What to Do When You Catch Your Child Looking at Porn

15 year old Dave (not his real name) ended up in my office because he’d been repeatedly caught viewing online pornography. His parents had “done everything we know how to do” and still the relationship was eroding. We often like to work with parents at times like this, but in this case, since Dave was willing to come (teens often are not willing), I agreed to see him.

I quickly heard from Dave what I hear from many teens in trouble with their parents:

My parents freaked out at me. There was no talking about it. First they took away my computer access, then my phone, then they wouldn’t leave me alone about it, always reminding me that they couldn’t trust me. I felt really bad, but looking at porn was like a hunger for sugar – you know it’s bad for you but you just keep eating it. Then you feel awful afterward. The strange thing is, the more my parents did to punish me, the more my hunger grew. Every time I saw a billboard with a good looking woman, or a sexy TV commercial, I wanted so bad to see more. I kept finding ways to sneak around the password when my parents weren’t around and started looking at the stuff more than ever. They caught me again and really went crazy on me. That’s when they called you.

It was clear to me that Dave felt bad about what he’d done, and that he wanted help dealing with it. It was also clear that his parents’ well-intentioned approach of control and consequences not only didn’t help, but seemed to make matters worse. We consistently see that when parents just “tighten the clamps,” believing they can control and eliminate the behavior, they instead increase their teen’s discouragement and drive the behavior further “underground.”

I asked Dave what he thought he needed in order to start getting over this. He gave what we believe is the answer that parents need to hear:

“I need them to not freak out. It just makes me feel worse, and it keeps me from ever feeling like I can talk about it.”

“I need them to quit reminding me of all my failures. I already feel really ashamed, and then I get angry. And when I’m angry I just want to get away with it more!”

“I need them to appreciate it when I’m honest about it. The only time I tried telling them the truth about what I’d done, they just yelled more. So even though I want to talk to them, if they just keep yelling there’s no way I’ll tell them anything.”

“I need them to start trusting me again, or I’ll never be ready to go out on my own. I know I don’t deserve much trust, but even if they give me some little trust and then help me feel good about doing the right thing, I think it will help.”

Pornographers and advertisers grow more sophisticated by the day in their ability to either blatantly or subtly break through to seduce our children, and the worst sorts of temptation are a quick mouse click away. Parents should also be aware of the intense difficulty teen boys experience in managing the crazy increase in testosterone (up to 60 times more from age nine to 15). It’s more difficult than ever to be a visually stimulated boy in today’s sexually charged culture.

We would all do well to heed Dave’s wisdom about what kids need so that they can stay connected to their parents and work through this difficult challenge together. Clearly, these young men — and women — need compassion, a safe listening ear, and encouragement in their ability to work through these temptations.

So consider asking forgiveness of your teen if you have been anxious, angry or shaming about difficult issues. Ask relaxed, non-condemning questions. Then listen with a ton of “I understand” empathy and “I believe in you” encouragement. Even authentically share some of your own struggles in this area. Most importantly – reaffirm your love-no-matter-what for your child.

If you can apply these ideas in your challenges with your budding teens, we advise you do so. If you find it difficult and your relationship is spiraling, give us a call – we coach parents through this sort of thing every day.

Apply it Now:

  1. On a 0 to 10 scale, where 0 = “I allow my anxiety to drive my responses whenever I see my child struggle or disobey my standards for sexuality, and my teen consistently shuts down”, and 10 = “I keep my anxiety at bay and my teen feels completely safe with me, demonstrated by an openness to share about sensitive topics”, what is your number?
  2. What is something you do that keeps you from having a lower number?
  3. What is one thing you’d like to do to raise your number a half a point or point?

Sign up below to receive a weekly dose of encouragement straight to your inbox:

Comments

Pin It on Pinterest