Your Daughter’s Body Image – Healthy or Shameful? 4 Ways to Counteract Toxic Media

Your Daughter’s Body Image – Healthy or Shameful? 4 Ways to Counteract Toxic Media

Both of my daughters dance. They have an incredible ability (that I don’t share!) to communicate their emotions and ideas through the power of movement. They practice hours on end at home and the studio to push their bodies to new levels. They celebrate their growth and accomplishments, and I sit in the audience amazed at what they can do.

But it’s also soul-crushing when they compare their bodies to those of another teammate – or to an Instagram photo of a ballerina or contemporary dancer they admire. Their achievements and beauty seem to immediately fade in their own eyes when they are confronted with something they are not, and think they should be.

Comparison is the thief of joy

Unfortunately, my daughters’ reactions to immediately compare instead of celebrate is common. Think of the incredible numbers of images we see daily of women in advertisements, social media, and television/film. How many of them portray women as objects of beauty based on their physical bodies alone? Isn’t the message to be younger, fitter, sexier? Do we celebrate much beyond what is skin-deep? How do we go up against something so pervasive?

This enormity of this issue reminds me of the saying about eating an elephant. How do you do it? One bite at a time.

We may not be able to radically change society’s perception of women overnight, but we can make a measurable difference in our homes, our neighborhoods, and local communities.

We recently asked one of the directors of Beauty Redefined, Lexie Kite, PhD, a few questions to help us promote a different definition of beauty. She and her sister, Lindsey, started their organization to help girls and women improve their body image and self-worth as they wade through harmful cultural ideals.

Beauty Redefined: How to help girls have healthy body image

1. What are the most powerful voices children hear that determine how they see themselves and ultimately define beauty?

Two influential voices kids hear:

  1. Their family and caretakers, and
  2. The characters they watch on screen.

The voice of family members

If you say something negative about your body or your looks (or any other woman — celebrity or otherwise), that child near you WILL HEAR. It will negatively affect her view of her own body. She will learn that her value is based on how she looks.

But here’s the kicker: Even if you say something positive about a woman’s body, it can still have a negative impact on your child. She will learn that what is noticed and admired is how a woman looks — herself included.

We can consciously be aware of what we say, and move the conversation beyond appearances. The results are powerful and immediate!

What’s a parent to do?

  • Start now to change the conversation. First priority? No more rude comments about your own looks. Second? Evaluate how you talk about others’ appearances and what motivates you to do so.
  • Discuss the power of words — both positive and negative.
  • Don’t pretend like your daughter’s body doesn’t exist or doesn’t matter — teach her that it matters a lot, but not for the reasons she’s been taught.
  • Explain that companies try to convince people that their appearance needs to be “fixed” so they will buy their products. But nothing we could ever buy will truly help us feel worthy of love, happiness, and success.
  • Teach them what to say when they hear snide comments.
  • Make a list of things your family can compliment each other on other than physical appearance.
  • Encourage girls to participate in sports and enjoyable physical activities. Did you hear about the most recent female football player?

The voice of media

It’s wildly important to help your kids choose appropriate shows and critically consider what they are seeing. Many girls and women are featured on TV, in movies, or in magazines purely as props to be ogled.

In children’s animated movies, female characters are barely represented – and when they are, they are wearing just as little clothing as women in R-rated films. Did you know male characters outnumber females 3:1 (in group scenes it’s 5:1) in kids’ movies? Let’s show our girls media that uplifts them and shows them what they can be.

What’s a parent to do?

  • Read girls stories about girls. Did you know there’s a whole website dedicated to books that highlight true strength of girls?
  • Help your daughter decide if she is ready for social media, especially Instagram. Use the questions in this article to lead a discussion.
  • Check out sites like Common Sense Media to help you determine what movies, books, and apps may directly influence how your daughter defines beauty.

Related: Lingerie Ads and Little Eyes: 5 Easy Ways Protect Kids from Porn (in Ads)

2. What are some indicators that our children may need us to help develop a new working definition of beauty?

If she uses the “F” Word – “Fat”: If your child calls herself or someone else “fat” in a disparaging way, that is a sign she has learned some harmful messages that some bodies are more valuable than other bodies.

What’s a parent to do?

  • Respond without putting a value on fat. It’s not good or bad. It just is. The second you respond to her calling someone “fat” by telling her “That’s not nice!” you are teaching her that fat is bad.
  • Be a champion for body diversity.
  • Talk openly about how some bodies have more fat than others for a variety of different reasons, and that isn’t an indication of of health. (The Health at Every Size movement is incredible.)
  • If your child is called “fat,” don’t automatically respond by assuring them they are not fat. Telling a child they really are thin will not protect them from the pain of being called “fat.” If we give size-based comments the power to build us up, we reinforce their power to tear us down.
  • Teach her that her body is an instrument, not an ornament. Treat your own body the same way.

She Uses the “D” Word – Diet: Another indicator of poor body image might be when your child wants to go on a diet or you see that she is restricting food.

What’s a parent to do?

  • Let her know that many people and companies in this world try to convince little girls and grown women that they should shrink and take up less space, but it’s a mean lie. This lie is intended to get girls to spend money and time worrying about their bodies.
  • Talk to her about how our bodies need and want food for lots of reasons, including for fuel and enjoyment. By paying attention to how she feels when she eats, she can take better care of her body and trust that her body will lead her toward choices that are good for her.
  • Let her know strict diets can hurt our bodies and almost never lead to sustained weight loss.

3. How does society’s definition of beauty contribute to the anxiety many kids feel today?

When kids grow up surrounded by appearance-obsessed messages such as “Weigh Less, Smile More!!” and “Perfect Your Parts, Perfect Your Life!!” plastered everywhere, those messages rake in billions but get us nowhere closer to real health and happiness. Instead, these messages become so normal — SO unquestioned — that we believe and act as we’re told.

The point here is not to villainize makeup, hair care, or any industry, but to understand the ways these ever-present messages ask us to view ourselves. That view is an outsider’s gaze – from the outside looking in on ourselves. It’s called self-objectification and it’s a normal part of most females’ lives now, whether we know it or not.

What research and real-life experiences make very clear is that when we see ourselves as more than our bodies, we get closer to finding health, fitness, and happiness.

What’s a parent to do?

  • Make a list with your daughter of all the wonderful inner traits you both have. Celebrate those!
  • Talk about goals and dreams you both have where you can use those traits. If we are so focused on our physical bodies, it stunts our progress in every way that really matters. Research shows us that when we live “to be looked at”, we are left with fewer mental and physical resources to do what can really bring happiness.

4. How does pornography specifically shape the way we as a society define beauty? What impact does this have on boys? On girls?

We live in a media-driven world that teaches boys and men from a young age that girls and women are, first and foremost, objects of sexual pleasure. This lesson is taught in lots of ways, ranging from the seemingly harmless lack of female characters in TV shows, books, movies, and video games targeted at boys and men, to the most popular pornography saturating the internet.

“Have you wanted to talk to your kids about pornography, but didn’t know what to say?! I’ve felt that way for quite some time and finally found a solution – Good Pictures Bad Pictures. . . I highly recommend this book to all people with children. A must have for all parents!” – Amazon Review. CLICK HERE to learn more about Good Pictures Bad Pictures: Porn-Proofing Today’s Young Kids.

When female characters rarely have speaking roles or do anything to move the plot forward in media, that sends a clear message that they are primarily valued for the way they appear or for their relationship to men (love interests, most often). When female characters do appear in children’s media, they most often resemble the sexualized beauty ideals of the rest of media.

What message could this possibly send to boys other than that girls are valuable for their bodies, but nothing more?

The normalization of pornography and sexual objectification in the media is everywhere. Yet it is largely invisible to people who have slowly become accustomed to seeing idealized female bodies in all states of undress. Women are much more likely than men to be naked or nearly naked in every form of media imaginable. Women are also much more likely to be sexually objectified in violent ways (rape, assault, abuse) in every form of media.

Objectification is dehumanization. As media literacy expert Jean Kilbourne says, “Turning a person into a thing is almost always the first step toward justifying violence against that person.”

We can talk to our kids about what they are seeing and why it is wrong.

Related: It’s Awkward and It’s Okay: You CAN Talk to Your Kids about Pornography

Conclusion: We CAN raise girls who love themselves – the whole package

As we watch what we say about women, and call out all the harmful media messages surrounding our girls, they will learn to respect their bodies as instruments that can do amazing things! We can help them re-frame their self-image and reclaim their power. That benefits everyone, girls and boys, men and women!

Get your free guide to 11 Startling Stats Most Parents Don’t Know About Porn – Click the image below!

Click here for your guide

Overcoming Shame: 4 Tips for an Emotionally Safe Home

Overcoming Shame: 4 Tips for an Emotionally Safe Home

Protecting kids from harmful media can feel like playing Whack-a-Mole. In case you are too young to remember this arcade game, the basic idea is to hit as many “moles” as you can before they hide back in their hole. When one goes away, more pop up! While whacking elusive moles is loads of fun, keeping kids safe from harm in an ever-changing media world is exhausting and mind-boggling. Just when you think you’ve cleared out all the potential avenues for dangerous content, another one rears its ugly head.

Unfortunately, it’s not if, but when your child will be exposed to pornography. As hard as we try to ferret out every “mole”, there will be times when our children are away from us and we can’t monitor what they see. Their friends may have devices without protections and restrictions. Sometimes just looking at billboards while driving down the road or walking in the mall can seem hazardous.

Develop a safety strategy

Even schools may not be as safe as we wish. Both of my daughters were exposed to pornographic images while doing research for school projects. They were on school computers protected by filtered Wi-Fi.

Even though they couldn’t un-see what they encountered, they both turned away from the porn and told a teacher and me. They engaged immediately in another activity to take their minds off the disturbing images. Our family followed up with the school to decrease the chance of this happening again. We helped our kids with the questions and concerns they had as they processed through what had happened.

Why did they turn to us and follow the safety strategies we had in place, even when they felt embarrassed? Two reasons: One—we already had several conversations about porn before these situations happened. Two—we made it clear to them that if they ever saw anything that made them feel bad about what they had seen, we were a safe place for them to come to talk about it. This tone in our family dynamics reduced the shame that comes from viewing porn. While it didn’t diminish the shock they felt, they had a plan of action to put in motion.

Overcoming shame with empathy

Many kids will feel shame when they encounter pornography—whether it was intentional or by accident. This shame will motivate them to try to keep their encounters a secret. As parents, it’s crucial to reduce the shame around pornography so that our children can have the opposite response—to come towards us instead of running away from us. How do we become a safe place for our kids about topics as hard as pornography?

Tip 1. Make your house a “no shame zone.”

I used to think that in order to get my kids to stop doing something, I needed to make them feel really bad about what they had done. Somehow, I thought my disapproval would be enough motivation to stop whatever behavior I wanted to snuff out. But since one of the “side-effects” of shaming is that it makes people want to hide and keep secrets, we must be aware of how we handle negative behavior.

Why the hiding? Shame is a self-conscious emotion that makes us feel that we are unworthy, inadequate, and disconnected. We don’t want others to reject us, so we hide the shameful behavior. So no matter what behaviors our children exhibit, it’s important to separate what they’ve done from who they are.

Shame says, “ I am bad.” Guilt says, “I did something bad.” We want our children to know that engaging in pornography on purpose is harmful and that they can change their actions. We can label their actions without labeling their identity. It’s hard to have the motivation to make good choices when you think of yourself as “bad.” But when kids can separate their identity from their actions, they are empowered to make better choices next time.

Tip 2. Use empathy as an antidote to shame.

Empathy is “the ability to sense other people’s emotions, coupled with the ability to imagine what someone else might be thinking or feeling.” Even if you never shame your kids, they may engage in self-shaming. They might think that because they saw something “dirty,” it means they are now dirty.

When we empathize with our children, they feel that we understand what it must feel like to be them in the situation. When someone is empathetic to us, it teaches us we are not alone. As we sense compassion towards us, we have a model for how to have compassion for ourselves.

Parents are in a unique position to be “emotion coaches” to their kids, teaching them how to have empathy for themselves and others. You can do this by helping kids express what they are feeling, validating their feelings (even negative ones!), and talking about the cause and effects of these emotions.

Sometimes kids – and parents – have a hard time identifying the right word for the emotional needs a child has. Get our free list of Emotional Needs at the end of this post to help you talk about feelings!

Empathy sounds like:

  • I am so sorry you ran across that during your research project. I bet that was really confusing for you. When those pop-ups flew up, it’s understandable that you felt really scared and unsure of what to do.
  • It’s natural for you to have sexual feelings. It’s how you were wired to work and there’s are good reasons you have them. Pornography, though, exploits those feelings and makes it hard for you to have real relationships later on down the road. Let’s work together on a plan to keep you safe.
  • I can understand that when your friend showed you those videos on his device you didn’t know what to say. It can be hard to speak up for yourself when you’re afraid to hurt your friend’s feelings or you don’t want them to think certain things about you. Let’s brainstorm some ways you can cope with this situation if you run into it again.

Related: 10 Fun Ways to Teach Kids Empathy (and Help Keep Them Safe Online)

Tip 3. Handle your own shame with empathy out in the open.

Sometimes as parents we fall into the trap that we need to appear perfect. We think our kids won’t respect us if we show weakness or imperfection. In reality, when we don’t talk about our mistakes, we are communicating that the goal in life is to seem perfect outside while trying to hide the imperfection inside.

The problem is the “imperfect” eventually eats away at us and we become overwhelmed by its presence. This is true for both adults and children. Our kids need us to model healthy ways to deal with failure, temptation, and mistakes.

This may mean that at the dinner table, you talk about a presentation at work that you’re boss didn’t like. Instead of calling yourself a bad name, you share some ways you’re going to do better next time. Maybe you’ll set aside more time for a project or ask a team member for help. Your kids will learn that grown-ups face challenges and solve their problems with courage and self-compassion. It affirms to your child that part of your job as a parent is to help then navigate tricky situations and come alongside them no matter the situation.

Tip 4. Help kids cultivate empathy for others.

Your kids might like the idea of “zooming in and out.” This means to “help children learn to zoom in, tuning in carefully to others, but also to zoom out, taking in multiple perspectives and people.”

Help your kids “try on” the perspectives of different people involved in a given situation. You can take any personal, cultural, or world event and discuss it from different viewpoints.

If you have older kids, talking through how vulnerable women and children get trapped into the porn industry or sex trafficking can help them see the devastation that goes on in the industry. Some tweens and teens are very justice-minded and the unfairness and cruelty of sexual exploitation can be a motivation to reject pornography.

Related: Police Mom Reveals Secret Weapon to Protect Kids from Porn

Part of developing empathy for others simply boils down to this: understanding the why and how to care for those around them. This is a powerful quality to help kids be more resilient to pornography, because they will be more aware of the way it harms others.

Remember, empathy lets your children know you hear them, you’re with them, and you accept them, no matter what the circumstances. It signals that you will respond with love without shaming them. Cultivating empathy for others also helps them recognize that porn is harmful, not just for them, but for others. The more kids understand empathy while navigating hard situations, the more they will have self-compassion, making them less likely to escape into pornography to hide from their own failures and inadequacies.

Want to try an experiment today? Look for an opportunity to respond to your child with empathy, and we’ll bet that they will feel your love and care in a powerful way!

Get your free inventory of Emotional Needs below, and start building more empathy in your family by talking about emotions.

Dad Power: How One Man Changed Everything to Save Himself and His Family

Dad Power: How One Man Changed Everything to Save Himself and His Family

Coby Mitchell is passionate about helping his kids be safe in our sexualized society. He is passionate because this is personal for him. Coby, like many fathers, knows what it is like to be exposed to pornography as a child. But this is one dad determined not to let his children be affected by porn like he was.

Coby shows us how a dad can change everything to save his family.

Coby’s story

Coby was only 7 years old when a neighbor girl across the street showed him her stepdad’s porn magazine collection. He was immediately intrigued by what he saw. Once he returned home that day, he was ready to go back and see it again at the drop of a hat.

This single exposure, with no one to help him process what he had seen, was the beginning of what developed into an addiction to pornography that lasted 31 years. Coby says he developed a deep shame for his own sexuality; afraid that anyone who knew his secret would certainly reject him. As a young man he was particularly afraid of what women he dated would think.

So he kept it a secret.

Coby thought getting married would stop his addiction; but he found marriage only magnified the impact on those he loved. His wife, Ashlynn, could tell something was wrong the first week after their honeymoon. Three years after marriage, Ashlynn caught Coby looking at pornography. Not knowing how to respond, they moved forward, hoping it would go away on its own.

Instead Coby dove deeper into secrecy, which led to two emotional affairs with other women over the next 13 years, one including sexting. Coby finally sought professional help.

It took a couple of attempts before they found a therapist with special training in pornography addiction recovery before he began to heal. Through this process, Coby became a different man and their marriage recovered. Now they both dedicate themselves to helping couples and individuals heal from the effects of pornography addiction.

Learn more about Coby and Ashlynn’s work at the links below:

Podcast: The Betrayed, the Addicted, the Expert


How Coby is raising his kids to be safe and strong

I asked Coby how he and Ashlynn keep their kids safe from the effects of pornography in today’s world. Two of the keys to their success are:

  • Not being afraid to talk
  • Not putting off needed conversations

PYM: When did you first tell your kids about pornography?

Coby: My wife and I first read Good Pictures/Bad Pictures to our daughters when they were three and five.

PYM: I’ve heard a lot of parents say their kids are too young to have conversations about porn. They think doing so might ruin their innocence. What are your thoughts on this?

Coby: I think this spawns from a parent who is uninformed, uncomfortable, and scared. The truth is, it’s not a matter of innocence. The makers of porn will seek your kids out and they will be exposed to it whether parents like it or not. And it’s only going to get worse with time.

We have to face the reality that our kids are going to be exposed to porn. I’d rather they learn the truth about porn from me than have a friend tell them about porn. What our kids don’t know will hurt them. And sometimes that hurt can change the course of their life. As I said, my wife and I first started talking to my kids when they were only three and five.

Kids accept the message well

PYM: What was your girls’ reaction when you first read Good Pictures Bad Pictures with them?

Coby: The kids didn’t ask a lot of questions, it was, “Oh, I need to come tell you when I see it? Okay.” They were just absorbent to the message.

PYM: What kinds of things have you told them about pornography since then?

Coby: This is an ongoing conversation that unfolds as they are old enough to understand how pornography affects us. We tell them that the internet is designed to make sure kids see porn, so we have to be really careful with it. We tell them that pornography hurts your spouse if you use it. We ask them to tell us if they ever see pornography–and that they will not be in trouble for telling us.

PYM: Has exposure happened to your kids?

Coby: Yes. They are nine and eleven now. Some kid at school showed them pornography when they were younger. When that happens they come home and tell us what happened. We don’t get mad at our girls when this happens. Instead we try to put the situation in context and be supportive of them.

PYM: What about ongoing conversations. What does that look like?

Coby: For young kids, reading the book Good Pictures Bad Pictures regularly is a good idea. There is a toddler’s edition and a young kids’ version. Reading this monthly is a good practice.

Then as kids grow into puberty, they get really savvy about internet devices. So a good regular conversation with an adolescent could start by saying, “Tell me about how you’ve been exposed to porn in the last four weeks.” Having a canned question like that ready to go really helps a parent. It’s not a matter of catching them or punishing them, but to find out what they are experiencing and provide emotional support to safely guide them.

The unique power of dads teaching and protecting kids in a sexualized society

PYM: Why do you think it’s important for dads to have these conversations with their kids?

Coby: A father’s role in influencing their kids on moral issues is really critical. Kids look to dads as protectors who will keep them safe. He’s the one than can deliver a message in a way that is unique from what mom can do.

What is even better is when Dad can have a conversation about porn with Mom by his side. That kind of continuity between husband and wife is powerful. It cements the idea that what we are saying is true.

PYM: You have daughters. A lot of people think this is mainly an issue to talk to boys about. What would you say to someone who thinks that?

Coby: That might have been the case in the 70s and 80s, but because the makers of porn are seeking all children, you can bank on your girls being exposed to porn whether you like it or not. Girls can develop a dependency on porn the same as boys. Porn makers are looking for life-long clients; both boys and girls.

PYM: Do your girls know your story with porn, and do you think this is important for dads to pass on to their kids?

Coby: Yes. I told them one day when we were on the way to an event I was speaking at. Our youngest daughter, who was six at the time, asked what I was going to talk about. I looked at my wife and she nodded.

So I told my girls that I was exposed to bad pictures when I was seven, and since no one told me what to do I kept looking for more bad pictures whenever I could. I told them that eventually I could not control my urge to look at bad pictures, and in time that was almost all I thought about.

I told them I hid this from mom and that hurt her. Then I explained I went to a special therapist and now I’m better. I told my girls that I was speaking to help others who look at porn get better too.

I wanted to demonstrate for my girls how to be honest about when we see porn. I wanted them to understand that I know first hand how porn can negatively affect us.

And it didn’t faze my daughters. My six-year-old’s response was simply, “Okay.”

PYM: What is your best advice to other dads?

Coby: Kids are going to see porn whether you teach them or not. It is best if they learn the truth from us than learn about porn on the playground. It’s best to have a dialogue with kids and demonstrate they will not be in trouble for what they tell us. Then kids will come to parents when they need help.

Tips for parents

A few tips for dads, as well as moms, are:

  • Have all devices charge overnight in central location, monitored by Mom and Dad
  • Use screen time settings on devices to limit times of access
  • Have a good filtering/monitoring system
  • Have regular conversations about pornography that are really casual

The best-case scenario is when kids tell us every time they are exposed to porn. We need to be sure they understand that porn is make-believe … fantasy, not real. We don’t want kids exposed at a young age and not understanding this is fantasy, not real, not healthy, and not responsible.

Dads matter

A father’s opinion, spoken or not, carries a lot of weight with children. Children will naturally look to their father to gauge his reaction when things come up. When a father speaks up on the issue of pornography, children listen. Children notice when a father takes steps to protect children from pornography coming into the house. We fathers can follow Coby’s example in preparing our children to be safe in a world full of pornography.

Wondering how to start talking and keep talking?

Get our free list to help you begin discussing pornography with kids in safe and comfortable way: Talk Today, Safer Tomorrow: Top Ten Easy Conversation Starters. Click the image below!

What 10 Parents Learned When Their Child Was Caught in a Porn Trap [Part 1]

What 10 Parents Learned When Their Child Was Caught in a Porn Trap [Part 1]

In this 3-part series, follow along as 10 parents describe their journey of helping a child overcome the addictive pull of pornography—and the advice they hope to pass along.

Over the past three months, I’ve listened to the profound stories shared by parents from homes across North America. They’ve told me about their amazing kids. Kids who are kind and considerate. Outgoing and funny. Smart and ambitious.

Kids who in the blink of an eye (literally) found themselves caught in the porn trap.

As you continue reading, do your best to set aside fears, doubts, or pre-conceptions of what it must be like to raise a kid struggling with porn. Unfortunately, many good kids do get caught in the porn trap. Maybe they weren’t warned. Or maybe the pull to look was just. that. strong.

Either way, overcoming pornography is a challenging road — one we don’t wish upon any child. What we’ve discovered is that these good kids fare much better when they have parents who are willing to walk beside them, fight for them, love them … and never give up.

What 10 parents want you to know

These parents agreed to share the details of their experience because they want you to know:

  • First, how urgent it is that we start this conversation TODAY and keep following up.
  • Second, some of your closest friends need your support and understanding.
  • Third, you’re not alone if you have a child struggling with pornography.

Finally, these parents want you to know that if you’re helping a child find their way out of the porn trap, recovery and healing are possible.

The stories are anonymous — all names have been changed.

Reaction, realization, and reflection

In this first part of a 3-part series, parents describe the journey they’ve been on since first discovering their child’s pornography habits. As you continue you will learn more about their:

  • Initial reactions and the frustration of finding adequate support
  • Understanding obstacles on the road to recovery
  • Realizations about their role in their child’s recovery
  • Reflections, progress, and practical advice for other parents

We know these stories will increase your compassion for those fighting to free kids from the porn trap.

NOTE: There isn’t time or space to share each family’s full story. Because we are recounting the real-life experience of families overcoming trauma, it may seem discouraging at the outset. Keep reading. You will soon find yourself in a beautiful story of redemption. It’s true! The hardest trials in life are often what lead to our sweetest and greatest moments.

PYM: How did you first react when you found your child was looking at inappropriate things?

Some parents happened upon pornographic materials in their child’s search history. Other discoveries were more extreme. Toni’s son (age 11) exposed himself to a young neighbor girl (who by good fortune, immediately told her mother). Ruth learned that her son (age 15) had downloaded a file containing hundreds of child abuse images when the police showed up to search their home.

Regardless of the circumstances surrounding discovery, each parent expressed that they felt overwhelmed by the situation and ill-prepared to offer their child practical solutions.  

I assumed we could talk through the crisis

“We did our best with the knowledge we had at the time. Our initial solution was to talk it through, lock down the internet for a time, and help our child (age 12) make plans to do better. We assumed that would be enough. But we weren’t accounting for the cravings pornography had introduced to our son.”  — Sharon

I had no script for that

“I thought I was prepared to handle the idea that my son (age 12) was looking at pornography. I’m not saying I condoned it. But I had grown up knowing that my dad had a stash of magazines in the house. What I was not prepared for was the nature of the pornography we found … It was so far beyond what I could have imagined. I didn’t have a script for that. I’m sure I made all sorts of mistakes trying to make sense of it.” — Josh

We had no one to turn to for help

“Our son (age 13) was masturbating up to 7 times a day and had constant thoughts to expose himself. This issue was bigger than anything anyone had ever seen before. The school was of no help. Our church was of little help. We found therapists and programs geared for adults. But it seemed there nothing for children.”  — Toni

We needed better tools

“We first sought counseling through our church. But back then, no one was making the connection on how porn affects the brain. Or how the brain affects behavior — not even therapists. Their focus was on getting my son (age 14) to replace his unhealthy habits with more uplifting thoughts. Unfortunately, these weren’t the tools that could help him.” — Alana

“Have you wanted to talk to your kids about pornography, but didn’t know what to say?! I’ve felt that way for quite some time and finally found a solution – Good Pictures Bad Pictures. . . I highly recommend this book to all people with children. A must have for all parents!” – Amazon Review. CLICK HERE to learn more about Good Pictures Bad Pictures: Porn-Proofing Today’s Young Kids.

PYM: What have been some your child’s greatest obstacles in overcoming the pull to return to pornography?

Most of the parents pointed out that their timeline for their child’s recovery and their child’s own timeline were very different. Even when children understood the negative impact of pornography on their lives, they were hesitant to put in the effort needed to make changes to their behavior. SImply put, for the child at that point in time, using pornography felt too good to give up.

The attractive nature of pornography

“I don’t think he was ready [at first] to commit himself to the idea of letting go. He still liked it too much.” — Sharon

Their natural character traits get hijacked by porn

“Our oldest son is very outgoing. He’s also incredibly smart and investigative by nature. In a way I think that made him more vulnerable to pornography. His thirst for information drew him back in time and time again.

And yet, his younger brother, who is more socially introverted, also struggled. For him, pornography was likely used to fill a gap left by loneliness and boredom.” — Alana

Related: How Porn Hijacks Young Brains

Mental health problems complicated our son’s recovery

“Not long after our son had begun using pornography we noticed significant changes in behavior (violent outbursts). With the help of a therapist, we learned that our son was suffering from OCD. Pornography didn’t create his illness but it was intensified because of it. Understanding there were other factors a play helped us set better expectations all around.” — Macey

Note: When pre-existing mental health issues were discovered parents agreed on two things:

  • First, pornography use exaggerated their child’s negative behavioral symptoms.
  • Second, understanding their child’s mental health became a key factor in helping them overcome their reliance on pornography,

“Our son became so depressed in the sophomore year that he ended up leaving school for a time. We didn’t understand what was going on then. Now, I realize that there were signs of depression even from when he was younger. Once he was diagnosed properly and got the meds he needed, he started to succeed at school and life again.” — Sarah

Struggling with his identity and searching for answers

“I had to understand two things before I could appreciate my son’s struggle with porn. First, he was dealing with same-gender attraction. Second, porn is absolutely EVERYWHERE. The accessibility is ridiculous.” — Josh

PYM: What have you learned while helping your child heal from pornography?

A general theme among all the interviews was that parents felt they needed to find a way to support their child’s recovery without being overbearing. Still, even when parents learned to relinquish control, their involvement was in no way passive. Rather they learned to become proactive minus “the panic.”

Let go of the blame and shame

“Porn is a real problem in the real world. It’s a challenge that hits a lot of kids hard. I needed to recognize that my son was going through his own life experience — a big oops — that with concerted effort he could eventually put in his past. At first, I felt an overwhelming sense of blame, shame, and panic. But that wasn’t helping either of us.” — Sharon

I cannot take his addiction away

“I’ve learned to give my children space to grow their own strong roots. I am a very protective mother by nature. I want to step in and do things for my children. My son was very young when he was first introduced to pornography. I cannot blame him for that. But I’ve also learned that I cannot take his addiction away from him. He has to do the work himself.” — Sarah

Live in the present moment

“I needed to see my child for the individual he is; rather than a walking version of my future fears. I do so much better when I’m able to stay in the present. I try to take the approach of ‘what can I do at this moment that will help my son?’ If I start to panic about the future that’s when things get really scary.” — Macey

Look for the right kind of support

“When there’s an addiction involved, the best thing is to find your child a therapeutic level of support — something that combines the science of addiction with the spiritual aspect of healing.

I am not in charge of my child’s healing or how fast that happens. I can not save my child. No human can save another human. My role is to love, support, and believe that they will heal. The timing of when and how that happens has everything to do with him, not me.” — Toni

Related: Does My Child Need Counseling? Reassuring Advice from a Porn Addiction Therapist

What advice would you give to other parents? Is there anything you would have done differently?

Kids need tools they feel good about

“Get involved immediately. Help your son or daughter find the tools that work for them. Be aggressive. Check in regularly. Find out what is helping and what is not. Fighting pornography addiction means retraining your brain, learning to avoid triggers, and responding differently when an impulse starts. It’s not about will power. Kids need tools they feel good about. And the right tools make all the difference!” — Alana

One recovery resource that is available to all ages in any location is Fortify. It’s an online program designed to equip individuals struggling with compulsive pornography use – young and old – with tools, education and community to assist them in reaching lasting freedom. Their mission is to help spark an uprising of people tired of porn messing with their lives – and ready for something far better. Check it out!

Be prepared beyond prevention

“Honestly, I thought we had nailed it. We were having open dialogue about the harms of pornography, activating parental controls on all of our devices and filtering our Wi-Fi. It was on a week-long visit to his grandparents that he found unfiltered access to pornography. For our son (age 13), it became an immediate obsession.

One night I woke up to find him standing over me in our room. In my half-sleep, I thought he’d had a nightmare and was needing comfort from mom and dad. In reality, he had used my fingerprint while I was asleep to unlock my phone to access porn. He had done it successfully once but the screen timed out. It was only on the second attempt that I was awakened.” — Macey

Don’t ignore unusual behavior

“I kept his phone at night and checked it regularly. All our devices were set with passcodes. Plus, I was never shy of talking to my kids about pornography. I had even explained to them about child pornography and that it was abuse. Looking back, I now recognize a few vague clues that he was using pornography.

For example, he spent too much time in the bathroom with his phone. And there was one night he freaked out just as I was about to check his phone. He threw a total fit, punching a hole in the wall. We got so distracted by his outburst and subsequent trip to the ER that I forgot to check the phone. If I had, I think I would have found the files sooner.  

I feel terribly guilty. I often wonder if I could have done something differently. But I don’t have an answer that makes sense.” — Ruth

Face the issue straight on

“I wish I had realized the kind of media that was really coming into our home through various sources. It’s definitely tougher to filter content coming at our kids than it should be. So along with filtering, I think parents should face the issues straight on. This is not something I would ever hesitate to talk about with kids.” — Josh

There is so much more to this story

As I said, we only have time to scratch the surface of these powerful stories. If you’ve stuck with us this far … thank you! By learning from the experiences of these beautiful families you are more prepared to initiate change in your family and community.

We will hear more of their stories in Part 2 and Part 3 of the series. For now, know that all of these young people have grown stronger in their fight to overcome pornography because of the support they receive from their parents. They are great kids (some now grown with kids of their own).  Each has hopes, dreams, and exciting aspirations for their future.

Here are just two of the amazing experiences these families shared.

I have no thought of shame

“I remember my son calling me from the hospital when his first baby was born. His wife was resting and he was holding his brand new babe while we talked. He said, “Mom, this is my little girl. And I have no thought of shame in my head. I fought so long to free myself so I could be safe. And worthy to be the kind of father that could protect my kids.” — Toni

Seeing our whole family together

“One of our daughters got married a few months ago. She asked her brother to be a Master of Ceremonies at their reception. He went above and beyond in his role. He was so amazing and helpful. He might just be the best MC ever! Of course, the wedding was the highlight. But seeing our whole family together in that way was fantastic.” — Sharon

3 take-aways for parents

  1. Every child, every family is vulnerable to the porn trap. Harmful habits can form quickly. Sadly, kids are naturally inclined to keep dangerous habits a secret — especially when they know looking at inappropriate things online is wrong. Parents can do their best to create a safe zone where kids can share their challenges and get unconditional love and support. Children may or may not choose to reach out for help right away, but it will make a difference in the long run.
  2. Children are unique. Pornography can target individuals in different ways. Natural personality traits and mental health issues can become additional roadblocks on the path towards recovery. Parents are in the best position to take the whole child into account and look for the help they need.
  3. Parents and children usually have different timelines for when to tackle recovery in earnest. Ultimately, recovery must come from the individual struggling with the addictive habits. However, a parent’s love, support, and interest in their child’s recovery play a significant role in their child’s future success and ability to believe in themselves.

What’s coming in the rest of the series

A child’s pornography use affects everyone in the family in some way.  Part 2 will look at how parents learned to manage their own painful emotions and find their own recovery.

Wouldn’t you love to sit down with these parents and learn what advice they have for you and your family? Part 3 will offer practical advice from those who have walked this journey and what helped strengthen their relationship with their child.

Get more help!

We’ll send you our free SMART Plan Guide for Parents to prepare you to help your child heal from pornography exposure or use. Click the image below!