If there’s one thing I want my kids to avoid it’s pornography. I pray about this constantly and, if you are a parent, I bet you do too. Here’s a resource video we put together on combating pornography.
Last night we kicked off a teaching series on sexuality. We’re calling it, “The Awkward” series because talking about sex with students is, well, awkward.
While I was landing my teaching last night, I experienced one of the highlights of my ministry year. I began bringing my talk to a close by encouraging our students to think about their boundaries. Specifically, I challenged them to verbalize their boundaries. “Look, if you don’t tell him what your boundaries are, don’t blame him for crossing them!”
After this section, I turned my attention toward those in the room, students and small group leaders alike, who had boundaries. Sadly, I think that is most of us. The sexual tension created by our over-sexualized culture along with the extension of adolescence that most emerging adults experience, the task of perfect purity before marriage is practically impossible. At the very least, I am realizing, we need to adjust our language. We are often guilty of creating an unrealistic expectation for our students–an expectation, that when broken leads to unspeakable shame.
And so, I said to our students, “Many of you here tonight had boundaries. At some point, maybe a few years ago, maybe last week, you found yourself in a situation and, well, you crossed some lines. What do you do now? Do you just throw in the towel? ‘Well, I guess it’s too late for me. I guess it doesn’t matter what I do.’ Is it too late for you? Are you ruined? I want to remind you that in the Gospel stories, every time Jesus encountered a person who had failed morally He responded with love and grace. I’m not talking about little mistakes either. He responded with kindness and grace to prostitutes and other people who had made a complete mess of their lives. He never responded with guilt or anger. Please understand that God loves you deeply. He’s not angry. He’s calling you back to Him and back to boundaries. It is never to late to begin again. It’s never too late to begin following God’s design again.”
As I spoke these words, I saw one of our girls in the audience burst into tears. They weren’t tears of shame, they were tears of gratitude. It was almost as if she had been waiting for someone to tell her that she was still OK, that she wasn’t ruined and that she had a future–that there was hope. How long had she been carrying that weight of shame? In that moment, I almost couldn’t continue. I recognized the power of God’s grace intersecting with human brokenness. It was a beautiful moment and I realized again, how important student ministry is.
Here’s my question: How many of our students are waiting for someone to tell them that God still loves them, that they still have a future, that there is grace? When we talk to student about sexuality, let’s balance expectations with grace. Too often we talk about boundaries like they are a cliff. If you cross them, well, then it’s all over. You’ve lost everything. I understand the deep consequences that come with sexual sin but we have to understand our audience. Because of the prevalence of pornography and the intense pressure placed on our students, they will make mistakes. We must realize that many of our students have already made mistakes and are already living with profound shame. Let’s change our language and let’s walk with them through their mistakes and missteps. Let’s speak the powerful words of God’s grace.
I thought I would follow up my last post with advice for parents on how to protect our kids from porn. Well, I hate to admit it but the title of this post is a lie. You can’t.
What I mean is that we live in a society in which kids will see pornography. It’s heart-breaking but it’s the truth. I see pornography nearly every time I drive down the highway. There are women in their underwear on giant signs next to the highway. Nearly every time I watch a football game with my kids in the room I am forced to dive for the remote and frantically punch buttons until the Victoria’s Secret commercial disappears. Just the other day my son sprinted down the driveway from the mailbox waving a catalog featuring a woman in a bra and undies on the back cover.
This is what I mean. Even if you protect your kids in every possible way, encapsulating them in porn proof bubble wrap, it will somehow find them–probably on the back cover of some benign department store catalog. I guess we can never go shopping again.
In my experience, parents often fall into one of two different camps when it comes to pornography. The first camp essentially doesn’t try. Kids will be kids. They’ll figure it out. I survived, so will they. The problem with this approach is that the pervasiveness of pornography in our culture is fundamentally different from anything we have ever seen. When I was a kid pornography existed but it lived in VHS tapes, magazines and grimy mechanic shop pin ups.
My point is that back in the day you had to go looking for porn and take risky steps to secure it. There was always the possibility that your mom would find the magazine. Today, pornography lives in a tiny device that fits in your pocket. It’s easy to hide and easier yet to cover your tracks. Don’t worry about hiding the dirty magazine under your bed, just delete your search history.
In addition, younger and younger kids are becoming addicted to pornography because it is so easily accessible. For many in my generation, we saw pornography a handful of times during childhood and it deeply affected the way we think about the opposite sex and sexuality in general. Many kids these days are looking at pornography daily. Research is beginning to show how massively destructive this immersion is to a developing mind. It’s scary stuff.
The second camp is the iron curtain of culture. Parents become so panicked about pornography that they basically unplug and retreat to the woods. While I applaud their zealousness, I don’t believe this is the answer. After all, Jesus did call us to be “in the world but not of it.” We can’t fight for the kingdom if we refuse to interact with culture.
Instead of throwing up our hands or running to the woods we need a different approach. We need to teach our kids wisdom. They need to learn to choose the right paths on their own. This is why I suggest internet filters for young kids but not for older kids. I can hear you shouting at me. Calm down and let me finish. Around 7th or 8th grade I recommend switching from internet filters to accountability software. The point is dialogue. Listen, I’ve worked with teenagers for a long time now. Your kids will see pornography. Sadly, it’s inevitable. The question is, what are they going to do when they see it? Better yet, what will you do when they see it?
When my son stumbles on pornography, I will know because I’ll receive a monthly email outlining any sketchy websites he visited on one of my computers or his phone. Yes, this technology exists. We live in the future. When this happens, we’ll go for a walk. I’ll tell him that he isn’t the only one tempted to look at porn. A woman’s body is basically the most beautiful thing in all of creation and we can’t help but be drawn to it. But, we’ll talk about what porn did to my mind. We’ll talk about the value of women. We’ll talk about God’s design for sex and I’ll help him visualize the future he wants. We’re create boundaries and expectations and move forward. This is what I mean by dialogue. If I keep filters on the internet I’ll never catch him and perhaps more importantly, when he moves out of my house we won’t know how to handle the “real” internet.
So, when your kid stumbles on porn what will you do? What’s your plan?
If you’re interested, here are the tools I mentioned.
X3watch is an accountability software
Mobicip is a browser filter for younger kids.
Back in the day I attended a conservative Christian college–one of those colleges that you only apply to if you want to be a pastor, missionary, play the organ or marry someone who does. It was elite. The average incoming GPA of a freshman student when I graduated was 3.9. It was like the Hogwarts of ministry except that Harry Potter was obviously out of bounds, what, with that devilish magic and all.
Anyway, I loved it. I remember looking out from my chapel seat overlooking a crowd of a thousand future leaders thinking, “These people are going to change the world. This is army. These people are going to take Jesus to the darkest of places.” And they did. My classmates planted churches in the most forsaken places on earth. They became undercover missionaries in closed Islamic countries. They flew missionary planes into remote jungle outposts and they’ve planted and led churches all over the world. My classmates were and are an extraordinary group of men and women. And yet, they are incredibly ordinary and broken–just like you and me.
My junior year I was somehow approved to be an RA. To be honest, I was probably the worst RA ever to patrol the halls of my storied dorm. But, my new position exposed me to privileged information. I discovered early in the fall semester that our dorm had a massive problem…pornography. As it turns out, the facilities staff was finding an alarming amount of pornographic material in the garbage. I suppose it was a good thing that it was in the trash but it’s very presence exposed a problem. Many of us who were training to be the future leaders of the church were struggling with varying degrees of porn addiction.
The thought of pastors, missionaries and other ministry leaders hiding in the dark with unseen porn addictions terrified me. This insidious monster would destroy what God was planning for our generation of leaders. Before we took Jesus to the darkest of places in the world we needed to take him to the darkest places in our own hearts. .
In college I played volleyball. Yes, they have this sport for guys. I was the captain of my team and so enjoyed a degree of influence. I decided I would do something desperate and awkward.
After practice one day, as we sprawled across the gym floor stretching our aching legs, I dropped a bomb. I announced that I knew we were all struggling with pornography. I told them about the garbage in the garbage that was worse than garbage. I told them that this couldn’t go on. We had to rid ourselves of this darkness now before it embedded itself in our hearts. We couldn’t carry this monster into ministry. We decided that every Monday after practice we would get naked. Not like that. I mean we would sit around and confess–starkly and uninhibited. We would tell each other what we looked at, how often and what we did. We would systematically drag our darkness out into the light. We would expose ourselves. Naked. No more hiding in the dark.
The first couple of weeks were a mess. Our meetings took forever as each of us stared at the floor, mumbling through our dirty laundry. There were moments of helplessness and utter shame. We dug up garbage from the past and dragged it into the light. We prayed. No, we begged for help.
Then, with gentle love and unwavering commitment we began to look each other in the eye. We reminded each other of grace and unconditional love but demanded repentance. “I love you but you can’t stay here.” Our sessions began to get shorter. The darkness was being pushed back. Then there was the week when no one messed up.
“This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.” (John 3:19-21)
Sin, hidden in secret darkness has immense power. The shame is paralyzing. But sin, pulled into the light of community through confession loses its power. We experienced freedom and victory because we painfully and systematically dragged our sin into the light.
If you want freedom there is but one way–confession and accountability. Drag it into the light.
I believe that pornography is the greatest challenge facing parents in our culture. Boys and girls of younger and younger ages are developing dangerous addictions to pornography. I ran across an article recently that describes specific situations of tween age porn addictions. It’s hard to read but if you are a parent you really should. Porn addictions are far more prevalent than we want to admit.
Now that you are sufficiently terrified, here are three strategies to help win this battle in the hearts of your children.
1. Keep Screen Public
I think this is one of the greatest mistakes parents make. Do not allow your kids to keep devices that can access the Internet in their bedrooms. And yes, I’m even talking about cell phones and iPads. Porn addiction is a massive problem for an adult but especially devastating for a kid. In the words of John Woods, “For many young boys, this [porn] means their first sexual experience is not a nervously negotiated request for a dance from a girl at the end of the school disco. It is watching grotesquely degrading images of women, all too often mixed in with violent abuse.”
This reality is tragic because it is often avoidable. Keep screens in a public place in your home. The Internet is dangerous and kids are curious. As parents we need to protect them.
2. Get in the First Word
People often ask when we they should talk to their kids about sex and porn. My answer is that you want to get in the first word. You want to be the one who starts the conversation–not a friend from school, a health class teacher or far worse, a website. Sure it’s going to be awkward but it will be awkward in a safe way. We need to embrace awkward!
I would recommend talking to your kid about the dangers of the Internet in early elementary school and then gradually talking about more and more as your child progresses through elementary school. Middle school is too late. By that point you have lost the advantage of the first word.
You don’t need to be overly graphic with little kids. I tell my 2nd grader that the Internet isn’t safe. There are pictures and videos on there that can hurt your mind. I also tell him that if he ever sees an image that makes him feel dirty or something he knows he shouldn’t have seen, that I want him to tell me and that he won’t be in trouble. A key strategy is to pave the way for honesty by removing the need for shame.
3. Get in More Words
I also strongly believe that “the sex talk” is the wrong approach. Instead of one conversation, I would argue for 1,000 conversations. Someday I’m going to write a really weird book that doesn’t sell called “1,000 Sex Conversations.” Actually, no.
The sex talk approach is like dumping a semi-truck size load of intense grossness on a terrified kid. There’s too much information all at once. If you’re like me you just remember being completely grossed out and overwhelmed. There’s so much information that you don’t even know what questions to ask. All you know is that you’re never, ever going to do that! Or, if you wait too long for the sex talk, which I would argue happens most of the time, your kid will just be bored and think you’re out of touch.
i’m not saying to skip the sex talk because it’s absolutely necessary. Just don’t have it come out of nowhere. A better approach is 1,000 conversations about sex with one of them being the talk on the mechanics of sex. Gradually reveal what sex is to your children and then don’t stop talking about it. As tweens and teenagers your students will be bombarded with information on sex. Most of it will be misunderstandings and lies. Culture is teaching us. Media moguls have an agenda. Our society is incredibly open about sexuality and so we have no choice but to do the same.
We as parents need to realize that we are competing for the hearts and minds of our children. We need to constantly talk about sexuality and it shouldn’t be all “no, no, no!” We need to recapture the beauty of sex. I often tell our students, “Look, this was God’s idea. He invented sex. It’s amazing and awesome. It’s not dirty. It’s beautiful.”
And then, we need to constantly reinforce the boundaries God has established. And, if we can’t sufficiently explain the “why” of the boundaries, we shouldn’t expect our kids to buy what we’re selling. It’s the same as the “because I said so” argument that didn’t work when they were 5.
So, get that screen out of his room, get in the first word and many more after that. And if you think you’re too late, you’re not! Just dive in and be awkward now. If you have any other genius ideas, I’d love to hear them.
This morning I ran across a post on one of my favorite blogs. A guy named Walt Mueller has a great site for youth workers and parents. You should really check it out.
In his latest post, Walt links to a GQ Magazine article by Scott Christian. The article describes how even secular culture is beginning to admit that pornography might not be so great for your mind. Here’s the link to Walt’s post: Learning My Lines…
You can check out the GQ post itself from Walt’s blog but it has a rather provocative picture in it. Just giving you a heads up.
Also, Walt’s The Center for Parent/Youth Understanding is a great resource.
Lastly, I’ve personally blogged quite a lot about the dangers of porn. You can check out a few posts if you’re interested:
image credited to hankinsphoto.com
Recently I spoke to a group of parents about sexuality and their kids. A parent in the audience asked one of the most common questions I hear: “When should I talk to my kids about sex?” Great question! Let me answer it with a story…
Last month my friend and his family were trick or treating with their kids. In that blind lust for candy that kids develop around Halloween they ran off ahead of him. My friend and his wife weren’t concerned because they were in a safe and normal suburban neighborhood. None of these homes were crack houses or meth labs. There were no confederate flags or gun ranges. It was a normal, upstanding neighborhood—the kind of place where your grandma or great aunt Gertrude might live.
Anyway, the kids ‘trick or treated’ a house, a man answered the door and handed the kids candy. Looking over his shoulder toward the TV in the living room the kids couldn’t help but notice what the man was watching. The guy was watching porn while handing out candy to children on Halloween. That is creeptastic.
My friend’s 5th grade son encountered pornography for the first time while he was trick or treating. How does that even happen? And yet, how did any of us first encounter pornography? It’s usually accidental or random. Very few kids go looking for porn. Pornography has a way of finding us.
When I was in 6th grade, I walked over to my friend’s house expecting to play Tecmo Bowl on his NES. Instead, he popped in a VHS he had found in his parents’ closet, the images from which are still burned into my mind. Porn has a way of finding us.
As parents, we need to be clear about something: Porn will find your kids. It’s inevitable. Recent research reveals that 98% of people in our culture have seen pornography. I’m pretty sure the 2% were lying.
There may have been a day in our culture when the goal of parenting was to protect our kids from ever seeing pornography but that day is long gone–lost somewhere in the 1950s. I’ve heard its locked in a vault somewhere with the Andy Griffith Show.
THE FIRST WORD
Is the pull of pornography inevitable? Do we just surrender? Do we shrug and allow our kids to be lured into the web of pornography? No way! We need a different and more honest approach.
If we know that our kid will inevitably see pornography, the question we need to wrestle with is: “What will our kids do when they see pornography?” We want them to respond in the right way. This requires preparation and a preemptive strike. I believe our kids need to know what pornography is before they ever see it. We must get in the first word on pornography.
I’m not saying that we explain what sex and pornography are when our kids are kindergarteners. That would be crazy. However, they do need to know that not everything on the Internet is safe. They need to understand that there are pictures and videos out there that will hurt their minds.
They need to be coached on how to respond when a friend wants to show them a picture that is inappropriate. Essentially, they need to understand from an early age that pornography is out there and that it will hurt them.
THE LAST WORD
Not only do we need to get in the first word, we need to get in the last word. What I mean is that we want our kids to process what they see with us, not their friend down the street or through Google search. This requires building a massive amount of trust because telling anyone, let alone your parents, that you looked at pornography is an incredibly shameful and embarrassing moment.
And yet, we knew from the Scriptures that when sin is dragged out into the light it loses its power. Pornography addictions take root in the darkness. They begin when a kid accidentally stumbles on pornography, feels incredibly shameful and yet powerfully intrigued but doesn’t tell anyone because he doesn’t feel comfortable sharing.
Your kids will see pornography. How will you prepare them for it? Is your relationship open and strong enough for them to feel safe confessing to you? How will you walk with them once it happens?
image credited to maura
Nothing can derail a man from the path to greatness like sexual sin. For parents and youth workers, there is no more important topic than purity. And yet, when it comes to helping boys navigate the sexual pitfalls of our culture, I’d give us a collective “D+“. I know that’s a little harsh but hear me out on this one. I think we’re dropping the ball in a few key areas.
LET HIM KNOW WHAT’S COMING
Most boys are surprised by their first encounter with pornography. It’s like a sneak attack that they never saw coming and are ill equipped to handle. We have to come to terms with the fact that, statistically speaking, boys are encountering pornography between the ages of 7-9. If our boys encounter pornography without being warned about it, we have dropped the ball.
As parents, we must equip our boys for this first encounter. They must know what to do and say when they are invited to see an image or video that could change the trajectory of their entire lives. Boys don’t need to know everything about sex but they do need to know that pornography will hurt them. I would recommend making two things very clear:
- If someone tries to show you a picture or video of people without their clothes on please don’t look or watch. This is not good for you. Please tell me if something like this happens
- No matter what mistakes you make in life I will love you and help you. You can tell me anything.
To put it simply, as a parent you want to be the one who surprises your son with a conversation about pornography, not Billy down the street. As youth workers, we can help in this area by equipping parents for these conversations and also by keeping parents informed of when we plan to talk about sexuality and pornography.
TEACH HIM TO BE INDEPENDENTLY PURE
This will probably sound counter-intuitive, but most parents and youth workers make the mistake of overprotecting boys. Before you hit that big red “X” at the top of your browser, hear me out. I believe that internet filters are a great idea when you have boys in elementary and middle school but not helpful when they are in high school.
Part of our role as parents and youth workers is to prepare boys for adulthood. When boys are out of the house they will make their own decisions about how to use the internet. As a parent, I would much prefer to catch my son viewing porn through the use of accountability software and have a conversation with him than attempt to block every possible pornographic site. Also, no internet filter is fail proof and most boys are viewing porn on mobile devices anyway. Either way, after he graduates, you and the Internet filter won’t be there to protect him.
Parents also fall into the trap of completely disengaging. Pornography will destroy your son. Even though he may be bigger than you are mostly independent, he still needs you to help him navigate the issue of pornography.
As parents and youth workers, we must find the balance. Don’t overprotect and don’t disengage. Walk with him through the struggle. It will be messy. He will make mistakes. You must wade in. When necessary enforce consequences. You must encourage and equip. In short, you must be a parent and be a mentor.