You just caught your child looking at porn. What do you do?

My friend Luke Gilkerson with Covenant Eyes interviewed me regarding how to respond to a parent who just caught his/her son in porn.

Luke’s questions are in italics, with my responses underneath:

Start with hope

LG: Let’s say a dad came to see you for advice about his teenage son. He tells you his son has been sneaking out of bed late at night looking at porn on the computer. He’s put filters in place but his son seems to be able to get around them. How might you start advising this father?

The first thing the parent needs to know is that God’s grace is sufficient for this.

The starting point when dealing with personal challenges must be in the hope we have in God. While we may not be able to understand everything that is going on in our lives, we can understand, know, and trust in God’s goodness even in our darkest hours.

I would want to make sure the parents are rooting their hearts and minds in God alone. God is writing His story in their lives. God is in control. God is working His plan.

And most importantly they need to know that God is good. These should be fixed anchor points in their hearts. My first goal would be to make sure the parents are rooted in these truths.

The second thing I would want to do is make sure the parents understand that the real issue is in the kid’s heart, not on his computer. While the parent can use technology to guard the computer, he will need to take another approach to guard the child’s heart.

But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. – James 1:14-15 (ESV)

Sometimes a dad or a mom can have a hard time accepting what they are seeing in their children. While they can understand why other children mess up, it can be hard to receive and accept the truth about their own children.

If a child, like the one you’re asking about, goes to these lengths to get to porn, then you are more than likely talking about what our culture calls an addiction. Paul frames it better by calling it being “caught” in a transgression.

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. – Galatians 6:1 (ESV)

It may be helpful for them to reframe what is happening in their family another way. For example, if you think about an alcoholic or crack addict who was circumventing sound advice and obstacles to drink or use, then it may be easier for the parent to see the depth and severity of the problem.

This kid is not a victim to his culture or to technology. He is premeditating how he can get to porn. He is a user. According to James, porn is in his heart. He is being lured away by evil desires that he fosters in his heart.

End with hope

This may be a good time to re-remind the parents of the grace and mercy of God. God is working His plan in their lives and now they have a great opportunity to cooperate with what God desires to do for their child.

With that in mind, part of God’s mercy could be His desire to blow this thing up while the child is young. This would be a mercy from the Lord. Dealing with this problem today is far better than finding out about it when he is 40-years old, married to a bitter wife, and his own kids are in rebellion.

Rather than the parents getting lost in the discouragement of what is going on I would want to motivate them to think and respond biblically, while implementing a biblical plan to help their son. As you counsel them, be sure to situate the parent’s hope in God.

Parents need to lead

LG: What are some first steps of protection you would recommend to parents to prevent future porn-surfing?

The parents should do the most obvious things like Covenant Eyes. I would also recommend that they call Covenant Eyes to make sure they have all the blocks that are possible on their computers–all of their computers.

This kind of protection would also apply to cell phones, iPads, and any other form of technology that allows the child to access pornography. While there are no foolproof ways to stop a guy if he wants to get porn, it would be good to do as much as possible.

Additionally, I would remove or reduce his accessibility to technology. Does he have to have technology? What is the purpose for him having a computer and other devices?

Cell phones are a desire, not a need. Most people do not need a cell phone. Our culture tells us we need one while enticing us to have them. Facebook is similar. Nobody needs to be on Facebook. Though this flies in the face of our technology gods, the truth is that we don’t need all that we have.

I have counseled many parents who are afraid of their children, as shown by their acquiescing to the demands of their children. I would want to carefully walk the parents through the “needs vs. desires” tension when it comes to technology.

If there are times when the child needs to be on the computer, then I would move his computer to a central, highly visible, and public place in the home. If your son struggled with drinking, I don’t think you would put a mini-fridge full of beer in his room and give him a stern warning about what you’ll do to him if he takes a sip.

Model, serve, and protect

LG: How should a parent talk to their teen about the details of what they have seen? Should a parent probe into specific questions about what kind of porn was viewed?

The parents should talk to their child the way they would want to be talked to if they were found out. Yelling and screaming at a child would not be a good idea. The parents should seek to model what they want their child to be. This was the advice of Paul in several places in his writings (1 Corinthians 11:1; Ephesians 5:1; Philippians 4:9).

  • If they want their child to be humble, then they should model humility.
  • If they want their child to be kind, then they should model kindness.
  • If they want their child to be honest, then they should model honesty.

As far as the actual content, it would depend on the situation, the content viewed, and the parents. For example, the dad has a responsibility to protect, lead, and shepherd his wife. Sometimes the role of a shepherd-husband is to protect his wife.

  • Will it serve her to know what was viewed?
  • What would be the point of her knowing all the details?

I deal with these kinds of things all the time. My wife’s position is that she trusts me and she does not want to know all the gory details. She does not want her mind polluted with some of the things I hear through my counseling opportunities. It is my job to serve my wife, to help her in her growth in Christ.

It may not serve the wife to know the severity or the explicit nature of the porn her son was viewing. It is enough to know that her son was in porn and that he needs help.

From the husband’s perspective, it would not be wise for him to view the porn–nothing more than what he has discovered. Men are affected differently than women. While the wife is generally nurturing and would be tempted to lose hope by what she sees, the husband would be tempted to be lured in by what he views.

In either case, porn takes no prisoners. It is violence to the soul. All parties involved should be extremely circumspect when dealing with it. More porn knowledge or more visuals are not helpful.

It’s not important to count how many beer bottles were on the wall. Just knowing there were some up there, some were taken down, and your son did it should be enough.

Matters of the heart

LG: How should parents be discipling their children to help them understand why pornography is wrong? 

This is an interesting question. While I would want to disciple my children on the sin of pornography–if they were into porn, I would want to disciple them through the deeper and more insidious problems that are going on–the things that feed the porn.

I cannot over-emphasize this: our behaviors flow from our hearts and if our hearts are not shepherded toward Christ, then the kid does not have a chance.

The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks. – Luke 6:43-45 (ESV)

Some of the more insidious issues of the heart are the following:

Slothfulness – the child is lazy, meaning that he is using sex to satisfy himself rather than sex being a beautiful thing that God designed. Sex is not primarily for him, but for his future wife. He is lazy. He is not interested in what God says.

You will find laziness at the root of a lot of what the child does. Laziness is not a singular tributary out of the soul. Laziness will touch many things in this child’s life. Begin to carefully examine his whole life and you’ll find pockets of laziness in other places, not just how he thinks about and behaves toward sex.

Dishonoring – More than likely the child knows he is dishonoring his parents, but he does not care. He wants what he wants. Like laziness, you’ll also find this “dishonoring worldview” popping up in other areas of his life.

If his dishonoring attitude is not taken care of now, there will be many other repercussions in his future, e.g. how he thinks about and works for his future employer and how he loves and serves his future wife are just two examples.

Deceit/lying – He is lying and living in a lie. This is one of the more heinous sins. When a person lives a lie, then it is difficult to know if anything he says or does is the truth. Lying and deceit in a relationship will destroy a relationship.

One of the reasons we love God so much is because He always tells the truth. We can assuredly know where we stand with Him. You cannot ever be sure where you stand with a person who lies.

Self-righteousness – Porn is a form of self-righteousness. The self-righteous person has a greater than/better than attitude. Porn is the devaluing of women. The porn user is “using” women to satisfy his own selfish cravings.

Self-centeredness – As you might deduce, self-centeredness is the center of the porn users worldview. Whatever is in the center of his life is what defines him. This is who the son really is. Being self-centered will creep into every single facet of this person’s life.

Ignorance – Part of why he is not trusting God, choosing rather to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season, is because there is something he does not understand about God. There is a level of ignorance working in his life. You can find this kind of life portrayed by the life of the fool in Proverbs.

These are merely a sample of some of the things that have been going on in the kid’s heart–things that have led to his pornography use. As the parents insightfully talk to him, they will find other sinful categories working in his heart too. They will need to carefully unpack him so the roots of porn can be eliminated.

Sober self-assessment

One of the more challenging things to walk the parents through is a sober self-assessment of their marriage and how they have parented their child. In more cases than not, it has been my experience to find that there are problems between the parents, as well as how they parent when it comes to the sin of porn.

Though the kid is personally responsible for what he did, if the parents are humble they will want to know how they may have contributed and how they can change in order to serve him (Matthew 7:3-5).

It may be that the parents need to go to their child and confess their sins, whatever they may be. I have seen many parents humble themselves through the years and it went a long way in restoring what was broken in their family, the porn being just the tip of the iceberg.

Community

Finally, everybody involved needs to understand that what was born in isolation will be overcome in community. Porn is a secret sin. It lives undercover and in the dark.

The parents and the child need to pursue the care and accountability of their community–their local church. While Covenant Eyes can help, the family needs more. They need the family of God.

The parents and the child will be embarrassed. Everybody understands this. Exposure cuts against the grain of a proud heart. If they will humble themselves to the help of God’s people, they will soon experience a new and refreshing kind of grace from God.

This article also appears on RickThomas.net: “You just caught your child in porn. What are you to do?