What I Wish I'd Known
© 2010 Teresa Cook
Published in ParentLife Online March 2010
Ten years ago, I seldom gave a thought to pornography. Sure, I knew about "adult" bookstores and backroom video rentals, but porn belonged to another world. I was certain it would never affect my family.
That is until one day when our teenage son Brandon came to us in tears and confessed that he was addicted to pornography. He told us about stumbling across a partially scrambled cable channel where he saw enough to become hooked. For eighteen months, he sneaked from his room in the middle of the night to watch flickering images that buried themselves deep into his mind.
"I've tried over and over to stop, but I can't." Brandon sobbed as we hugged him. "I need help!"
Presence of Porn
Since that day, I have learned more about pornography than I ever wanted to know. One fact from my research stands out—more children are being exposed to porn and at younger ages than ever before.
A recent survey published by the American Academy of Pediatrics revealed that 42 percent of children ages 10 to 17 had seen online pornography in the previous year.i When I first began investigating, statistics showed the average age of first exposure as 11 to 13. Due to the proliferation of pornography on the Internet, some experts say that age has dropped to 8.ii In fact, counselors report seeing more preteens, including girls, who compulsively view pornography—frightening since the earlier the exposure, the more ingrained an addiction may become.iii
Power of Porn
Whereas porn's prevalence appalled me, porn's power blindsided me. Having never experienced an addiction, I had difficulty understanding why Brandon could not just stop looking at it. Surely he was not physically addicted to pornography since he did not ingest anything as alcoholics or drug addicts do. Yet even after we located a counselor for our son and helped him set up protection and accountability practices, he continued seeking ways to access sexually explicit material.
I later discovered that viewing pornography does indeed cause a powerful, mood-altering addiction. Researchers believe natural endorphins many times stronger than heroin flood an addict's body causing him to literally get high on his own brain chemicals.iv Resulting sexual arousal stimulates the adrenal glands to release the hormone epinephrine, which burns the images into the viewer's mind. These memories are difficult, sometimes impossible, to erase and can play back at will—or even against the addict's will.v Our son battled a relentless foe.
Preventing Porn's Addiction
Looking back, I see many things my husband and I could have done differently to prevent Brandon from falling prey to this addiction. While no plan guarantees a porn-proof child, taking the following steps will help insulate your child against its temptation.
Until the advent of the Internet, porn was confined to the seedy section of town, and parents found it relatively simple to keep harmful material away from children. With today's technology explosion, all that has changed. Now pornography is not only easily accessible but difficult to avoid.
Institute a protection plan to make your home a safe haven. Connect with like-minded parents who also guard their homes. Model self-protection procedures in the movies you watch and the material you read.
Even if you plug all the gaps through which obscenity can enter your home, your children may still encounter it at a friend's house, the local library, or school. You can prepare your child's heart and mind to resist in three ways.
1. Teach godly sexuality. After my husband and I had the "birds and bees" talk with Brandon, we told him to come to us anytime he had questions. Then we breathed a sigh of relief and said, "Whew! Glad that's over." How I wish I had known that developing a healthy sense of sexuality in children involves more.
While we never modeled unhealthy sexuality for our son, we failed to intentionally teach him God's plan for sex. You have the opportunity to do better. By discussing sex in an appropriate and God-honoring way, you can make great strides in heading off a fascination with pornography.
2. Initiate the porn talk. Knowledge is power. You may worry, as I did, that warning children about pornography will trigger an unwholesome curiosity. Counselors say the opposite is true. The more children know about the dangers, the less likely they will want to see it.iv Age-geared discussions can start as early as preschool, as a natural extension of warning children about strangers and inappropriate touch.
3. Keep communication open. Even when children accidentally stumble upon pornography, they often feel intense shame and are reluctant to talk about it. Prepare your children by keeping communication open and assuring them of your unconditional love.
A mother of twelve once gave me a parents' list of prayers which included "pray your children will get caught when they are guilty." Pray they admit their wrongdoings, maybe, but get caught? I found it difficult to send that request heavenward.
Months after Brandon's confession, we learned the cable programs were not his first exposure to pornography. One brief incident took place on a youth trip. His getting caught at that time would have been embarrassing, but it might have forced us to take a closer look and given us a chance to intervene.
Pray specifically not only for God to protect your children but to reveal to you, by whatever painful means necessary, any secrets they may harbor.
Thanks to God's mercy, Brandon no longer seeks out pornography as he once did, but he will probably battle its lure to some degree for the rest of his life. I cannot change that. But
armed with the facts I wish I had known, you can take action to prevent our family's story from becoming your family's story.