Help Your Kids Avoid Porn: Don’t Treat Them the Same

You don’t necessarily want to treat all children the same when it comes to helping them avoid pornography. This may sound counterintuitive, but it is true. Any parent with multiple children knows the parenting style that works best for one child does not necessarily produce the same results in another. The same is true when trying to help our children avoid pornography.

All children have their own unique personality, and while we celebrate this, it also creates challenges for parents. For example, a parent of two children may find it much easier to help one child avoid pornography than the other. Rather than become frustrated by this disparity, we can learn to use customized approaches to motivate a particular child. A parent of multiple children may understand this concept instinctively but not know how to apply it to pornography prevention.

My first career was in education. For nine years I taught science to grades 7 – 12 in both public and private Christian school settings. One class in my Masters Degree program was about fostering achievement in students of differing personalities. What I learned not only helped me be a better educator, but prepared me to be a better parent as well. Here is a little of what I’ve learned.

Encouragement Versus Challenge

Contrary to popular belief, giving frequent positive feedback does not motivate all children to try harder. In fact, giving frequent praise can cause some children to relax and put less effort into whatever it is we want them to do. Such children respond better to challenges than praise. Other children, however, do best with frequent praise. The best method of positive reinforcement depends entirely on the child’s personality.

How frequently we give positive reinforcement is an important consideration for parents who are guiding their children to avoid pornography use. We don’t want to do something that seems right but actually causes our child to put less effort into avoiding pornography. I want to be clear that all children need us to give them positive feedback when we see them doing something we want them to continue doing. For example, if a child accidentally comes across pornography while doing homework and immediately reports that to us, we should tell them we are very happy they told us. All children need positive feedback. But all children do not need the same kind or frequency of positive feedback.

Children Who Need More Encouragement

Some children do need a lot of encouragement and praise to reinforce every small positive thing they do. These include children who have a harder time learning new things, who feel they aren’t very good at anything, or who may compare themselves to others in a negative light. Such a child might be an extrovert or an introvert, loud or quiet. Children of this kind may have a more difficult time restraining themselves from seeking out erotic material compared to other children.

Children like this need a parent’s help to point out and recognize when they are doing something that helps them move away from pornography use. Here are some examples of a parent verbally noticing a child like this doing something positive.

  • “Hey, thanks for leaving your phone on the table when you used the bathroom.”
  • “I saw you change the channel when that commercial came on. Good job.”
  • When they confess to purposefully seeking out pornography, say, “I’m really glad you told me. That means a lot to me.”
  • When they come to us and tell us they are sad about the way a friend treated them, say, “I’m so glad you are talking about your feelings instead of hiding them.”
  • Give them a big hug when they report accidental exposure to pornography and thank them for telling you.

Some children have a hard time noticing when they are doing something that is helping them avoid pornography. They notice their failures more than successes. We can help this kind of child by frequently pointing out every little thing they do that helps them avoid the inner desire to escape into the sexual fantasy world of porn.

It is not a bad idea to start out with all our children giving very frequent praise of positive habits. However, some children will do best if we switch to a different technique of giving praise.

Children Who Need a Challenge

Children who have Type A or high achieving personalities can actually regress when given a lot of praise. Such children are used to receiving praise from teachers, peers, and adults in their community. As a result, praise does not take on the same meaning for these children. After a while such children realize they can put in minimal effort and still be recognized for achievement. Praising this kind of child does not always produce continued positive effort. Frequent praise makes some children apathetic and sloppy.

High achieving children actually thrive when parents withhold praise and save it for truly exceptional effort. Their normal behavior and average efforts create good results and they know it, so we don’t have to point that out. It is okay to make our children earn our praise, and high achieving children need to work harder to earn it.

In fact, sometimes it helps to point out that they could do better. Constructive criticism actually makes Type A children work harder. After we see them put in concerted effort, we can praise them.

A Type A child may or may not have problems avoiding pornography. Because they are used to being successful, however, they may simply believe they are good at avoiding pornography even if they are not.

Here are some examples of a parent using refrained praise and challenges with a child:

  • They leave their phone on the table when heading to the bathroom. You do see it and maybe nod at them, but nothing more.
  • You see their online accountability report and notice that they were looking up things that, while not pornography, were obviously being searched for because they were a sexual stimulus. When talking with your child, you ask them if that really qualifies as not seeking out erotic material.
  • They tell you they accidentally came across pornography while doing homework and you say, “Okay, thanks for telling me,” rather than make a big deal of it.
  • During a parent-child check in, your child points out all the things they have been doing right. You are aware, however, that these are the same things they’ve been doing right for weeks. If there are other goals they have not yet worked toward, such as sharing their feelings with you every day, you could ask, “And what about sharing your feelings? What can you do to improve in that area?”
  • When they confess to purposefully seeking out pornography you say, “What do you think was behind your desire to look at porn? Did something bad happen today or recently?” Saving praise for being honest until perhaps the end of the conversation.

When we see a high-achieving child do something remarkable, or when we have withheld praise for a while, we do need to recognize them and do so in a meaningful way.

  • “I was really impressed how you told your friend you didn’t want to sleep over because you know their parents let him/her keep a tablet in his/her room.”
  • “I’ve noticed you leaving your phone out of your room and bathroom for the last two weeks and I have to say I’m really proud of you for taking this so seriously.”
  • “I notice you are very honest with me about how you are feeling from day to day. I really appreciate that.”

When to Switch Things Up

Of course, any parent knows that a child’s needs change on a fairly frequent basis. Type A children do sometimes need frequent encouragement. Children who struggle may need us to withhold praise from time to time. We should be careful not to adapt a formula that we never change when dealing with our children. Our children are not robots.

Do not fear that you won’t know when to change things up. You know your children. You can see it in their eyes when they need extra emotional support, no matter how high-achieving they normally are. You are the expert in this area with your children. No one knows better than you when your child needs an encouragement or challenge.

Grace First

I want to be careful not to suggest a performance-minded parenting style. We need to continue doing all we can to ensure our children know we love them unconditionally. Withholding praise is not withholding love. However, we can love a child and also say, “I know you can do better.”

Sibling Rivalry

For parents with multiple children, this can create friction between children. We may have give praise differently to two children who demonstrate the same behavior. Children in the same family do not always appreciate this.

I know how messy that gets for a parent. My daughter often asked, “Why do you treat my brother different than me?” This kind of question can lead to an awkward conversation. I get it. But our children really are different and we cannot treat them the same way if we want the best for each. I had to tell my daughter, “You and your brother are not the same, so I can’t treat you exactly the same. That may not seam fair but your brother and you need different things from me.” Eventually she accepted this. Your children can learn to accept it as well.

My Challenge to You

Start watching your children and see if you can determine if they are a child who does best with lots of praise or one who will thrive more with challenge and giving less frequent positive reinforcement. Then try some of the ideas shared here and see how your child reacts. Give it some time to see how it works. You can always change your response style if it doesn’t work well.