Parents, Talk with Your Children about Pornography.
It won’t be the easiest conversation you can have, but it’s one of the most necessary conversations you can have. Parents, we need to talk with our children about pornography.
To be clear, I’m using the word “children” on purpose. I’m not meaning, “we need to talk to 18-year-olds about pornography”, though we do. Nor am I meaning “we need to talk to 16-year-olds about pornography”, though that’s true as well. I mean, we need to have conversations with our children, pre-teenage years, about pornography.
We must not wait until after our children are exposed, and we must not assume that our children will not be exposed. Studies have shown that the average age that a child is first exposed to pornography is 11 (with some sources reporting this first happening for children as young as 8), and that by age 14, 94% of children have seen pornographic images.
Pornographic images can show up for our children due to simple mistakes, like a misspelled word on a YouTube or Google search. Or perhaps it’s while spending time with a friend, who himself has encountered it. Or it could just be curiosity. The problem that has been prevalent for many years has been exacerbated, of course, by the prevalence of smart phones and tablets, and perhaps worsened still more due to increased time at home during the pandemic. Regardless of the cause and regardless of the contributing factors, it’s an issue that must be addressed.
What’s the big deal? As Carl Trueman writes,
“The major problem of pornography is not what many religious conservatives might understand it to be—its promotion of lust and its objectifying of the participants. It certainly does both of those things, but the problem is also much deeper: it repudiates any notion that sex has significance beyond the act itself, and therefore it rejects any notion that it is emblematic of a sacred order.”Carl Trueman, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self
What Trueman is pointing to is the fact that sex is a good gift, given by God, in the context of a marriage between a husband and a wife. To make it less than this, to make it a purely physical act devoid of its God-given meaning, is to strip away its significance, to make it common, to supremely devalue it, and therefore to supremely devalue its participants and devalue its Creator.
At the same time, pornography does in fact actually train young minds to objectify the participants. Young men are being trained to objectify women, and young women are being trained to objectify men, both with decades-long consequences to follow.
In a 2018 article titled “How Pornography Affects a Teen Brain” from Focus on the Family, Danny Heurta, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, reported,
“In adolescence, the brain is easily motivated by perceived rewards. The reward pathway in the brain—the ventral tegmental area, the nucleus accumbens, and the pre-frontal cortex—is at its most sensitive state.
When stimulated, the brain releases dopamine into that pathway, creating a cascading effect of memory and motivation. The brain wants more and more. It’s ripe for addiction, impulsivity, and novelty.”
Heurta went on to write,
“Dopamine itself is not bad. It can be a very good thing. In fact, it helps with motivation, enjoyment, and managing moods. However, when dopamine is released as a result of interaction with pornography, it’s detrimental. It causes the brain to zero in on pornography above anything else.”
And the word for what that can lead to is this: Addiction. And addictions often have tragic consequences.
As that process repeats and intensifies, individuals in the real world become defined by the images on the screen. People made in the image of God are viewed as objects for my enjoyment, for my pleasure, nothing more, and nothing less. Not only is damage being done to future marriages (and it is; 56% of American divorces report one partner having an addiction to pornography), damage is being done to current relationships and individuals. The numbers of children and youth who send or receive “sexts” (text messages containing illicit images, an illegal activity that is considered child pornography) continues to rise. These young minds, trained by pornography, are expecting others who they personally know to act like the people they see on the screen.
WHAT ARE WE TO DO?
Let me suggest four things:
GET EDUCATED ON THIS TOPIC.
The Focus on the Family article mentioned above was the first in a series of four articles on this topic. I would encourage you to read each article in that series, particularly the second (“How Do You Respond to Your Child’s Suspected Porn Use?”) and the fourth (“Seven Strategies to Combat Teen Porn Use”). Other resources are available as well, including some of the excellent CCEF booklets available outside our sanctuary for free.
HAVE A CONVERSATION.
If possible, talk with your children before they encounter pornography, using age-appropriate language. But even if your children are older teens who very likely have had some type of exposure, still, have this conversation.
Be clear, be direct, be loving. Help them understand the dangers of pornography, the damage it can cause, and the lives it harms (including those on the screen), but also help them understand God’s good gift of sex. Don’t be ashamed to help them see sex as a wonderful gift from God for a husband and wife.
Outside of this particular conversation, helping your children understand the differences between needs and wants, and preparing them to grow to maturity by being able to reject the pull of instant gratification will go a long way in helping them in this battle.
SET FIRM GROUND RULES.
Particularly in terms of the use of technology, we need firm ground rules in place. A good practice may be for your family to keep handheld electronic devices and computers in the common areas of your home, along with having set times where those are not in use. To help with this, you need to model use of technology that is not addictive or constant.
Likewise, have a policy where any device can be examined by you (search history, apps, etc) at any time you choose. The goal is not to be overbearing, but to (1) let your children know you are monitoring for dangerous behavior, which is one of our jobs as parents, and (2) along the way to help our children know they are earning our trust in this area. They need to know that trustworthiness is a good thing; accountability is a good thing. This will help them succeed in many areas of life.
Finally, for this present discussion at least, consider using internet filters. Covenant Eyes or other accountability software and internet blockers can be very helpful as “fences” to help protect your kids.
KEEP POINTING YOUR CHILDREN TO CHRIST.
I give you this not as a tack-on, but as what we must ultimately do to win this battle. To root out inordinate passions and desires, our children need to be consumed with a love for Jesus.
How do we do that? Love and follow Jesus passionately ourselves.
It’s not just teens; large percentages of men and women in the church struggle with pornography as well. It is impossible for you to love and follow Jesus passionately and wholeheartedly, and be addicted to pornography at the same time. If you struggle with this addiction, your first step is to do whatever it takes to kill this addiction in yourself, using some of the same strategies listed above, while re-committing yourself to loving and following Jesus.
But for all of us, our children will see if we love Jesus with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. They know if we’re following him. And if we love him and if we follow him, we’ll be pointing them in the same direction.
Bert Watts has served since December 2016 as the Senior Pastor at Mountain Creek Baptist Church, where he has been on staff since 2012.