By: Starr Cliff
This is a post about when your children see porn on the Internet. Or receive text messages on their phones of people they may or may not know, naked. Let’s be honest with ourselves and go ahead plan for “when” not “if”.
I read stories like this about the absolute pervasiveness of explicit photos and videos being shared among teens, and I know we have to talk about it. So I take a deep breath, and I say to my children (at the dinner table no less) that when they receive a picture on their phone of someone naked, they need to tell me or their Dad. I tell them chances are likely that it will happen, and when it does they are not in trouble, nor have they done anything wrong. But they do need to tell us. We can talk about it, and help make a plan to limit it happening again.
I tell them that if they happen to know the girl (or boy) in the pictures, that they might be afraid to tell us. I explain that a fear reaction is completely normal. I tell them that they might worry that I will judge that person who sent or is in the picture, or get that person in trouble, or say they can’t be friends with them anymore. I tell them that this isn’t true – that in this house we do not believe in shame or condemnation. We will not love their friend any less, but we will try to help them by loving their friend well. Loving them well means speaking up and getting an adult in their life involved in the situation. So I tell my kids to feel that fear of telling us, know it’s a normal feeling, and tell us anyway in spite of the fear. They can be brave.
I tell my kids that when they land somewhere on the Internet that isn’t appropriate (*here we talk in detail about what “appropriate” means in our house), that whether they got to that site sorta-kinda-accidentally-on purpose, or truly by accident, or truly on purpose, they need to talk to us about that. Again, so we can talk about it, **remind them why that kind of imagery isn’t best for them, and help make a plan to limit it happening again.
My 9 year old daughter did an image search recently for something totally innocuous, but in spite of the best of filters on our computers, something mildly trashy (is that a category?) got through. As I was talking to the kids at the table recently on these topics – of fear and shame and openness and forgiveness – she teared up, told us what she saw, and then said “I feel so, so much better. I don’t know why I kept it a secret.” I know why. Because shame. Shame tells us we must keep silent.
If we’re at fault, if we’re not at fault…shame doesn’t care. Shame is not a valuable parenting tool. If our kids are feeling it, we have to give them tools to get free from shame. It starts with being a safe place for them to unload their burdens. The good news is that you get to give those burdens right back to Jesus, and He is strong enough to carry them.
You know the lyrics to that incredible song that say “Come out of hiding, you’re safe here with me…” Isn’t that a beautiful lyric? I so want to model that place of safety for my children. Where they can come out of the darkness of confusing and scary situations like seeing images they aren’t ready for yet, and just be loved. Comforted. Forgiven if needed, time and time again.
Talk to your kids about when they see porn. Be a safe place.
*I feel like I should just add here that I’m no prude. I’m a big fan of sex. (Also, after proofreading this, my husband asked me to make “I’m a big fan of sex” my twitter bio. I didn’t.) But I want my children to know the difference between what is good and pure, and what is a cheap counterfeit. And friends there is just so, so much counterfeit available. They won’t know that the counterfeit is a cheap fake if we don’t tell them.
**If you are one of those “there’s nothing wrong with porn” and “boys will be boys” sorta parents who have thrown up their hands on the matter, I would implore you to check out this website and reconsider. It’s not okay for our children to see these things. It damages them in real ways. Let’s all do a better job.
I hope this post isn’t just adding to the noise and increasing the fear that mamas already feel about this stuff. My heart is that it’s helpful, and gives you a starting place to begin these needed discussions.