4 minute read

Turning Online Mistakes Into Teachable Moments

Last Updated: October 27, 2020

Sam Black
Sam Black

Sam Black is the author of The Healing Church: What Churches Get Wrong About Pornography and How to Fix It and The Porn Circuit: Understand Your Brain and Break Porn Habits. The director of recovery education, Sam joined the Covenant Eyes team in 2007 after 18 years as a journalist. He has edited 16 books on the impact of pornography and speaks at parent, men’s, and leaders' events. Sam is passionate about helping Christians live free from pornography because he knows you keep what you give away. He walks his own grace-filled journey with the support of valued allies.

“Why do guys get laid and girls get screwed?”

When Thomas saw his 14-year-old daughter’s sexually charged comment on Facebook, his first thought was summer banishment. Lucky for her, Thomas didn’t let a bad choice go to waste.

Thomas, who monitors his kids online using Covenant Eyes, decided not to lecture her. “I pointed to her comment and asked her, ‘Why do you think that’s true?’ She didn’t expect that, but I also didn’t expect how good this conversation would turn out.”

Teens often test limits, and sometimes that turns into bad choices online, or in life. So, how can parents turn poor choices into opportunities for good instruction? How can parents help their teens embrace and defend their purity? What advice should be given when a teen’s friend sends bad stuff in a text? When our nation’s top leaders are sexting and soliciting sex online, how can parents teach their teens to take the moral high ground?

“It’s a problem for all families,” said Steve Wright, a national leader among youth pastors and one of the authors of a family curriculum called Treasuring Christ.

Parents Under Pressure

Parents today face an uphill battle. Like 64% of married couples, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, Thomas and his wife both work. In single family homes, 80% of moms and 90% of dads join the workforce, and that means teens, especially during summer months, spend time home alone. Meanwhile, the average teen spends 31 hours per week online. And half of teens and 30% of children surf the Internet with no supervision. Combine summer, with its lazy days, free time, and a teenager’s friends, it’s enough to cause any good parent a little anxiety.

Traditional families, with Dad working and Mom at home, aren’t worry-free either. Wright counseled a young man who grew up in the “ideal” scenario with great parents and home schooling. Nevertheless, he began a four-hour-a-day porn addiction in fourth grade that wasn’t discovered until he was 17.

“No family is immune,” Wright said. “Today everything is hyper-sexualized.”

Related: My Worst Mommy Moment and How It Totally Changed My Parenting

What You Can Give Your Teen

This continuing pressure means parents have to guard and empower their kids and teach purity year-round. What helps your teen make good decisions during the school year, Wright said, will help them over the summer months. Whether a parent needs to play catch up or improve their current tactics, Wright and other parents have helpful advice.

Wright says teens are looking for three things:

  1. Love and care
  2. Models to follow
  3. Truth to build their life on

Kari Glemaker, director of iCare, agrees. She says parents need to model integrity in life and online, or they will be ineffective in helping their kids make the right decisions. When teens see their parents practicing accountability online and in life, it is easier for them to mimic and accept the behavior as the morals of the home.

Instilling moral concepts also requires good communication, which isn’t defined by long lectures and angry voices. What’s needed is an open dialogue that encourages parents and teens to think deeper about personal integrity and values the family upholds.

“This needs to be a daily conversation.” says Glemaker, a mother of three teens. And parents need to be ready for conversations whenever it feels right. “Those little times are valuable and we need to look for those more often.”

When you run an errand, ask your teen if they want to ride along, Glemaker says. Make it fun, make a detour for ice cream, but most importantly strike up a conversation. Ask open-ended questions. Bring up a topic in the news. If you ask a yes or no question, follow it up with statements like “Tell me more,” or “Tell me one thing that was good or bad about that.” During summer, it can be easier to sit down to a family meal where healthy debates can happen, especially when you bring a question to the table for the family to consider.

Whatever your tactics, make sure to bring up issues of purity and personal integrity.

Wright recalls how his teen son was quick to talk about how Congressman Anthony Weiner texted and provided inappropriate photos of himself online. “He said, ‘Dad, I think it’s sad, but it’s a lot more common than we think. Kids talk about doing it at school.'”

For some parents, a conversation like that might feel awkward, but in today’s environment, parents can’t afford to be shy, Wright said. Talk with your kids early and often.

“The parent who believes they can put their head in the sand and think their child is not facing these temptations could be facing huge potential disasters,” Wright said.

Related: 6 Ways to Raise a Sex Addict

Make the Most of Your Teen’s Mistakes

Everyone makes mistakes, parents included, Wright said, and that’s how people grow.

Wright encourages parents to embrace a gospel-centered ethos for the family. He says grace in the home embodies three steps: recognition, repentance, and restoration. When a teen’s behavior is inappropriate it’s important that he or she recognize it and accept responsibility. That can be difficult for teens and adults alike, but without the first step it’s hard to be repentant. When teens are able to recognize their error, it’s imperative that parents provide a way to forgiveness and restoration.

“Let’s say my son watches a bad YouTube video. If I get red in the face, and my veins pop out, and I yell at my son ‘How dare you,’ I probably have not set up a proper model of restoration and repentance,” Wright said. “The next time something comes up, I will probably not be the person he comes to.”

Related: How to React the First Time Your Child Admits Watching Porn

Thomas followed this principle with his daughter. Instead of a one-sided lecture for his daughter’s Facebook post, he started the conversation with a question. Then, he shut his mouth and waited for her to talk. That set up a chat session between Thomas, his wife, and his daughter that lasted more than half an hour, with everyone contributing.

Because Thomas monitors his daughter’s Internet use with Covenant Eyes, he expanded their conversation by printing the lyrics to inappropriate songs she had listened to on YouTube.

She said she posted the comment after attending freshmen orientation at her high school and listened to other teens talk. She got mad; when it comes to sex, guys get the fame and girls reap the shame. There is a double-standard, she argued correctly and passionately. Thomas agreed with her and then showed her the song lyrics. “Do these songs play up that double-standard?”

“We had an awesome talk, including when and where some statements are appropriate,” Thomas said. “I could have ended up with a clammed-up teenager. Instead, we had a conversation where our daughter really talked and grasped why her online post was a poor choice.”