Teenage pornography addiction. It’s perhaps the last thing parents want to think about. And we certainly don’t want to talk about it. But this isn't an issue we can avoid because it’s affecting, and in many cases, destroying, our children. As parents, we need to educate ourselves on this issue, recognize how pervasive it is, and find ways to communicate effectively with our teens. Because honestly, they are affected by pornography, and I don’t know about you, but this isn’t an issue I want my daughter navigating alone.
Statistics say 93% of boys and 62% of girls have encountered pornography before they turn eighteen. Four out of five sixteen year-olds access pornography regularly. It can start with an accidental encounter, and for some, that may be as far as it goes. For others, a curiosity is aroused that soon spirals into devastating addiction. And it’s not just a male issue, not anymore. Each day, pastors, youth workers, and researchers encounter more and more females struggling with pornography exposure and addiction.
“I’ve lost count of the number of adults and students who have shared with me their struggle with porn,” Robert Conn, youth pastor of Reality Church in Papillion, Nebraska, says. “Some are more addicted than others. Some are blind to how bad their addiction really is. Some don’t understand the difference between temptation and sin. All of them feel ashamed and like they are the only ones with a problem.”
So what can we, as parents, do?
First, we need to acknowledge pornography is a problem, one we can’t shelter our kids from. “Porn is so easy to get to,” Conn says. “Sometimes it shows up when you aren’t even looking for it. That’s not a mistake. People get paid good money to trick us into clicking on a picture or video.”
According to Brady Testorff, Senior High and Young Adult Pastor at Vineyard Church in Kansas City, parents need to be diligent and pro-active. “Parents can set up certain safe-guards, like www.xxxchurch.com, on electronic devices,” he says.
But even these fail to address the problem completely. Because let’s face it, if our kids want to find porn, they will, and they can be quite adept at covering their tracks.
The solution, then, is to address this issue at the heart-level. Like with any issues our teens face, we need to initiate those tough conversations. Most importantly, we need to be open about our struggles and the emotional, relational, and spiritual dangers involved.
“For years I was told the dangerous effect of porn was that I’d never be able to get those pictures out of my head;” Conn says. “They’d be etched into my brain. While this is true … the dangers are much more hurtful and deep.” Pornography addiction harms relationships, can lead to increasingly high-risk and destructive behaviors, and plunges the addict into depression and isolation. Our role is to move our child past shame-filled isolation into accountability and community.
To do so, we must stay focused on effective communication. Reacting in anger and making threats will only lead to increased shame and communication barriers. Basically, we should be proactive not reactive. This means communicating with prayerful intentionality:
1. Choose the best time, location, and atmosphere to speak with your child. As they are getting ready for school, when they are overtired, or when they are “caught in the act” are probably not the best times. Instead, approach them when they are well-rested and relatively relaxed. For example, when I want to have a heart-to-heart with my daughter, I’ll often go to her room and sit on the side of her bed. I’ll begin the conversation in love, perhaps rubbing her back. In essence, I establish a “safe-zone” before diving into difficult topics.
2. Approach your child as an ally rather than a foe, making sure to communicate why you are concerned *for them*. For example, I might say something like, “I so want to see you grow up to be a happy, emotionally healthy adult.” Obviously, as parents, this is always our goal, but our kids need to be reminded of this this. It’s common for them to see us as against them—mad at them, disappointed in them, trying to control them. It's our job, therefore, to clearly express the opposite: “I'm for you, not against you, and I'm willing to walk with you through anything and everything you encounter.”
3. Encourage your child to take ownership of their purity and to seek their own solutions by asking thought-provoking questions. For example: “Why do you believe so many people struggle with pornography addiction? What do you believe is the first step toward addiction? What are some ways to protect yourself from exposure?" In short, engage your child in a calm, loving, two-way conversation where you listen and attempt to see past their words to their heart. Communicate the message that their emotional, physical, and spiritual safety is ultimately up to them.
Let’s talk about this. Did the statistics presented in this article surprise you? Maybe this is an area you’ve already researched and addressed. If so, what have you found to be helpful?
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