How do you respond when your child tells you they have seen a pornographic image

I’ve been in student ministry for around eighteen years and have seen the tides of culture shape and change the coming generations. I remember when pagers were for expecting dads and drug dealers. Now it seems like every twelve-year-old I meet has access to a smart phone, I-pod touch, kindle fire or another screened device on which they can watch you-tube videos and movies with frequency. I’m not against change, but this scares me (mostly because I’m a dad now).

viewing pornography

You see I’ve also noticed another disturbing trend. In my generation for someone to be exposed to pornography they had to find a tangible source such as a magazine. Then came the computer and now hand held screen technology. Obviously the technology isn’t to blame for the spread of pornography but it does make pornography more accessible. The question used to be, “have you ever seen pornography?”…now the question is “when did you first see pornography?”

Many of our kids will stumble across it innocently. They will do a search for their favorite Disney character or try and look up something for a report on the president and while search engines like Google have gone through great lengths to protect innocent searches from pornographic results the purveyors of pornography have also gone through great lengths to make their wares visible.

If you have recently discovered that your child has seen a pornographic image, you are probably working through a lot of different feelings. You may be angry at those who make these kinds of things accessible. You may find yourself mourning a sense of innocence. You may feel shame if you yourself struggle with viewing pornography or you may even recall shameful events in your past if you were abused. Whatever your emotions the key is to think in terms of how your child will process this event.

First: Be thankful that you know. Pornography does the most damage when it is viewed in secret. Shame can creep in and have serious and lasting effect. Part of uprooting the shame is removing the secrecy. If you found out because your son or daughter confessed to seeing an image or images… be thankful. Even if you feel angry because you think they sought it out… be thankful.

Second: Express and affirm your love for your child, especially if you think your child sought this out. Pornography can become a cheap and unfulfilling substitute for intimacy. Those who view it often already feel the sting of shame. They need to know they are loved by you unconditionally. Withholding love and affirmation from your child is NOT a biblical form of discipline.

Third: Express your Desire to help them process what they have seen in a way that brings glory and honor to God. This event may open the door for you to have an age appropriate “sex-talk” with your son or daughter. If you find yourself at a loss for talking points check out my notes from the last time I spoke at a “true-love-waits” event.

Fourth: Figure out what they have seen and how they were exposed. Did a friend introduce them to a pornographic image? Did they hear a slang word used at school (or on TV) and look it up? Did they find a magazine somewhere? Did someone send it to them on their phone in a text message? Knowing how your child was exposed will help you protect your child from seeing more images. It’s also important to know what your child has seen. Unfortunately there are many, many obscene images out there from images from soft-core to very violent and explicit material.

It is important that you know your personality and that of your child. If part of you takes this as a personal offense you run the danger of coming across as a prosecuting attorney rather than a sympathetic parent. You don’t want to be overbearing on this issue and close down the lines of communication. Your child needs a parent who is in this fight with them and for them more than they need a parent who wants to fight against them. If at anytime you feel like you are in over your head you may want to reach out to a trusted pastor or counselor for help or advice. If you find out that this isn’t an isolated incident and that your son or daughter may be addicted to pornography you may want to contact a Christian counselor. Make sure that if you contact a counselor that you find someone who shares your understanding of the negative impact of viewing pornography.

Other Resources on helping your children

Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention: http://erlc.com/topics/C13/

Focus on the Family:
http://www.focusonthefamily.com/lifechallenges/love_and_sex/pornography/how_to_confront_children_using_pornography.aspx

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Hurt Feelings, Bad Days, and Little Boys: A Letter to My Daughter About Manhood

You came in the other day and said, “Ask me about my day?” I knew something was up because when I normally ask you say, “fine.” Knowing you had something to share I put my stuff down and quickly got out of my grumpy dad coming home from work routine and sat across from you in the kitchen. You shared about how an older boy kicked a ball at you and called you a bad name. There were tears in your eyes as you relived the moment and felt a shame that wasn’t yours to own.

Fear gripped my heart and I pressed in to give you a hug. I wondered how deep the would was? I wondered if I could mend it with my words, my hugs, or even my tears? Part of me was desperate to mend your brokenness, part of me was wondering how I might break the boy who made you feel this way, and part of me was glad that you had shared it with me.

The part that wanted to heal your brokenness jumped in first. We talked about how this boy was wrong and how you had done nothing wrong. We talked about forgiveness and cleaning the bitterness out of our hearts. We talked about the gospel and how Jesus had loved us and died for us while we were still sinners. We talked about how hard it was to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us, but we knew that if Jesus commanded us to do that, we could do it in his strength and power. So we prayed for him.

Then I came back and let you know that I was jealous for you. As you father when that boy called you a name, he called me a name. That you are my princess (not the word he called you) and that should it ever happen again he would answer to me when I go to have a conversation with his parents. I let you know that you had a bigger advocate who was willing to take on this older boy who seemed so big and brave on the playground but was tiny compared to your father.

Then I was glad that you had shared this moment so we could walk through it together. You gave me the gift of allowing me to be your dad, to hug you, to guide you, to model maleness different than what you experienced on the playground. My prayer is that you forget this incident ever happened and when you come back to read this you have a hard time recalling the event… but that your character has been impacted by it so you are quick to forgive, know deeply you are loved, and walk confidently into womanhood.

There is a kind of boy who pushes shame on others through his words, his actions and even his stares… There is also a kind of man who removes shame that is not yours to carry, who loves you and will give his all for you. I’ll never stop being your dad, but when another man like that enters your life it will be my joy to walk you down an isle to him and give you away. You are my princess.