My Child Has Been Exposed to Porn: 5 Critical Truths You Need to Know

Have you had the horrifying experience of discovering your child is looking at pornography? Are you terrified your kids will be exposed to porn?

All too often I receive calls and emails from parents who just found out their child has been looking at pornography. The parents feel shocked, scared, angry, and disappointed all at the same time. You can hear the desperation in their question: “What do I do!?”

5 critical truths

Here are five things you need to know if your child has found pornography:

No Shaming

No matter how shocked, upset, or disappointed you are–thou shalt not shame them!

Shame is toxic. Shame drives addictions. Shame communicates “you are bad,” instead of conviction, which says “what you did is bad.”

Your child may have grown up in a solid home where morals are taught and modeled. Your house may have already been infected by porn and the pain of another person being affected is tearing you apart. No matter what–do not shame them!

You may want to scream”How could you do this?!” or berate them for not being a good Christian and doing something “so disgusting.” Do not let those words escape your mouth. If they have, you owe your child a heartfelt apology…today.

Shaming drives home the message that “I am bad.” Hearing this from someone you love, whose opinion is so deeply valued, drives every message–both good and bad–deeper into their heart.

If you believe you’re bad, you will do what bad people do. It really is that simple. “Bad people” do what they know is wrong, and they keep going back to it. It’s a hopeless state when you believe you are bad.

Dealing with shame is always a core part of the healing process. Make sure you don’t sow seeds of shame into your child’s heart and mind. If you have, make it right before the sun goes down.

If you only recall one thing from this article, make it this point: no shaming.

Pornography Shocks the Brain

Sexually explicit images are designed to fry your neurological circuits in exciting, overwhelming, confusing, and secretive ways. A powerful cocktail of chemicals are released in the brain causing the images to be quickly encoded in long-term memory.

This guilty pleasure begs to be concealed and savored alone in the dark. Hiding and being secretive adds to the danger and excitement, which drives the impact of pornography even deeper.

Proverbs 9:17 says “Stolen water is sweet; food eaten in secret is delicious!”

The men I work with continually teach me how secrecy around finding and viewing pornography strengthens their bondage to porn.

Age plays a role here. Once a child hits puberty, their brain is ready to process sexual information. Their brain and hormones are ready to begin dealing with these issues.

Before puberty (age 12 for boys, 10/11 for girls), their brains aren’t ready to process sexual information. Exposure to sexually explicit material before puberty is even more confusing and overwhelming.

Pornography at these ages is more shocking and confusing than being exposed during puberty. Intense sexual arousal, shock from what has been seen, and an inherent sense that they should not tell anyone creates fertile ground for sexual addiction.

The guys I work with who were exposed to pornography before puberty describe it this way: “I didn’t know what to do with what I saw, but I knew I liked it and I shouldn’t tell anyone. I’ve been hiding it ever since.”

They Need Help Processing What They Saw

Processing what your child has seen helps “un-shock” the brain. Putting into words what was seen and what it felt like physically and emotionally helps the brain put the pieces together and calm down.

When your brain is overwhelmed it loses the capacity to make sense of your experience and encode it in a way that can be readily used in the future. Think of being in shock after a car wreck. The whole experience becomes an emotional blur.

Processing the visual, physical, and emotional experience allows the brain to organize and contain the intensity of the experience. Doing this in the context of a loving relationship with a parent is like a healing salve.

Having this conversation with your child is critical, but terribly uncomfortable for both of you.

Typically, your son or daughter wants to do anything but discuss the sexually explicit images they have seen. (Think of the Southwest Airlines commercials, “Need to get away?”)

Some keys for having this type of conversation:

  • Let them know they will not be in trouble for telling you what they viewed. It has to be safe for them to talk without retribution.
  • Ask them to describe what they saw. If they are too embarrassed or ashamed, then you describe what you know they viewed, or what you suspect they viewed. “I’m guessing you saw naked people doing things that were pretty shocking..”
  • Be specific without being graphic. Acknowledge they saw adults having sex vs graphic details about what the adults were doing.
  • Keep your composure. Your child needs to know you can handle anything they tell you–and you won’t freak out. You can freak out later. Your child needs to know that you can stay connected no mater what.

The Porn Industry Targets Young Children

You read that correctly. The pornography industry knows if they can get kids hooked early, they have a lifetime customer. Like the crack dealer that says, “The first one is free,” unwitting children are thrust into a world they aren’t prepared to handle.

What do I mean by “targeting” children? Porn distributors use domain names that are incredibly similar to characters from children’s shows. Think Barny.com versus Barney.com. One link takes you to an annoying purple dinosaur. The other plunges you into the world of “adult entertainment.”

This explains why the average age of first exposure to pornography is eight years old. At this age many kids still believe in Santa Claus. This is virtual molestation.

Pay Attention to Their Online Activity

You must check your children’s online history and install protective filtering and accountability services on all the devices they use. It’s no longer about “trusting” your kids–it’s about protecting them.

You wouldn’t drop your 8-year-old off in the middle of the Bronx and “hope” they are ok. Your child has access to an unfiltered and dangerous world online–with packs of predators looking for access to naive children.

Some healthy fear is appropriate as a parent.

I know this is pretty heavy, so how about some good news.

If your child has been exposed to pornography, there is hope. By processing what has happened with them it not only helps “unshock” the brain, it strengthens your relationship with them.

Your relationship with your son or daughter is a powerful antidote to porn’s poison. When they know they can come to you with anything and you can handle it, their world becomes safer, and they feel loved in a whole new way.

An Ounce of Prevention

What can you do to prepare your kids for a sexualized society?

Teach them about sex and the human body. If the average age of first exposure is 8 years old, you need to talk with them about sex before then. They need to hear it from you. They will hear it on the playground, the school bus, and the ball field.

They feel loved and protected if they hear it from you. Child molesters prey on those who are ignorant about these things. These predators groom children by introducing sexual content and keeping it secret from their parents.

Ask them what they have seen and what kids are talking about. (Remember: no freaking out.) Hiding amplifies shame. Get into their world and listen, this takes the power out of the secrets.

If you haven’t checked your kids devices for a while (including texts), do it today. If you haven’t told your kids how much you love them, and that they can tell you anything, do it today.

What they won’t tell you, or even realize in the moment, is they feel loved and protected when you check on them and ask questions. Don’t let their rolling eyes fool you.

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