Initiate an open policy

So how do you get started? How do you create the proper environment? How do you address these inner longings? Start like Jesus started – ask questions.

In the Bible there are many remarkable accounts of Jesus getting into individual’s hearts by means of asking questions. The first recorded words of Jesus in the Gospel of John are a question, “What do you seek?” (John 1:38). All throughout the Gospels, Jesus litters the landscape with probing questions – sometimes in response to questions asked Him, sometimes to deepen the discussion, sometimes to confound His enemies. The point is that Jesus did not limit Himself to declarative statements, but engaged people through questions. One striking example is how He heals the man at the Pool of Bethesda. Jesus initiates a conversation with a sick man in John 5:6, “Do you wish to get well?” The question seems absurd. Of course the man wants to be healed! But Jesus uses the obvious to get to deeper issues.

So how do you start to deal with pornography in your child’s life? Begin by asking questions. As you do so, however, be alert to how you ask. Questions can be asked and phrased on a way that seeks to expose someone for judgment. Are you seeking information so you can lower the ax? Are you trying to uncover behavior so that you can punish or “ground” your child? The wrong kind of questions will drive a child deeper into seclusion and secrecy—the very place sin thrives.

Instead ask questions that invite the heart to show itself. Ask questions that have the purpose of allowing you to know the heart of your child – not just what he or she is doing. These kinds of questions tend to not focus so much on behavior, but the reasons for the behavior. For example: “You tend to spend a long time in the chat-rooms online. What is it about that that you enjoy?” (Instead of asking, “Are you talking about sex?” which would close-down the discussion quickly, you are asking what your child’s heart is getting out to the conversations. Is he or she finding a kind of false intimacy that addresses his or her sense of rejection by peers?)

The right kind of questions will affirm the child as being a person of value (created in the image of God) and someone you love and care about. The right kind of questions will allow the child to express his or her hurts and pains. The right kind of questions will uncover the deeper longing we discussed in the previous section of this article, and allow you the opportunity to share Gospel truths. Constantly ask yourself when talking with your child, “Is this question going after behavior or is it trying to reveal the heart? Am I seeking to expose for judgment or am I seeking to know the soul?”

Second, as you ask your questions, be careful to genuinely listen and not react. Often our children will share something they have done, or a fantasy they may have, and we will react in a knee-jerk way. Let’s say your son says he has same-sex attractions and has been considering going to a gay bar to see what it is all about. Your instinct might be to lock him in his room for life. Your instinct might be to shout, “What?!” At that very moment, when he has risked vulnerability, your reaction will tell him that you cannot and will not love him on that level. He may very well choose – sinfully – to reject any remaining parental respect he has for you. Staying calm and saying that this if very deep and important and you need time to figure out how best to help him, allows him to feel that your love is as real as your claim it is.

Ask questions that invite the heart to show itself. Ask questions that have the purpose of allowing you to know the heart of your child – not just what he or she is doing.

It is never wrong to tell your child that you do not want to make any decisions or give any advice in haste. You have a spiritual privilege and obligation to take things to the Lord in prayer. It is critical that you have time to work through your own sinful motives and behaviors before you attempt to help your child, (Matthew 7:5 and Galatians 6:1). We all know we have said things in haste that we have regretted. The Bible is clear that the tongue can do much evil, but self-restraint is a blessing, (James 3:5; Proverbs 12:18 and 21:23).

Third, take time to learn about what your child is up against. Enter his or her world. This may mean that you have to do some research. You may have to educate yourself about what his or her peers believe. For example: Did you know that many teens think that they can have oral sex with numerous partners and still be a virgin? Also remember that old terms have new meanings. Just as our generation redefined terms, so our children’s generation has redefined terms. What code words are your teens using? Are you missing the clues because you do not know the slang?

Part of taking the time to learn is also determining the extent of the problem your child might be facing. You need to know the dangers out there and also what your child has gotten into. So if your son is surfing adult sites on the Internet, find out – in a non-threatening manner – how often he does this. What kinds of sites (bikini, heterosexual, homosexual, streaming videos, etc.) is he visiting?

Such a string of questions might sound like the Spanish Inquisition. It is critical that you seek to discern the extent of the behavior, constantly reaffirming you are not doing this so that you can punish, but to figure our how best to help. Do not let a witch-hunt mentality develop. Instead hold onto the idea that you are like a surgeon trying to determine the extent of the cancer so that you can appropriately treat the patient. Look for patterns in the behaviors that might reveal the deeper heart issues.

Remember your primary goal in all of this is to look for the motives of the heart that might lead your son or daughter into dangerous territory. Keep circling back in your mind to the fact that everyone’s sinful behaviors come out of sinful decisions made to address the core issues of the heart. Your goal is to help your child see the dynamics underlying his or her actions.

Lead by example
It should be obvious that the course of action described above cannot occur in one conversation. It is a life-long process. Just as you need to focus on setting the proper environment for you child to deal with these issues, you need to continue to lead and build that environment. You should display a proper understanding of sexuality with your spouse before your children. You should take every opportunity to discuss good sexuality and affirm it with your children. You should take every opportunity to present Gospel truth in the midst of sin struggles.

When taking specific steps to protect your children from overt pornography – be it Internet filters, limitation on where they can go and who they can see, etc. – make sure it is being done out of love. It should not be conveyed as a preemptive strike against the terror of sex, but as a loving attempt to protect. “I care about you and want to defend you against those who would try to hurt you. I want to develop in you tools that you can use as you mature to fight the battle against sin.”

Part of building defenses is to acknowledge that you cannot make decisions for your teens. They are growing and learning how to make choices. This can terrify parents. You need to give them a way of thinking that will enable them to make the right choices. This is why you need to see the heart issues and help you child deal with them.

Revisit the war zone
If you have set up controls or structures to help your child deal with temptations, be sure to come back and re-evaluate them. Your goal is to teach responsibility. An Internet filter may control some access, but if your child has not dealt with his or her heart issues he or she may find ways around the filter. The heart is an ingenious thing and we must acknowledge the ongoing power of sin in our society and our heart’s inclinations to respond.

We need to be prepared to go ever deeper into our own hearts and help our children begin and continue this exploration into their own hearts. Reaffirm that the real issues are heart-issues and that these heart-issues need to be brought to God.

There is no one-time solution to the “porn is norm” heart struggle. We need to see that the basic issue is the heart’s rebellion against God. You might be able to change a particular sinful behavior in your child – by threat of consequences, severe controls, etc. – but if you do not continue to work with his or her heart, you child will find other idols. For example, maybe your daughter no longer dresses seductively, but instead seeks after good grades with a passion that leaves no time for developing her relationship with God. If she is worshipping what people think of her – what was once centered on her appearance is now centered on her performance. She may be doing well for the wrong reasons.

We need to also realize that the heart of a person can be compared to the proverbial onion. As you peel back one layer you discover another underneath. We need to be prepared to go ever deeper into our own hearts and help our children begin and continue this exploration into their own hearts. Reaffirm that the real issues are heart-issues and that these heart-issues need to be brought to God.

As our children move through adolescence and the trying teenage years, we have less and less control over them. There will come a day when – no matter what we have done or not done – they will be on their own in the world. Our goal needs to be that of equipping them to make choices in Godly ways. We can only do this by giving them the heart-consciousness to do it relying on God’s grace.

A final word
This article started with the scary concept that we live in a pornographic society and that we are being trained to think, “porn is norm.” We stressed that the world wants to fill our inner longings with the false goddess of sensuality. This is a pretty grim picture and might encourage you to panic and exclaim, “How are my children going to survive?”

The good news is that the first followers of Jesus Christ found themselves in a culture just as deeply sexualized as our own. The Greek and Roman pantheon thrived on sexual debauchery. The early church was filled with people who were coming out of lifestyles of immorality (1 Corinthians 6:9-11). Yet the truth of the Gospel overcame that culture. People by the millions saw their only hope in Jesus and turned from the emptiness of “porn is norm.” The Gospel still speaks to these issues. You can have the faith that as you share this same Gospel with your children they will experience hope and change.

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