THE PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT OF YOUR INFINITE POTENTIAL

How to Respond if Your Child is Looking at Porn

A question I often get is, “Dr. Hosley, my son or my daughter is into pornography” or “Dr. Hosley, I found inappropriate or “sext” messages on my child’s phone. What should I do?”

There are three things you need to do when your son or daughter is experiencing exposure to pornography:

  1. Remain calm.
  2. Be sure to not shame your child.
  3. Have a conversation with your child.
Your relationship with your child is critical in helping your kids to make great decisions about their life.

Why do I say remain calm? Well first of all exposure to pornography is almost a guarantee in our society today – not 100%, but a very high percentage of children will see pornography at some point in their lifetime. When I work with adult men my question is not, “Have you seen pornography?” It is, “What is your relationship with pornography?” Remain calm means, “We’ve been here before, we know what to do, we know where to go.” It is important that you do not freak out. Whether your child told you, you discovered it by randomly checking their phone, or you discovered something was going on when walking into their room and they shut their laptop suddenly. Resist the urge to panic. It is okay. There is a plan; there is a path.

Be sure not to shame your child. They feel guilty and ashamed of their behavior and anything that you say at the time of discovery they will never forget. I encourage you, if you can’t say anything calm or positive, simply give them a hug and say “I love you and I will talk to you later.” Be sure there is a later – if you ignore this it will not go away. If you can say something calm and positive say “I love you. I appreciate knowing this and I think that we can move through this together.”

Having a conversation means sharing your story. You have a story. The challenge is often that children don’t feel that they can relate to their parents because the parents have never created a framework for safe dialogue. Anybody viewing pornography feels shame over his or her behaviors. If they don’t feel it is safe to talk to you they won’t. However, if they already know your story, how you struggled and what it was like for you overcome your challenges, whether they be pornography or any kind of behavior that you are not thrilled with – they need to know that they can approach you. Children need to know it is okay; that they are not alone in their struggle. They need to know they can talk to you.

 

There are also some practical steps that need to be taken. There are three things that need to be done to limit damage from this behavior and prevent further exposure.

  1. You would not leave a fifth of Jack Daniels whiskey and a stack of Playboy magazines on your kitchen table, your dining room table, or even better yet on your child’s desk in their bedroom. Sadly, many parents ignorantly give their children an iPod, cell phone, laptop computer, desktop computer, Kindle, Xbox, Wii, or other game console without considering this simple truth – if it has internet access there is pornography access. Be proactive and intelligent about limiting access.

 

  1. An important aspect of damage control is creating a venue for ongoing conversation. You need to let your child know that you intend on having proactive conversations with them on a weekly basis if not more. Just ask how they’re doing – to tell them you care, to see how it’s going.   It is about intentional parenting, to help them navigate the world of sexuality, sexual desires, and relationships in their teenage years and beyond.

 

  1. Counseling is important. It has been said. “a coach is a coach and a parent is a parent.” The same can also be said for counseling. You’re not a counselor and you don’t want to be. Seeing a counselor is an important step for parents at this stage because the most important factor in helping your child make good decisions around their sexual behaviors is for them to not have shame around their sexual behaviors. Secrecy and shame may fuel the behaviors. Seeing a counselor can serve to reduce this shame. It is a shame free environment – it is about creating a relationship and a place where your child can talk openly and freely about the struggles that they have experienced and the shame that they may be experiencing. A counselor who knows their stuff will be sure to reduce shame and help them normalize their sexualized desires. He/she will help them put up good boundaries around those behaviors and pursue their parents for conversation and connection.

 

Your relationship with your child is critical in helping your kids to make great decisions about their life.

When completing my education I had the privilege of working with Dr. Ken Canfield, then President of the National Center for Fathering, doing research on factors that may contribute to people making better decisions with their sexuality.* We looked at the father-child relationship in particular and found that men who reported having a close relationship with their father when they were children reported significantly less involvement in what we called “non-marital sexual behaviors.”** This is referring to adults and their decisions about their sexuality. Specifically, their decision to view pornography, engage in masturbation, or stay faithful in their marriage relationships. We found that those with a close relationship with their father reported significantly less involvement in these behaviors.

Parents, you are the key! You’re not responsible for their behaviors but you’re critical to their decisions. Be proactive and always remember that a great relationship is a potentially powerful insulator to the allure of pornography, sexualized conversations, and illicit sexual behaviors.

 

father-son-hug

 

* Hosley, R., Canfield, K., O’Donnel, S., Roid, G. Father Closeness: Its Effect on Married Men’s Sexual Behaviors, Marital, and Family Satisfaction. Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity: The Journal of Treatment and Prevention, 2008.

 

**“close” defined as emotionally connected, safe, able to talk to their father easily, and understanding how their father felt about them

 

 

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