How to React the First Time Your Child Admits Watching Porn

My child stands shivering before my wife and I and says, “I didn’t tell you before, because I was too afraid, but I looked at pornography a month ago, sort of for a few days in a row.”

What am I supposed to say? I had no warning at all. I saw no signs anything like this had happened. Suddenly all the planning and preparation my wife and I had put together for such a scenario felt elusive. My mind was blank. My wife looks at me, indicating I am the one to respond.

No parent looks forward to the day their child admits watching porn for the first time, but such a scenario is inevitable today.

dad holds son safeIt can play out different ways: a child nervously confesses seeing pornography, a parent discovers hard-core pornography on a child’s phone, tablet, or computer, or we hear from someone else that our child was caught looking at disturbing videos. These all sound very uncomfortable to a parent, but the worst scenario of all is a child who manages to hide their pornography use completely and no conversation ever happens.

What Do I Say When My Child Admits Watching Porn?

What are we supposed to say the first time we find out our child has been exposed? Even if we have a plan, that doesn’t mean it’s easy for us to see it through and react in the best interest of our child.

A parent’s first reaction is so critical. The first words out of our mouth, the first body language we express, has an enormous impact on any future success we may have helping our child. It’s worth thinking about and trying to plan for.

What is the most important lesson during that first parent-child interaction on pornography use? To show them how much we disapprove? To instill in them a proper sense of right and wrong? To help them see how destructive modern pornography is? Not really.

The most important take away for any child in this scenario is to experience that Mom and Dad are safe people to talk about sexual temptations with. If we do not leave our children feeling safe after our first discussion about an exposure that occurred, we are likely cutting off any future chance of them listening to our advice on the matter.

How NOT to Respond During This First Discussion

Whether it be from a child’s confession or from a parent’s discovery, this first discussion is not a time to talk about why modern pornography is dangerous, how they have broken rules, how they may have broken trust, or anything of that sort.

In the first place, those conversations are best had before a child has ever had exposure to pornography. Even if we have warned our children before hand, this is still not the time to remind a child of those lessons. What children need at that moment is to be reminded that they are, above all else, loved and accepted just as they are.

Our Children Need a Safe Place to Share Their Failures

The opening paragraph did actually happen to me, pretty much as written. To give you some background on me–I can be pretty reactionary, and not always in the most helpful way. I think that particular day God was with me, however, because I was smarter than that for once.

I told my child, “I’m so glad you told us,” then I hugged them. There was no lecture. No punishment was given. No discussion of changing computer safety measures happened on that day. In an unusual moment of inspiration, I realized my child needed to know it was safe to admit things like this to us.

I did tell our child that we would talk with them another day about helping them better avoid pornography, but my wife and I went no further at the time. Fortunately, we had been talking with our children regularly about sexuality and pornography for some time before this happened. We didn’t have to start from scratch. Because of that, we were able to use that day to cement in our child’s mind that we loved them and that we were not rejecting them for what they had done.

Three years later the same child told me something interesting,“I’m so glad you reacted the way you did that day. If you would have torn into me, or gone the other way and said it was no big deal, I would have never talked to you again about stuff like that.”

To be honest, that response terrified me. I hadn’t realized how important our reactions had been. If I had reacted rashly, which I have already confessed to doing fairly often, the results would have been disastrous. Our child was not only confessing, but also testing us. Our child was quite consciously finding out if what we had said was really true–that it is safe to admit failures to us. I was very glad that my wife and I reacted positively, but I was also quite frightened to realize how easily it could have gone another direction.

Practice Your Response Ahead of Time

It’s not fun finding out our child has purposefully indulged in pornography. We can feel betrayed, maybe even lied to (remember our child kept this a secret for a month). We may want to lock our child in the house forever—not something that will endear a parent to a child. Bawling our face off from sadness after hearing what a child has done will not make them feel particularly good about themselves either. Yet, we still have many if not all of these feelings. It’s not much easier if the exposure was accidental.

I’m not saying we should hide our feelings from anyone, but that moment of confession or discovery needs to be about acceptance, not anything else. The other feelings can be discussed between parents. The child already feels enough shame, I promise, they don’t need more from us. Not that first time, anyway.

Fortunately, for our family, we managed to react as well as can be expected. There was a lot of work to be done later, but our child was only open to that work because of how we reacted during the confession.

For any parent who may have had a confrontational reaction to a similar situation, I can only imagine that repair is possible through a parent’s apology. For those who this situation has not yet happened—and it will—I would simply encourage you to rehearse your reaction in your mind, to make it more likely you can respond positively when the time comes.