Article Nov 14, 2016

I just caught my kid looking at pornography

It’s a day that you prayed wouldn’t come. You discover that the search history on your computer or phone shows that it has. Your child has been searching for internet pornography. Sadly, this is somewhat of a right of passage for many parents today, and Christians are not immune.

A highly sexualized culture, combined with the expanse of technology, leaves our families vulnerable in a way that is unprecedented. While we can (and should) take every step in our power to prevent our children from gaining access to porn, we ought to prepare ourselves for the possibility of them seeking it out.

Get the conversation started

The best way you can help this conversation go smoothly is to already be in conversation with your child about pornography. They need to understand what the Bible says about sexuality and the dangers of pornography. They need to know how pornography is oppressive to women (and men), that it contributes to world-wide sex slavery, and that it communicates untruths about sex that can potentially destroy us.

Our children need to understand that sex is not something to be ashamed of, but that God made it for a particular context—marriage between a man and a woman. Pornography rips it from that context and turns it into something base and evil.

If we aren’t already having this conversation with them, we’re doing them a great disservice. It’s entirely possible that your child is looking at pornography now, but just hasn’t been discovered. Have you opened the conversation enough to find that out now? Ask questions today. Finding out in the early stages can help them before they get in deeper.

So, what should you do when that actually happens?

1. Don’t freak out. Often, it is the kneejerk reaction of parents to be overly severe, surprised, astounded and just loud when they discover that their child has looked at pornography. I would encourage you to try to remain calm when talking with them. If you have caught them in the act, this may be especially difficult. If you’ve discovered this when they aren’t around, wait until you’re calm to talk with them.

Freaking out will likely scare your child, demonstrate that there is no grace to be found with you and drive them into greater secrecy. Staying calm communicates that you love them and that the door is open for future conversations about it.

2. Show compassion. When counseling students, I cannot count the number of conversations I’ve had with a high school guy who is broken over his pornography struggle. These are believing young men with godly fathers who would be quick to offer help to their sons. So I counsel them to go and talk to their father, but they are always reluctant to do so. This is usually because of the potential awkwardness and fear that they will be met with severity. Let’s prove them wrong with kindness, love and grace when they come to us in repentance.

This isn’t the heart of every student, though. Sometimes the student caught sees nothing wrong and is unrepentant. Yet, they also need compassion. They need compassion because they don’t understand the gravity of what they’ve involved themselves in. Our heart should go out to them. And if we plead with them instead of lecture them, it will communicate compassion. If someone were in the dark, walking toward the edge of a cliff, you wouldn’t lecture them, even if they thought they knew better. You would plead with them.

Compassion shows a student that you are for them. Offering grace and love to the struggling, downcast student, shows that you are for them. And pleading with the hardened student communicates the same.

3. Act. Then, you need to do something. Making no movement toward helping them simply leaves open the temptation and opportunity for them to go after pornography again. Install filter and accountability software, and use a parental control device with your router. You might need to take their devices away for a time or change the settings on them. Show your children that, because you love and are for them, you are willing to take steps to help them.

4. Carry on. Students deal frequently with guilt and shame when they’ve failed in this way. One of the most important things that we can convey to our students is the hope that they have in Christ. “You however, are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of Christ dwells in you” (Rom. 8:9a). God has given a Helper to us. The indwelling Holy Spirit gives us the power to fight sin and to obey God’s commands in all things, including purity. Give your son or daughter hope that they can, by the Spirit, fight sin in their life.

And as a parent, exert that same hope in your own life through prayer. We can apply filters, set up boundaries and protect our children to the best of our ability, but it is only through the saving work of the Holy Spirit that true change can happen. So as you do all of those things, be prayerful that God would work and that your whole family would be marked by purity.