4 minute read

Responding in Love (Not Anger) When Your Child Confesses Their Porn Use

Last Updated: September 9, 2021

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.

Your child approaches you and tells you that they’ve been looking at porn. As a parent, how do you respond? You may feel tempted to yell, take away their phone, ground them, or all of the above.

It’s easy to feel a rise of emotions when you find out your child has been looking at porn. But, chances are that your child was already nervous about telling you, and when we react in anger, the usual result is they stop being honest with us when they mess up in the future. It’s important that your reaction be void of anger and full of grace.

Related: 5 Common Questions Kids Ask About Porn

Here is the key: when parents react in anger, there is always something other than what their child did that made them mad. You already know that when someone has a bad day and they hear more bad news the same day they can react in anger. But there are more reasons a parent might not handle conversations about pornography very well. Let’s look at three reasons that you as a parent might feel an “emotional explosion” when your child admits they have been using porn.

1. Lack of Preparation

We all use anger to cover up feelings we don’t want to feel. Most parents today had no example of how a parent and child should talk about pornography. Sometimes parents react in anger to cover up the feeling that they have no idea how to talk about pornography with their own kid. Maybe they feel embarrassed or unprepared and don’t want to feel those feelings.

If you suspect this is a factor in your reaction, think about how prepared you are to address the topic of pornography. Tell your child that you can figure it out together and you just want to help them, but remind them that this is “new ground” for you as well.

2. Your Past

Many of us got caught up in porn ourselves as children or teenagers. Very often, our struggle to stop using porn went on well past our teen years and sometimes continued into marriage. This is really embarrassing for a parent, but it is also scary when we learn our child has the same issue. You may be feeling afraid for your child and do not want to think about what porn is doing to their mind, emotions, and future. You don’t want them to go through what you did!

Other parents may have had past traumatic experiences such as sexual abuse. Or, maybe you watched a parent, sibling, relative, boyfriend or girlfriend’s life fall apart due to porn use. Perhaps your spouse had a problem with porn that left you feeling betrayed.

In any of these situations, learning about your child’s porn use can reintroduce this trauma and cause you to panic. Panic sometimes comes out as anger, which is often a form of self-defense.

3. Fear of Failure

One of the most difficult emotions for parents to deal with is the feeling that they failed as a parent. Finding out that your child is using porn can make you feel like you have completely failed. Here are the exact words from a dad who discovered his 11-year-old was looking at porn:

“I felt like less of a man, I felt fearful, I felt anxiety. Did I let him down? Did I not address this soon enough? I didn’t know what was really going on and where I’d let him down.”

You can just hear the doubt, fear, and anxiety in this dad. Sometimes when a parent reacts in anger it is an attempt to cover up feelings of failing as a parent. No parent wants to fail their child.

What Next?

So, your kid is looking at porn, and now you know about it. How can you avoid an angry outburst, and what steps can you take to protect their minds and hearts moving forward?

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

Here are a few suggestions to keep in mind as you talk to your child about their porn use. Remember: these conversations are just as difficult for them (if not more so) as they are for you.

Editor’s Note: If you’re reading this but haven’t ever had a conversation with your child about porn use, these suggestions are still great to keep in mind for if that day ever comes.

Develop empathy.

Your child likely feels alone in their struggle with pornography. As a parent, even if you’ve never shared this struggle, it’s important that you consistently remind them that you understand their feelings, which can range from fear to anger to shame. It’s also important that you remind yourself, as the parent, that:

  • It’s not too late to start talking about porn with your child.
  • Your range of reactionary emotions could be a result of past trauma in your life.
  • You are not a failure of a parent.

Gather wisdom from others.

Bringing another parent or trusted mentor into the conversation may seem daunting. You might worry that they will judge you as a parent and shame you for not seeing the porn use sooner.

However, reaching out to a pastor or counselor for guidance can play a huge part in how you respond to your child’s porn use, especially if your child is a teenager and has other adult role models in their life. Your child may have already told another adult; don’t be offended or ashamed if this is the case. It’s quite common for children to share their struggle with an adult besides you, simply because they covet your love and are afraid of losing it (typically an irrational fear!).

Talk about your childhood.

Ask yourself questions about your own childhood that are related to the situation. Share the answers with your child to develop mutual empathy. They will feel less alone if they know that you also shared similar childhood experiences related to lust, purity, and porn.

Did TV or ads sometimes show people with almost no clothes on when you were a kid?

Did you ever do anything as a kid that you felt really bad about later?

Was there porn when you were a kid? Did a lot of kids look at it back then?

When you were growing up, did anyone in your family look at porn as far as you know?

Did your mom or dad ever talk to you about stuff like porn?

Have a solution you can help them with.

If you are worried that your parent will feel unprepared, come to them with resources to help them be prepared. You could say that you found something you want them to do with you and see if they will agree. Then you both go through it together. A couple of ideas are:

Pure Life Online Academy: A Family Game Plan for Tackling Porn Use

Free ebook by Covenant Eyes: Confident: Helping Parents Navigate Online Exposure

Free parents webinar by Protect Young Eyes: Girls (and Boys) Watch Porn

Covenant Eyes Screen Accountability and Filtering