By Gail Poyner, PhD. Mom acting calmly As a psychologist who treats individuals trapped by a pornography addiction, I know how difficult it is to fight and master a problem that involves both behavior and a powerful biochemical pull. But what if the addiction has trapped a child? In that scenario, parents need skills. In fact, they need the kind of acting skills that will win them an Academy Award in Parenting!
I recently came across an excellent article penned by Mary Ann Benson, MSW, LSW wherein she outlines a path to recovery for children who have become involved in pornography. To elaborate on one of Ms. Benson’s points, it’s essential that when a child admits to using pornography (and/or a parent discovers he or she has) the parent take time to manage what are typically some very strong emotions.

Parents who talk to me about a child’s use of pornography describe feelings of shame, guilt, embarrassment, anger, hopelessness and confusion about what to do. Some parents have reported pushing their child away by impulsively reacting with negative feelings rather than acting by taking the time to manage their emotions.

Set the Stage for Positive Change

I encourage parents to set the stage for change by acting instead of reacting. Consider the problems of reacting:

  • Reacting typically occurs with little thought
  • Reacting does not stop to consider potential consequences that come from using a reactive approach
  • Reacting is almost always based on how we feel
  • Reacting usually ends up discouraging a child by limiting the use of strategies that would encourage him or her

Acting, on the other hand, requires study, thought and planning. Acting is based on knowledge, skill, self-control and a willingness to take direction from those who can help.

Acting vs. Reacting

I’ve developed an activity to help parents manage their emotions and thereby open doors of growth and change. As you look at the ACTING vs. REACTING© exercise below, think about how it can promote the best outcome for a child who has been using pornography. Then consider how parents and kids might use it together to plan and begin the process of becoming stronger than the addictive power of pornography.

For example, how can you as a parent, prepare and learn a “script” in working with your child? What are the questions you might ask? How can you seek direction and make a plan to follow through? Why would it be important to practice or rehearse difficult situations and challenges?

I believe acting instead of reacting will ultimately lead to a better outcome for parents struggling to cope with a child’s involvement with pornography.

Acting vs Reacting Chart

GailPoynerSmlGail A. Poyner, PhD is a Licensed Psychologist and owns Poyner Psychological Services. She provides therapy for a spectrum of psychological disorders, including pornography addiction and prevention counseling and serves as the President of the Oklahoma Psychologists Association. Gail has six children and fourteen grandchildren and lives with her husband in Oklahoma. When she isn’t counseling clients or serving as an expert witness in court, she enjoys working in the yard, as well as cheering for her beloved Oklahoma City Thunder NBA basketball team.

Recent 5-Star Amazon Reviews of Good Pictures Bad Pictures


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“I couldn’t be happier! This book makes this whole conversation with your child seem so easy to explain.”

“Great way to talk to your kids about the dangers of pornography!”

“HIGHLY recommend the book Good Pictures Bad Pictures as a way to preemptively address it in a way that maintains innocence while equipping kids & parents with the skills they need to avoid the addictive trap of pornography. We’ve also used this book with our kids to help teach them the skills they need to know how to respond BEFORE first exposure. It’s not a ‘religious’ book – it uses easy-to-understand science and simple analogies to teach children what pornography is, why it’s dangerous, and how to reject it.”

Kristen Jenson
Kristen A. Jenson is the founder of Protect Young Minds and author of Good Pictures Bad Pictures: Porn-Proofing Today's Young Kids. Kristen enjoys speaking, writing and anything else that will help empower kids to reject pornography. Kristen earned a bachelor’s degree in English Literature, and a master’s degree in Organizational Communication. Kristen currently lives with her husband in Washington State, where she enjoys growing a vegetable garden, watching Masterpiece Theater, and taking long walks with friends who tolerate her incessant talking about you know what. Above all else, her husband and three children are her greatest treasures.