Parents, what’s the most important thing you can do to raise a child to become a healthy, addiction-free adult? The answer is simple: create an environment where your child feels safe. That’s according to Robert Weiss LCSW, CSAT-S, and Founding Director of the Sexual Recovery Institute.

Creating a Safe Place to Talk

In a telephone interview, Weiss told me that a young child who has been exposed to pornography needs help sorting through the experience.  When parents fail to make a child feel safe or, even worse, when parents shame their child, they may be leading their child towards addiction. The key is to focus on building a team spirit, remembering that porn–not their young child– is the enemy. That’s not easy! Parents typically feel anger, fear, and guilt when they discover their child has been seeking out pornography. However, it’s important for parents to work through their negative feelings before talking with their kids.

Where do my negative feelings come from?

Anger: A parent’s anger may stem from a sense of betrayal if their child has been deceptive by sneaking and hiding their porn use. Parents are not sure if they can trust their child again.

Fear: A parent’s fear often comes from these three sources:

  • First, it emerges from the parents’ desire to help their child avoid suffering. Parents fear the negative consequences that porn use can have on a person and his/her relationships.
  • Second, fear comes from the parents’ desire to avoid feeling their own pain. Parents view their child’s problem as their problem, and parents don’t want this problem!
  • Third, parents have no idea what to do to help their child, and that’s scary! They simply want their child to stop the behavior, believing if the behavior ceases, everything will be okay again.

Guilt: The guilt arises from the parents’ belief that if they had done something differently or noticed something sooner, their child would not be looking at porn. Often this guilt leads parents to be angry with themselves.

What Your Anger, Fear, and Guilt May Teach Your Child

When parents are swimming in this toxic emotional soup, they might yell or they might give their child the silent treatment. In either case, the child learns to internalize messages like these:

  1. I’m in trouble and my parents want to punish me. If I can’t stop looking at porn, I need to make sure I don’t get caught ever again.
  2. My parents believe only bad people look at pornography so I must be bad. There is no way my parents can love me now. I will only let them see the good parts of me from now on.
  3. I have caused my parents pain. In the future, I need to protect them from this pain by making sure I completely hide any of the “bad” parts of myself.
  4. My parents are embarrassed by my actions. They are ashamed of me and disappointed in me. There must be something wrong with me.
  5. My parents don’t understand the world I live in. My parents don’t understand what I face. My parents are incapable of helping me with this. I am alone.

When parents project anger, fear, and guilt towards children, children reflexively put up defenses. How can we expect children to receive our help when they feel they must defend themselves from our negative emotions? It’s helpful if parents remind themselves and their children that they are on the same team. Fighting side-by-side, kids and their parents have the power to reject pornography.

dad son stairsFocus on these 6 steps to lift your parent-child relationship:

  1. Stop blaming your child or yourself. People make mistakes. We all fall short. Beating ourselves up does not make wrongs into rights. Ask yourself, “How can this challenge help me grow closer to my child? How can I be my child’s coach, helping my child learn how porn can be harmful and mentoring my child in how to fight its powerful lure?”
  2. Openly acknowledge this situation is not their fault. Tell your child, “Even if you were curious and were searching for it, I am sure what came back at you was not what you expected.” Tell your child you are sorry that porn is so easy for kids to access; it’s not fair that kids should have to handle this challenge.
  3. Reassure your child that your relationship is important to you. If you’ve been angry because your child has been deceptive, explain to your child that you are actually sad because you value your relationship with your child and you want to be able to trust him/her. You also want your child to be able to feel comfortable talking with you about any subject. The fact your child has been breaking family rules and hiding behavior is a sign that your relationship is in need of some repair.
  4. Honestly admit you may not have taught your child all the skills necessary to avoid the pull of porn. Rejecting porn takes more than just knowing that viewing it is wrong. Explain that isn’t fair to expect a young person to know how to handle these powerful images. Let your child know that the world has changed since you were growing up and that you, like many parents, haven’t realized all the ways pornography attacks young people.
  5. Be understanding of your child’s fears. Your child may have been hiding their porn use because of fears of punishment and/or fears of having to stop watching it if caught. Porn can create powerful feelings of need. Reassure your child that these feelings are normal and that your goal is not to punish but to help.
  6. Use the words we and us. Unlike the words you and I which describe separate individuals, the words we and us convey human connection and will help a child feel safe: “We have both been caught off guard. We were both blindsided by the porn industry. When porn came after you, neither of us were prepared. We are going to work on this problem together.”

Want more ideas to help your child feel safe?

Get your FREE Guide: 5 Things Teens Wish Their Parents Knew about Porn based on a presentation by Clay Olsen of Fight the New Drug. You will be able to read excerpts of heart-felt letters from teens who feel trapped by pornography’s influence. Learn what it’s like to be a teen in the digital age. Parents – your kids need your understanding and your help. Click on the image below:

Claudine Gallacher
Claudine Gallacher, MA, is the Social Media Guru at Protect Young Minds and was the writing coach for Good Pictures Bad Pictures: Porn-Proofing Today’s Young Kids. Claudine is enthusiastic about teaching parents how to empower kids with the skills they need to reject pornography. To reach parents, she writes, researches, edits, speaks, and markets. Claudine is married and has three great kids who support her work. Contact Claudine on Twitter @ProtectYM or email claudine@protectyoungminds.org.
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