Porn 101: Parenting Edition

*This is part 3 of a 4-part series on Pornography. The first two are: Porn 101: Waking Up and Porn 101: Marriage Edition.

As a parent, recent news and research on porn use amongst children has sent me in to some slight moments of panic. Just a weeks ago I read this article and for days could not get out of my mind the level of pornographic use among 8-12 year olds. The sexual slang children now know is shocking. I also read this article and just felt sad, for a whole week, about the sexual devastation young people are dealing with… especially young women.

But one thing kept leaping off the screen as I read these shocking articles: this is preventable. Raising a child who is free of porn is possible. But, the key factor is us, not them.

This is personal for me, of course, because I have two young sons. So, it is not just an abstract scenario but a very real and present reality. Here are my thoughts as we are raising our boys to be free of the devastation of porn. All of this is built on the foundation of my strategy to talk to kids about sex: Early, Openly and Often.

In the area of porn, two words have been guiding my husband and I: EQUIP and PROTECT.


By: Brian Snelson

The goal of parenting is not just to protect them from all harm and potential danger. It is a goal but not the goal. In everything we do, there is that ever present reality as parents: they will leave us! So, we need to parent with their departure in mind.

Raising a child that has never seen porn, heard of porn, or know about porn is not success. In fact, that is the biggest failure I can imagine (apart from not seeing it). The goal is a child who becomes an adult that has the strength and wisdom to navigate these waters apart from Mom and Dad’s watchful eye.

First: Equip them with the What, Why and How
By the time our children are adults, they should know the what, the why and the how.

What: I think they should have a clear understanding of what porn is and what the reality is of the world out there.

Why: They should know, at a heart level, why it would bring them more joy, life and pleasure to avoid porn as opposed to engaging with porn.

How: They should be equipped with the skills necessary to reinforce their own decisions to avoid porn as an adult.

So prepare yourself, parents. We will need to explain pornography so that our children know about it. Start in little ways and explain more as the years go by. We started early with our sons. When we had the first “official” sex talk my oldest son, my husband laid the groundwork even then. He told him about sex and that it is good but some people do things which cause harm. That there are even bad things on the internet which our whole family tries to avoid, that is why Mom and Dad want to be there when he Googles things for a school project.

Second, deal with the heart.

Porn is a heart issue. So often, we as adults, look to porn to because of internal issues: intimacy avoidance, dealing with anger, masking loneliness, numbing pain, coping with depression, handling stress… the list goes on.

Equipping our children to deal with their internal struggles in a healthy way is just as much preparing them for a porn-filled world as computer filters are. Slowly and patiently help your child learn how to deal with sin, pain and loneliness in healthy ways. This young girl’s story is common, “’I remember the feeling of being sucked in, really wanting that two-minute fix, that numbness I got when I used porn…I was stressed out…”

I have a son who struggles with emotional self-control. We like to say he is “sensitive”. But if he is emotionally upset, he can fly off the handle. This is a porn issue for me. I’m asking, “will he learn to handle hurt and pain in healthy ways so that he won’t run to porn to cope with it?” (this obviously is relevant to other areas and addictions as well).

So, we are equipping them with the what, why and how and dealing with the heart issues. We also need to protect them. Our goal is to not just to protect but also to be open about it so that the tools can be taken up by them as adults.

This story is common: “Jamie was ten years old when he saw his first pornographic sex scene. During a sleepover, a classmate offered to show him ‘some funny pictures’ on his laptop. ‘At first I found it a bit scary and a bit yucky,’” Some Mother’s tell stories of how their son would be in their room, privately looking at their laptop for up to 6 hours a day. Children explain that when a friend tells them a word they don’t know, they simply Google it. Googling is what we all do, right? But what if the term is “oral sex” or “anal sex”? Imagine the myriad of pictures and videos that instantly display for them to see and explore. This scenario is preventable.

There is a common core to these scenarios and so many others: Internet and Friends

In regards to the internet: make it a public and community event. Practical advice I’ve been given and utilise:

  • If your child has access to a computer, put it in a public place. I put our computer right in our kitchen/dining room area, the most public are of our whole house. I would advise to never to put a computer in a child’s room or other private place.
  • Put filters and protection software on that computer and all other internet enabled devices.
  • All other devices that are not theirs but they could have access to: password protect them. I have an iPod touch. Sometimes my boys play Angry Birds on it. I put a password on it simply so that they will have to ask me to unlock it every time they want to play… this makes me aware of when they are on an internet enabled device. I don’t want them sneaking off to play Angry Birds and accidentally land on something they can never forget and I am none the wiser.
  • Think long and hard about what age you want them to have a smart phone, iPod or tablet device of their own. The devices can be taken in to private places and thus become more of a temptation.
  • Talk to them clearly and openly about the dangers of Googling words and phrases they don’t know. Encourage them and demonstrate that they can ask you about anything they hear from friends or anywhere else.
  • In all of these things: be open about what you are doing and why.

In regards to friends:
This is more difficult. The reality is that we cannot completely prevent a friend from exposing our children to things. We can attempt to safeguard. More importantly, we can equip our children how to respond if they find themselves in a situation. My ideas:

  • For their closest friends: ask the other parents what their strategy is in regards to internet use. This could be awkward but it’s important. Simply ask,”What access to computers, phones and video games will my son/daughter have when our kids are playing?” Ask direct questions, “Does your child have a computer in their room? Will our kids be playing any video games together?”
  • Starting at a young age, explain to them how to deal with situations where they are exposed to conversation, videos or pictures which they know to be wrong. Teach them how to simply walk away, with no explanation needed. This is something your child does not need to explain to their friends. Our oldest son recently told us of a kid who keeps bringing up uncomfortable subjects. Amongst other things we have done, we explained and rehearsed how to simply walk away saying, “I just remember that I’ve got to go do something”. I don’t like that he’s in these situations but I’m aware that this skill is something that will serve him for the rest of his life.
  • Be intentional about developing friendships with other families that are just as open about porn use as you are. This creates a huge safety in the friendships that your children have!

Let us all Equip and Protect our children for life, not just for today. There is so much more that can be said! What ideas do you have?

Porn 101: Waking Up

The world we live in today is so different than the past. Especially in regards to pornography.

I remember, not so long ago, my husband and I counselling a young married couple. The husband had an ongoing struggle with porn. After we had talked and prayed for a while we worked with them to set some practical safe guards. One of the main ones was that he wasn’t allowed to fill up his car with fuel. Why? Because that was where the most accessible porn was for him.

By: Ahmed Sinan

This advice is now so antiquated. Today, the gas station is the LEAST accessible place to get porn. Porn is now easier to get than water. I actually have to stand up and go to the sink to get water. With porn I just reach in my pocket, pull out my phone and there it is. The game as changed. We need to change too.

Porn is no longer simply seeing a lady, in underwear, in a catalogue. Nor is it a trivial issue we should snicker about because “boys will be boys”.

Let’s be honest, this is what porn is and does:

Porn is Everyone’s Problem:

In the U.S. alone there are 40 million regular users of pornography. An average of $14 billion is spent per year on porn. This is more than the amount spent on professional baseball, basketball and football, combined. And get this: most porn isn’t even paid for, 80-90% of people get porn for free. The reality is that 95% of men and 40% of women (and growing) have seen it. If you are a man between the ages of 17-35, there is a 70% chance you’ve looked at porn this week. Combine those odds and it virtually guarantees that either you or your (potential) spouse have actively engaged with porn at some point.

I teach young people from my missions organisation on relationships. These students are the top tier. They are the most motivated, and passionate Christians out there. They are willing to travel to hard places and live in incredible hardships, all for their faith. The above stats are basically what I have experienced in teaching hundreds of these wonderful people.

Porn is Addictive:

The latest research shows us the reality of this, it is not just a compulsion. Porn is an addiction akin to cocaine or heroin. In fact, the latest research shows that porn has the exact same affect, if not worse. Scientists are realising that porn is an addiction taken in through the eyes. Chemically, it releases both dopamine (same as in cocaine) and opiates (same as in heroine). This double whammy makes it highly addictive.

Porn is Progressive:

Because porn actually affects our brain chemistry it can develop very real chemical changes in our brains regarding our sexual attractions. Porn is different than, say, cigarettes. A smoker can tell you their brand and how many packs they smoke a day.  It generally doesn’t change. But pornography is built on novelty. You rarely find a man or women addicted to certain, single pornographic picture. Once sucked in to repetitive porn viewing, they are always on the pursuit to find newer and more novel forms of porn to get the same effect as before. Thus the porn gets more severe and unusual in order to create the same satisfaction.

Porn is Destructive:

As we have seen thus far, porn is not a small problem. The true danger, though, lies in the effect on actual lives and relationships.

Well known pastor, Dr. Russell Moore, recently recounted that in the past he would counsel couples that were having sexual problems because the wife did not desire sex as much as their husbands. Now, he finds the complete opposite. Men no longer desire sex with their wives because either; (a) she doesn’t look like the porn pictures and they are no longer turned on by her or (b) they have depersonalised sex and no longer desire to engage in sex with a real person.

Even non-Christians are seeing the destruction. Professor Gail Dines says, “When you interview young women about their experiences of sex, you see an increased level of violence: rough, violent sex. That is directly because of porn, as young boys are getting their sexual cues from men in porn who are acting as if they’re sexual psychopaths. Pornography is sexually traumatising an entire generation of boys.”

Porn is a Liar:

Porn treats people like objects for your own personal viewing pleasure. In porn they are not people of value because they are made in the image of God. When we view porn, we are a user. A user of God’s precious people for our own personal pleasure.

Porn also tells us the lie that the goal of sex is about satisfying your own sexual appetite. This is selfish lust not unselfish love. Porn says that it is ok to make sex about what I want and crave. As Dr. Russell Moore says, “Pornography promises orgasm without intimacy”, that this will truly satisfy. Ultimately this lie rots our soul and destroys our own life and the lives of others.

Finally, with porn we delude ourselves. We believe it won’t entice me. It won’t happen to my relationships. Or the big whopper of them all for some of us… last time was the last time, I will never do it again.

My next three posts will be some of my practical ideas on living with hope in a porn-filled world in marriage, raising children and as a single person.

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Let’s Talk About Sex: With Your Kids

Recently, the web has been ablaze with panicking parents and worried sociologists.  All around the issue of children and porn use.

The latest research and studies can be fear inducing… 8 year olds addicted to porn, really!?! (Yes, too often, porn starts early, is addictive and changes futures). Without a doubt the world our children are growing up in is a completely different world than the past.  The stakes are higher and the rules different. The parent that denies this reality does great harm to their child, without exception, in my opinion.

But what is a parent to do?  Should we walk up to our 8-year-old and begin talking about porn?!

I think what we do today has the same foundation as in all generations past, start with the basics.  If we don’t talk about relationships, love, and sex we can never get to the issue of porn.

In the hundreds of articles I have read about porn use, I also couldn’t help but notice that often there were basic things that could have been done. I’m not blaming all the parents but the reality is this; if something can’t be done to prevent this then we should just throw in the towel.

What can be done?

We as parents can take our cues from the ancient book. In the Bible, there is a man named Paul who is my hero in the area of dealing with complicated sexual issues. He ministered in highly sexualised cultures in Asia.  Paul was the church leader who found himself dealing with church members who were having sex with their mother-in-law and flaunting it (1 Cor 6:1). It’s the first Cougars with a family twist! Reality TV dreams of situations like this.

early-openly-oftenFrom Paul’s writings in the the Bible I have observed that his strategy was basically this: Talk about sex early, openly and often.  Paul quickly jumped in to the issue of sex with his people, constantly talked about sex, and openly talking about sex.

I think his principals can give us a grid for raising our own kids today.

Here’s some thoughts on the “early, openly and often” strategy.

Human development studies suggest that we talk about sex earlier than you might think.  The average age suggested from both religious and non-religious sources is between the ages of 8 and 9.  If you add to that, the amount of sexual content available to our children, I believe it is even more relevant to begin the discussion about sex and relationships earlier rather than later.  This sets the foundation to continue to add more information as they grow older.  We want our sons and daughters, when faced with comments or information from friends to say, “Oh, I know all about that stuff, my Dad talks to me about it”  instead of standing there with wide eyes and a confused mind and heart.

Being honest and open is always the best strategy.  Using code words and beating around the bush only confuses.  It might feel awkward to us as parents.  But, we need to be the adults they need us to be and not act like an immature playmate who explains sex in code words and immature giggles.  What can we be open about?  In age appropriate ways we explain what sex physically is, when sex happens, how sex is fun and makes us feel good, and how sex can be a burden and bring pain.  Not all of this needs to happen at 8 years old!  But, through the years this openness about sex needs to pervade our conversations.

I have asked many, many people how they found out about sex.  Of those that heard from their parents there were basically two categories.  The first is parents that sat down, explained things and never spoke of it again.  The second are parents that had the big explanation but also had an ongoing conversation through the years.  Of those that had parents that spoke of sex in an ongoing manner, I find they are healthier and can be more open today about their sexuality.  My husband and I, in our own family try to find little opportunities to talk about things that pertain to sex.

Here are a few resources we have found helpful in explaining sex to our boys:
Two helpful articles from Focus on the Family here and here.
A very detailed article on how and what to talk about at each age.
Information from the perspective of human development.

Coming soon I will be giving more detailed thoughts and strategies for raising children in a porn filled world.

When being a bad Mom is a good thing.

A few years ago I was commiserating about my children. Do you ever have those moments? I mean, they are wonderful, I love them, I couldn’t imagine life with out them. If I am honest as a parent, I see their areas of growth.

I had been working on them very deliberately on admitting mistakes, owning their actions and apologising (with eye contact, full admission, the whole nine yards!). After several months, I actually felt like they were going backwards. Lots of blame, mumbled “I’m sorries” and don’t even hope for eye contact… that seemed just too much to ask.

I was wallowing in my parenting failure, adjusting my expectations on what success could look like. Finally, as a last resort I took it to God (will I ever learn?!).

God’s response to my frustration was swift and in the form of a question. “How do they know what this is supposed to look like?”.

I was just as swift and prepared to answer! “Well, I have explained it to them a hundred times, I’m quick to jump in and gently guide… I even give them a script to repeat after me! They just won’t do it! They’ve obviously got a genetic disorder that prevents them from saying ‘I’m sorry’ and admitting mistakes!”

i_was_wrongAnd then God laid his gentle hammer on my blindness, “How do they know what it is supposed to look like if they’ve never seen it in you?”.

Oh… gulp.

I let it sink in. I couldn’t think of the last time I apologised to them. This wasn’t because there was a shortage of things to apologise for. But it became even bigger. When was the last time I confessed a sin to them about anything? When was the last time, in our nightly prayer times, I asked for them to pray for me about an area of growth I was working on? When was the last time I told them, “I had a bad day today, I hurt someone with my words”.

This wasn’t about me burdening my kids with my adult problems. But it was about showing to them the level of humility, transparency and ownership that real relationships require.

How would they know how to walk in humility and weakness if they had never actually seen it in action? Especially from their own parents.

The clincher was this. Telling them, with my words, that there is grace for sin and mistakes is not enough. Why? Because Mom is demonstrating with her facade of perfection that there really isn’t grace to be broken and imperfect.

I now realise a new truth. Often the most powerful demonstration that there is grace in our house is not Mom saying, “You’re forgiven”, it is Mom saying “I need forgiveness”.

Here are 4 things I did over the next months and years to reverse course in our house:

  1. I asked the Holy Spirit to convict me of when I sinned against my children. When that happened I immediately went to them, got on their level, looked them in the eye, admitted what I had done, and asked for their forgiveness.  This was not always easy. Often they had also sinned against me and I wanted to focus on that!

  2. I asked for them to pray for me at night. Each night we read the Bible and pray. I now occasionally say something like this, “Boys, I’ve really been struggling with coveting… wanting what others have for myself. Will you please pray for me?” (Their eyes got as big as saucers the first time I said this which was encouraging and convicting at the same time)

  3. When we read the Bible we often stop and talk about what is happening in the passage. If there is a bad or good behaviour to be learned from I will sometimes say something like this: “I want to obey God like Abraham did in that story. I’m going to pray and ask God to give me the courage to do that.”

  4. In general conversation I try to be more open about mistakes and failures. Not a big heavy or all the time. Simply saying, “I had an interesting day, I said something that hurt a friends feelings and felt terrible. It was hard but I eventually went to them and made it right.” Even better, find opportunities to apologise to my husband in their full hearing and sight. It’s as simple as saying, “I’m sorry, babe, that tone of voice sounded rude, forgive me.”

What are your ideas on how to create a home of vulnerability and grace?