What do you do when you find out your child has been exposed, intentionally or unintentionally, to internet pornography?

This is a question that most parents would rather not have to ask themselves. Sadly, it is becoming more common for our children to be exposed and the question is not if they will be exposed to pornography but when.

So what do you do?

Here are some practical steps and some resources:

1. Remember the Gospel

This may seem impractical but it is the most practical step of all. There is nothing more important than personally remembering that Christ died for the sin of pornography and nailed it to the cross. The power of pornography is great but God’s grace is greater. There is hope, forgiveness, and freedom available in Christ. It is also important to apply the gospel to our own emotions as a parent before we talk to our child. By the gospel and grace of God we can approach our child(ren) with the heart of the Father who perfectly balances truth and grace. This difficult conversation is an opportunity for your family to exalt Christ and grow in your understanding of your need for Him. It is God’s kindness that leads to repentance. We want our approach with our children to develop a vision for God’s grace, the joy of repentance, and the power of the Holy Spirit to be holy. In our flesh we will communicate morality and law but by remembering the gospel and in the Spirit we can nurture and environment of freedom, grace, and holiness.

2. Educate your children on the beauty and brokenness of sex

Start the conversation with an acknowledgment that you know what has happened and reinforce your love for your child. They will be very susceptible to shame. Our desire is for them to experience godly conviction that leads to joyful repentance and faith in God. Tell them you want to share something very important with them about God, man, the world and the devil and sex. This may be very uncomfortable for you but that probably comes more from your own issues with sex than God’s view. The bible is honest and frank about sex and its place in our lives. We want to be wise in what details we share at particular ages of our children but most parents I have talked with wished they shared more earlier. The ideal situation is that you have this conversation before they are exposed so they have a category for it.

Here is a simple outline to begin the conversation with your child (you can adapt it to your child’s age):

  1. God made sex for His glory. It is a gift designed for marriage. We should listen to what God says about it (He says a lot!)
  2. Man decided to take sex from God and use it selfishly. There are lots of sinful things we do with sex (outside marriage, masterbation, pornogrpahy). We let our good God-given desires for sex become selfish man-centered desires. The desire is not bad, it is what we do with it.
  3. Our world is filled with a deeply broken understanding of sex. That is what you saw on the internet. It leads to lots of problems: messes with your brain, objectifies people, ruins our understanding and experience of sex for the future.
  4. Our enemy, Satan, wants us to distrust God and do what we want with sex. This is Spiritual warfare.
  5. This is something I would like to continue to talk about because it is important. I want you to feel safe coming to me with any questions.

3. Find out what they have been exposed too

It is important to understand the extent and intensity of their exposure. Encourage them to ask you any questions. This is an opportunity to connect with your child and develop an openness for further conversation. As a friend of mine says, “Your reaction could shape your child’s view of sex, and the most important step is to approach the situation that will leave the door open to an ongoing conversation.” Understanding what they have been exposed too and what questions they have will help you know how to respond and what specifically you will need to address.

4. Develop a plan for future protection

Along with having open conversation with your child it is important to develop boundaries and protections in your home and digital life. This means installing accountability software or filtering on your home computers and protecting smart-phones/ipads. The internet itself is not evil and can be used for great good but our children should not have unrestricted, unsupervised access. The better route is to take is an active role in helping our children learn to use the internet for God’s glory and the good of man.

Here are a few resources:

Teens and Porn: 10 Stats You Need to Know
How to Respond to Your Teens Exposure to Pornography
Family Life Series on Children/Teens and Porn

Also helpful:
Restoring Sexual Purity
Covenant Eyes
Harvest USA
Resources for Sexual Sin and Brokeness