It wasn’t supposed to happen to your son.
But it happened.
What are you supposed to do now?
A Personal Story
I met with a mom and dad who recently found out their son has been looking at pornography online. They were completely caught off-guard.
They aren’t helicopter parents. They’ve done their best to protect, nurture, and provide for their son. They attend church regularly, and they encourage their son to be involved in the youth ministry. They eat dinner together. They go on family vacations. They’ve done everything that parenting books tell you to do in order to raise your kids with a firm moral compass.
But they began to notice the signs:
- Their son wanted to spend more and more time alone in his room.
- He started losing his temper more often and more quickly than before.
- He started making rude comments to girls.
- He deleted the browser history.
- When he was home alone, he would call to ask what time his parents would be home.
Of course, none of these things point directly to a problem with pornography, but the accumulation of these things for a 13-year-old boy definitely points in that direction.
One night, the son said he was going to bed early. He was overly enthusiastic about letting everyone in the house know that he wasn’t to be disturbed because he would be sleeping.
That made his mom suspicious; it wasn’t like him to do that. He usually wanted to stay up a little later to watch TV or play video games.
She went to his room and knocked on the door.
Mom: “Honey, are you alright?”
Son: “Yes, mom. I’m just tired. Good night.”
Mom: “One question. Do you know where the iPad is? Your sister wants to use it.”
Son: “I don’t know mom. I’m trying to sleep.”
Mom: “Well, you had it last.”
Son: “Ugh. I don’t know where it is.”
Mom: “You had it last, so I’m coming in to look for it.”
She opened the door and turned on the light.
She looked around but didn’t see the iPad. She looked under the clothes that were scattered on the floor. No iPad. She threw back the blankets on the bed to see if maybe it had gotten lost under there.
And then she saw it.
Her son had hidden the iPad under the blankets, and he was watching pornography.
A Parent's Perspective
I asked her how she felt when she saw that. With tears in her eyes, she told me:
“I felt like a failure as a parent. I’ve tried to do everything right. I wanted to protect him from all of that stuff. We had parental controls on every device in the house…except that iPad. Now he can’t un-see what he’s seen. I feel like he’s lost his innocence.”
The dad had a calmer reaction. Most dads do. He told me that he had gotten into similar things when he was that age. Of course, it was a lot harder then. Pornography wasn’t just a mouse click away. So he knew that while this was a serious matter, it wasn’t the end of the world if they could figure out how to get it under control.
A Pastor's Perspective
I explained to the parents that they aren’t alone in this. I have conversations with parents almost every month about this exact issue.
As a parent, the temptation is to take 100% of the fault. After all, it’s your son. It’s your job to protect him from such things. But I don’t think that’s the healthiest approach.
You aren’t a failure as a parent. After all, you were perceptive enough to see the signs and get help.
Also, most teenage boys who look at pornography aren’t on the fast track to becoming sexual deviants. With a little of bit of help from you, your son can work through the issues that drove him to look at pornography in the first place, and he’ll be on the path to freedom and wholeness. He’s not scarred for life at this point.
Again, you don’t want to downplay the seriousness of pornography, but you don’t want to overplay it either.
Practically, there are a few things going on in the mind of a teenage guy that entice him to look at pornography. Here are the top three:
Typically, puberty happens in boys between the ages of 12 and 16. This is the time when they experience a growth spurt, their voice deepens, and they grow body hair.
Steve Gerali explains, “Through the creative mysteries that God instilled when he created guys, a biological alarm signals the opening of a floodgate of these hormones essential for physical growth and maturation. It’s as if the endocrine system goes into high gear and takes over this innocent little guy’s body.” (Teenage Guys, p. 43)
The hormone that drives sexual reproduction and appetite is testosterone. That’s what makes guys sex-crazy. As semen is produced, it fills the storage areas of the male reproductive system. According to Gerali, “An adolescent guy’s body is making sperm and semen faster and in greater quantities than it can dissipate.” (Teenage Guys, p. 67)
With that surplus of sexual fluid, a guy’s body automatically tries to get rid of the excess by heightening sexual desire. It will eventually be absorbed back into his system or ejaculated through nocturnal emission or masturbation.
As their bodies develop, guys become aware of themselves in a new way. But guys aren’t the only ones going through puberty. Girls are too. Guys notice those changes in a girl’s figure. Curiosity develops, and guys are wondering, what’s going on under there?
Another angle of curiosity is related to social status. Your son likely has friends who don’t have very many restrictions when it comes to websites they can access or movies they can watch. While you’ve gone to great lengths to protect your son from seeing things that he shouldn’t see, other parents haven’t provided their kids with many rules or boundaries to prevent such things. When those kids start explaining the things they’ve seen, they have a captive audience at school.
Curiosity kicks in. Exploration follows. Next time, your son will be able to say that he’s seen it too.
3. Forbidden Fruit
It’s hard to deny that there is a sense of exhilaration when you’re getting away with something you know you shouldn’t do. Pornography is like forbidden fruit. Guys know that there’s something sinister about watching it. But that’s what makes them want to watch it. It’s like when you say to someone, “Don’t look over there.” What do they do? They immediately look over there.
For a guy who thrives on adventure and overcoming obstacles, pornography represents the Holy Grail. Some kids can’t figure out how to see it. They’re too afraid to type those words into the Google search bar. But your son is able to show that he’s fearless because he’s done it. It’s like he’s trespassing into a place that is off-limits. That’s exciting, no matter who you are.
When these three factors come together, it can turn otherwise ADHD guys into focused vigilantes who think like MacGyver in order to get their eyes on the prize.
Stories from others...
Guys do dumb things and don’t think they’ll get caught. When I was a kid, my parents would go to the grocery store and leave my older brother and I home alone.
I remember one time in particular. It was a few weeks before Christmas. Somehow my brother had found out where our Christmas presents were. He decided to pull them out and unwrap them to see what was inside. When he’d seen what was under the wrapping paper, he tried to rewrap the presents and put them back where he’d found them.
He really thought he’d get away with it! He didn’t. It just goes to show how the adolescent brain works… at times, not well enough.
Another time, we were left home alone. This time our parents had gone to work. We had all day to conjure up ways to get into trouble. My brother decided to go looking through my parents’ closet. He found a video cassette. The label said, “The Temptress.” He called me in and said, “You’re going to want to see this.” There was just one problem. It was formatted for a Beta VCR. We had already upgraded to a VHS, but my brother knew where we kept the old Beta. We spent hours digging it out of the attic and trying to get it set up with the hope that we would get to see something that we knew we shouldn’t see.
That’s what happens when hormones, curiosity, and forbidden fruit meet an opportunity.
Back to My Meeting...
I questioned the dad to see if he’d asked his son why he felt the urge to look at pornography. He said he had. His son told him that he was curious. He’d heard some guys talking about it at school and wanted to see what it was all about.
That makes sense.
When Ronda Rousey lost a UFC fight to Holly Holm, it was all over the news (Nov. 2016). People who don’t even care about the UFC tracked down the video. People who think that watching women fight each other is a stain on our societal conscience still Googled it to see the image of the knockout kick that everyone was talking about.
That’s how it goes. When we hear about something, our curiosity is stimulated, and we seek out ways to satisfy it.
Even if your son’s friends weren’t talking about pornography, it’s likely that his own hormone-induced fantasies and urges would have drawn him to it anyway. It’s just so easy and accessible to see. Even if he wasn’t seeking it, it’s been seeking him all along.
Sharing The Information
The dad shared some information with his son about the effects of pornography on the teenage brain. He wanted him to know that pornography isn’t simply neutral; it’s negative.
According to Alexandra Katehakis, “When an adolescent boy compulsively views pornography, his brain chemistry can become shaped around the attitudes and situations that he is watching . . . Pornography shows us a world where relationships mean nothing and immediate sexual gratification means everything. Therefore, the adolescent viewer’s brain is being wired to expect that sex and relationships are separate from one another, and that men and women’s bodies should be sexually exaggerated as they are in porn – which can lead to shame about one’s own body as well as failure to be aroused by the bodies of others.” (Psychology Today, “Effects of Porn on Adolescent Boys”) https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/sex-lies-trauma/201107/effects-porn-adolescent-boys)
Nothing good comes from viewing pornography.
The dad shared some valuable information, but in the end, it’s just information. For the information to create transformation in someone’s life, there has to be application.
How could he apply this information to his son’s life?
Here’s one way:
“Look son, I know you’re curious about sex. That’s normal. You’re not in trouble because of this. I want you to know that sex is a good thing. We believe that God gives it to us as a gift to be shared between a man and a woman who have committed themselves to each other in marriage. It’s the highest form of intimacy that two people can share. It’s a beautiful, good gift.
Let me ask you a question, son:
Do you want to be the kind of guy who treats girls with respect? [Yes.]
Of course you do.
Do you think looking at pornography will help you do that? [No.]
Of course it won’t.
Do you know how dangerous it is for you? [Yes.]
I’m not sure you do. Think about it like this: Are there people at your school who do drugs? [Probably.]
Do your mom and I let you do drugs? [No.]
Why do you think it’s not a good idea for you to do drugs? [It’ll mess me up. It’ll mess up my future. It’ll change me in a bad way.]
That’s right. Listen, pornography is like a powerful drug. Why it’s not outlawed, I don’t know. It’s more harmful than half of the drugs that are outlawed.
Pornography is like the crack cocaine of sex. It promises pleasure. It might even give you a quick little thrill. But it leaves you feeling dirty, ashamed, and wanting more.
Does that sound like something that’s good for you? [No.]
When your friends talk about pornography, they don’t know what they are talking about. I want you to know that you can come to me anytime with whatever questions you have about sex or any of this. I’ll shoot straight with you because I love you and want the best for you.
Do you believe me? [Yes.]
Do you trust me? [Yes.]
Alright, let’s go eat dinner.”
That conversation is filled with application and affirmation that leads to transformation. That’s the kind of conversation that parents need to be having with their sons.
The Bifurcated Life
Part of the problem is that teenagers believe the myth of the bifurcated life. In his book, Every Young Man’s Battle, Stephen Arterburn explains this idea to teenagers.
He says: “The bifurcation myth says that you can do what you want as a teenager because after you move into adulthood, it won’t matter . . . Since life-bifurcation is a myth, the decisions you make today will impact everything in your future. The sexual desires you feel as a teenager will be the same desires you want to feel when you’re forty . . . If you believe that today’s sexual desires are harmless to your future, bifurcation is rotting the roots of your future marriage right now” (pages 28-29).
I recently had a front row seat to watch this exact scene play out in a guy’s life. He’s 40-years-old, but he still carries around the sexual baggage he created for himself with choices he made as a teenager. Eventually, he decided his wife wasn’t enough to satisfy his distorted sexual desires anymore. He strayed from his marriage and ripped his family apart. And yet, people still have the audacity to act like they can just pick up and leave their choices from the past behind. It’s not that simple.
Cutting The Power
Here’s the thing: Pornography gets its power from secrecy and hiddenness.
Part of the appeal for teenagers is the sensation that they’re getting away with something. But when their secret gets discovered, the game is up. The lie is over. Now everyone knows. When that happens, a large part of pornography’s power has been cut off. That’s because darkness loses its thrill when it’s exposed to the light.
For example, men don’t usually solicit prostitutes in broad daylight. Why not? They’ll be exposed. Instead, they go looking at night. They hide in the shadows. There’s a twisted thrill associated with it. But when they get caught and their mug shot is posted on the internet, it’s not so exciting anymore.
The boy’s mom told me that this made sense. Since the big discovery, she said, “He been more open, more fun…more himself around the house.” That’s because the secret power cord has been cut.
As for a strategic action plan, I have recommended John Piper’s ANTHEM strategy to dozens of guys over the years. Here it is for you:
A – AVOID as much as is possible and reasonable the sights and situations that arouse inappropriate desire. Some temptation is inevitable. Not all desire is bad. We know our weaknesses and what triggers them. Avoid them. 2 Timothy 2:22 says, “Flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness.”
N – Say NO to every lustful thought within five seconds. And say it with the authority of Jesus: “In the name of Jesus, NO!” You don’t have much more than five seconds. Any longer than five seconds and you’re odds of winning drop significantly. James 4:7 says, “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”
T – TURN your mind forcefully toward Christ as a superior satisfaction. Saying “no” won’t suffice. You must move from defense to offense. Attack the promises of sin with the more satisfying promises of Christ. Deceit is defeated by glorious truth. After you say “NO,” you must immediately turn to Christ.
H – HOLD the promise and the pleasure of Christ firmly in your mind until it pushes the other images out. Don’t let go. Keep holding on. Fight for as long as it takes. Hebrews 12:2 says, “Fix your eyes on Jesus.” That’s the key.
E – ENJOY a superior satisfaction. Create a desire for Christ in your heart. One of the reasons why lust has so much power is that Christ isn’t seen as glorious. We give in to deceit because we have such little delight in Christ. Seek ways to awaken your affection for Jesus. Psalm 90:14 says, “Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.” This is what you were made for.
M – MOVE into a useful activity. Don’t allow yourself too much free time. Lust grows in the garden of leisure. Find a good work to do, and do it with all your might. 1 Corinthians 15:58 says, “Be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord.” Get up and do something. Displace deceitful lusts with a passion for good deeds.
I wish every dad would work through this plan with his kids, being sure to emphasize the importance of each step.
You Have What It Takes!
The parents I talked with have done a great job with this situation. I think they’re on the road to recovery. Pornography will continue to be an ongoing temptation for their son, and they need to keep giving positive messages about his ability to overcome it with the strength that God provides.
They need to remain open about it, and encourage honest communication. They should say things like:
“You’re a good young man.”
“You have what it takes to get through this.”
“You can do the right thing.”
“How can I help you?”
“Is there anything you’re feeling that you’re unsure about?”
As they do that, they’ll be able to make pornography a thing of the past. The same is true for you.
Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions or if you need more resources regarding this topic.