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

Last Updated: July 29, 2020

John Fort

John Fort, MST, is the Director of Training for Be Broken Ministries where he oversees online training on Pure Life Academy. He is also a co-founder and board member of the Sexual Integrity Leadership Summit. John is a regular speaker on parenting and is the author of Father-Son Accountability: Integrity Through Relationship.

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.

It 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.

  • Comments on: How to React the First Time Your Child Admits to Watching Porn
    1. Nicole Covington on

      Thank you for this

      Reply
    2. Samuel Naumann on

      Really liking what I’m finding at covenant eyes. Have two boys I’ll be talking to soon, very soon actually.

      Reply
    3. Michael on

      This article is so important. I remember first telling my mom about my masturbation/porn use. When I told her that I masturbated, she sort of laughed it off and said that it’s okay, that it’s just a part of growing up. Then she said “as long as you don’t watch porn”. Then I told her I did that too. She was silent until I said “Are you mad at me?” And she said “Well… just don’t do it anymore”. And that’s all I remember. I’ve only talked to my parents once about porn since and again, I felt a very passive, side-line type of support. I don’t want to blame them for my addiction because it’s not their fault, but I always wish that I could have more support from them and those first impressions really didn’t leave me feeling like I had that.

      Reply
    4. Erwin Brady on

      I am a small group leader in a local Celebrate Recovery, which includes a sex addiction support group. So I understand where you are coming from.

      Reply
    5. Lostandalone24 on

      I get t caught by my mom. Though I didn’t know it at the time, my grandfather was going through the exact same thing, and in his 60’s, he had a problem with “touching people” as they put it. They were afraid I’d turn out the same way.

      To this day, I despise my dad for installing Parental Controls, which was far more restrictive than necessary, threatening to take away the family computer, and generally shaming me by forcing me to go to a recovery group full of adults at church, reminding me of it constantly, reminding me that I “have a history” and generally being disciplinarians.

      I now believe my dad is a close-minded Puritan with a stick up his ass, and my mom is a badgering idiot who will never understand how porn affects the male brain and that she just needs to shut her fucking trap about it.

      That said, I’ve reached a point in my life where I can only move forward by becoming closer to God, which requires moving away from porn. I have my own laptop. I am subscribed to Covenant Eyes. I pay $12 a month for a service I don’t actually use, since I have a low willpower and can simply turn it off.

      Now, I could send control of my account to a partner. But after the much-loathed Parental Controls and shaming they gave me, I find it easier to quit porn myself than give control of my laptop to someone else.

      If my partner was paying the subscription, it’d be a different story. They pay = they get control. But since I’m paying, only I should get control. Which defeats the purpose of the program. A mentor offered to be my partner, but I can’t ask the man to pay my sub for me. Shall I remove this useless program and save my money, or keep lying to myself that it’s helping?

      Reply
      • Chris McKenna on

        Hello. What is it that you despise about parental controls? If you will allow me to be really direct, it sounds like you believe that you are in control and don’t need someone else to break free. That is the lie. You aren’t in control. You probably haven’t really ever been in control. Porn controls. That’s what it does. Paying for Covenant Eyes (or whatever service you might use) is a step, but no service will help you break free. It’s Christ and Community that does it. Of course Covenant Eyes feels useless – but that’s because of the manner in which you’re using it. Take a honest look in the mirror – if you truly want to stop looking at porn and start to live the full life you were meant to live, then come clean, get an accountability partner, give him control of the devices, and make the firm decision that you’re ready for battle. A battle for freedom and your life.

        Absent those things, you will continue to struggle. You will continue to be controlled (even though it will feel like control). I want you to break free!! Which means, I don’t want to sugar-coat what you’re up against. It’s a monster that cannot be tamed. I hope you take the next, hard steps.

        Peace, Chris

    6. Cassandra on

      I have a question. This post expresses the importance of being a safe place for your kids to come with questions or issues of sexuality, and making sure that they feel that in the first encounter. But what if you need to confront them for finding something, not them approaching you/admitting anything? How does that approach change when you are needing to confront their porn use?

      Reply
      • Kay Bruner on

        I think it would be helpful to reframe the idea of “confronting” your child about porn use. Think instead of SUPPORTING them with an issue that is incredibly difficult to manage in today’s world.

        You don’t want to shame them, because shame only leads to hiding, pretending, denying, and repressing the problem.

        You want to HELP them become more open about their issues, more able to turn to safe people for support when they need it.

        “I found X on your phone. It looks like you’re having a hard time managing the internet in a healthy way. How can I help you with that?”

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