How should I respond if my child sees pornography?

3 opportunities for parents

November 9, 2021

How should I respond if my child sees pornography? This is an important question I am asked often as a counselor. For the purpose of this article, however, I want to ask the question in a slightly different way that I feel is more helpful, or at least more accurate, to many parents’ experiences.

“How should I respond when my child sees pornography?”

Instead of if, let’s say when. It’s a slight change but most likely the reason you are reading this article. Reframing the question this way helps you as a parent be prepared for what will likely be your reality as you raise your children in this digital age.

Whether it is an accidental glimpse of an image, a classmate sharing something on their phone, or a curious search on their own phone, laptop, or tablet, your child will likely see porn. Pornography is readily available, and sadly, statistics tell us that the average age of the first exposure to porn is just 11 years old. In most cases, this happens in the child’s own home. As a parent, your response when this happens is very important. In light of that, allow me to offer one more reframe. 

When your child sees pornography, instead of considering the situation a crisis, see it is an opportunity to shepherd your child. It may be an opportunity you wish you could avoid and never had, but, like many moments in parenting, this situation can lead you to deeper dependence on the Lord for wisdom, discernment, and grace. Though you may experience many emotions — saddened that your child has been preyed upon by such a wicked industry, scared of how this experience may affect your child, and angry that this is your new reality — I urge you to prayerfully see the chance you have to turn for good what the world means for evil. As a parent, you can use this as a teaching opportunity, a gospel opportunity, and an opportunity for change

A teaching opportunity

When you find your son or daughter has viewed or was shown pornography, you have an opportunity to teach and guide them biblically about sexuality. Teach them about the sinfulness of our hearts and minds and the need to submit desires to God’s good plan (James 1:14; Psalm 25:4-5). 

It’s an opportunity for you to teach your child about their own sexuality and God’s good design for sex. Talking to kids about anything related to sex can be uncomfortable. Often, parents feel unsure of what to say or how much to explain. Sometimes they worry about sharing too much. Other times, they wonder if their kids know more than they realize. 

The best way to talk to your kids about sex is to talk early and often. Avoid making the conversation a one-time event. Instead, let these talks be short, intentional, and as often or regular as needed. One-time, event-like talks tend to create an environment where sex is talked about once and never again. 

Help them to understand that sex is God’s design, and having an interest or curiosity about the subject doesn’t mean they are bad. It means they are human. Avoid conversations that communicate that sexual interest is bad. Instead guide them in understanding that sex has a God-designed, proper place. Teach them God’s plan for sex within marriage between a husband and a wife; these two things always go together (Hebrews 13:4), and that God sets wise and loving parameters around sex for our good and the good of others.

Instruct them in what it means to honor God with their desires and their bodies — and what it means to honor others’ bodies (1 Cor. 6:20). Teach your child what are appropriate and inappropriate pictures; this includes pictures they see of others or have taken of themselves. It is an opportunity to teach them about the incredible value people have as image-bearers and how we should never use other people — or pictures of them — in ways that do not honor them or the God who made them (Gen. 1:27; Psa. 139:4; Rom. 12:10). 

A gospel opportunity

This is also a gospel opportunity. The hope and forgiveness of Christ meets us in our sin, and you have an amazing occasion to bring this gospel to your child when you find out they have viewed pornography. The fact that porn even exists shows just how far our hearts have strayed from the Lord and reminds us of how much we all need Jesus. 

Communicate to them that pornography is a sin, and like other sins, it points directly to our need for Jesus. Viewing pornography is not an unforgiveable sin, but it reveals a need for cleansing, and we are all offered that freely in Jesus. 

Whether your child saw pornography willingly or accidentally, it is an opportunity for you to remind them of the forgiveness we have in Jesus. People who make or engage in porn can have their sins totally forgiven. And children who curiously explored pornography can also find abundant grace from God when they confess and repent. Remind them of the promise of 1 John 1:9 that says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” The kindness of God is available for all who turn to him.

An opportunity for change

Finally, when your child sees porn, it is also an opportunity for change. As Christian parents, we pray the first and most significant change is spiritual. If your child has not trusted Christ, then a new heart born of his Spirit is their first need. And, if your child is a believer, this is an opportunity for them to draw near to Jesus in places in their lives that may have been kept hidden until now. It opens the door to a new and deeper commitment to repentance and following God in their life. If your child’s relationship with the Lord has been indifferent or superficial, pray for heart change to come about as a result of the discovery or confession of pornography. The Lord uses discoveries like this to draw people out of darkness and into his marvelous, healing light (Psa. 32:3-5; 1 Pet. 2:9). 

Christian parents long for God to use situations like this to bring deep internal transformation in the heart of their child. While heart change is the most important goal, finding out your child has viewed porn is also an opportunity to make needed external change. 

Consider this as an opportunity to begin evaluating or implementing family parameters around screen use. Is your home internet service secured with protection and filtering against pornographic content? Consider installing software to help secure your network and devices (Some examples include Covenant Eyes or Circle.). 

Other needed changes may be where your child uses their Wi-Fi-enabled devices and how much time they are allowed to spend on them. Educate yourself on what are healthy limits, and start implementing them. There are websites and agencies designed to help parents navigate this. The Federal Communications Commission and other government agencies have valuable resources to help parents keep kids safe and guide them in setting reasonable limits. 

You can also pick up a copy of two small books I have written for parents on the topics of sex and screens. Raising Teens in a Hyper-Sexualized World helps parents of elementary, preteens, and teens have conversations about the messages of sex that bombard kids today. Raising Kids in a Screen-Saturated World provides helpful tips for bringing wise and managable balance to screen use.  

But finally, when you find yourself asking the questions, “What should I do when my child sees porn,” remember: it is an opportunity for you to lean more desperately on the Lord as you parent. Trust in the Lord with all your heart, even when your heart is discouraged, afraid, or confused. Don’t lean on your own understanding, but prayerfully seek him for guidance, and he will direct your path (Prov. 3:5-6). 

God can redeem even the most heartbreaking situations and use them for good. Look to him, and prayerfully depend on him as you use this situation as a teaching opportunity, a gospel opportunity, and an opportunity for change.

Eliza Huie

Eliza hold a Master of Arts in Counseling and has advanced certificates in biblical counseling from The Christian Counseling Educational Foundation (CCEF) and The Association of Biblical Counselors (ABC). She is also a licensed clinical professional counselor (LCPC) and is specialized in trauma care. She is a contributing writer for … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24