How To Talk To Your Teen About Pornography

by Family, Love and Relationships, Sin

Imagine this: You stand outside your teen’s bedroom door. You knock a few times and there’s no answer. A few moments pass by and you knock again. All is quiet. You make an executive decision to enter the room. As the door opens, you find your teenager sitting down with the headphones on, facing the laptop screen, oblivious to the world. You walk closer, gently tap your teen’s shoulder, and that’s when you see it – PORN. A naked man and woman engaging in acts that are beneath the dignity of the human person. What’s worse is what is being depicted is not the marital embrace but a completely perverse encounter. 

Your teen realizes that you are there, scrambling to turn off the screen, shocked that you are standing there in the first place. But it’s too late. You know what your teen has been up to and there’s no hiding it now.

This scenario is not uncommon, sadly. Porn is a tornado of sewage taking over our world, leaving a destructive wake in its path.

As a parent, what can you do? How can we stop this? Is there any possible way to move forward after your precious child has been exposed?

The Truth About Pornography Teens Need To Know

Pornography is a disease of the mind, heart and vision. It is the images, words, and audio that is now present in countless media outlets that corrupts what is true, good and beautiful. It is embedded in our culture – from movies, television programs, magazines on checkout lanes, and the most accessible of them all, online. We strive everyday to protect our children, yet the moment they are out that door, they are vulnerable. In this day and age, with technology at their fingertips, the dangers can be found in your own home and in the privacy of their own bedroom.

When I was first exposed to pornography at age 11, I was emotionally vulnerable and desperately seeking intimacy. The images I saw were confusing. I kept it a secret because I felt I couldn’t share what I was going through with anyone. Secrets have power; like a monster locked away in a chest in the attic, the noise of this porn monstrosity that was trapped inside of me grew louder each day, surfacing in very unhealthy ways.

Sadly, from my personal and professional experience, most children who are exposed to pornography are not given an outlet to share their experience of the trauma and the emotional turmoil that results from these events. So where do we start in this situation?

As parents, we should engage our children with curiosity, not condemnation. Make it clear that your home is a “no shame zone”. Create an environment where they know they can come to you to share the thoughts and desires that reside in their heart and mind.

Here are some questions to start with:

  • * Do you know what porn is?
  • * What emotions and feelings did watching pornography evoke in you?
  • * Were you watching porn out of curiosity or boredom?
  • * Is there a longing for physical affection?
  • * How did you feel after watching porn?
  • * What messages are you receiving about men, women, relationships, etc. from watching   porn?

All these questions and more are meant to encourage reflection and dialogue between parent and child, not from a place of judgment, disappointment, or shame, but one of understanding.

While the pornified culture is a wildfire devouring everything in its wake, the “fire” your teen has is a desire to receive and give love. Thus the answer to the issue of pornography is not about dowsing his desires, but helping him to see this fire as a gift. Receiving the gifts of grace and virtue to direct this fire in an age-appropriate time and space, instead of the cold burn of pornography, your teen will encounter light and warmth. If your teen is experiencing tremendous shame over an attachment to pornography or unchaste behavior and is feeling trapped thinking that he can never be free, continually share the message that there is hope and freedom.

The Effects Of Pornography

Once we connect with our child on an emotional level, then we can begin to use logic, teaching her the truth. Before we can get to a solution, we must first clearly identify the problem.

Often, teenagers just want to experiment. This is part of them testing their boundaries, part and parcel of growing up. If they experiment with something harmful, it’s going to have negative consequences, hurting them and often people around them. No one is immune and porn is certainly not “harmless” for anyone. The goal here is to come to her level, helping her understand what pornography is and what it is not. 

Make these clear to your child:

  • *Pornography is any image, writing, or audio that is intentionally designed influence a person to use another person as a means of one’s own selfish sexual gratification.
  • *Pornography is not love; it is lust. Love is about self-gift and willing the best for others; lust is about using others for one’s selfish, sexual gratification.
  • *Pornography is not real; those who are in the images/videos are simply pretending to have a good time; in fact, many of them are victims of human trafficking.
  • *Pornography is not what God made the marital embrace to be; instead, porn is a demonic-twisting of something very beautiful.

These facts are simply a baseline upon which the conversation should start. 

(To go deeper, check out my book “Redeemed Vision” as well as my 12-part series, “Redeeming our Vision” (found @ FORMED.org).)

In reality, pornography use is the equivalent of drug use. “But there is no physical substance ingested”, you may say. This is what makes pornography use so deadly: one doesn’t need a physical substance to get high, but by allowing various chemicals to be stirred up – such as dopamine, norepinephrine, oxytocin, and testosterone – a person can quickly become hooked on these feel-good drugs.

Viewing pornography may begin as merely a pleasurable and harmless rendezvous, but a person will soon need more of it to get the same high. Thus, a person who watches inevitably will move on to darker forms of pornography.

A Game Plan For Overcoming Pornography

Raising kids – teens in particular – is a challenge in our pornified culture. However, with a bit of wisdom – and a whole lot of grace – they can become the men and women God has created them to be.

Here are 7 key areas to focus on:

  1. Set a firm foundation of truth: 

I have no doubt that our teenagers will question and call us out on the points discussed above, therefore it is critical that we go into our conversations prepared. Equip yourself with statistics. Read research papers online and share what you find with your teen. Don’t worry if he is not impressed or if you get eye rolls. He is listening and it will – eventually – sink in. (A great non-religious resource about the dangers of pornography is fightthenewdrug.org.)

  1. Reveal the mercy of God

When our sexuality is not lived out as a gift, we experience guilt, shame and self-hatred; this can be crippling. As mentioned earlier, if your teen has been exposed to pornography, this is not the time for condemnation but rather for understanding. Know that God can use this exposure to evil to reveal powerful truths. Some of these truths are that your child is loved, her body and the bodies of others are good, just as He created them, and that we are made for life-long love, not pleasure merely manufactured for the moment. As Catholics, we believe that the mercy of God is infinite, as long as we are willing to accept His mercy and turn back to Him.

There are many ways to encounter this infinite love:

  • Daily prayer that is heartfelt; allowing us to experience the love of God
  • Daily family Rosary; encountering the most beautiful woman ever
  • Frequent Confession; where we receive redemption from our brokenness
  • Eucharistic Adoration; where the naked Christ is exposed to us
  • Mass and Divine Liturgy;  where we experience God in the flesh and are able to become one with Him

As a parent, the more points of contact you can help your teen make by creating opportunities for intimacy with God, the better she will be safeguarded from the allurements of false intimacy of the pornified culture. 

  1. Gratitude: 

If you want to overcome a habit, you must put something better in its place. One of these foundational “betters” is gratitude. Help your teen foster an attitude of recognizing the good in his life by developing the practice of frequent gratitude. Ask him what he’s grateful for and have him practice 1 minute of gratitude when he wakes up and before he goes to bed allowing the grace of gratitude to bleed into all aspects of his day. Not only will he be happier; he will find something way more satisfying than empty pleasure.

  1. Communicate the love of God with your parenthood: 

Your teen needs to know that she is a gift, she is wanted, she is welcomed and she is loved, even in her most broken moments. Most importantly, she needs to know that she is chosen and set apart for God Himself. It is your love and gratitude, communicated in a myriad of ways that makes the love of God known. 

You are her safe harbor from the violent storms of the pornified culture. One simple way to do this is to set up weekly, one-to-one alone time with your teen. While she may push back against boundaries, what she needs more than ever is to know that you are available and present to her. Spend time doing healthy activities that will provide opportunities for bonding. It is these moments that create the real intimacy that porn cannot produce. It is in this space that open and honest dialogues about critically important topics, especially sexuality will take place fostering intimacy, empathy, trust, and connection.

  1. Redeem their vision: 

When God created man and woman, their bodies revealed their souls. Our loving Father gave us His divine vision for us to see others in truth. While porn attempts to  reduce each person to merely their physical or emotional characteristics, influencing us to use others, redeemed vision inspires not a reduction of the human person, but the grace of Jesus Christ to look with love. Redeemed vision is completely different from anything the pornified culture can offer, for it is what empowers us to see others with the love of God. It is essential in this sea of pornified images to expose our children to authentic art that unveils the full truth about the naked human body. Seeing wholesome nakedness is not sinful; the masters of art– like Michelangelo and Da Vinci – have continuously revealed the glory of the image of God. In multiple locations in your home, display these works of art that reveal the naked human body (such as from the Sistine Chapel or images of Maria Lactans). Educate him continuously on the principles of art and beauty and be explicitly clear (age-appropriately) about why pornography is a cheap counterfeit to what we really desire to see. It is by being programmed by the truth of the human body that will help inoculate your children from the lies of pornified images.

  1. Create opportunities to encounter the real: 

Too many of our children are being programmed to believe that life is more interesting online than offline. Life is hard and there is no escaping this reality. Your child can either choose to live the hard way now, learning life lessons that will pay huge dividends in the future, or choose hard later by becoming a porn zombie, controlled by the pornified culture. I recommend the latter. 

This is why it is critical to get her involved with what is real.Here are examples of living the real life offline:

  • Pick a sport that involves playing and practicing with real people
  • Go on a hike with friends or family
  • Learn how to play a musical instrument
  • Get creative by making art using the materials and elements that are around her
  • Learn how to really dance (eg: Swing, Ballroom, Salsa)
  • Develop carpentry skills

These are just samplings of the countless ways to help your child unplug. The more she can become fascinated about activities in the real world, the harder it will be for her to be swept away with the distorted fantasy of pornography.

  1. Foster opportunities to live the meaning of life:

The meaning of life is not about getting laid but rather it is about laying down one’s life for another so that they can live. The indoctrination of the pornified culture programs us to believe that life is about the pursuit of one’s own selfish desires. If this “education” starts when one is young and is reinforced through constant exposure from various media sources, a young boy or girl is being set up for a world of hurt, broken relationships, and unfulfilled dreams. 

It is said that what people want is fantasy but what they need is reality. As great as technology can be, it cannot replace real, face-to-face interactions with others. God forbid – what happens if the internet ever goes down for a significant period of time? So many youth (and adults) wouldn’t even know how to have an actual conversation with an in-the-flesh human being. 

The way to overcome the effects of unchaste behavior is by practicing acts of selfless virtue. Our mission as parents is to provide opportunities that draw our sons and daughters out of themselves through acts of service. 

There are countless activities that can teach your teen to see the good of others, especially the disadvantaged. These include:

  • Collecting food items for a food bank
  • Volunteering at a homeless shelter
  • Helping to build a home with organizations like Habitat for Humanity
  • Visiting those in nursing homes
  • Providing childcare for single mothers in need

It is by pouring out our lives in life-giving service for others that will create opportunities for your teen to grow in virtue and holiness, individually and communally. The goal of parenting is not about raising good children or even healthy adults, but rather other Christs who help others know and see that God is real. Help your child make a gift of their body and they will find real happiness.

Be Not Afraid

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:5)  

The pornified culture is invasive. Yet even if a child of ours has been exposed, it doesn’t mean that their life is forfeited. This is actually an opportunity for them to experience the redemption of his sexuality and begin to live in the fulfillment of his existence.

Do not give up hope; instead, pray up and skill up, entering into the battle of rescuing your child from the clutches of hell by imparting beauty, truth, and goodness. One day, she will thank you for your sacrifice.

If you feel that your son or daughter needs personalized help, we at Freedom Coaching are honored to walk with your teen towards the path of genuine internal freedom, peace and joy. Please visit us at freedom-coaching.net for more info.

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Image: Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

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