Most of us as parents will need to get comfortable with the fact that our boys first contact with porn will be much sooner than we would care to admit, particularly if we fail to provide safeguards far in advance. And typically the way most patents find out is not through a proactive confession or a yelp of shock in the adjacent room. No, most parents find out by stumbling upon an already established habit. It typically comes when you walk in on a flushed and deflecting boy or you decide to open a browsing history on his device of choice only to find a list of titles that make you flushed like a caught boy. In these instances a vast array of emotions can crush into your gut: shock, worry, anger, disappointment or disgust. All of these are understandable; it’s your first contact to his first contact. Yet before you decide to react from the circus in your gut, slow down so you can wisely respond to the real problem – his heart. His heart sin (manifest as porn viewing) is an opportunity for you to reinforce the sin conquering grace of the Gospel. With that in mind here are some responses to consider:
If you find out – don’t avoid, but engage.
Occasionally there are parents who would prefer to jam their heads in the sand and just pretend like they didn’t see. Or worse, there are parents who avoid it because they don’t believe such habits are really that wrong since “boys will be boys” (and because the parents themselves have the same habits). To be clear, both make for poor parenting (Deuteronomy 6:4-6, Ephesians 6:4 & Proverbs 6:15-23). Let me help us all out right now, if pornography is a part of your diet either individually or as an additive to your marriage “take out the log of porn that is in your own eye so you can deal with the speck of porn that is in your son’s eye.” (Matthew 7:5). Either resolve to remove it or seek out a safe confidant who can help you begin to overcome it. Whatever you do don’t leave it unaddressed, in your own life or his.
If you find out – don’t freak out, but draw out.
For some parents this is hard. Especially since some of the things you find may be uniquely graphic and disturbing. Keep in mind that when it comes to pre/early teen boys and pornography you have an unequipped mind crashing into an unregulated world that can lead to a remarkable display of discriminant viewing. For a parent the result can be such a high level of shock that they react with the blunt force of shame and guilt. Unfortunately shame is a powerful tool of the Devil to drive sin underground in the lives of people. If we shame our sons in this context it can inadvertently create an environment by which their heart is never addressed and so they simply learn how to better hide their habits.
Keep the big idea always before you – his heart. You want him to turn away from sin not merely for fear of getting caught by you, but because he has a fear of the Lord than cause him to hate sin (Proverbs 8:13). You want to recall the wisdom of Proverbs 20:5 “Though good advice lies deep within the heart, a person with understanding will draw it out.” You are the parent of understanding who can help draw out in your son what he knows deep down is God’s best. Therefore you want to ask questions more than make statements. Monologuing is easy for parents, but boys only hear about 1/5 of what is said in a “corrective” lecture. Because of this you’re better off to hit your intended target by opening a dialogue by which you can begin to deposit wisdom through conversation.
Now at this point many of you may be asking, “How do I open the duologue ?” I get it. For most parents dealing with sons and porn is a rookie situation. All those “What To Expect When Your Expecting” books didn’t prepare you for this. With that in mind I want to help us identify some Gospel oriented questions to ask our boys. To do this however I want to start with some less than ideal questions many parents ask and then move to the useful stuff.
Questions You Don’t Want To Bother Asking:
Why are you looking at these things?
It’s a redundant question that may inadvertently fuel a shaming tone. He’s looking because he’s curious, aroused and sinful. You know the answer better than he does. Besides the answer itself contributes nothing to the solution. Leverage good Gospel questions, not filler questions.
Do you think this is acceptable?
Obviously he doesn’t. If he did he would do it openly in the living room during family time. He hides it because he knows its wrong. This, like the previous question, is redundant. More importantly it is a misdirected question. The filter we always want to use in regard to sin is not “What do you think?“ but “What does Jesus think?” In Psalm 51:4 David says to God, “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight.” In viewing pornography a boy is harming himself and grieving his parents, but he is sinning only against Jesus who died and suffered wrath for his porn viewing. Thus it only matters what Jesus thinks.
What would your __________ (sister, mother, grandmother, friends, etc.) think of this?
The question hints that you may in fact broadcast his sin to Nanna. This may not be your plan, but it will make him wonder. Aside from that it works much like the previous question. The issue is not about what others think; it’s about what Jesus thinks. This is especially important since it is easy to find large pockets of people who affirm sinful practices as good and commendable. As soon as we make humans the primary consideration we are at the mercy of whatever they consider to be sinful.
Do you know how exploited these women are in pornography?
If your son is under 16 years of age he really has no idea – even if you tell him. Abstract thinking hasn’t fully developed and so a sense of empathy toward people they do not know, and who “appear” to be willing participants, is of limited value in dealing with adolescent temptations. This isn’t to say that this question isn’t an important one to address, but if we try to use it as a tool to repulse them away from pornography it will not be effective.
Talking With Our Boys – A Gospel Starter:
Parenting is sinners raising sinners. Therefore we should engage the conversation as a fellow sinner who realizes the need for and power of the Gospel. That is the tone that sets the opener statement, “I want you to know that I understand where you’re at right now. I want us to talk about it. Would you like to talk now or in about an hour?”
This seems trivial I know, but it shows this is bigger than a fifteen minute chat. What you’re saying is you’re prepared to take time to work this through; therefore you’re prepared to give him some time to think this through before you talk. It also reinforces the tone of a dialogue verses the “were talking about this now mister” approach that all but guarantees he will not open up to you.
Once sitting down to talk (in a quiet, non-public, uninterrupted space) here are some “drawing out” questions:
- When did you first start looking at these kinds of things?
- What kinds of things have you looked at?
- How often have you been looking?
- What do you believe Jesus thinks of what you’ve been looking at?
- Do you know Jesus has given us what we need to overcome our sins? (notice the solidarity of “us” and “we”)
- How can I help you out on this?
- What are some ways we can guard against this happening in the future?
- Is it cool if you and I pray together every night about this for a while?
- I’m going to ask you every few days how it’s going. Will you be open with me if I promise not to freak out toward you?
Now trust me when I tell you that the questions above are far easier to list than ask. And take my word for it; you’ll be lucky to get 20 words from him in the entire encounter. Yet it’s less about getting answers and far more about creating an open environment for you and your son to acknowledge sin and seek grace. He must know you have empathy and understanding more than you have judgment. This doesn’t mean you lack concern or disappointment in the conversation, but you need to have a tone by which he knows you really do understand where he is at and you want to help him along the process. And that is a key word for you to lock in – process. His temptations will not end with one heart felt conversation. The longer he has had to feed the habit the harder it will be to overcome. You are beginning a journey with your son that will consist of many conversations like this (and a few failures too). Therefore the biggest most powerful way to help him is to every time point him to what Jesus has done and can do.
Coming Up Wednesday: Pt.4 “Jesus Died For Porn”