It’s no secret that pornography has become a major issue in our society, especially among youth. According to one study, over 90 percent of boys and over 60 percent of girls are exposed to pornography before the age of 18.[i] Other studies have linked pornography to a number of detrimental effects on children’s social, emotional, and psychological development.[ii] With this in mind, it is perhaps more important now than ever before that parents consciously confront this pervasive problem. So where do we begin? Below are a few ideas from professional experts and leaders from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (hereafter “the Church”):
1. Build a Christ-centered home
In the April 2014 General Conference, Sister Linda Reeves of the General Relief Society Presidency taught about protecting our youth from pornography: “Filters are useful tools, but the greatest filter in the world, the only one that will ultimately work, is the personal internal filter that comes from a deep and abiding testimony of our Heavenly Father’s love and our Savior’s atoning sacrifice for each one of us.”[iii] In order to help our children develop this kind of testimony, Sister Reeves highlighted the importance of building a Christ-centered home, especially by prioritizing daily personal and family prayer and scripture study and weekly family home evening. Ensuring these practices are in place is the first and most effective line of defense against the evils of pornography and should be a priority for every parent. For more on this topic, see 5 Ways to Keep Christ at the Center During the School Year.
Exposure to pornography is occurring at younger and younger ages, and these early encounters can scar children and distort their perceptions of physical intimacy. In order to protect children and help them develop the resolve to turn away from pornography when they first encounter it, it is important to teach them true principles about procreation and the dangers of pornography at an early age. The Gospel Principles manual provided by the Church offers this counsel: “Parents can begin teaching children to have proper attitudes toward their bodies when children are very young…By the time children reach maturity, parents should have frankly discussed procreation with them. Children should understand that these powers are good and were given to us by the Lord. He expects us to use them within the bounds He has given us.”[iv] Of course, part of this discussion should include a warning regarding the dangers of the adversary’s counterfeits, including pornography. Further, rather than making this a one-time conversation, which can be overwhelming and cause confusion and frustration[v], parents should “only give [children] the information they have asked for and can understand”[vi] and should also check in regularly with their children to determine if they have concerns about pornography (more on that below).
3. Create a safe environment to discuss difficult issues
If we expect our children to feel comfortable approaching us with questions, we must first provide them with a safe environment to discuss difficult issues. In his article, “Creating a Safe Place to Talk about Dangerous Things,” Jeffrey J. Ford, a licensed marriage and family therapist, outlines three ways that we can do this—first, by remaining calm and paying attention to our nonverbal cues when our children ask questions about pornography; second, by allowing room for mistakes along the road to recovery; and third, by teaching our children that complete forgiveness will come only after they offer a full confession and replace the inappropriate behavior with righteous behavior. At the heart of this counsel is the idea that true repentance is possible only through the infinite atonement of Jesus Christ. While the road back may not be easy, the Lord will be patient with us along the way. As President Dieter F. Uchtdorf declared, “Even when we stumble, He urges us not to be discouraged—never to give up or flee our allotted field of service—but to take courage, find our faith, and keep trying.”[vii]
4. Keep the lines of communication open
Like other addictive behavior, pornography addiction thrives in secrecy.[viii] Even when children have a safe environment to discuss difficult issues, they are often hesitant or embarrassed to approach their parents with questions about pornography. This is especially true when they have viewed something inappropriate or after they have succumbed to temptation. As parents, we must take it upon ourselves to initiate the “hard” conversations by asking questions and striving to understand what our children face. Internetsafety101.org provides a helpful list of questions we can consider asking our children, including: Have you ever seen something online that made you uncomfortable or curious? How did that happen? What did you do? How did it make you feel? Asking these kinds of questions in a loving, non-judgmental way lets our children know that we care for them while also providing them an opportunity to open up about issues they may be hesitant bring up on their own.
5. Set appropriate boundaries and include your children in the process
According to a study by the [ix] Thus, while the best filter is a deep and abiding testimony, Internet filters and other boundaries are critical to prevent pornography from entering the home. Specifically, parents should consider establishing boundaries such as time restrictions for Internet usage, ensuring filters are used on all computers and mobile devices, and monitoring internet and social media usage on mobile devices. Importantly, involving your children in setting these boundaries can increase their commitment to those boundaries and, in turn, their sense of self-control and self-worth., 7 out of 10 youth have unintentionally viewed pornography online and nearly 80 percent of unwanted exposure takes place in the home.
6. Seek help together
Despite our best efforts and those of our children, some may still become trapped by pornography. In such instances, we should work together with our children to seek an appropriate level of help. Most of the time, healing is attainable by counseling with the bishop and seeking guidance from the many online resources provided by the Church on addiction recovery. In more serious circumstances, professional help may be needed. Regardless of the situation, it is important to remember that no one can do it alone—support is critical to addiction recovery.[x] Consistent with the 12-step addiction recovery program, we should actively participate in our children’s personal recovery through things such as investing time to do our own study, offering a listening ear, and counseling together with our children. By working together, we are much more likely to help our children achieve lasting and stable progress in recovery.
[i] Sabina, C., Wolak, J., & Finkelhor, D. (2008). The nature and dynamics of Internet pornography exposure for youth. CyberPsychology & Behavior, 11(6), 691-693.
[ii] Fagan, Pat. “The Effects of Pornography on Individuals, Marriage, Family and Community.” http://www.frc.org/issuebrief/the-effects-of-pornography-on-individuals-marriage-family-and-community
[iii] Reeves, Linda S. “Protection from Pornography—a Christ-Focused Home” https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2014/04/protection-from-pornography-a-christ-focused-home?lang=eng&query=pornography+addiction
[iv] Chapter 39: The Law of Chastity. Gospel Principles. https://www.lds.org/manual/gospel-principles/chapter-39-the-law-of-chastity?lang=eng
[v] Ford, Jeffrey J. “Creating a Safe Place to Talk about Dangerous Things”, http://overcomingpornography.org/spouses-and-families/articles/creating-a-safe-place-to-talk-about-dangerous-things?lang=eng
[vi] Chapter 39: The Law of Chastity. Gospel Principles. https://www.lds.org/manual/gospel-principles/chapter-39-the-law-of-chastity?lang=eng
[vii] Uchtdorf, Dieter F. (2013) “Four Titles.” https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2013/04/four-titles?lang=eng
[viii] “Responding to a Child's Pornography Use” http://overcomingpornography.org/spouses-and-families/articles/responding-to-a-childs-pornography-use?lang=eng
[ix] (2006) “
[x] “Finding or Giving Support in Recovery” http://overcomingpornography.org/spouses-and-families/articles/finding-or-giving-support-in-recovery?lang=eng
- Overcoming Pornography; http://overcomingpornography.org/?lang=eng
- A Guide to Recovery and Healing; http://addictionrecovery.lds.org/addiction-recovery-program-guide?lang=eng
- Focus on the Family; http://www.focusonthefamily.com/parenting/sexuality/when-children-use-pornography/when-children-view-pornography
- Enough is Enough; http://www.internetsafety101.org/pornography101.htm