5 minute read

Porn and Parenting Styles: What Pastors Need to Know

Last Updated: November 15, 2021

Lisa Eldred
Lisa Eldred

Lisa Eldred is the Educational Content Strategist at Covenant Eyes, and has 10 years of experience in researching and writing about porn addiction and recovery. She has authored numerous blog posts and ebooks, including More Than Single, Hobbies and Habits, and New Fruit, which was co-authored with Crystal Renaud Day. Her writing about faith and fandoms can be found at Love Thy Nerd.

Not too long ago, I wrote a piece about the connections between purity culture’s teachings and pornography use. As I mentioned there, one of the biggest issues with purity culture is that it allowed parents to outsource conversations about sexuality to the church. But, research by people like Jay Stringer, as reported in his book Unwanted, shows that many adults dealing with unwanted sexual behaviors, including pornography, never had a productive conversation about sex with their parents.

In other words, the Gen-Xers and Millennials in your congregation probably never learned about what it truly means to trust God with their sexuality—and now they’re raising kids who don’t know either.

The answer to teaching godly sexuality isn’t more programs for kids and teens. Rather, your role as a pastor or ministry leader is to help parents take action in their own homes.

What Parenting Styles Have to Do With Pornography

You may have already realized that parental silence about sex is a problem, but you may not have realized just how important parenting is. Parenting style highly correlates to a lot of health issues as adults; but inversely, a strong parent-child connection enables kids to heal faster from traumatic experiences of all types, such as unexpected deaths of family or friends, severe injuries or illnesses, or even abuse (read the book The Body Keeps the Score for an introduction to trauma and its longterm effects).

Parental involvement can also prevent addictive behaviors in adulthood. While researching their 2016 study The Porn Phenomenon, the Barna Group ran a comparison of people who used Covenant Eyes to the general population. Most notably, they found that only 13% of Covenant Eyes-using teens sought out porn at least weekly, compared to 33% of all teens. Even more telling were their beliefs about pornography: only 27% of 13-17-year-olds and 14% of 18-24-year-olds thought porn was very bad for society, but 85% of Covenant Eyes users between ages 13-24 believed it is very bad for society.

Why the discrepancy? Covenant Eyes focuses on not merely blocking porn, but instead encouraging conversations about porn use. The parents of the surveyed teens were more likely to be engaged parents who talked to their kids proactively about sex and therefore passed on their values. By extending discipleship and grace to their children instead of legalism and punishment, they were more likely to raise their children to be healthy adults who did not fall into compulsive pornography use.

Parenting Principles in the Bible

This may be obvious, but this mirrors what we find in the Bible and how God intended families to function. Consider, for example, how children’s questions and parents’ answers are embedded in Old Testament ceremonies. Children are supposed to ask why their families celebrate Passover; parents are supposed to use it as an opportunity to point to God’s greatness and his plan (Exodus 12: 26-27). This goes for general laws and ordinances; children are going to question the “decrees, statutes, and ordinances that the Lord our God has commanded” (Deuteronomy 6:20); the answer parents are supposed to give is detailed, not a brush-off (Deuteronomy 6:21-25). In other words, parents are supposed to be active and engaged, not mere disciplinarians, or worse yet, neglectful. When parents take active roles in teaching and training their children, those children listen and learn.

This includes sexual topics. The opening of Proverbs is framed as a father imparting wisdom to his son; chapters five through seven address topics like prostitution and adultery. Proverbs 5:15-19, for example, addresses positive sexuality—enjoying the wife of ones’ youth—whereas chapter seven includes a long depiction of the methods of seduction used by an adulteress—methods still employed by pornographers (you can read more about this in our ministry guidebook Men and Porn).

Ultimately, this is just one of many ways where Scripture and science work in tandem together. The immediate family unit is designed, in part, for the healthy growth and development of the children. When children obey and honor their parents, and when parents (particularly fathers) don’t provoke their children to anger but instead bring their children up in God’s ways (Ephesians 6:1-2), their brains develop well, and they are set up to flourish as adults.

Equipping Parents as the First Line of Defense

Now, chances are good that you know strong parenting is important. Chances are also good that you have a sense of how big of a problem porn is in your church. But this may be the first time you’ve connected the two. So how do you apply this knowledge?

Educate Yourself

The first step is, of course, to keep learning about the issues yourself. This blog post is giving only the briefest overview of how parenting styles impact addictive behaviors in adulthood. For more information, download the free ministry guidebook Protecting Minors and Their Families. It provides more depth about how parenting styles influence childhood development. It also provides an overview of why and how to create policies that protect the children in your church from abuse (an important topic in light of discussions among the Southern Baptist Convention).

Educate the Parents in Your Ministry

It’s important to educate yourself on the dangers, but education is useless unless you apply it. One starting point is to implement some programs and events into your church.

Now, if you read my post on purity culture, you may be thinking, “Wait, I thought part of the point is that programs don’t work!” That’s not true. Programs only take you so far, of course. Programs aimed directly at kids and teens in particular work best when they supplement the lessons parents are already teaching their kids, or, in some cases, if they help captivate kids with a better vision for life and faith than they have at home.

The latter is particularly true for the modern parent. Remember, many of the parents in your church were raised to not discuss sex at home. Many of them want to do better than their parents, but they just don’t know how to do it.

(Not sure you believe me? Ask the younger families in your church if they watch the Australian cartoon Bluey. Chances are good that if they do, you’ll hear how much the family loves it, and how the parents are #parentinggoals for involvement, despite being cartoon dogs.¹  In a world where families were broken by divorce and pop culture is dominated by single-parent role models or bumbling parent archetypes, parents are starving for positive role models.)

One starting point is to implement Safe Haven Sunday in your church. This is an annual event for your church to focus on the dangers of pornography and how parents can take action to protect their homes. More specifically, the emphasis is on the critical role parents play in protecting and raising their kids. Email communities@covenanteyes.com for more information and a free kit to run Safe Haven Sunday in your church.

Equip the Parents

As part of Safe Haven Sunday, many churches order copies of ebooks to distribute to parents (digital distribution is also available). Whether or not you host a Safe Haven Sunday at your church, you need to be prepared to hand resources to the parents in your church when they come to you or your staff for help.

The book Connected: How Strong Family Relationships Lead to Internet-Safe Kids is particularly valuable, and we highly encourage you to share the link in your church’s e-newsletter, Facebook page, Twitter account, or whatever method you use to communicate with the parents in your church. This free ebook is written to help parents understand how their parenting style may actually drive their kids into hiding, and how to build close relationships within the family.

You can also encourage any parenting-based small groups to do the family-focused Digital Detox for a week. It’s not a full disconnect—rather, a time for parents and kids to put down their phones for an hour or two a day and talk about what technology is doing in their lives while doing fun activities.

These are just a handful of the resources we have for you to hand to parents or anyone who is struggling with pornography in your church. If you want more suggestions or tailored advice, please reach out to our church team at communities@covenanteyes.com.


¹ https://www.the-father-hood.com/article/bluey-how-a-cartoon-dog-became-your-ultimate-guide-to-fatherhood/