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How to help your teenager who is addicted to pornography
Dear parent, your teenager could be addicted to porn and you have no clue. If that does not send shivers down your spine, the rest of the blog probably will. Hopefully the shivers will stir us to do the right thing and not repeat some mistakes we are currently making with pornography and our children. If you live in an urban area, there are very high chances that your teenager could be a victim of porn addiction. This article is mainly for parents with teenagers- both boys and girls. However, potential parents would benefit by reading it too. It would be proudly presumptuous to assume that every teenager in an urban area is struggling with porn- that’s not what I’m saying. I’m saying that the risks for Gen-Y and millennial kids with regards to porn addiction are higher than you think. How do I know this? I have talked to them. I have met with them. I have prayed with them and I have seen some get free from their addictions. They have written to me and I have written back. The truth is, dear parent, your child could be struggling with porn and you do not even know it. But my teenager goes to church, you say. Especially that one, I respond, that one is the dangerous kind. This article is not how to bash and corner your child. You will be surprised that the porn addiction with your son or daughter (yes even girls struggle with porn) will reveal a lot of things that you as a parent/guardian need to work on.
So, what are the signs that my child could be into porn?
- Is your child spending excessive time online especially at night? The porn industry operates in darkness.
- Does your child often quickly turn off the monitor when you walk in on them or quickly change tabs on the computer screen? You can tell this when you walk into the room and they don’t look at you. Their focus lingers on the screen so that they can safely exit the porn window before you walk up to them.
- Does your child usually lock their door when working on the computer?
- Does your child often prohibit you from accessing their computer/laptop?
- If it’s a home computer, are the history sites on the browser frequently erased?
- Is your child spending unaccounted for money online?
- Does your child have several email addresses without their real names? Several email addresses like firstname.lastname@example.org could mean multiple ghost accounts for accessing porn sites with anonymity.
- Is your teenager (especially boys) constantly gawking at female bodies in public? You can catch them doing it when they are unaware. Note, I said constantly; it’s not strange for a hormonal teenage boy to desire a female form (not that gawking is right either).
- Does your teenager spend excessive time alone on their Internet-enabled phone? Are they also very cautious and defensive against anyone accessing their smart phone?
- Is your child’s resistance to nudity and sex on TV waning considerably? Lots of experts will tell you that many adolescents who view pornography initially feel shame, diminished self-confidence, and sexual uncertainty, but these feelings quickly shift to unadulterated enjoyment with regular viewing- especially with the TV series and movies.
- Is your child excessively impatient? This is not necessarily a number one sign. However, lust through porn, is an impatient way to access delayed gratification. We don’t want to wait for sex until marriage. We want ridiculously good-looking girls and guys to be our mates (which is a lie of the media) and we are impatient to get it. Pornography offers it falsely and causes us to be dissatisfied with the mates and relationships that we have. In short, lust carries a spirit of inordinate impatience. That spirit could be with your teenage child if they are watching porn.
- Is your child’s selection of music filled with derogatory sexual words? Do the music videos accompanying this music portray women as objects of lust for a man?
Let’s get a few basics straight. Some will see no need for mentioning this but in a decadent permissive world, I have to say it whether you like it or not- pornography is evil. Pornography causes erectile dysfunction among men. Porn changes the dopamine levels in your brain. Porn causes marriages to break. Porn leads to sex addictions. Porn “exalts” women as sex objects. Porn causes men to tolerate and trivialize sexual crimes and violence especially rape of women (this is scientific by the way). The list is endless. Porn is an evil thing. After writing my second book, Lust and the City- a guide on sexual purity a lot of teenage traffic came my way. Some They ALL wanted out of porn and a life of lust. Parents, a few basic facts for those of you who may not know: Porn addiction often leads to masturbation addiction which often removes desire for commitment to one relationship. This often leads to promiscuity. Worldwide, over 97 billion USD is spent on internet porn every year. Porn kills the economy. Majority of those users are men (including husbands) and teenagers. I have written several articles on men and pornography, so we won’t dwell on that today. However, after interacting with many teens and young people and doing further research I found that the common reasons for porn addiction are:
- Bad company- Many teenagers (especially boys) admitted that a friend, cousin or uncle introduced them to a pornographic magazine or sent them a pornographic Internet URL and that marked the start of the struggle.
- Unhealthy Curiosity- It started as revision for a Biology paper but one thing led to the other. One naughty classmate suggested that they Google a picture of a nude woman to see the real thing. So the group work of nine friends found a meeting date with good Wi-Fi signal. And the rest is history! Curiosity killed the cat- all nine lives!
- Parents watching porn- A few teenagers confessed that they found a Playboy magazine in their parents room or a porn DVD that was hidden in some sacred chest of drawers. Their parents (often fathers) were watching porn and the kids are now the heirs to the throne.
- Child sexual abuse- While I haven’t met anyone who attributed this link to porn, some experts strongly believe there is a link between a child who was abused and indulgence in pornographic material. Many abused children keep mum. Be very strict on who touches your toddlers, even family.
- Bad marriages between parents- Teenagers run away from the stress of fighting parents and find some temporal relief in masturbation and pornography. They only deepen the hole they are in.
- Poor/No spiritual atmosphere in the house- Teenagers who grow up without spiritual guidance on moral absolutes know no boundaries. Everything becomes permissible to them- including porn. In their politically correct defence (often influenced by parents) they say, “I’m not hurting anybody.” They’re wrong. They are hurting themselves and their future families.
However, good company, good teaching that outdoes unhealthy curiosity, morally upright parents, zero sexual abuse, good marriages between parents and mature spirituality in a home do NOT always guarantee that a teenager will be safe from the clutches of porn. Admittedly, they offer greater strength against the evil of porn. It is said that the main defences against pornography are close family life, a good marriage and good relations between parents and children, coupled with deliberate parental monitoring of Internet use. However, children from stable families can even fall prey to porn. Why? Because porn is a lust issue and lust is a heart issue. You’re not up against the Playboy Industry; you’re up against the lust industry found in the heart of your teenager. If you are a parent and you are struggling with porn, realise that condemning the behaviour of your child will not bear fruit. You may not know it but they most probably already know that you watch porn. Teenagers have the best sense of smell for hypocrisy. If that is a personal struggle, Beloved, you need to get help first. Remember the parable that Christ Jesus used about taking care of the log in your eye before dealing with the speck in your brother’s eye? The thing with a log is that even after it is removed, it leaves innumerable specks of sawdust- so the work on you is much more. If porn is a struggle as a parent, click here to read this article first to get you started and then we can work on the child. If you are a parent and porn isn’t a struggle, thank the Lord. However, you’re not scot free yet. There is a temptation to look down at the parents struggling with porn as morally inferior to you- especially if it’s your spouse. I’d advise that we let our moral high horses gallop away and realize that even “morally sound” parents often have a share of responsibility. It could be reasons such as working to make money and neglecting your child. Whoever you are, I pray that you will remain humble and teachable throughout the blog. So how do you deal with this in the right way, dear Parent?
1. Do not jump to conclusions (The overreacting parent)
Mothers mainly fail here. You hear that your golden boy is not as shiny as you imagined and your world falls apart. So you think, “I’m the parent, they are the child! I’m having none of this nonsense.” You storm into their bedroom holding the porn magazine you found under their bed and you let your tongue do the justice. When you are done with your tirade of vocabulary, your child is screaming back at you and you are shaking with anger. And the hole is now deeper than when you first found it. If you start making conclusions without evidence, you will cause a lot of hurt and harm. Don’t assume that your child watching porn means that they are sleeping around. While it could be true but don’t take that jump without evidence. You could drive a permanent wedge between you and your child for good- especially if you are wrong (which is many times, frankly). If you are a religious leader such as a deacon, you need to be more gracious. Why? Because the Bible states in 1st Timothy 3:5 and 12 that any church leader who cannot manage and take care of their own children is not fit to take care of God’s people. Church leaders know this. When they find out that their saint of a child is into porn, they overreact and in the process make regrettable decisions such as ex-communicating the child from church and from their home. Some of those children never return home and remain angry at the Church for years (to their loss, unfortunately).
The truth is that an overreacting parent is worried about themselves more than their child. They are worried that their parenting has not borne fruit. They are worried that they will look bad if the neighbours and the congregation found out. They fear that they have failed as a parent and that their ministry will be invalidated. So because of their focus on self (pride) and worry of the future (fear) they cannot help the child. The bigger issue here could be idolizing a ministry. Parents, your child is not dead. Calm down. They got into a horrible mess and shouting and guilt-tripping them (even with scripture) won’t get them out. When was the last time you heard that a church leader stepped down from ministry to sort his family out? You see, even we adults don’t always follow the Word of God to the letter. When you overreact you don’t even consider that you could be a contributor to the problem. Pride and fear causes parents to overreact. If you fall here, this is something you need to ask the Lord to work on you before you start witch-hunting for porn-users in the house. If you have overreacted, humble yourself and apologise to your child. If you really value the relationship with your child, apologise. A complete apology starts with “I’m” and ends with “sorry.” Countering words or phrases to explain ourselves do not cement the apology, they only water it down. To say “I’m sorry but...” is to say I apologise with my lips but I am not since with my heart. Often the words that follow BUT are justifications for our well-meant words or actions. However, an apology isn’t a determiner of who is right or wrong. An apology demarcates who is hurt and who did the hurting. We apologise to restore relationships not to prove a point. To this parent, Christ would say Proverbs 15:1 “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs anger.”
2. Do not ignore the problem (The fairy tale parent)
The other wrong reaction is to ignore the problem. This is the fairy tale parent reaction. They cannot fathom that their cute 14-year-old girl is watching pornography. How can that sweet little angel do something so sick? So they play a psychological game called, “Let’s pretend it doesn’t exist.” Beloved, ignoring the weather will not change the weather. Cute daughters do horrible things and handsome sons do worse. When your car fuel light glows orange, you know that your fuel tank is almost empty. If you decide to unscrew the dashboard of the car and pluck out the orange light so that it doesn’t glow anymore, your fuel tank will not increase in gas nor will your car go further. Parents who deny the problem with their children are like drivers who try and get rid of the orange light instead of refuelling the car. The orange light is data; the problem is the fuel. Your child is into porn- that is data. They need refuelling from you and ignoring the issue won’t make it go away. You may drive for another 20 KM ignoring the orange light but it’s only a matter of time until the car jerks, gives up its ghost and refuses to move. And when that happens, you have to get out of the car and walk to the nearest fuel station 20KM to and 20 KM fro to get fuel in a container, just to get the car started- just because you ignored the issue. Denial is a cancer, Beloved. Take the bull by the horns. Delayed obedience is disobedience. Fairy tale parents have a lot of fear. They are often perfectionists (melancholics) who don’t like their perfect little world ruined. When push comes to shove, they ignore the child or force the child to see a counsellor. They don’t get involved and they don’t even want to think that their child is a porn addict. If you are here, you need to stop fearing and face your problems. How? I will show you in a bit.
3. Do not minimize the problem (The politically-correct parent)
The politically-correct parent is simply the other side of the coin of the fairy tale parent. They admit there is a problem but they minimize it. To deal with it they may say, “Porn is not as bad as making someone pregnant,” or “At least they are not hurting anyone,” or “They are not infants anymore, let them make their choices and they will learn later.” This parent is inadvertently signing the death wish of their children. This kind of parent most probably grew in a very strict environment and vowed to never be like their own parents. So they disdain at parents who spank their children. They also believe that the goal of life for everyone is to be happy at whatever expense. They basically live out the freedom they never had through their kids, unknowingly destroying their children in the process. Parents, don’t give your daughters condoms because you grew up in a society where looking at boys was a crime. It may look admirable but the truth is that, that is reactive parenting. It’s not active parenting. Your options are based on your feelings are not on objective evaluation. If your teenagers are into porn, it is a problem. It isn’t a small issue. It’s isn’t better than abortion. It a heart issue. If this parent does not familiarize themselves with the intricate issues of sex, they will never see their error. For them sex and porn are merely flesh-on-flesh experiences. So to them abortion is a getting rid of an unwanted problem. Sex is releasing a need in your body and porn is expressing a feeling of happiness. But truth has no alternative, neither is it relative. Abortion is murder, sex is a powerful emotional and spiritual process and porn is a home-wrecking industry that is strongly empowered by lust. Call a spade a spade, dear parent.
4. Do not break down (The enmeshed parent)
The other wrong reaction is to blame yourself for everything. This is the enmeshed parent; they cry, “Wherever did I go wrong?” They say if only they were stricter. If only they had been more involved. If only, if only, if only. They lose precious time in the present by worrying about the future and lose even more precious time in the future by regretting about the past. Such a parent can even shift the focus of the porn addiction away from the true victim (the addicted teenager) to themselves. They could even gather the people who are to help the child to support them instead. They become the focus of the problem and crave for the sympathy of those around them for the unfortunate ordeal that happened to their child. Again, I say, your child is not dead. This is not humility. It is pride. Don’t be fooled by the parent who beats themselves up. They are enmeshed and they need to actively help the child. A child sees an enmeshed parent and they feel guilty. So they refrain from porn for a while but in a matter of time, they return to it and just make sure they are more careful not to get caught. They can live with the guilt of porn now but they can’t live with the guilt of seeing their mother crying. The enmeshed parent isn’t helping the child; if anything, he/she is making the child feel less healthy shame and less healthy guilt towards the evil of porn. They are sucking the attention and helping the teenager become a crafty addict.
5. Do not blame others (The irresponsible parent)
This parent looks for someone to blame. Fathers are often guilty of this. They blame the mother and say, “You’re not being a good mother, that’s why our son is like this.” This is what I call the Adam-syndrome. If you are a man who has blamed your wife for the immoral outcome of your child, you ought to be ashamed of yourself, Beloved. It takes two to parent in a marriage. The excuse that you are working hard to provide and have no time to watch over your son reminds me of Adam who blamed Eve yet he ate the fruit. You have to repent of this, dear parent. You need to see that your lack of attention has a role to play in the process. Being cold, distant and harsh does not solve the problem. We don’t fight darkness by barking and shouting at it- we introduce light. Mothers can play the blame game too. They may say something like, “If you were a better father who was around this wouldn’t happen.” The shock of the unrepentant irresponsible parent will be on that final Judgement day when they stand before a Holy Father who requires them to account for the children he gave them as a gift. God forbid they give an Adam response, “This spouse that you gave me...” Adams even blame a Holy God for their problems. The irresponsible parent tends to use intimidation and fear to punish the child hoping that they will change. They send the child to sleep without food. They ban all Internet and TV use. They take away their smart phone. They banish them from using the computer. They take away their laptop. Guess what, if you take away the computer, your child will watch the porn in the neighbour’s house. Fighting the child this way is dealing with symptoms and maintaining the root problem- a lustful corrupt heart. This parent tends to shame the child. They call every aunty, uncle, neighbour and announce how their kid is addicted to porn and how they can’t believe it. This parents makes themselves feel better by removing all blame from themselves. Don’t do this, Beloved. If you shame your child, be assured that no amount of saying sorry will take away the scars in their life. This parent can also be self-righteous and tell the child things like, “I never did such nonsense when I was your age.” Once again, you need to allow the moral high horse to gallop away, dear parent. How? I will now show you.
6. Take initiative (The godly parent)
You found out that your teenager been watching porn. Firstly, realize that you are the parent. That means we will not have screaming matches with the teenager to see who has the highest decibels. This is a child given to you by God. You have authority over them but you also have a mandate to love them. I’ve often heard that parenting is an incredibly unrewarding process- I believe that helps us to practise our faith muscles and to love unconditionally. You need to fuse love and mandate. If you use affection alone, you will spoil the child. If you use authority alone, you will break the child. If you use both like Christ, you will build the child. The prerequisite to handling the issue is to meet with your spouse and talking it over first. Let all the motions and emotions occur when the child is not present because they are possibly violent or hurtful at the onset. Your spouse is your team partner. You blame them, you lose. Let your anger, hurt and frustration cool down. This does not mean you do not let the child know how hurt and angry you are later. We can express anger, frustration and hurt in healthy non-sinful ways. Discuss the issue with your spouse. If you are a single parent, you can do it alone, but I suggest you get the spiritual leader in case you tend to overreact or become enmeshed. If you are both born-again Christian, take a fast and pray together. If your spouse is unreasonable, you may need a third party in this first meeting. A sound spiritual leader is my advice. Plan for a meeting with the child and plan what to say and what NOT to say. You want a restored child not a scarred one.
- So step one is to confront the child. Ask to meet the child in a comfortable environment. Take them out for a lunch in their favourite restaurant. If you suspect they may cry, do it in private, at home- in their room. Remember, we don’t want to shame the child. Porn brings enough shame when confronted already.
- Secondly, be direct about the issue when you start discussing it. Maintain a calm voice. You can practise this before you meet the child and ask the spiritual leader or your spouse to judge your tone. If your spouse is the overreacting type, you could agree to hold their hand under the table during the confrontation and constantly squeeze it when you feel that they are lording over the child. Let them know how you know that they are into porn- don’t show the evidence yet until there is a confession (a genuine one). Be patient because addicts often deny their problems. If you are calm and gentle, they will confess. If they don’t confess despite being calm and gentle, reveal the evidence. This is a failsafe that often works.
- Thirdly, upon admittance, question the child patiently inquiring about the history of the porn. “When did this begin?” Inquire about company; “Who introduced you to porn?” Call the thing as it is. Don’t call it bad manners or bad things. Call it porn. The child may cry here and it is okay- even boys may cry. Harsh and overbearing parents may be irked by this. Once again, let the moral high horse gallop away; it could be you in this situation. Comfort your child and let them know that you are upset by what they did but you forgive them. Remember, forgiveness that has to be earned is not forgiveness at all. The bonafide signature of forgiveness is unmerited pardon. Forgiveness cannot be earned by begging sympathetic cries of the offender, appeasing gifts or placating pleas to consider letting the hurt go. Why? Because forgiveness may be free but it is priceless. Forgiveness that has to be gained is unforgiveness at best. It has its roots in the soil of pride and is enriched in the manure of hurt. The trick isn't necessarily to swallow one's pride but rather to vomit it out and have it out of your system. Forgive your child without conditions. It is vital to establish the root cause of the porn especially if it is friends. You may need to talk to their parents if you can access them.
- Fourthly, show the child the implications of their addiction to porn. Even if they say they are not addicted, let them know the implications. Let them know the physical implications. Let them know the spiritual and the emotional implications. Let them know how lust will make them pay more than they are willing to spend, take them further than they are willing to go and make them stay longer that they are willing to reside. Teach your child about sex if you have never done it. Sex can’t be taught in one seating, by the way. Let them also know that their relationship with God is fractured by sin. You need to prepare to lead them back to God, dear parent. If you don’t know how to do that, you need to learn how to.
- Fifthly, help the child initiate a restoration program. As you do this, constantly affirm the child that you love them and that you want the best for them. You will be surprised that genuine Grace does not give them freedom to sin but rather empowerment to live. The teenager may come up with vague initiatives and that’s okay. That’s why they are the child and you are the parent. Guide them. Don’t give in to your anger and say things like, “That’s a stupid plan! It will never work.” Avoid sarcasm and avoid offensive non-verbal cues such as rolling your eyes and tapping your fingers impatiently. Also, do not accept promises. Promises don’t make you capable; they only make you accountable. Jesus cautioned against making promises in the Sermon on the Mount. He said let your yes be yes and let your no be no.” And if your child is walking with Christ you know that when Jesus say (sic) yes nobody can say no! Here are a few solid suggestions that you can enforce lovingly as a parent:
- Replace their Internet-enabled phone with a regular feature phone as you monitor growth.
- Set schedules times in the day to access the computer. Restrict night-surfing.
- Download porn filters for your computer from websites such as coventeyes.com, xxxChurch.com and x3watch.com
- Review the entertainment in your house. As a rule, my wife and I do not indulge in televisions series that mock marriage and glorify lust even if it’s by a Christian Producer or Director.
- Set aside time to help your child grow spiritually. E.g. A weekly Bible Study. You could also buy a helpful book on lust that is doctrinally sound- you could grow together with your kid. The child can invite his/her friends struggling with the same. It is wise to let their parents know in advance. Some parents can be difficult in having someone else talk to their kids about sex and lust. For the books to study I recommend The Purity Principle by Randy Alcorn, I kissed Dating Goodbye by Joshua Harris and Lust and the City by yours truly :-)
- Pray with your child because the prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective (James 5:16).
This post was over 4800 words but I’m glad you took time to read it. Feel free to leave your wisdom and take outs in the comment section below. And if you care, do share. Strokes of the pen for the glory of His name!