Question: I just caught my teenage son viewing pornography on the internet, what should I do?
Answer: This problem is difficult for several reasons. One is that we are not comfortable with questions of a sexual nature. Parents do not like to see their children as sexual beings, and children do not like to see their parents as sexual beings. Yet God himself is the one who created our sexuality, “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” (Genesis 1:27) When we find our children being interested in sexual issues it often makes us uncomfortable. We often feel embarrassed to even talk about this part of life with our children.
I recently received another phone call regarding this problem. The parent was quite upset and worried. I asked, “Are you surprised that your teenage son is interested in sexual things?” “Well, no, I guess not,” was the answer. I responded that I would be surprised if their teenager was not interested in sexual issues, all teenagers are, and should be. It is part of God’s plan. I am not saying that viewing pornography is a moral way to pursue this part of life. I am saying that God has created us to be sexual beings and understanding our sexuality is a normal part of growing up. As sinners, fallen people, most of us grow into our sexuality with some sin involved. As a parent, I will not accept sin as “normal” but I expect it and try to be wise in how I address it.
We Have a Problem, not a Crisis.
What I was trying to communicate is that the parent had a problem, not a crisis or a catastrophe. A common mistake parents make is to respond to the problem out of fear or shame. If parents use such teaching moments to yell at their son, to shame him, they will not accomplish their goal. When we treat another person in a disrespectful manner, they don’t respond by seeing their wrongdoing, but rather to see us as wrong; they focus on us being “jerks”. This does not convince our children of their need to change but convinces them of the need to do a better job of hiding their deeds.
“I don’t understand it. This is the third time I have caught him. I told him I would not put up with this. I told him how wicked this is. He says that I embarrass him by talking about it to others, which I hoped would shame him into stopping. But he still does it. What am I supposed to do?”
That parent was reacting out of her embarrassment, out of her fears. It did not focus her son on his sin. It focused her son on her sin. We are called to speak the truth in love, Ephesians 4:15 “but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him, who is the head, even Christ.” Do you understand what this verse is teaching us? When we speak the truth in love, we help others grow in Christ. The opposite is also true. When we speak the truth without love, we cause people to stumble.
When we catch our children doing wrong, we want to keep the focus on their wrong. When we react out of fear, shame, and anger, we switch their focus to our own sin.
A Plan of Action
Common questions I ask parents when they call for help in this area.
- What kind of sex education have you given your child?
Often the parents have not done as much as they should. Rather, they are more concerned that giving such information will only encourage interest in a subject they would like to contain. Upon talking, I help them understand that we will not be able to contain our children’s interest in their sexuality, because it is part of our created being. Our children will have questions and they will seek information. If we do not provide it in a moral way, we leave them open to the many immoral outlets the world provides. I recommend the Concordia Publishing House, ‘Learning About Sex’ series. They offer a series of age-appropriate books for children aged three and up.
- What kind of accountability or limits do you have on technological devices?
Our children will be tempted. If giving into temptation is as easy as a mouse click, it is too easy. Put some filters on any devices you and your children have, including phones, computers, tablets, and televisions. I am not assuming the worst about your children. I am being realistic.
- Talk about the problem.
This is the hardest. Sometimes I have a father and son come in for a meeting. It is often easier to break the ice with a third party. We look at what the Bible teaches us about this part of life and talk about how easy it can be to sin in the private areas of life. My talking models for Dad how to do it. Junior finds that it can be respectful and helpful to talk about the hard parts of life. Other time parents are ready to take it on themselves but do know that it’s not a one-time conversation.
Helping our children learn from their mistakes, from their sin, is what parents are supposed to do. God gives us teaching moments; often it is when we catch our children doing something wrong. Ask God for wisdom, He will help you, and don’t hesitate to reach out to one of our trained counselors for additional support and direction.