I’m hearing from a lot of parents these days. They reach out seeking help on how to deal with a young child they suspect has been exposed to porn. Then the question that every parent has is, “what on earth do we do about it?” So I’ve put together a bit of a first response list. There may be other things that could be on this “high priority” list but for now this is what I recommend:
1. Remain calm but proactive. Doesn’t do anyone any good to freak out! Don’t think that because your child saw porn he or she will automatically become the next Jeffry Dahmer or out of control sex addict. Remember that the average age for first time exposure is somewhere around 11 so it seems inevitable. It’s not your fault as a parent if your kid is exposed because a classmate at school has a magazine or has a smart phone with unfiltered access to the web. On the other hand if your child discovers porn on your own home computer then it may be that you haven’t thought seriously about protecting your family. Exposure at any age to porn is really a reflection of the times in which we live. The challenge is to address it in a healthy way and make sure that porn doesn’t rule the day. The worst thing we can do as parents is ignore the subject altogether and just assume that our child will get through it and be ok. This is a time to engage and provide guidance through the awkward stages of early childhood and adolescence.
2. Keep the conversation ongoing. As parents we have to keep the talk about sex and sexuality (age appropriately) going in order to correct misinformation, and keep the conversation God-focused. If we provide a safe, open, environment for conversation about puberty and body changes our kids are informed and empowered to handle ongoing encounters with porn or other unhealthy sexual messages. Ignoring the issue generally creates greater curiosity and kids are resourceful enough today that they can find the answers with a simple google search. Most likely they won’t find the answers we want them to read or the images/videos we want them to see. Make sure it’s as much of a dialogue as possible. It’s easy to want to lecture our kids on sex but that tends to be less effective. Remember too that it isn’t just one awkward conversation. It may get slightly more uncomfortable and more complicated as our kids get older. Let them ask questions and avoid the cliche, pat answers. Give them a vision of what purity looks like. With pornography comes the issue of masturbation. Tough subject, but again much is gained by open, appropriate conversation. One very good resource that I highly recommend is the Passport to Purity curriculum through Family Life Ministries.
3. Build in some protections. If you haven’t already done so you should build in some protections by installing filters and accountability/monitoring software. There are great products out there such as X3Watch, SafeEyes, Covenant Eyes, NetNanny, and OpenDNS. Keep in mind that these aren’t full-proof. But they do provide an extra hurdle for someone to have to navigate in order to access adult sites. It could also help prevent accidental exposures to the youngest people in household. Be very intentional here and set real parameters around access to the internet. Remember too that mobile devices such as ipads, ipods, iphones, and even game systems can all access the web. Be sure to keep all screens in public view and limit access in the bedrooms with doors closed. I also highly recommend that families just “go dark” for a period of time and observe a media/screen fast from time to time. This does everyone a ton of good.
4. Dad needs to be a part. I’m learning that this is far more important than most of us want to admit. Us dad’s play a vital role in helping our kids (sons and daughters) develop a healthy sexuality. That’s why it will demand that we engage wholeheartedly in the process. It means we’ll have to take the lead on many of these discussions especially with our sons. Our daughters are watching and listening too. Their very sense of self worth, body image, and assertiveness my be derived from how we as dads interact with them. So as awkward as it may be let’s make sure we are there with our girls and boys. Dads, let’s let our daughters know that they are deeply loved because they are God’s precious creation and they are inherently valuable and have immense worth. Let’s let our son’s know that they are deeply loved and called to a life of integrity and purity in the sexual arena even at an early age.
5. Keep your eyes on the prize. Obviously none of these strategies are full-proof, but it does create a bit of a wall. It also lets your kids know you are being intentional about keeping inappropriate stuff out of the home. Keep in mind the goal isn’t just behavior modification or even abstinence (although we want them to be). The goal is to shape character, help your son/daughter become people who value the opposite gender and are offended by something that objectifies them. Help them have a godly understanding of the beautiful, God-given gift of sexuality so that when they grow up they can handle it in the context of an adult, marital relationship. Doesn’t mean that our kids won’t stumble along the way, but you will have given them the tools to work with and a heart to make the right decisions in the “heat” of the moment.
Remember too that it’s not a one-time, “it’s solved” type of thing, we have to enter the journey to help our sons and daughters become healthy, young Christians who understand their bodies, sex, and how to relate to the opposite gender.
In summary: remain calm, keep an ongoing conversation, build in some protections, make dad a big part of it, focus on character and not just behavior modification.
“But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
I Samuel 16:7
Often our problem is we don’t like the sin in our lives and feel guilt and shame about it, yet we aren’t necessarily willing to do what it takes to address it. I believe this ties God’s hands in a sense because God will not force himself on us. Nor will He turn on some type of remote control and make us do what He wants us to do so. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not talking “works” here. God isn’t interested in our earning, but He is interested in our effort.
So he’s left only with our hearts. That is why the heart is mentioned so much in scripture. The amount of progress we make will be in direct correlation to how much heart we actually make available to God. In my past I half-heartedly wanted to deal with my porn problem. I kept telling God just take it away from me, just decrease my desire, or even make me impotent if you have to God! I wanted freedom but only on my terms, I was playing games with God and it got me nowhere.
It wasn’t until I found myself at rock bottom that I began to take God seriously about doing things His way. I feared that it would cost me too much. I knew it had to cost me something. That really is the big myth out there that our transformation doesn’t demand something of us. But it does. Our salvation is a FREE gift of grace. There’s no question about that! But to become a “disciple” is quite costly. Remember Jesus words, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Mark 8:34)
I knew that I would be stripped bare and broken wide open because that’s just the way God does things. He says if we truly want transformation and change it must be on His terms and it must be drastic, major, jarring, intrusive, and deep.
So there is no room for half-heartedness. I’m grateful that God accepts us where we are and I know He speaks to us over a period of time but ultimately we have to reach a point where we say okay God I see what you are up to and I’m responding. I’ll do whatever you ask. The invitation is given but it is the decision of the will to respond at the prompting of the Spirit of God.
One of the most poignent chapters in the Bible is found in Psalm 51 where David is broken over the reality of his sin. Verses 10-12 are particularly meaningful for this post:
“Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.” Psalm 51:10-12
There are three stories that have emerged in the news recently that should give us all cause for great alarm. Personally I was deeply disturbed by all three stories and what appears to be a growing trend among teenage boys and young men just entering their twenties.
Audrie Pott (15), Rehtaeh Parsons (17), and a third unnamed 16 year old girl, who is still alive were all victims of senseless, cowardly, and violent, gang rapes by their High School classmates. To add insult to injury the young males in all three cases photographed their victims and distributed the images via social media sites essentially celebrating their assaults on human dignity. In the case of Audrie Pott, the four young men who raped her, when she was passed out from drinking too much at a party, scrawled sexually explicit messages on her naked body.
Haunted by the attacks and embarrassed and humiliated by the photos both Audrie and Rehtaeh committed suicide. Suicide is a tragedy in and of itself, but we have heard other stories of teenagers taking their own lives. In fact suicide is the third leading cause of death among teenagers and young adults ages 15-25 according to the American Society of Suicidology. These stories are different in that they involve not only the tragedy of teenage suicide, but an egregious “group” violation of basic human dignity.
What I’m shaken by is the utter disregard for other human beings demonstrated by the boys accused of these crimes. I’m appalled that these boys would interpret an intoxicated, unconscious, peer as an invitation for sex. Perhaps more unsettling is the fact that these boys didn’t see their classmate as vulnerable and in need. Whatever happened to chivalry, and the notion that should I find someone in need, I do all that I can to help them, not take advantage of them, especially a female.
It’s the equivalent of looting a store of all it’s high-end merchandise in the wake of a devastating storm. Only this is far more heinous as it is the soul of a young woman who is of far greater value. Please don’t interpret my altruism as male chauvinism. I’m not suggesting that females are weaker than men or somehow inferior. I am saying that they can be more vulnerable and that violence against females young and old is a problem in our culture and has been for centuries.
A recent article by psychiatrist Dr. Keith Ablow provides some insight into why some of this generation have such a disregard for the vulnerable. He says, “Genital contact (along with brawling) is now America’s reflex antidote to losing contact. And the antidote is being peddled indiscriminately to kids, who are being dragged right out of childhood by a vicious undertow of eroticism fueled by tides of primal fear that we are not really living life at all, nor are we male, nor are we female, nor need we be troubled (just take Prozac), nor need we be distracted (just take Adderall), nor need we be anxious or bored (just take medical marijuana), nor are we responsible for ourselves (just apply for government entitlements).” (Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2013/03/11/seventeen-magazine-pushing-sex-to-12-year-olds/#ixzz2S35y33KI)
This “loss of contact,” I interpret as kids growing pretty callous, and cold toward others. There is no longer an intimacy with other human beings. We’re disconnected and thus see others as less human. Our constant online lives provide a false intimacy incapable of withstanding the weight of real life, flesh-and-blood, scenarios.
That is why I issue this plea to the young men as well as young ladies of this generation. Be courageous. Don’t go along with everything you see around you. Don’t assume that the others in your group know something that you don’t. No one ever has the right to strip someone of their dignity and then broadcast it to the world. Know that you have a right to challenge other’s behavior and if need be strike out on your own and do the right thing. Passivity must not rule the day.
Young ladies, please watch out for one another. If you see one of your peers getting in trouble it’s only decent to step in and protect them even if they have put themselves in a bad place.
Take these words to heart from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.”
The first time I wrote about this particular myth it created quite a firestorm of reaction from readers. Most of the people didn’t agree with my position and made me quite aware of their disapproval. That’s perfectly fine. I still hold the same position though. I do not believe that a spouse’s habitual viewing of porn amounts to biblical grounds for divorce. Is it sin? No doubt about it! Is it the same as physical adultery with a partner other than your spouse, no, not in my opinion or what I see in scripture.
Having said that, I would reiterate that it is still a sin to act out with porn, or carry on a virtual affair. By no means am I suggesting that an offended spouse should be okay with such illicit behavior. This is not an attempt to let a guy off on a technicality or to lessen the impact of the sin. What is important here is to recognize that even the “virtual affair,” or porn addiction, if carried on, often leads to abuse, severe neglect, and emotional, or even physical abandonment which I believe would be grounds for divorce.
There’s no question Jesus is serious about the issue of adultery. In fact he went much farther than his legalistic counterparts. The religious leaders of his day sought to perform mainly based on the letter of the law. They set the minimum standard when it came to living a life free of lust focusing on the two-party physical act alone. It helped them feel more righteous.
But Jesus set the bar much higher. He included the inner workings of the heart. The spirit of the law as it were. His goal was to let everyone know that you can’t be self-righteous about the fact that you haven’t slept around. Don’t be smug just because you haven’t been caught physically cheating on your spouse. He let his hearers know that the sin of adultery can begin in the heart long before it’s consummated in the bedroom.
It’s natural then, based on a reading of Matthew 5:27-28, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart,” to conclude that mental adultery should come with the same consequences as a physical encounter.
What we don’t want to miss here though is the point of Jesus discussion of the topic to begin with. Again, his point is to reveal to his hearers (especially those religious experts) a fuller meaning of the law. As Brad Hambrick says, “Jesus was calling on His followers to attack each sin at its root and to read the law not as a set of right actions but as a description of right values.”
Jesus’ goal was to put a spotlight on the lame hypocrisy of wayward rabbis. To poke holes in the rabbis’ inflated religious egos. Remember too that the subject of lust comes in the context of several other christian living issues. Jesus takes on anger, divorce, and how to treat enemies. In this context then it is appropriate to make the same application to lust as we would the other issues Jesus raises. Do we believe Jesus is mandating that those who hate in their heart be locked up just as someone who physically kills someone?
Finally, at the heart of this debate is a real distinction between the subjective nature of a man’s (or woman’s) mental fantasizing and actual physical intercourse. The Bible implies something mysterious about the union of two bodies that sets physical intercourse apart (I Cor. 6:16).
My practical interpretation then is that while both mental fantasizing and physical intercourse are clearly sin, the personal consequences to the offender are different. The emphasis in Matthew 5:27-28 is on the reality of the fact that both the individual who fantasizes and the individual who commits physical adultery need to repent, and seek forgiveness.
Surprisingly, there is a common myth that often persists among christians that says that there is no such thing as addiction. The argument says that we are all free to make choices. Therefore the individual just needs to choose to stop acting out sexually, drinking too much, or gambling too much. This position would go on to say that through intense Bible study and prayer you can stop the destructive behavior and never go back to it.
I tend to think we’re all vulnerable to something. It may not be as scandalous as porn, but as fallen humanity we come to the table already warped, susceptible to things that allow us to cope with this life. I’m not dismissing the reality of a God who, by his Spirit, sets people free. Nor am I downplaying the effectiveness of scripture and prayer. And I absolutely believe that we are free to make choices.
But the reality is that the very nature of addiction is such that it impacts our ability to make the appropriate decisions when we need to. That’s what makes addiction so powerful. The addict can’t rationally assess a situation and make the choice to cope with it the way a healthy, sober, person can. That’s why it seems insane when we see people who appear to be able to do the right thing doing incredibly dumb things. That’s why when someone is “sober” they’re not really sober they’re just not high at the moment. It’s only a matter of time until they find their next fix. And their brains are already making a plan. In an article from www.covenanteyes.com talking about our brains it says, “People hunt porn because they taught their brains that it is arousing, an outlet of sexual expression, and a means of escape.”
I remember hearing gospel singer Kirk Franklin’s story of porn addiction. He describes how one evening after a bit of a binge he felt bad and went and threw out his porn magazines in a nearby dumpster. Then later that same night he returned to the dumpster and fished those same magazines out of the trash. Seems crazy, right? Well, yes, and it is a bit insane! But again what the addict knows is that there is a way to get high, a way to find release, comfort, and pleasure. What the addict can’t decipher or is able to rationalize away is that the behavior is inappropriate, truly satisfying, or hurts someone else.
I’ve come across a number of definitions of porn/sex addiction and they generally sound pretty much the same. Something along these lines, “engaging in persistent and escalating patterns of sexually acting out despite increasing negative consequences to self and others.” The definition that my friends at xxxchurch.com give offers a more poignent spiritual insight though since they describe addiction as, “turning sex into an idol.” They go on to explain what that means, “turning sex into an idol means that we have come to rely on sex or sexual activities as a source of unconditional love instead of friends, family, community, or God himself.”
That really is the issue at the heart of any addiction. Setting something up in place of God. False worship, idolatry. As Dr. Tim Keller suggests in many of his writings we make sex or some thing the “ultimate” thing replacing God as the center of our world.
The reality is as long as we face uncertainty, anxiety, and pain in this life there will be the temptation to look to something other than God to rescue us and relieve us. Unfortunately people do get “hooked” on doing life that way. Our brains get altered in order to respond to life by seeking the easiest, and least emotionally costly way to cope. That’s why Romans 12:2 is such a powerful promise, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of you rmind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
If you’re wondering if you are addicted or if someone you know is check out this SEXUAL ADDICTION SCREENING test.
Believe it or not there are dudes (and chicks) out there that blame their parents for their porn struggles. Their not alone either because there are some “experts” who would agree that poor parenting is the culprit when it comes to sexual addiction. I’m not dismissing instances of childhood sexual abuse, parental abandonment, or the early exposure to sexually explicit material at the hand of a parent. These are sad realities that can’t be overlooked because they do shape the sexuality of young people.
But to use such circumstances as an excuse to continue a pattern of acting out sexually is wrong. Thankfully the circumstances which we grew up in don’t have to be the final determination of where our lives will end up. As we come of age we have the opportunity to acknowledge wounds, allow scars to heal, and to deal appropriately with our past with an eye firmly fixed on the future.
So how do we avoid the trap of blaming our parent(s) for our out of control sexuality? It may start by simply acknowledging that we live in a fallen and broken world and our parents fall into the category of sinners (just like everyone else). As much as we might think that our parents had it all together that simply isn’t the case. In many instances they did their best to keep up the facade that everything was “peachy” in Mayberry. Yet, later in life we learned that our parents had all sorts of issues. They were in process, they made mistakes, and they acted foolishly just like I have and just like you have.
Yes, in some cases truly horrific things have been done by parents. I’m not excusing any of it, but as we grow up I think we learn that all parents come to the table with their own baggage. Some of that baggage comes from the pain of their childhoods. They may have come of age when it wasn’t appropriate or acceptable to address the things that happened to them so they learned to cope. Unfortunately since their “stuff” wasn’t handled properly then the cycle simply passes on to the next generation. Reminds me of the passage in the old testament that says, “Visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.” Exodus 20:5-6
The goal for those trying to leave the blame game behind is to begin to own their junk. We don’t let it define us but we must accept that it has shaped us at some level. At the same time we have to be willing to get rid of that junk! I’ve seen that at times we choose to hang on to stuff because it makes us feel better about ourselves. While we wouldn’t come right out and say that we are still blaming our parents there’s an underlying blame game still going on.
Forgiveness and grace are a huge part of this throwing out the junk step as well. Forgiveness isn’t easy but it is essential for sobriety and a healthy new walk. Pray earnestly for this gift. Grace is also essential. The same grace that is given to every sinner is also available to our parents regardless of how badly they screwed up! Grace has traditionally been defined as, “unmerited favor”, in other words it’s something our parents could ever earn or deserve. It’s the same thing with all of us. We didn’t and could never earn God’s favor or deserve His forgiveness yet we are the beneficiaries of this divine mystery.
Stop playing the “blame game”, and stop believing this silly myth. It will keep you entangled and miserable, missing out on a life of true freedom and joy.
My quick response to this myth is, uhhh, how’s that working for ya!? Sure there are some exceptions (very few I might add!), but in general the solo approach to sobriety just doesn’t work. Here’s why, as a counselor once told me, “you’ll give in to the weasel every time!” In other words the majority of us men, if left to ourselves, will succumb to the pressure to act out. Truth is, there’s a “weasel” in all of us. The weasel rationalizes and comes up with justification for our misbehavior. The weasel lets us off the hook when it comes to holding the line on purity.
As much as we resist having someone else in our “business”, we do much better with a co-pilot, a coach, or an awesome friend on our journey toward a pure life. We need someone who won’t let us “weasel out” when things get hard. We need someone or a community of people who will speak truth into our lives even when we don’t want to hear it.
No question, it is natural to want to keep our struggle to ourselves and hope that in time the temptations subside. I get that. I did it for quite a few years myself. But it wasn’t until I began to open up about the sin that so hounded my soul that I began to see real progress toward sobriety. Quite simply, one of the most powerful things that led to breakthrough for me was that as I opened up I found that other guys would speak up too. There was an instant brotherhood and camaraderie in this. Generally you don’t experience this though unless you are first willing to be vulnerable enough to let someone hear your story first.
The Bible sheds some light on the drawbacks to going it alone as well:
“Two are better than one,
because they have a good return for their labor:
10 If either of them falls down,
one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls
and has no one to help them up.
11 Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.
But how can one keep warm alone?
12 Though one may be overpowered,
two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12)
Some might say, well I’m not really going it alone, I have God and it’s something I’m settling with Him. Of course that is part of the process. The Bible says, “Greater is he that is in you than he that is in the world.” [I John 4:4] But the Bible is also very clear about another way to help those caught up in sin. Galatians 6:1-2 says, “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently….” Verse 2, “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you fulfill the law of Christ.”
There are other references that I could draw upon. The point is that even with our deepest struggles we are far better off in partnership with others as we attempt to tackle them.
My favorite seen in the movie Gladiator is the scene where Maximus and his ragtag team of fighters are in the arena going up against multiple enemies. Before the great battle begins Maximus says, “Whatever comes out of those gates, we have a better chance of survival if we work together.”
If you’ve been believing Myth #7 you will continue to fail. Find a community, start connecting, and getting accountable. In this arena you will only survive if you work together with others.