Not If, But When

Three steps to take when your child sees porn.

Pornography has become a major front in the spiritual battle for the hearts of our sons. Unfortunately, parents today need to operate under the assumption that your child seeing porn is inevitable. My experience and the statistics make this clear. A recent university study* showed 90 percent of boys and 70 percent of girls have accessed sexually explicit content online. Sadly, depending on the study, the average age of first exposure to pornography is between the ages of 9 and 12 years old. The first exposure isn’t just nudity, instead, it’s often the hardcore stuff because it is so prevalent online.

The thought might sicken you. You might feel fear. Or like some parents you might be tempted to deny the possibility. For others, you’re reading this article because the inevitable has already happened and you’re not sure how to handle it or wonder if you handled the incident correctly.

Be encouraged, these are not uncharted waters. With a little help this can be turned into an opportunity to disciple your son and to help him move toward Christ. To help you begin this process I have provided some important first steps for helping your son respond to pornography, but I encourage you to download the free e-book from Covenant Eyes When Your Child is Looking at Porn** for some additional practical steps to take.

1. Don’t ignore it happened

Many parents pretend nothing happened or downplay the exposure. Their reasoning is that if they don’t make a big deal about it the child will just forget about the images or video they saw. They also worry that talking about it may raise greater curiosity.

This is a fallacy. First, ask any adult about their first exposure, and they can tell you when and where it happened. Second, kids are already curious about what the opposite sex looks like naked. Seeing porn only increases the curiosity, and if you do nothing, they will be more likely to pursue it secretly.

Instead of ignoring the incident (or ongoing use), parents should talk calmly and openly about what happened and teach their kids about godly, healthy sexuality. Based on their exposure level, you may have to do more talking on a broader range of topics rather than talking less. The free e-book from Covenant Eyes Equipped: Raising Godly Digital Natives** contains age-appropriate conversation starters to help you talk with your kids about both tech- nology use and sexuality.

2. Acknowledge and Reassure

You may discover your child has seen pornog- raphy in any number of ways. Maybe you or a family member caught the child viewing pornography, or you found pornography has been visited on a device they use.

If they are caught red-handed, be careful not to lash out or impart “toxic” shame with a tone or words that communicate ideas like, “You’re disgusting. Why would you look at such nasty things.” Toxic shame actually encourages kids to hide better and to continue to use pornography. Instead, calmly acknowledge that you know what they saw, confirm that they should not look at it again, and let them know you will talk to them more about it later. Hug your child and tell them you love them. Let them know that many kids and adults struggle with looking at pornography and reassure that you will help them.

3. Wait and Learn

Delay the conversation. You will be tempted to talk to your child immediately about their pornography exposure or use, but delaying the conversation will help you do it better. Waiting will help you to respond more calmly, and with some preparation, you can have an informed and productive discussion with your child. You need time to process what you need to say and how you need to say it. There’s no harm in waiting a few days. Just be sure to remove access to possible sources of porn while you prepare.

This also gives you time to do some important discovery. This is not for the purpose of playing “gotcha” with your son, but it is important that you understand the extent of the problem. Check the browsing history on all the devices and all of the browsers in your home. Look back several weeks to find evidence of porn viewing. Check apps on mobile devices. Keep in mind that browsing history is easily hidden and so you may not find much if a child has learned to hide what they do online through the use of private browsing or other apps. It won’t hurt to look. Use the autofill feature to give you hints. Often, previously searched terms will appear as you start to type in the search bar. Walk through the alphabet, typing a couple letters at a time, and see what search terms may have been used.

Preparing for the conversation is invaluable, because it will set the stage for an ongoing conversation. Your aim should not be to have a talk, but rather an ongoing dialogue. Your son needs to see that you are going to be walking alongside him for the long-term. u

Sam Black is an Internet Safety Consultant, a vice president at Covenant Eyes Internet Accountability, and the author of The Porn Circuit: Understand Your Brain and Break Porn Habits in 90 Days. He joined the Covenant Eyes team after 18 years as a journalist, and has edited 16 books on the impact of pornography, how to protect our families, and how God’s grace brings restoration. He has been married for 21 years and is a father of two.

* For resources to help you prepare and respond to pornography we’ve provided some great resources for you on our website:

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