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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Letters to Young Men: Why Accountability Groups Fail

letters to young menRemember that accountability group in college where everyone went around the room and confessed their sins? You knew what everyone’s struggles were and sometimes you suspected your buddy was lying to you, but you didn’t quite have the guts to call him out. So it all broke down and everyone was still living with the same struggles as before. When you tried accountability you thought it was the key to everything… I mean it works so well on paper, but after you tried it you realized you were still lying to your mom, looking up swimsuit models on the internet, and letting curse words slip at the same frequency as before… but now you also had to lie about it once a week.

Here is the truth. Peer based accountability groups seldom ever work. I know they never worked in my case. Do you know why?… are you ready for it?… wait… wait… ok… here it is… The guys my age (myself included) didn’t have a clue! That’s right there is no, count it, zero wisdom in a room full of idiots… so maybe that’s a bit harsh (since I was in the room and those other guys might read this blog post). How about this… “You can’t tell someone how to get to where you have never been.” Jesus put it this way when talking about the Pharisees, “Let them alone; they are blind guides. And if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.” (Matthew 15:14 ESV)

The solution to this problem is actually quite simple though, you only need one person in the room who can see. Put someone in the room who isn’t an idiot and accountability might work (again I know this sounds harsh… but hang in there). Someone who has been around the corner can tell you how to get there (and doesn’t mind redirecting you when you blow it… because they actually know the next step)… That’s why there is value in having older mentors.

Do you want to be wise? Do you want to grow in your relationship with the Lord? Do you want to progress on the path of sanctification (be more holy)? Then find some godly older men to be your mentors!

When you are young you are looking for approval. It’s easy to hang with people your age because they are easier to impress. If you’re honest, part of you is a little bit threatened by hanging out with godly older men. I mean, after all… they aren’t talking theories anymore like you and your crew… they have actual battle scars (from real battles!) and war stories (from real wars!). But if you want first hand information on how to win the fight… these are the people you need to listen to (because they’ve been kicked in the teeth by the enemy and are still grinning!).

I was blessed early on to be mentored by several Godly men including my dad and my mom’s dad. I’ve served with two great pastors and sought out advice and wisdom from other great men along the way. There were times where I was intentionally the only idiot in a room full of wise guys because I needed their wisdom. My wife and I attended Sunday School Classes with older couples and intentionally befriended men and women who would invest in us. You see an idiot in a room full of idiots stays… get this… an idiot. But an idiot who will listen to wisdom from a wise guy… at least has a chance of becoming a wise guy.

Oh and one more reason you need to be mentored by someone older. You are looking for affirmation and you won’t find what you really need from your peers. But when an older guy affirms that you are on the right path, you are closer to becoming the confident young man God called you to be... so next time you feel the urge to get an accountability group together invite a godly older gentleman to the group and ask him to pour into you and ask him questions about whatever it is that causes you to struggle.

One word of caution: Not every older gentleman is wise about the same things. If you have financial goals pick a guy who seems to have his financial affairs in order. Unfortunately there are a lot of older men who spent too much time trying to impress their friends that they never picked up any wisdom along the way and they have little to share with you other than the testimony of wasted years. I pray you don’t become one of them.

Check into 1 Kings 12 to see a story about a guy who was more worried about impressing his peers than listening to the advisers his father appointed.

Philippians 4:14-20 (Devotional Thought)

Yet it was kind of you to share my trouble. And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only. Even in Thessalonica you sent me help for my needs once and again. Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit. I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God. And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen. (Philippians 4:14-20 ESV)

Paul is beginning to wrap up the letter to the Philippians. He is so glad that the gospel has taken root in their lives and that it is transforming them. The church there is not ashamed to be associated with Paul. He gives us a rare picture of what happened after he had to leave Philippi in Acts 16. He travels on to Thessalonica to start another church. Scholars estimate that Paul didn’t stay the Thessalonica long before he had to leave, perhaps a few weeks. Yet, even while he was in Thessalonica a group from Philippi had caught up with Paul and brought him some money to make sure he didn’t have any needs.

This small church had only been in existence for a month, maybe two and they are already Continue reading “Philippians 4:14-20 (Devotional Thought)”

Philippians 4:10-13 (Devotional Thought)

I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:10-13 ESV)

“I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” is perhaps one of the most misquoted verses of all time. I have to confess that as a young athlete I thought this verse was awesome because I thought that quoting it before I tried to make my free-throw shots in basketball would somehow help me become a better player.

The Apostle Paul is actually talking about Continue reading “Philippians 4:10-13 (Devotional Thought)”

Philippians 3:9-11 (Devotional Thought)

and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith– that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:9-11 ESV)

We live in a day and age that tries to redefine the word faith. Some folks use the word faith to mean to believe in something that is not true. So that when they say that if you have enough faith, something that is not true now, will be true later. You kind of “wish” it into existence. For example an individual may be sick or have a physical handicap and these folks will say that if you just have enough “faith” you will get better. This is NOT what the bible teaches when it talks about faith.

Other people try to make the word faith something more like blindly accepting something to be true without checking the facts or thinking about what your doing. They think of faith as something like an assumption. This is also NOT what the bible teaches about faith.

Still other people think of faith more like a feeling. They would say that it doesn’t matter what it true, it matters how you feel and so they would say that faith is a feeling you have when you pray or at a worship service or something like that. Again, this is NOT what the bible teaches us about faith.

The kind of faith found in the Bible can be described as a belief that moves you to action. Or maybe put more simply, “Active trust.” So when you have faith you believe something based on good evidence and then act on it. Like ridding on a school bus. You look carefully to see which bus has the markings that is supposed to take you to your bus stop. You also look for your bus driver and maybe the other kids you know who are on your bus. When you see all of these things coming together on one bus you get on the bus, in good faith, because this bus will take you to your bus stop.

Paul says that real righteousness (being good in God’s eyes) comes from faith. We know that Jesus paid the penalty for our sins on the cross, was buried and rose again from the dead and then we act in faith by asking God to forgive us of our sin and for Jesus to be Lord (leader) of our lives. Where we act to embrace what Jesus has done is where faith is… its like knowing that’s your bus number, your bus driver, and all the people with whom you ride the bus , you still need to get on the bus in order for it to take you to your bus stop. Just knowing it was the right bus isn’t enough. In the same way saving faith requires us to not just know these things about Jesus but to act on them.

Have you done that? Have you responded to God and asked him to forgive you of your sins and asked JESUS to be the Lord (Leader) of your life? YOU can do that right now. Tell someone if you do.

Paul is so confident that he has been made right with God through what Jesus has done that he is willing to die for his faith in Christ. He knows that just like Jesus was raised from the dead, so he too will be raised from the dead one day as well. He doesn’t know when He’ll die, or what method, that’s why he says “by any means possible” but he’s confident of one thing, He will be raised from the dead in the resurrection.

Teenagers and the Gospel (Part 2)

Teenagers are Self Interested

Most Teenagers are a product of their culture and our culture is all about the consumer. Marketers have been targeting our kids for years and playing to their emotional needs. Ten’s of thousands of hours of screen time and all the related ads can’t be undone in a 30 minute pep talk. Because of this when it comes to Teenagers; they will understand most biblical truths through the lens of how it affects their lives.  Cognitively they should be able to think outside of themselves, however in our society it’s not an issue of ability, it’s an issue of conditioning. To reach teenagers you have to make a personal appeal or they will tune you out.

teenagers and the gospel

Even kids who have grown up in Christian families and have a strong background in church will have a hard time paying attention if you don’t address how the scripture relates to them personally. Quite frankly teenagers have been programed to be self-interested thinkers. You need to get to know them well enough to relate biblical truth to their personal needs. However, don’t make the mistake here of falling into moralism (good apart from the gospel). Teenagers need the gospel. Help them to see their need for the Savior.

Having a self-interested teen can be a mixed blessing. On one level you can’t compete with millions of dollars of marketing, well written scripts, and super model actors… on the other hand… those people don’t know “your” teen. While you may be less entertaining than the latest super bowl commercial, a little time well spent learning about the teens in your life can give you more credibility than axe body spray ever had.

Teenagers are Emotional

Teenagers make decisions based on feelings more than rational thought.  Physiologically they are still developing the rational part of their brain while the emotional impulse part of the brain is already developed.  They default to what they know. Something which seems cut and dry to you, is a major issue to them because they simply lack the development in their brains to process the situation the way you can as an adult.

They can still get there, it’s just not the preferred method and it requires you to connect a lot of the dots for them. Think of this as exorcising a weak muscle. The tendency to default to emotion is why students can sometimes be prone to “drama.” Teens often use the filter of feeling (“how does this make me feel”) to evaluate their circumstances and to make decisions. We need to guard our kids in this area because it leaves them open to manipulation.

The positive side of this is that teenagers are able to be empathetic. However, rarely do they ever get there without some help or guidance along the way. It is generally good when ask “How do you think it made them feel?”  When talking about how our actions effect others.

Grumpy Teen: If you are a parent dealing with a grumpy teen take in to account how many hours of sleep your child is getting each night. Most studies indicate that middle school age kids need around 9 hours of sleep or more per night and only about 15% of teens are getting enough sleep (There is a reason they would sleep till noon on Saturday if you’d let them). If 13 year-old Tommy is acting like the 3 year-old Tommy when he didn’t get his nap, it’s probably because 13-year-old Tommy is tired.

Challenge: How well do you know the teens in your life? If you don’t already, schedule regular personal time with your teen doing something you both value.  What emotions tend to rise to the top when you are carrying on a conversation? Pray for the teenagers in your life. Ask God to give you wisdom in applying the scripture to their needs. How is their sleep schedule? Sometimes a late weekend wake up is due to not enough sleep during the week.

Don’t Give Up On Andy!

I’ve had a few experiences with “tough-to-love” students recently in various venues. Whenever a kid like this enters your midst, there is often pressure from leaders and students to “do something.” Mostly they are aggravated by how the “tough-to-love” student is behaving.  I thought I would share how one of my youth pastors growing up “dealt” with one of the “tough-to-love” kids in our youth group.  We’ll call him Andy (I changed his name to protect his identity).

Andy was one of those kids who was difficult to deal with in our student ministry. His parents were both committed Christians and you could tell that he had read a great portion of the Bible. This is normally a great thing, but you have to know Andy. Andy was a skeptic and more often than not when the youth pastor opened up the floor for discussion Andy would inevitably point out a flaw in the youth pastor’s message (like he said “Noah” when he meant “Moses” etc.) or he would rebut what the youth pastor had said with his own take on various passages of scripture. To be clear, Andy was a know-it-all and he knew a great deal, but he didn’t know Jesus. (Later Andy’s youth pastor would say, “I prepared the youth lessons and then I went back again to see what Andy might say so I could be prepared.”)

Andy also used to like to play games and pranks while the youth group was meeting. His youth group met in the church’s old sanctuary. Andy would often get dropped off early for church and slip into the baptistery or side door entrance. He would wait until the worship music had started and he would poke his head out and make funny faces at the group behind the youth pastor’s back. Andy was a clown.

Andy also hung out with the “wrong” crowd at school and would often drink on the weekends and even throughout the week.  Actually, because Andy had some influence and aggressively recruited others to his lifestyle, it’s probably more accurate to say that Andy “was” the wrong crowd. Andy wasn’t just a social drinker, he drank alone on many occasions, Andy was a teenage alcoholic and on a few occasions he showed up to his youth group buzzed. Andy was a drunk.

I guess there are lots of ways to deal with a kid like Andy. You could kick him out. You could tell him not to come back. You talk to him in a condescending way. You could do your best to make him feel uncomfortable so he will leave on his own… Or you could do what David our youth pastor did. Since David was one of my mentors growing up I have a little more insight into how he handled the situation than most.

Every week that David saw Andy at church he would say, “Hey Andy I’m so glad you made it tonight!” (and he meant it). David invited Andy into a special discipleship group that met in his home on a week night throughout the summer and was genuinely pleased when he showed up. David prayed for Andy (I know this because I was there on more than one occasion where I heard him). David talked with Andy’s mom about how to best love and encourage him. David encouraged some of the kids in the youth group to reach out to Andy. Some of these were even the kids that Andy made fun of at school.

The summer that David hosted the bible study at his home we all began to see a change starting to take place in Andy. At the end of the summer just before Andy and his family moved off you could tell that he was different. He stopped drinking (this was in large part because his dad caught him), he started a prayer group at church, and he went to all his friends and told them he had changed.

Even though he moved, Andy kept up with David and the youth group through regular mail (this is back before e-mail, text messaging, facebook, etc.). He graduated high school and went on to college to become a youth pastor. He went through a few more “tough-to-love” stages. He was a hypocrite and a self-righteous Pharisee… but at the age of 24 years old Andy finally met Jesus in a real and life changing way. I know this because… you see, I’m Andy.

I am the man I am today in part because of the attitude of my youth pastor and a friend (that I persecuted mercilessly). They weren’t willing to give up on me or just consider me an nuisance. They loved me and demonstrated Christ’s love for me in their actions and attitudes.

Romans 5:7-8 ESV  For one will scarcely die for a righteous person–though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die–  (8)  but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

I didn’t know the depth of this verse as a tough-to-love kid until I saw it in my Youth Pastor, David and my friend Brett (who I used to make fun of incessantly). They loved me in Christ when I gave them every reason not to love me.