If you are in touch with the lives of your children, you will have a discussion about pornography exposure with almost every single one of them. In most cases, if you never had this conversation, you simply missed it. In this generation, the level of exposure to pornography is essentially 100%. If we haven’t had a conversation with our children about it, they are flying solo without a co-pilot.
If we understand that their exposure does not necessary reflect a failure on our part, or a fundamental flaw on theirs, we are prepared to not freak out when we have the conversation with them. In fact, I would suggest that having such a conversation with your child should be counted as a great blessing, since you are now in a position to strengthen the individual, and partner with them in the battle that seems to be the refiner’s fire of this generation.
I count it an even great blessing when a child comes to a parent and initiates a discussion. Imagine your teenager approaching you like this: “Dad, I’m struggling with some stuff I saw online. I bumped into it, but then I couldn’t get it out of my head. For the past several days I’ve been sneaking on to the computer and looking at this stuff even more.” The fact that your child has initiated this conversation with you means several positive things: 1) Your child trusts you enough to have this talk, which can’t be achieved without relationship; 2) Your child has enough of a relationship with the Spirit that they can recognize when it’s gone; 3) Their initiative is a tremendous sign of their ultimate victory over this pernicious evil of our generation.
When this moment happens, the worst thing a parent can do is freak out. “After all the things we’ve taught you, all the years in the Church, and everything your father and I have done to set a proper example, and this is how you treat us?!” Memo to mom and dad: Junior won’t be coming back to talk to you the next time he struggles. Shaming an addict, or someone skirting around the edges of addiction, has no curative power whatsoever.
Another very bad thing a parent can do is the technological freak out, which goes something like this: “That’s it! I told your father this whole Internet thing was a bad idea. We’re pulling the plug and that’s the end of that. I am NOT going to have this in my home!” The angle is different, but the effect is the same. This child is now more vulnerable to a variety of online dangers, none of which will be brought up to mom or dad for fear that they will permanently pull the plug.
How about this? “Congratulations, you’re normal.” That’s actually true. A normal individual will respond to exposure to pornography with some level of attraction. If their brain is functioning normally, they’ll want to look once, and then again and again. Now, if we left that message as is, it would be incomplete. Part two of this message is, “But, the natural man is an enemy to God. You felt the Spirit leave when you looked at that stuff, didn’t you?” Now you’re having a conversation in which the Spirit is the central focus, which leads you naturally to bring the power of the Atonement to bear. You also position yourself as an ally in the struggle. This child, if he struggles again, will be back to talk to you and seek counsel from you, maybe even a priesthood blessing. He may come seeking logistical support, such as asking you to be his trusted report receiver for his tracking or filtering service.
I hope we get to the point where we can be a bit more open about this struggle. In our society this can be tough. Stand up in Elder’s Quorum and say that you have been a struggling alcoholic, and you’ll have half a dozens arms around you before the meeting ends. Stand up and say, “I’m a struggling pornography addict,” and the reaction is bound to be much more awkward.
The reason I hope for more openness is that the struggle is almost universal in the generation of young adults and youth in the Church today. I served for three years in the bishopric of a singles ward at BYU and I regularly taught this material there. I always asked the elders, almost all of whom were returned missionaries, how many of them had been exposed to pornography. It was always unanimous. Over three years, and essentially querying every young man in that ward, there was not a single individual who came up to me and said, “Gosh, I guess I just don’t know what you’re talking about because I’ve never actually seen that.” When there is openness, there is support. Two stories stick out in my mind.
The first involves two roommates who helped each other to install content filtering software on their respective laptops, and then each served as the administrator for the software on the other’s laptop. The roommate also received the report if anything unusual or inappropriate happened. What a blessing these two young men were able to be to one another, but only because they were able to be honest enough to say, “I know I’m vulnerable, so would you help me to be successful?” The truth is that every normal man and woman is vulnerable, and more openness about that alone would help everyone in the fight.
The second story involves an elder’s quorum class in which I was teaching a lesson on pornography addiction. Near the end, one of the elders, a returned missionary, stood up and said, “Before my mission I struggled with pornography addiction, and it was incredibly difficult. I’ve been able to stay completely away from it since my mission, but I know it’s still a struggle for probably a lot of us. If any of you need someone to talk to, or to get a sense of where to get help, please get a hold of me.” I know we’re counseled not to run around flouting our sins to everyone, or re-confessing our sins every time we get to the microphone. I’m not recommending group therapy sessions in priesthood meeting. However, I think it took incredible courage on the part of that one young man to stand up in front of his peers in that student ward. He did it in part because he knew that he wasn’t alone, and hoped that by standing up the way he did, that others would also not feel alone, and would be more courageous in seeking help.