Kids, Porn, and the Heart

During the second quarter of the Super Bowl, John’s brother-in-law Tim logged onto the family computer to catch up on some work emails. As he cleared the  computer’s history, he discovered some saved websites in the recent history that troubled him. Tim alerted John’s wife, Cindy (his sister), and they viewed several extremely graphic pornographic websites saved in the history.

They assumed John was the viewer, but as they talked with him, they realized the assumption was wrong. The only other possibility was that Sam — John and Cindy’s 11-year-old son — was viewing pornography.

During the remainder of the game John paced in and out of the family-filled TV room, praying for words to both confront and leave the door open for honesty. After their extended family left, Sam poked his head into the office and said good night. Before he hit the stairs, John asked, “Hey, have you been looking at anything you shouldn’t be looking at on the computer?” Sam quickly replied, “Me? No, I haven’t at all.” John said, “OK, good.” Sam started upstairs, but John gently stopped him and asked him to return to the office. “I’m going to ask you one more time, so think before you answer. Have you looked at anything you shouldn’t have looked at on that?” John pointed to the computer. Sam looked away from his father and then to the floor, and said yes. Pornography_Percentage_Graphic

John reached out and embraced his son. During the next several hours his son confessed a daily habit of viewing pornography at certain “safe” hours, when the family schedule would allow him time alone. Other times were with friends at sleepovers, where they would use an iPod Touch, Internet-capable game console, or smartphone to surf pornography websites. Through tears he described how bad he felt about himself and how powerless he felt while trying to stop.

How About Your Family?

Perhaps you can relate to John and Cindy, or perhaps something like this has already happened in your family. But regardless of whether you have caught your child looking at porn, you need to be aware of Internet porn’s dangers and prepare to protect and help your child so that he or she does not become trapped by it.

What many parents fail to realize is that pornography can capture the mind and heart of a child or teen almost instantly, setting the stage for years of inner turmoil, along with depraved thinking, hiding, lying, and experiencing deeply broken sexuality. Porn produces a warped concept of sexuality and relationships, which can erupt later with destructive force in dating, marriage, family, or vocation.

The fact is, almost every adult who struggles with sexually addictive behavior was introduced to porn at a young age. Sexual addictions sparked by pornography go on for years, hidden by the struggler, with parents totally unaware. One study showed that 90 percent of children ages 11 to 16 had viewed Internet pornography.

Today, through the Internet and cable TV, an abundance of entertainment options is available. Social media, gaming, and video-sharing sites are transforming society at every level by granting access to people and visual media that most would never have encountered in years past. In addition, the ubiquity of Internet-capable portable devices means you can see whatever you want, whenever and wherever you want.

Parents are failing to notice and address this danger in a way that will protect their children. To give children unrestricted Internet access is like leaving them alone in a large city to find their way. No loving parent would even think of doing such a thing! But many parents are not realistic about the sexual temptation their children are facing. Some refuse to admit their children could be lured by sex at all, while others are overwhelmed and confused by the available technology. To make matters worse, parents rarely bring up the subject of sex, except to say, “Don’t!” or “Wait until you’re married.” This combination leaves children and teens confused about their emerging sexuality and vulnerable to the constant bombardment of sexual material.

A two-pronged approach is needed to shepherd your family through these dangers. What follows is one of the approaches: communicating a biblical view of sexuality and the brokenness of life to kids in a way that reaches their hearts. The other is to get a grip on the technological challenges (that section is in the full minibook, available for purchase at www.harvestusa.org or newgrowthpress.com).

The discovery that your child has looked at porn cannot be quickly addressed as a single incident and left behind. Frankly, our kids today have seen hard-core pornography. For the sake of their hearts and souls, this “secret” must be exposed, but it must be carefully addressed with the power and grace of the Gospel.

As devastating as it is to discover that your child has looked at porn, it is important to see this as a Gospel opportunity. Now is the time to engage your children’s hearts and point them to the only One who can wash them clean and set them free. Psalm 119:67 says, “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep your word.” Affliction — whether by unexpected suffering or consequences from our own or someone else’s sin — is an opportunity to renew our relationship with God and learn to apply the Gospel to our everyday lives.

Redemptive Responses to Discovering Your Child Has Viewed Pornography

1. Control your anger.

It’s OK to be angry when you discover your child has been viewing porn. But make sure to direct your anger at the sin, not your child. James 1:19–20 says we should be “slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” Anger directed toward your children will have the likely result of making them incapable of hearing your concern for their safety and character; they will remember only your rage.

Instead, direct your anger against the world’s brokenness and the evil one who tries to corrupt everyone. Keep in mind that your child lives in a world where messages that twist and pervert God’s good gift of sex are common. You will be in a better position to constructively help your child because you will understand the difficulty of trying to live a life of sexual integrity in a world gone sexually insane. Allow the compassion that flows from understanding their struggle to transform your anger and direct it at the real culprits. Allow God to comfort your grieving heart as you work with your children to understand what kept calling them back to porn.

2. Go after their heart, not their behavior.

Whether your child has been caught using porn or has confessed on his own, work to stay calm and engage his heart. Ask questions not just about porn usage but about what drove him to look.

• How did it start?
• How did you feel about doing this?
• How long have you been looking at porn?
• What do you think about what you have been seeing?
• What circumstances tend to trigger a desire to look at porn?

Ask whether he can understand messages that porn communicates (power, control, false intimacy, escape from stress, degradation of women and men, and so on). Young people need to know how to discern the motives of their hearts. They need to learn that it is from the heart’s inner recesses that behavior and all of life flow (Proverbs 4:23).

This is an opportunity to offer the Gospel’s deep comfort in the midst of deep brokenness. Don’t attempt only to stop access to porn as if that were the matter’s end. Your children need to learn that we all sin because our hearts desire it, not simply because we have access. If you redirect bad behavior through parental control alone, you will not help your child learn discernment or understand the rebellion of his heart. Pornography_FiveStages_Graphic

Our children need to be taught that their behavior doesn’t come from nowhere. Ever since Adam and Eve decided that what they really wanted was to be in charge of their own lives and not listen to God (that’s what sin fundamentally is), our desires (even for good things) have become corrupted. Your children might want any number of things when they use pornography: pleasure, excitement, escape from pain, comfort, power, intimacy, control, confidence, relationship, and so on. Your questions can help sort out what is really going on inside them. At bottom, their pornography use adds up to putting something at the center of their lives instead of God. The Apostle Paul in Romans 1:23–24 said that sinful living stems from fallen hearts that “exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles” (NIV). In other words, sexual sin is about active idolatry, where we “exchange the truth of God for a lie” (v. 25) and live for something — anything — to satisfy our desperate hearts instead of turning to God. Do you see how this event is not just about behavior? It’s much deeper than that.

By engaging them with questions and biblical teaching you will communicate your love for them, a love strong enough to address their hearts and shepherd them through life’s difficulties. Chances are good that your child is struggling with shame, and a loving, grace-filled approach will provide a flesh-and-blood taste of the grace that Christ gives to sinners. Direct your child to Christ to ask for  forgiveness and His strength to handle her sexuality in a God-honoring way.

3. Maintain an ongoing discussion about sex.

Even if your child hasn’t been using pornography, now is the time to teach about God’s design for sex. Teach that it is good and created for our good, and that its expression is properly displayed only within the healthy boundaries set by God. Acknowledge the difficulty everyone has, especially adolescents, living God-honoring lives of sexual integrity. However, also give them hope that as they cling to Christ and His Word, this is not an impossible task.

A crucial way to help your children see this hope is to keep the conversation going. They need your shepherding to grow up well, and that includes being shepherded through the turbulent years of their sexual development. Having a one-time talk about sex isn’t sufficient. Pornography will deceive your child’s heart and distort sex in extremely harmful ways. Now you must guide them toward God’s wonderful design for sex so they can delight in truth and uproot the lies they have believed.

Do not underestimate their need to talk about sex in healthy ways. If sex is treated like a bad word, your child will be left with conflicting messages. Sex will appear as something that adults do but never talk about. This will make it seem shameful, like a dark secret to be hidden. If you don’t keep talking about sex at opportune moments, your children will be alone to interpret the images of the porn they have seen. If those images are not brought into the light of God’s truth, they will continue to tug on the mind and heart. This will increase the desire to view more and further distort the way they think and feel about sex.

4. Examine your own heart.

If you are going to own your parental role of shepherding your child’s sexuality, then you must be living within God’s design. You will not be able to help your child if you are engaging in porn or other out-of-bounds sexuality. Here is another way God’s grace can surprise. He will use suffering in your children to show what you need to learn about your relationship with Him. Pornography_Clocks_Graphic

Now the opportunity from this crisis is not just about your child; it includes you. As mentioned, suffering, whether unexpected or as a consequence of someone else’s sin, is an opportunity to renew our relationship with God as we learn to lean on His shepherding guidance (Psalm 119:67).

If your own sexual behavior is sinful, now is the time to draw near to Christ and ask for His forgiveness and grace to change (1 John 1:9–10). Accept Jesus’ forgiveness and grow in His grace, and as you grow you will find yourself being an honest and authentic help to your child. Should you admit and confess your struggle to your child? If he or she is young, it’s probably not wise. But if your child is an older teen, it may be a great opportunity to share some of your struggles. You can do this without graphic detail. Your child needs to know only your struggle’s general outline, but you can be specific and detailed about how you are going to God every day for forgiveness and help. Children can grow tremendously in the faith when they see parents as imperfect people who cling to Christ to grow in faithfulness and obedience.

5. Block the door.

Not allowing access to harmful Internet and media is extremely important. You might find it challenging to do this while respecting your child’s privacy. While this has always been a source of tension, our politically correct culture preaches a false gospel of tolerance that twists freedom into license. Consequently, many parents are timid, hesitant, or overwhelmed with techno-savvy teens clamoring for freedom. Denial or unwillingness to do the hard parental work needed will leave your child open to being ripped apart by the evil one. “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). Lions are opportunistic predators, and the prey they go after the most are the young. Satan is like that too.

So is it appropriate to snoop on your teen’s use of the Internet and other high-tech means of entertainment and communication? Yes. You absolutely must.

But how you go about it is critical.

Ephesians 4:15 instructs us to be “speaking the truth in love,” and Galatians 5:6 says that “the only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love” (NIV). One of a parent’s more important jobs is to help children build character, and one aspect of character is sexual integrity. This means having a sexuality that is owned and used for their good and God’s glory. Children don’t build character on their own, and sexual integrity doesn’t just happen. Part of keeping the discussion about sex going is to know and see what your child is doing.

But snoop respectfully. Snoop in the open and in a way that communicates that you have their best interest at heart. Let your children know you will oversee their online behavior, and do not feel or act guilty about it. Love confronts and restrains when necessary. This gives children the biblical boundaries they need and can help protect them from further involvement in Internet porn or inappropriate online relationships.

Nicholas Black serves as the Program Resources director for Harvest USA. He oversees the staff and the day-to-day ministry operations of the organization. He had many years of pastoral experience prior to coming to Harvest USA in 2007. This article is an excerpt from “iSnooping on Your Kid:  Parenting in an Internet World” (Greensboro, N.C.;  New Growth Press, 2012), A Harvest USA minibook, available at harvestusa.org or newgrowthpress.com. To learn 13 critical steps you can take now to protect your children from the dangers of technology, the full minibook is available at harvestusa.org or at newgrowthpress.com.

Illustrations by Paul Blow and Matt Stevens.

4 Responses to Kids, Porn, and the Heart

  1. Johnny Appleton says:

    This article misses a couple very obvious, and glaring points:

    1) FILTER the internet in the house! Duh! K9 is a free web filter, and don’t give me the nonsense that kids can crack through any password. Make a strong enough password with random symbols and they can’t.

    2) Get them out of the public school system! How do you think they learned about this in the first place?

  2. R Nicholas Black says:

    Johnny:

    I’m the author of this article. There is another section to it, found in a mini book published by New Growth Press, entitled iSnooping on Your Kids: Parenting in an Internet World. In the second part of the mini book, I go through all the steps necessary to put on accountability and filters on all Internet-connected devices. That is what I meant by “Block the Doors,” in the section that byFaith printed.

  3. R Nicholas Black says:

    Johnny:
    The second part of my reply didn’t show up. Regarding your conclusion that parents need to take their children out of public schools: The correct answer is: parents need to talk honestly and relevantly to their children, throughout their growing-up years, about what the Bible says about our sexuality and help them learn to live within God’s design. The problem is not the public schools; the problem is we (including the church) are not talking about this openly–we are not helping our kids deal with living in an sexualized culture while helping them manage a powerful sexuality that God has given to them. Frankly, at Harvest USA, we have families come to us for help from Christian and home-school backgrounds.

  4. Sally Apokedak says:

    I’m thinking prayer, begging God to spare them, would be my first choice. If I had spent an hour a day praying with and for my kids, every day of the twenty-one years they’ve been alive, I wonder what kind of powerful lives they’d be leading now. Can you imagine what kind of benefit would come from that much prayer?

    Thank God that in his mercy, it’s never too late to start.

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