Parents are more aware than ever about the need for accountability with our kids. Thanks to the efforts of Covenant Eyes and others, we have more powerful tools to help us in those efforts.
However, in our concern for our children, we can inadvertently do things that actually hinder a child moving away from pornography rather than help. Fortunately, in addition to better tools for accountability, we also have better information on what doesn’t work.
Accountability Is Not Primarily About Stopping Negative Behavior
Before we look at what works in accountability, it is helpful to clarify methods that do not. Accountability is not about catching your child looking at pornography. Accountability is not about punishment for times a child has looked at pornography. Accountability is not even about stopping negative behavior—in this case, pornography use.
That last one may have thrown you a bit. You may be asking yourself, if accountability is not about stopping pornography use, then what is the point? The point is, accountability is about relationship.
Jonathan Daugherty’s book on Grace-Based Recovery sheds light on well-intended efforts to curb negative behavior that backfire. We can take his work and apply it to working with our children. When we make accountability about our child’s performance, this is what can happen:
- Our child believes his or her value fluctuates dependent on their behavior.
- A child becomes discouraged and may give up when bad behavior is punished by a “start over” mentality.
- A child becomes frustrated when the focus is on behaviors they feel like they cannot control, rather than underlying emotions.
- A child can rebel when accountability becomes a tool used to control or force behavioral outcomes.
This kind of accountability causes a child to feel like they are an issue to be solved rather than a person with feelings. Behavior-focused accountability feels impersonal, which is never going to work when we are dealing with something as personal as pornography use and sexual feelings.
What Accountability With Our Kids Should Not Include
Jay Stringer, author of Unwanted, studied the effectiveness of accountability in nearly 4,000 men and women trying to escape unhealthy sexual behaviors, such as pornography use. In his work, he discovered some characteristics of accountability relationships that are ineffective.
If we were to apply his findings to parents and their children, we would find that accountability is unlikely to work if the parent:
- Bullies or manipulates the child.
- Exclusively refers to pornography use as “sin.”
- Provides no alternative to pornography use to deal with difficult emotions.
- Normalizes pornography use, saying everyone uses it.
A lot of research has also been done to study what does not work when trying to get kids to avoid harmful behaviors. These studies have found the following do not work:
- Teaching children why it will hurt them, but nothing else.
- Scare tactics.
- Warning about future damage.
We see a developing pattern emerging from all these sources. Focusing on behavior, using punishment, and using education alone do not help a child avoid harmful behaviors, including pornography use.
This should not be surprising when we pause to think about it. Children are not particularly rational. Children have very real emotional needs that should be addressed. Scolding for looking at porn when a child doesn’t know why they keep going back to it makes them want to give up.
Fortunately, there is a better way to do accountability with our children.
The Power of Accountability With Our Kids
Accountability is breaking our silence surrounding difficult topics. Accountability is coming out of isolation and building a relationship that meets emotional needs. Accountability is moving toward something—emotional health and resilience. Emotional health, combined with some education, automatically move children away from medicating with pornography.
That last sentence may cause some parents to doubt. Will focusing on relationships and emotional needs really stop pornography use? It will take time, and it may not stop every episode of pornography use, but this does go a long way toward helping our children resist pornography. The real problem behind unwanted sexual behavior is an inability to deal with anxiety and disappointment.
When we focus on relationship rather than behavior, the following becomes possible.
- A child realizes his or her value is constant.
- We can explore the mistakes our children make to discover ways they can grow beyond them.
- It allows a safe environment for children to work through their fears, shame, and emotional wounds.
- It provides a place to build a child up in truth and love.
How We Can Help Our Kids Resist Porn
We can prepare ourselves as parents to be ready to help our children resist pornography. In homes where child are successful in avoiding pornography, I’ve found parents pursuing the following dynamics:
- Seek out training and education to know how best to talk about sexuality and pornography with your children.
- Share with your child about how you’ve been affected by pornography use.
- Pursue a strong parent-child relationship.
- Share clear expectations that pornography should be avoided and that the child should inform parents when they are exposed.
- Monitor what your children do online.
- Verbally recognize good decisions your children make related to avoiding pornography.
- Give reasonable consequences when a child violates boundaries that were set up related to pornography use. This could include tightening internet security.
- Have ongoing discussions with your child about pornography.
- Make the primary focus of accountability between the child and parent less on pornography use than what the child longs to become some day.
Start Talking About Difficult Emotions
All research surrounding this topic shows that the parent-child relationship is critical and that difficult emotions are really the root problem beneath ongoing pornography use, even in the case of children.
With that in mind, here is something you can start doing. If you have more than one child, do this one at a time with each child. This should be a one-on-one event with one parent and one child.
- Download and print this feelings chart. There is chart for boys and a chart for girls.
- Take your child somewhere you can sit and talk. Nothing too distracting. If possible, take them out to eat someplace they like.
- Show them the feelings chart.
- Ask them to find a feeling that they experienced the last week. Then ask them to tell you about what happened and how they felt.
- If they picked a happy feeling, ask them when was the last time they felt one of the sad or mad feelings and have them tell you about that.
- Do not try to “fix” their feelings. Do not give them advice about what to do next time. Just listen and thank them for sharing.
- You take a turn, sharing about yourself in the same way.
- Tell them you are learning that it is really important to talk about feelings and that you want to start doing that more at home.
- Ask them what they think about that and if they would be willing to try.
- End with something really fun you can do together. A desert your child loves. A movie, at home or in a theater. Playing putt-putt golf.
- When you get home, put the feelings chart somewhere very visible. Try to talk about and ask about feelings often.
Knowing how to talk about pornography is also important. Rather than try to take that on yourself, get a resource that matches your child’s age. Then plan a time to go over it with them. Give at least a few days if not a week between your date with your child and going over this resource.
- Equipped: Raising Godly Digital Natives (Free ebook for parents about having age-appropriate conversations with kids about sex and technology)
- Good Pictures, Bad Pictures (Book to walk through with your child)
- Good Pictures, Bad Pictures Jr. (Perfect for ages 3-6)