The title of this article presupposes two things: first, your teens are being exposed to pornography, and second, you are already responding—even if you are doing nothing. Maybe you are tempted to toss this [article] aside with a shrug, “Well, my kids haven’t been exposed and I am careful to protect them. I don’t need to read this.” But—watch an hour of prime time television and you have seen pornography. Drive past any number of billboards while on a trip and you have seen pornography. Look at the fashion posters in the clothing stores at the mall and you have seen it—in some form.
Part of our problem is that we have either no clear definition, or a very limited definition, of pornography. Most of us think of it as something you find in some run down bookstore, or maybe in a convenience store. Most of us realize the Internet has a reputation of being filled with it. But do we realize we are surrounded by it, like a hapless adventurer sinking in quicksand? We live in a pornographic culture.
While dictionaries might define pornography as pictorial or literary renderings of obscene material related to the sex act, it is much broader than that. Pornography is anything the heart uses to find sexual expression outside of God’s intended design for relational intimacy. It is anything that tempts and corrupts the human heart into desiring sensual pleasure in sinful ways.
The extent of this in our society is overwhelming. Beer and soap commercials, as well as underwear ads, all use the human body in provocative ways to catch the attention of the audience. It is not so much that sex is used to sell products, but that products are being used to sell sex. A woman groaning erotically while having her hair washed in a TV ad is not encouraging us to think about clean hair, but about having a sexual encounter.
The culture is attempting to feed our hearts. It wants to instruct us theologically. The world’s solution to the feeling that we are incomplete, or that our life has no meaning, is to tell us that sex will satisfy us. Our longing for a better place, or a better relationship, is the result of living in a fallen world. The culture says we just are not having enough sex or have not found the right person.
Why does overt pornography—the stuff that really is quite graphic and hides nothing—have such power in our society? How is it possible that the American Library Association can file suit against the federal government over a law that requires filters on public Internet access so that young children cannot look at pornography? How can we get to the point where we debate issues of free speech instead of the harm done to a 10-year-old seeing images of bestiality?
It is because pornography is not the REAL issue. Pornography is but the end result of the “porn is norm” culture we live in. We are taught that the inner hunger we have can best be filled by sensual pleasure. We have learned that the void in our heart can be filled by human relationship—there is a Prince out there ready to rescue every Damsel. We have bought into a way of thinking that predisposes us to think pornographically. (This article is not saying the bedtime story of Sleeping Beauty is pornography, but that the mind-set that sees male and female relationships as the goal of life—as the solution to our problems—creates in us a “porn is norm” way of thinking.)
This is why this article asks, “How are you responding—present tense—to your teen’s exposure—also present tense—to pornography?” As a parent you need to be alert to the nearly omnipresent pornography around us, encouraging us to use anything to find sexual expression outside of God’s will. You need to be ready and alert. You need to know that your teens are being brainwashed into thinking that they need to have a sexual relationship to be happy and fulfilled. You need to address the over-arching problem before your teens become addicted to pornography.
Create a nurturing environment
The first thing parents need to do is create a home environment where it is safe to talk about sexual things. Many parents think they are protecting their children by not talking about sex, but in reality they are creating an environment where the children will develop a sense that sex is a taboo subject. A teen’s reasoning may go something like this: “We can talk about a lot of things, but we can’t talk about sex. If it is taboo, then it must be ‘bad.’ It if is ‘bad’ then maybe I am ‘bad’ because I find myself having sexual desires and urges. Maybe I can find a way to appear ‘good’ yet enjoy this…”
As a parent, what is your view of sexuality? The Bible is very free in discussing sexuality. In Genesis 2:25 we read that Adam and Eve were naked and not ashamed. The Bible is telling us that there is nothing wrong with the human body and sexuality—it is the sin of Adam and Eve that caused sexuality to be distorted. It is only after they rebelled against God by eating the forbidden fruit that suddenly they put clothes on.
In Proverbs 5:15-19 husbands are encouraged to rejoice in their wives—to enjoy their wives’ breasts and to be drunk with her love making. In the Song of Solomon we have vivid descriptions of the joys of sexuality in the context of marriage. So as a parent, what message do you give your children? Do they see sex as a beautiful gift from God to be enjoyed within the context of marriage, or do they see it as something embarrassing that cannot be discussed? Do they get the impression that sexual expression is something shameful?
Parents can create a climate of shame that actually encourages their children to pursue illicit sexuality. If a child or teen is not able to discuss his or her questions in an age-appropriate way regarding sexuality, then the child or teen will be left with a vast vacuum of Biblical data. What will fill this vacuum? Something or someone will – TV, movies, schools, peers, etc. Pornography will rush in and tell your children what to believe about sexuality. Since they already sense it is a shameful thing because their parents will not talk about it, it is no surprise to them when they are fed information through a secretive conduit.
But maybe this is a case at home: you do speak with your children about sexuality. You do explain the Biblical view to them. You do show appropriate levels of affection in front of them. However, if dad has a stash of pornography in the closet, or on the home computer, what does this communicate? What happens when a child finds the stash or walks in on dad as he is quickly shutting down the Internet?
The parent’s view of sexuality sets the stage for the children’s view. The Bible speaks clearly, “The LORD is slow to anger and abundant in loving kindness, forgiving iniquity and transgression; but He will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation,” (Numbers 14:18, NASB). This is not saying that God punishes the children but that the iniquity – the sin itself – visits them. There is a clear causal effect when parents sin – the atmosphere in the home impacts the children and induces them to sin in similar fashion.
So ask yourself the following questions, “What is my attitude towards sexuality? Do I have a Biblical understanding of it? Am I communicating freely with my children the Biblical view? What messages are my children getting from me? Is there sinful sexual behavior going on in my life or the life of my spouse?”
Address the deeper longings
Talking about the physical aspects of sex with our children is not enough. There is more to sexuality than Biology 101. But even talking about the emotional aspects of sex is not enough. Yes, our children need to know how engaging in sexual ways with other people opens them up for huge emotional damage, but there is more to it than that.
The beginning of this article focused on the fact that our culture uses a “porn is norm” approach to answering the question as to why we have deep inner longings that never seem to be adequately met. Until our children understand why they can feel lonely in a crowded room…until our children understand why they wish life had a happy ending like the movies… until our children understand why they can be sad while opening Christmas gifts… until they understand the core longing that is always there inside of them, they will never know how to defend against the pull of pornography.
We all have this deep inner longing and nothing in this universe can soothe it. We live in a world that was not meant to be this way. We live in a fallen world! Deep in our soul we know that things are not the way they are supposed to be. We know that death is an intrusion and an obscene affront to life. We know that there is more to life than this – whatever this is.
Humans are created for eternal relationship with God.
We need to consistently communicate to our children that they have these inner longings that cannot be fulfilled in this life. This is not to create despair but hope, the hope in knowing that these longings verify the reality of the Gospel. Knowing that things are broken encourages us to trust in the one faith that tells us how God has fixed it. We can encourage our children to place their hope in Jesus and the coming eternal Kingdom of God. We can encourage our children not to be fooled by the lies of the world, but place their longings into Jesus’ hands. There will be a time when all these longings will be fulfilled. Know what you are longing for and you will not be tricked to fill it with pornography.
Knowing this fact can help our children identify their longings and not try to meet them in false ways. Knowing why we are prone to the “porn is norm” approach to life is the chief defensive weapon we have against pornography. Knowing why we have these longings is one of the best pieces of wisdom a parent can impart to a child. It will give the child a way to process all sorts of temptations.