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.
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?