How do you teach your kids about the bad that pornography can do but not teach them they will spiritually die if they look at it? In other words, teach the dangers without over exaggerating them?
This is a great question. Especially since the trend I have seen within our culture is that the way we talk about this issue can unintentionally exacerbate the problem instead of helping find solutions. We have become too comfortable with the exaggeration of terms such as “addiction” when many teens and pre-teens are merely going through developmental stages where sexual curiosity and confusion is normal and intensified.
Here are some suggestions:
- Try to have your first reaction be that of normalizing. It’s normal to be curious. And it’s normal to be aroused and/or disgusted by what you come across (even at the same time).
- Try to educate. Not everything you see which is arousing or “inappropriate” is necessarily pornography. How would I/you define it? It’s actually pretty difficult to define and not as easy as “you’ll know it when you see it” (especially if you’re dealing with anyone in an anxiety spectrum disorder). When you do come across pornography, most of it is not very realistic. Bodies don’t often look like they do in porn. And people don’t usually act during sex like you see in porn. Most porn is male-centric (what does that mean)? Some people like making porn and others are either coerced or working through difficult personal issues as they do this type of work. Some porn is connected with the sex-trafficking industry. Make your moral stances more than just about the curiosity of looking.
- Make sure your child understands our current legal climate. Explain the dangers of “child pornography” and that sometimes you can’t tell if you’re looking at child porn because many states see the involvement of any minor as a “child” (even when they are 17 and look like they might be in their early twenties). Sexting their own body parts would be considered “child pornography” – and legal ramifications can be devastating, not only for the child who sexted but sometimes parents as well.
- Talk about our brains – and how they usually do best by allowing for appropriate development. So if you’re looking at 25-year old material when you’re 13 – your brain is probably not going to know how to handle it. You can flood it with too much stimuli. This doesn’t mean you are not smart or “mature”. It just means you are 13. And overstimulation can cause over-preoccupation. And by the way – did you know that our brains don’t completely “grow-up” until we are about 26?
- Admit and recognize that you won’t always be involved. It’s natural to be embarrassed or private about sexual matters with parents so you might hide some of this behavior from me. That being the case, you want to let them know of some red flags to look for – would you rather look at porn than go out with your friends? Or is it easier to look at porn than actually take a risk and go on a date and try to kiss someone? Are you feeling guilt – and if so, why? Because there is healthy guilt and unhealthy guilt. Do you have realistic expectations of yourself? *Often messages like we get from the child’s book Not Even Once Club can wreak havoc on those kids who have tried something once. And most of our kids have or will. If they don’t know how to recover from this type of cultural messaging – they are more likely to fall prey to the shame cycle of unwanted behaviors.
- Back to normalizing: at the end of the day – our penis or clitoris doesn’t know it’s Mormon. Only parts of your brain know that. So give yourself a break – figure out what is healthy and what isn’t – recognize you’re going to make mistakes – and I hope you can trust me enough to ask questions or figure out decisions if you need help. I’m here to help you as you have questions – make mistakes – or just explore different options. So are our Heavenly Parents. Remember that not so little thing we call the Atonement? 🙂
- Check in with your own anxiety. Often the anxiety we feel as parents as our children’s sexuality becomes more apparent is paralyzing. Even trained as a sex therapist – I can relate. 🙂 Ask yourself if you are truly a safe place for sexual education in your child’s life. If your approach deals more with disapproval and punishment rather than radical acceptance and unconditional love – the message will get through loud and clear: do NOT let Mom or Dad figure out what is going on with me. It’s OK to set boundaries, have parental controls and express your values and why you have them. It’s the tone we need to keep constant check on. Remember that non-verbal communication gets across much faster than verbal – and if the two don’t match, they can tell. So don’t be afraid to let them know your feelings – this is a scary topic for me, I’m worried about you, I don’t know how best to manage this, etc. But at the end of the day – one thing that will never change is your value and worth as a daughter/son of God and the love I have for you.