When my son was about 8 years old, he quietly knocked on the door of our bedroom one night. We invited him in, and I could sense his unease. “Mommy, I think I did something bad.” The tears began to flow as we scooped him up and inquired over his supposed misdeed. “I was watching a music video and I saw a man’s bum. It was naked. I’m so sorry”. He believed he had viewed pornography. He was a sobbing mess, but my mommy-heart melted over the admission because we have always been honest in our home about the damaging effects of pornography. This meant it had sunk into his little mind and heart. Even a naked bum sent his conscience reeling. He believed he had viewed pornography. And he was right, accidental as it was.
Many of you, like me, are parents with unsuspecting, innocent children. You love them, care for them, and want what’s best for them. You’d do anything to protect them. But the pornography industry is crafty. They don’t care about protecting your children. Your children are seen as potential consumers for their product. And they will do anything to hook them. Pornography is nicely packaged these days. A popular magazine, lyrics of a catchy song, popup ads, or a music video. It’s easier than ever for your child to be exposed and hooked.
Some argue the benefits of porn. Such benefits include sexual education, sexual satisfaction, and sexual release. But the other side of the coin speaks volumes when correlations are linked to rape, aggression, sex-trafficking, infidelity, divorce, among others.
Think it would never happen in your home or that your child has never been exposed? Think again. A recent report by the BBFC reports that while 75% of parents believe their children have never seen porn, 53% of those children actually have. Your children could be among those.
How You Can Protect Your Family
While those numbers can be discouraging, it doesn’t mean that we can’t do something about it. And it doesn’t mean that accidental exposure inevitably leads to a pornography addiction. My son is proof that with the right kind of education and action, we can feel secure that our children will make the right decisions in those moments. We can take charge in our homes today to protect our children against pornography exposure and its damaging effects. Here are seven things that have worked for our family:
1. Do the talking before someone else does.
The pornography industry is eager to get to your children before you do. Don’t give them the satisfaction. If pornography exposure starts early, then talking needs to start early.
2. Make home a safe space to talk.
Our kids know that they can ask us anything without unfair reaction or judgement. Children need to know that they can have their questions answered lovingly and honestly. If your child has a question, let them ask and then do your best to answer. If you don’t know, say so, and schedule a time to talk again once you’ve found answers. Keep your word and follow up. Parent-child communication is key to opening up about these hard issues.
3. The discussion about pornography must be ongoing.
I cringe when I hear parents say that they’ve successfully given their children “the talk.” This is not a “one and done” event. Discussing important things like sex and pornography must be ongoing. Your children are growing and developing. This includes their understanding of and curiosity about pornography. Keep talking.
4. Set rules as a family.
We found that our children are more likely to keep rules that they help make. We also found that they are more willing to make rules when they understand the why behind needing them. Tell them how damaging pornography can be. Then trust them to help you make rules to keep the family safe. They will surprise you!
5. Have a healthy dialogue about dating, marriage, love, and sex.
Pornography distorts a child’s view of what real love is. Pornography teaches a child to objectify another person. When parents talk positively and honestly about dating, marriage, love, and sex, we teach them that people are for loving in real ways. Sex is an expression of that love and is most satisfying within a devoted relationship. There is no room for pornography in a healthy relationship because it teaches us that people are to be used instead of loved.
6. Talk about your body and the bodies of others in uplifting, positive ways.
Pornography will challenge the self-esteem of a person because of its ability to distort the reality of the human body. Let them know how beautiful and amazing the human body is and that it should be treated with respect. Bodies are not perfect and come in all shapes and sizes. Speak kindly about your body and the bodies of others.
7. Watch for warning signs.
Is your child unusually stressed, tired, depressed, secretive, and removed? While this might indicate many different types of problems, it might also be time to ask about and reevaluate their digital habits. They may be struggling with pornography. Be supportive and ready to help.
Keeping Kids Safe
I know these steps have helped in our home. My son, now 13, is a happy and healthy teenager. He uses his devices in the family room because this is a rule he helped make. He knows it keeps him safe. He knows that if something does happen, he can always come talk to my husband or I because our home is a safe space. My son knows that his body is a gift and that it should be respected. He knows that the bodies of others should be respected. He knows that real relationships are built on love and trust. Above all, he knows that we love him and that we’re proud of the person he’s becoming. He knows that pornography holds no place in becoming the man he wants to be. While we can’t safeguard our children completely, these small steps can help continue the battle against pornography.
Guest Blogger: Sarah Fairbanks
Sarah Fairbanks is a student at Brigham Young University-Idaho. She is majoring in Marriage and Family Studies with an emphasis in Human Services. She will graduate in December 2021. She lives in Northern California with her husband and three children.
“I could barely function. My home quickly became a disaster. Dirty dishes were stacked in my sink for days while the cockroaches multiplied. I couldn’t sleep. I had no appetite and lost over five pounds in my second trimester of pregnancy. I threw my toddler in front of the TV for more hours than I would like to admit. … The first month after his disclosure we ate fast food almost every night and the second month we ate frozen food. …Anytime I talked to friends I would think, If only you knew what my life was really like. On the outside it seemed like I had everything together, but I felt like my life was falling apart.”
Discovering Pornography Addiction
The discovery of your spouse’s pornography addiction will cause a variety of mental, emotional and physical responses. From anxiety, depression, and overwhelming doubts and fears; to feelings of undesirability, decreased self-worth, migraines, fatigue, nausea, and cold sweats, the response is as varied as the spouses who experience it.
Research shows that pornography addiction is viewed as infidelity, and is often described by the spouse or partner as “betrayal,” “cheating,” or an “affair.” Just because your spouse hasn’t been with someone else physically, it doesn’t hurt any less. In fact, it’s still called betrayal trauma.
According to the book Love and Betrayal: Stories of Hope, betrayal trauma “refers to the damage that is caused when someone experiences a betrayal in their primary relationship that damages the trust, safety and security of the bond they have with their partner,” and is truly trauma in every sense of the word.
Clearly, the disruption this event causes in your life can have no other description than trauma. And just as any other traumatic event, it leaves wounded people behind, in need of care and attention. When it is your spouse’s pornography addiction, you are the wounded. Because of this, you need to experience your own healing too!
With that in mind, and while there isn’t a one-size-fits-all remedy, here are a few points that will assist you as you seek additional help in this journey.
The most important thing to realize is that the addiction of your spouse is not your fault. There isn’t a thing that could be further from the truth! The guilt-trip-go-around will not fix your spouse, it will not help you heal, and it will only make your personal suffering worse.
Wondering where you went wrong or blaming yourself for not being enough will only make you lose more sleep at night. Instead please, please know it is not your fault, and dismiss that dialogue from your head.
2. Time and Space to Grieve
While it isn’t your fault, you are not immune from the effects of your spouse’s addiction. Naturally, your spouse’s disclosure may leave you feeling unsafe and vulnerable. Because of this, you likely need time and space to grieve.
Creating space can help you find feelings of safety and deal with what you’ve just been told. This may include a literal separation from your spouse for a time, be it sleeping in different rooms, staying in different living places, or simply spending time away from each other. During this time, avoid making major decisions about whether or not you and your spouse should permanently stay together. The point is to give yourself time and space to deal with the new information and cope with your changing relationship.
3. Practice Self-Care
After the disclosure of addiction, it feels like your world has been shattered. Getting up in the morning feels impossible, and easy tasks now require incredible effort. While you may take a few days off from work, or have the kids stay with grandma for a time, you can’t check out of life forever.
You need to find healing yourself, and part of getting better is practicing self-care. Self-care constitutes the things you do for your mental, physical, spiritual and emotional health to feel well. Even if you can only do one thing, like go for a daily walk, do it!
Other ideas for self-care include reading a favorite book, taking a nap, eating healthy foods, exercise, having a hot bath, listening to relaxing music, etc. The point of this is to begin healing you by focusing on you. Practicing self-care will help you to take care of you and what you need so that you can cope with the issue at hand.
4. Find Your Support Team
Though this is your personal healing journey you are on, you shouldn’t undertake it simply on your own. You need support! While there may be a member of your family or a good friend that is willing to listen and offer support, this may not be sufficient. Support groups for spouses can be an invaluable resource for you. Also, finding a credible therapist, coach or peer specialist will help you work through your experience and help you develop new skills to help you thrive.
Please note, whether your additional help be through a counselor, coach, peer specialist, therapist and/or support group, you should seek professional help.
The Healing Journey
The journey through discovery, disclosure, betrayal and trauma is not an easy road. Nor is it a road for just your spouse to walk. You too need to work through and heal from the aftermath of a pornography addiction: the lying, broken promises, shattered expectations, emotional loss. You are worth every investment you make on yourself, and you need healing as much as your spouse does.
Katherine Wahlen is a marriage and family studies major at Brigham Young University – Idaho. She currently works for a company called Change My Heart that helps with addiction recovery for individuals and their spouses. Katherine is also developing a research-based curriculum for husbands and wives to find support and recovery through their spouse’s pornography addiction.
Almost three years ago I had my first “porn talk” with my kids. This came about after reading a simple article about teens and their ever increasing access and inevitable use of pornography. As I read, I became frustrated, then scared and finally determined. I knew I had to educate my kids immediately about this danger, as well as every parent I came in contact with.
I didn’t have all the answers that first day, but it didn’t matter. I opened the door to a new dimension in my relationships with my three kids. A dimension that brought a closeness and unity to our family that was not there before.
Just days after this first talk, I began doing serious research into the devastating effects of porn consumption by children. I read, I dug, I pondered, I planned and within a few months I had created a non-profit organization. An organization that focuses on teaching parents how to create deep connections with their kids and start some pretty challenging conversations about the dangers of pornography, and its opposite, healthy sexuality.
In those first few months of researching, organizing and layering conversations with my kids, I had a tremendous worry. Was I “giving my kids ideas” (or creating an unhealthy curiosity that was not there before)?
The answer became apparent. Yes! I was “giving them ideas.”
And I want you to give your children the same ideas.
Give your kids the idea that you are a great source of reliable, honest information. Let them know through your words and actions that you can speak calmly, comfortably and rationally about human issues that affect all of us, namely, curiosity and sexuality. As you initiate discussions about these topics and pornography, share your personal experiences, spiritual values and expectations kindly and thoughtfully, your child will soon get the idea that his parents are human and make mistakes. They will also see that you are ready to talk about “tough” topics and more importantly, listen to them. I promise you as you answer your kids questions openly and sincerely and they will come back to you for your wisdom and empathy.
I also want you to give your kids the idea that there is nothing shameful or “awkward” in asking questions about and discussing one of the most amazing experiences available to human beings: true intimacy expressed through sexuality. By discussing the positive aspects of sex, you can help them know that sexual intimacy is good, beautiful and enjoyable. Follow this up with a discussion about healthy sexuality’s opposite: pornography. Take the time to explain how porn is the opposite of intimacy, can be addictive, can condition the brain, harm relationships and damage a person’s ability to relate and empathize with others.
Finally, if you continue these discussions at each stage of development, your child will get the idea that curiosity is a God-given gift. He will get the idea that his feelings and questions are normal and natural when you let him know that any question is okay and that you will not judge him harshly for asking ANYTHING.
So if you find yourself saying, “I don’t want to give them ideas.” My answer to you is “Yes! Yes you DO want to give them ideas!” By tackling these crucial topics, you and your child will grow closer together and she will know that she can rely on you to provide helpful information in a loving manner. Here are some topics to guide your conversations:
What Does a Younger Child Need to Know About Sexual Intimacy?
Protective Information (my body belongs to me, good touch/bad touch, how to say “no”)
Bodily Knowledge (anatomy, functions of anatomy, where do babies come from)
Relationship Basics (self-respect, respect for others, romantic love vs. friendships)
Media Savvy (healthy and unhealthy media messages, body image)
*When your child is ready, discuss the mechanics of sex
What Does a Younger Child Need to Know About Pornography?
What it is (define it)
Where it exists (smartphones, tablets, computers, etc.)
What to do when you see porn (Name it, Get away from it, Tell parents, Discuss feelings with seeing it, Deconstruct the images seen, How to prevent further exposure)
Why it should be avoided
What Does an Older Child/Teen Need to Know About Sexual Intimacy?
Sex is healthy and amazing
Intimacy (connecting with another human being) should be the focus
Positive and negative aspects of sex
Protective Information (consent, how predators groom kids/teens)
Bodily Knowledge (puberty, body image, masturbation, mechanics of sex)
Relationship Advice (self-worth, boundaries, healthy vs. abusive relationships)
Media Savvy (healthy/unhealthy media messages, sexting, social media)
What Does an Older Child/Teen Need to Know About Pornography?
When my son was 5-years-old, one of his neighbor friends told him about naked women he had seen in some pornographic picture or video. He said in a matter-of-fact way, “Let’s talk about sex.” This friend roamed the neighborhood A LOT and when he wasn’t roaming he was in front of a screen. His family was religious, loving, but unaware of what their boy was being exposed to.
On another occasion, a friend of mine once told me of witnessing a different 5-year-old boy in the neighborhood laying on top of a slightly older girl kissing her mouth and trying to do other things that the boy had apparently witnessed elsewhere. The girl seemed to be enjoying the attention. I’m sure (or at least hope) the parents of the boy would be mortified if they knew what their son was doing.
I could go on and on with stories about children learning and doing things that would horrify their parents. And to this day, these parents probably still don’t know about it.
Both of these stories have two things in common: 1. A young child was exposed to sexual images and then tried sharing or acting on it, and 2. The parents of these children were not involved enough to know what was happening, let alone offer guidance.
True or False: Putting your kids in a lot of activities is the same as you being involved in their life.
The answer: capital F-A-L-S-E!
Don’t worry. If you answered incorrectly, you can still make up the points by reading the rest of this article and then applying it.
There is a disturbing trend in much of our society that is going undetected. It is this:
We parents are not effectively involved in our children’s lives and this is leaving them vulnerable to unhealthy messages about love and sex.
Now before you start to despair because you already feel over-booked with your kids lives, or before you begin to attack me….hear me out.
Oblivious to the Obvious?
There are several reasons why this problem is going undetected. Some of the reasons are legitimate while others are merely excuses. This is certainly not meant to be an exhaustive list.
The illusion of involvement.We may feel that ensuring that our children are busy with soccer, gymnastics, piano, clubs, etc is how we stay involved in their life. Because we take them from place to place and book their schedules it can give us a false sense of involvement. Quality of involvement is as important–if not more so–than quantity.
Parental freedom. The more we keep our kids occupied, the more we can get done. We can spend more time cleaning the house, at work, or on screens (TV, Facebook, etc).
Uninformed voters. Many parents are simply unaware of the negative consequences of under-involved parenting. They could think: “I played outside all day and had very few personal interactions with my parents growing up and I turned out okay.”
I know that you want to your child to not just survive, but thrive. Your heart is all in! But it is possible to love a child totally and completely but not in the way her or she needs. It is possible for your child to be involved in so many activities without you actually being involved in their life.
Being an involved parent takes time and is hard work, and it often means rethinking and rearranging your priorities. It frequently means sacrificing what you want to do for what your child needs you to do.
Did you know that the strongest and most consistent predictor of children’s mental health, adjustment, happiness, and well-being is the level of involvement of their parents in their life?
Children with involved parents are also more likely to share if they have been exposed to pornography or if someone has touched them inappropriately.
Ok. To be completely honest, this article is about more than just parental involvement. I’m really just building up to talking to your kids about intimacy, sexuality, and its counterfeits. But, how can we teach and influence our children about these things if we don’t understand their hearts and minds? How can we understand their hearts and minds if we aren’t effectively involved?
Porn Kills Love
In our day and age, our children are going to be exposed to pornography. The question is not so much if they are going to see it, but when. We cannot control the choices of peers, the parents of our peers, and many, many other sources. Yet, the more connected and effectively involved we are, the more influence and guidance we can offer.
A student recently told me that her best friend was sexually abused as a child. Sadly, her friend kept it from her parents for many years because she didn’t know how to talk to them about it. In her friends’ home, they didn’t talk about the body, intimacy, and so on. It was taboo. She is now receiving therapy and getting the help she needs. But if this girl had a more open, communicative relationship with her parents, those years of guilt and depression could have been minimized.
So What Do I Do?
You’re probably wondering how to become effectively involved in your child’s life to the point you can have regular chats about love, intimacy, and pornography. Stay tuned! I will be blogging about this and also publishing an ebook about this at the end of June.
Please help us strengthen families by sharing this article with your friends and family! Likewise, to see more of Dr. Tim’s articles (as well as articles by Dr. Rob), please also check out the rest of our blog and our Facebook page.