5 “First Response” Strategies for Parents
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.