, are exposed to pornography before the age of 18.
- 51% of male and 32% of female students first viewed pornography before their teenage years (12 and younger).
- 88% of scenes in porn films contain acts of physical aggression, and 49% of scenes contain verbal aggression. ¹
Social Messages : the messages conveyed through pornography are often abusive and demeaning.Gail Dines, in her book Pornland, addresses how women are portrayed in porn as always being ‘ready for sex and enthusiastic to do whatever men want, irrespective of how painful, humiliating, or
harmful the act is.’ She adds that ‘in American society, porn is probably the most visible, accessible, and articulate teller of sexual stories to men.’ ²
Neurological Implications: pornography has a profound impact upon the human mind.
- Research findings are beginning to show that pornography acts upon the rewards centers of the brain like other drugs of abuse, and as a result can be highly addictive. ³
This information helps us recognize how important it is for parents to be proactive in addressing the topics of sexuality and pornography with their children, particularly before they hit the teen years. Here are a few tips on how to engage them in a manner allowing us to have safe and open conversations on these topics.
CREATE SAFE & OPEN CONVERSATIONS
Pornography is often treated like a taboo subject in our homes and churches, even though it is commonplace in the broader culture. Parents who refuse to treat it as a taboo subject with their children, in this sense, are courageous and wise. They literally give their children what many parents don’t on the porn
issue: a voice to be heard, a chance to be understood, and the knowledge needed to protect themselves as well.
Here are a few principles you can use to help you be courageous, and create safe and transparent conversations with them:
- Curiosity: Have a genuine and loving curiosity about any prior experiences with porn or other sexual content (e.g., viewing porn on the web, conversations with peers, sexting, etc.).
- Listening: Calmly listen to their experiences without interrupting. Allow them to sense your desire to understand them, not to simply share what you know.
- Empathy: Place yourself in their position, ask what it would be like to be them living in today’s oversexed culture, and consider how you would want to be approached by your parents on this subject.
- Affirmation: Affirm their thoughts and emotions, in addition to your love for them, and your desire to see them develop a healthy sexuality that isn’t informed by pornography.
- Validation: Validate their expressions by thanking them for being open and trusting you.
- Encouragement: Express your belief in their ability to make healthy choices and to cherish their sexuality now and in the future.
These basic and practical steps will help you remain connected to your children in these discussions. Inversely, you will derail any potential for future connection or conversation if you shame, guilt or become angry with them for any prior experiences with pornography, or if you make sex out to be something evil, dirty or unholy.
TEACH A DIFFERENT WORLDVIEW
It would be easy for you and I to bash the porn industry, and our American culture, for being unashamedly superficial. Yet, doing so isn’t necessarily helpful to our children, since they already experience the pressure to ‘conform’ or ‘fit in’ according to those superficial standards. It is far more effective to teach our children the fundamentals of human sexuality and the dangers of pornography from the standpoint of love. Not only is love the supreme Christian ethic, it is the basis by which our kids can resist the lure of pornography. Why? Because by teaching them how to love their neighbor as themselves (Mark 12:30-31), we help them develop a framework in which selfishness is trumped by generosity, and sexuality is seen as sacred. This is a powerful narrative by which they can navigate far away from the lure of pornography for the rest of their lives.
‘Direct your children onto the right path, and when they are older, they will not leave it.’ – Proverbs 22:6
PROTECT YOUR HOME AND DEVICES
Pornography is not something our kids can only find on the web. This type of sexually explicit content is available through mainstream media, various phone apps, and social media (Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, etc.). Protecting our children in this regard means using the parental controls available through your TV /Internet service provider, and placing filters on your electronic devices, such as those available through Covenant Eyes and X3 Watch . These safeguards are incredibly helpful, and empowering in a way for parents who feel overwhelmed. However, this doesn’t mean our children aren’t savvy enough to find ways around them. This is why the conversations we addressed earlier are so important, because they ultimately address the heart related issues that will keep our children away from porn.
ENLIST THE HELP OF OTHERS
Tackling something like our children’s exposure to pornography isn’t something we do on our own. We need to connect with others as part of addressing our concerns and discussing the roles we can play as parents to protect our children from it as a collective body. The more families and churches are open about this subject, the greater our potential for finding ways to protect our children and to effectively address this issue on a personal, local, and national level. Connecting with trusted others can also be helpful if we happen to be struggling with pornography ourselves, and need encouragement to seek help from a pastor or professional counselor who is trained in dealing with such issues.
REFUSE TO BE SILENT
We must always remember that our willingness to engage in conversation with our children on the destructive effects of pornography and the importance of treating their sexuality as sacred, can literally shape the course of their lives. Looking back at my own life, and in recounting the countless stories of others whose lives have been deeply impacted by pornography use, the one common thread is the silence of loving parents on this topic. May we never be silent in this regard with our sons and daughters, but instead view each conversation with them about porn as one that will help preserve their present and guard their future.
- Pornography Addiction (a supranormal stimulus considered in the context of neuroplasticity) by Donald Hilton
INTERNET FILTER RECOMMENDATIONS
1. Covenant Eyes. Porn Statistics . Retrieved September 2016.
2. Dines, G. (2010). Pornland: How porn has hijacked our sexuality. Beacon Press.
3. Hilton, D., & Watts, C. (2011). Pornography addiction: A neuroscience perspective. Surgical Neurology International, 2, 19.