Nearly thirty years ago I read Steven A. Cramer’s book The Worth of a Soul. This landmark book, still available, was the first in the LDS market to address the subject of pornography, a word rarely spoken in those days. The major LDS bookstores agreed to carry the book only if the author used a pen name. That’s how unusual and difficult the subject was then! (The author’s real name is Gerald Curtis.)
That book gave me my first glimpse of the devastating power pornography could have in a person’s life and the vital need of the atonement, the only path to true healing. It also gave me my first realization that Satan has a script: certain phrases he uses over and over because he knows they discourage and dishearten the average mortal. I was appalled to realize that the same “script” he had been using on Steven, he’d been using on me, even though my issues were totally different. Basically it was, “you are basically flawed in ways you can’t change, and obviously aren’t celestial material. Why don’t you just face that fact and quit making yourself miserable trying to be what you’re not?”
It was a wake-up call; one I feel the strong need to share. Perhaps the point spotlighted in this script is one of the most important in regard to the tsunami of evil that is sweeping over the earth in the form of pornography. I suspect Satan’s greatest desire is to use the tool of pornography to discourage our “youth of the noble birthright” from believing they are “celestial material.” He wants to keep them from claiming their birthright.
We’ve been hearing so much in the past year or two about the dangers of pornography that we might be sick of the subject, but the fact is, it is not going away; it is getting more invasive, more problematic by the minute. In the last few months in my own large extended family one sweet girl, married only a few months ago in the temple to a returned missionary, has had her heart broken to learn that her new husband has been regularly viewing pornography. Several teen-age relatives, one barely thirteen, have confessed having forays into pornography. In most cases they were sucked in when it was thrown in their faces without them going out looking for it. It jumped out at them on the computer when they least suspected, tempting them. Natural curiosity led them on, and before they knew it, they were involved in something they never had any intention to view.
One can scarcely over-estimate the urgency of doing all we can to help our youth be forewarned and forearmed against this insidious problem. Taking into account the misery and broken lives in its wake, it is indeed one of Satan’s best tools.
Why Should I Speak Up?
I’m not an authority. I am not a counselor, church leader, or psychologist. I am simply a mother and grandmother with a huge investment in the rising generation, one whose heart has been broken over the damage done to people I love by the evils of pornography. I am also a mother who has learned through painful experience that our job as parents is not to make certain our children do not make mistakes, but to teach them to whom they can turn for a remission of their sins: “We talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins.” (2 Nephi 25:26)
I am fervently, intensely concerned about what we can to do help our youth and have given much thought and prayer to this subject. Interestingly enough, my editing career has included four books on the subject of overcoming pornography addiction through the power of the atonement—all of which I can recommend. (See footnote #1 for the titles and authors of these books.)1
The odds are stacked against the kids growing up in this generation. Statistics are alarming. As Nicholeen Peck said in her recent article about cell-phone pornography: “Not long ago I read a statistic that said, ‘researchers concluded that the majority of all boys have been exposed to porn by age fourteen’ . . . If kids merely use a friend’s phone to call Mom to pick them up, they could stumble upon some porn.” I read recently that the smut peddlers are now targeting boys as young as nine. No one is safe.
It’s all around us. Total protection is impossible. Girls need to know that when they dress immodestly, they become pornography. We’d have to lock our boys in a closet, ban all contact with girls, and ban computers, TV, movies, all electronic games and all cell-phone use to make certain they never see pornography in our world today. So what is the answer? If we can’t insulate them from it, what can we do? At the very least, we must take every opportunity to learn and share the best ideas which can help them put on the armor of God and fight valiantly against this evil.
Tips from an Expert
Nicholeen Peck is an expert in dealing with youth. Her essay called “Three Tips for Talking to Teens” summarizes important guidelines that apply here: First, you must have the Spirit when you talk to your child. She reminds us that only the Spirit can change the heart of the child. Only if we are in tune with the Spirit can a child trust and connect with us.
I would say strongly that if we don’t feel the Spirit we should wait until we do before we approach a child about this touchy subject.
Nicholeen continues on Tip 1, “As you speak with your child, say less. No lectures! Lectures ruin a relationship and are never listened to anyway. After about 30 seconds of talking, your child turns off. So, the ideal is to only talk for 30 seconds, or less. Choose your words carefully and say them with the Spirit. If you say less, the Spirit can say more.”
When I read this tip, I thought, “Oh brother! Have I ever blown it. I’ve never been good at saying anything in 30 seconds, much less anything this important.” Surely that 30 second rule can be overturned when the Spirit prompts us to continue. But keeping it short is almost always a good idea. I invite you to consider presenting one by one any of the following ideas you might relate to and desire to share with a child you love, in short interchanges with your teen, rather than overwhelming them with too much at once.
Nicholeen’s second tip is, “really understand . . . don’t think you know what they think.” It is important to ask what they really think and listen intently to whatever they say.
Third, she says, “Get to the point. Ask direct questions with the spirit of understanding and acceptance. They should feel that no matter what they say, it is safe with you. You will not preach too much or over-react. This doesn’t mean you don’t teach them what is right, you just do it in a more direct and unified way.”
The most important thing to remember is that we need the Spirit to even begin to approach our youth with any of the following ideas:
The power of agency is perfectly symbolized with computers and cell phones: it is so clear that we can choose to use them for good or for evil. A computer is a marvelous machine that can facilitate the dissemination of goodness and truth at speeds unheard of in any other time in the history of the world. The prophet’s voice can be spread over the face of the earth in seconds. With a click of the mouse scriptures and conference talks can be brought into the home of anyone with computer access. Notes of love and encouragement can speed their way from one family member to another regardless of the distance separating them. More can be accomplished in family history research in an hour on the New Family Search compute site than a person could accomplish in a year of tedious searching through dusty archives just decades ago. Elder Bednar sent out a plea in his recent conference message to involve this young computer-savvy generation in this work of salvation.
In addition, the greatest books of the ages, including the scriptures, and some of the most beautiful, spiritually uplifting music of the ages can be found via the computer. A person can use their agency to make use of all these wonders and enrich and bless their own lives and the lives of others. They can build a solid spiritual life and be Saviors on Mt. Zion.
On the other hand, computers have made possible the option to use agency to click into sites that bring the most filthy and degrading images right into the home at any hour of the day or night—images the people used to have to search out in seedy neighborhoods and houses of ill repute, and that children were largely protected from.
Cell phones make possible communication across continents and oceans in a magical manner. They keep families connected, increase our safety, make it possible to call for emergency help in any number of perilous situations, and offer conveniences undreamed of.
On the other hand, cell phones have now become mini-computers and offer all the hazards of regular computers, as well as the option of taking and transferring pictures not possible in any other age in the history of man. Instantly, without effort, people can use agency to do and say things that make the Spirit flee and leave them with seared consciences, vulnerable to Satan’s voice.
We need to impress on every teen the importance of every decision, the importance of every use of their God-given agency, and the consequences of each vital choice.
Discerning between the Spirit and Satan’s Voice
Every child wants to feel good, be happy, and have a good future. Satan is the enemy to all that. He constantly whispers lies into our ears. In a recent conversation with a youth who had been drawn into a short foray into pornography, he admitted hearing whispers such as, “No one will ever know. Just this once won’t hurt. All you want to do is find out what it is like.”
One of the biggest lies Satan tells our children is, “It’s nobody else’s business what I do. I have the right to choose. And it won’t hurt anybody else if I choose pornography.” What a lie! Everyone who loves a person is also hurt. No one can measure the grief pornography has brought to parents, spouses, children, and friends. Not to mention the loss to society of the good that could have been accomplished by those people. It truly has the power to wreck lives.
Perhaps the most important thing we can teach our children is to be sensitive to the difference between Satan’s voice and the promptings of the Holy Ghost.
The instant they have thoughts or make choices that make them feel uncomfortable, confused, dark, ashamed, or unworthy, they can learn to recognize the source.
They can be taught to instantly change the channel in their minds—to feed their minds good thoughts to replace the bad.
The Importance of What We Feed Our Minds
There is a story of an old Cherokee man who told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people.
He said, “My son, the battle is between two wolves inside us all.
“One is Evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.
“The other is Good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.”
The grandson thought for a moment and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf wins?”
The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”
What we feed our minds is at the top of any list of important decisions we make each day, each minute.
You can vomit up spoiled food. Given time, your body can cleanse itself of drugs previously taken into the system. But you can’t vomit up unclean images and have them gone once and for all. Once you have something in your mind, for the rest of your life it is there for immediate call-up. That may be the biggest reason pornography addiction is so difficult to beat.
We can use that strong reason to appeal to youth to guard what they choose to put into their minds. The library of our minds is constantly on view to the Lord. He knows exactly every image we’ve chosen to put there, and much of the final judgment will result from those choices. How vital it is to use our agency to choose wisely, and to be aware that there will never be a time in this life without temptation.
The Blessing Side of Constant Temptation
In his book Clean Hands, Pure Hearts, Phil Harrison writes that his pornography addiction resulted in the necessity of turning to the Lord moment by moment, in making the Lord His constant companion and His best friend. I suspect there is no other way to combat the constant onslaught of evil in our world today.
What a blessing it is to cultivate the habit of turning our thoughts to the Lord and asking for spiritual food every time a bad thought or a temptation appears. The sooner we learn this, the better. The more we practice it, the more habitual that mind pattern can become. We can’t keep bad thoughts (or sometimes bad images—in TV commercials, on billboards, etc) from popping into our minds. But we don’t have to invite them to stay and have a picnic! We can quickly shoo them off the stage of our mind simply by replacing them with thoughts and images that are “virtuous, lovely, of good report or praiseworthy,” as suggested in the 13th Article of Faith.
Being Tempted Does Not Make You a Bad Person
One of the worst “side effects” of any exposure to pornography is the way it makes a person feel about themselves: unworthy, weak, even filthy. The most important thing we can communicate to beloved children who have stumbled is that their divine potential is still intact, and that the atonement has the power to wash them clean, to make them good as new.
If you are talking to a teen who is struggling, refer to their patriarchal blessing, if they’ve had one. Their blessings so many times spell out what valiant spirits they were in the pre-existence and give them their marching orders for mortality. I am awestruck by the blessing my oldest grandson received recently. You might want to get a copy of your loved ones’ blessings and color code them according to promises, warnings, and insights into life mission. Share your perceptions and encourage these special youth to refer to their blessings frequently.
It is good to note that the more potential a person has, the more the adversary is likely to hound them, tempt them, and put them under siege. That’s why the lie he whispers, “you really aren’t celestial material,” is so blatant. He know full well that they ARE some of the best, most valiant spirits saved to come forth in this momentous latter-day era. He knows they are Saturday’s Warriors from his experience with them in the pre-existence. He is well aware of their potential to become the Stripling Warriors of this generation: to help build Zion and thwart his plans. He targets them for all-out spiritual warfare, greatly desiring to “sift them as wheat” and keep them from filling their important missions. He knows the contributions they can make and the great work they are assigned to do in preparing the earth for the Second Coming, and he wants to stop it!
It is important that our young people see Satan’s attacks as evidence of their holy callings and potential, not as evidence of what bad people they are. In my life experience I have observed that some of the finest, strongest, best men I know have been tormented by the temptation to pornography. But overcoming it has put them in a position to be a great and positive influence and support to many people.
Revisit and Share Elder Holland’s Conference Talk
In October 2011 Priesthood session of General Conference, Elder Jeffrey Holland gave a powerful and rousing talk, “We Are All Enlisted,” aiming a good portion of his remarks to Aaronic Priesthood holders.
He spelled out in plain words the adversary’s designs on our young men and the dangers of “dribbling the ball out of bounds.
” He declared in Apostolic strength that we are at war with evil, and clearly outlines the safeguards that must be put in place inorder to win that war. Watching (or re-watching) this talk with our youth and discussing it could be an important thing to do. Apostles of the Lord have rare spiritual power and their words are often remembered for a lifetime.
Safeguarding Procreative Powers: the Very Key to Eternal Families
I remember being greatly impressed as a teenager by a powerful talk by Elder Boyd K. Packer called, “The Very Key.” This great leader candidly impressed upon my mind that our choices in regard to our procreative powers were the very key to our happiness and eventual exaltation.
Later, in 1972, Elder Packer gave a conference talk on this same subject that was printed in the New Era (July 1972) titled “Why Stay Morally Clean.” You might want to print off this talk and give it to the teenager you love. It is a classic. It explains the importance of our choices in regard to the use of our procreative powers as only a prophet, seer, and revelator who is inspired by the Holy Ghost to speak the truth with plainness and power could explain it.
The Huge Gap Between Using and Loving
One of the saddest things about pornography is that it tempts the viewer to discount the value of other human beings and to use them for selfish pleasure. No pornography viewer is seeing the women they view as three-dimensional people with hopes and dreams and potential and sensitive feelings. Never is the idea encountered that they are daughters of God whose bodies are temples for their eternal spirits. There is no room for spiritual perspective or respectful thoughts in pornography, and love is impossible when passions are indulged, not bridled and kept within the bounds the Lord has set.
Teach Youth the Horse and Bridle Analogies
As a young person I puzzled over the scripture in Alma 38: 12, “see that ye bridle all your passions, that ye may be filled with love.” After a lifetime of experience, it makes perfect sense. A bridle symbolizes control, and only those passions that are controlled contribute to our ability to love and live fully.
“We put bits in the horses’ mouths,” said James, in the New Testament, “that they may obey us, and we turn about their whole body” (James 3:3). To become “perfect men,” he said, we must be “able also to bridle” our bodies, our expressions, our appetites. The horse is a perfect metaphor because horses can serve us in ways that are exciting and thrilling as well as useful. However, because of a horse’s great strength and potential to hurt us, the horse can seem like an enemy, something we need to fight and subdue. We could drug a horse to neutralize its strength. Or, to absolutely guarantee that a horse will not hurt us, we could kill it. But what a foolish and cowardly approach that would be, and how it would deny the beauty and the usefulness of the horse.
Dr. Bridell, in his book serialized on Meridian, made this comparison and said, “So it is with our passions and our appetites. These are not things we should want to kill or to medicate out of our lives. They are not our enemies, but our energies. They can be our motivators rather than our masters, and a thrill to ride rather than a threat to ruin.
“But only with the bridle! Until we put the bit of our own control between the teeth of our urges and instincts, these appetites can injure us, wound our destiny, and throw us off the path of our dreams and our goals.
“The last thing we should want to do with our appetite for food, or for sex, or for any of God’s gifts is too dull it, subdue it, tie it up or hobble it so it loses its beauty and strength and passion–or to kill it. Rather, we should bridle our appetite, harness it, control it to work with us and for us instead of on us and against us.” 2
Your brain is the bridle, and your mental commitment to control your thoughts and what you feed your mind is the bit that can gradually come to feel natural and accepted in the mouth!
Think of your soul as the rider and your will as the bridle. Visualize taking the bridle, slipping it over the horse’s head, getting the bit between its teeth, holding the reigns in your hand, showing the horse who is boss, staying in control, and enjoying the ride.
Cry with Them, Pray for Them, Express Your Love for Them
When we talk to our children and grandchildren about the insidious problem of pornography, they need, foremost, to feel our deep love.
They need to know our willingness to sacrifice and put aside our own priorities to be there for them. They need to know we understand how it feels to be tempted, and that it is possible to repent, and to whom they can turn for a remission of their sins. They need to know prayer works and that gift of the Holy Ghost is real and powerful and a source of protection and guidance that must be worked for and asked for daily.
Here’s an idea of powerful words they can put into their minds to enlist the Lord’s help day by day.
The Lord will strengthen me to resist any temptation that comes my way. He will stamp it out of my mind, and deliver me from temptation, especially from pornography of any kind. He will help me rise above it and remember Psalm 101:3, “I will set no wicked thing before my eyes.” He will help me remember Proverbs 25:28: “He that hath no rule over his own spirit is like a city that is broken down, and without walls.” I pray that I will not be broken down by the power of evil, but raised up by the power of God, which is always greater and stronger than evil. I will ask God to establish a wall of protection around me, and fill me with the Holy Ghost, to help me take charge over my own spirit and have self-control to resist anything and anyone who becomes a lure. I will learn to abhor that what is evil and cling to that which is good: (Romans 12:9). I will pray to be repulsed by tempting situations and have the courage to reject them. I desire to walk in the Spirit, and I will remember to pray for the guidance of the Holy Ghost every day.
This is war! A war we must win, here or hereafter. The Lord has promised all the help we need to be victorious. In 1 Corinthians 10:13 we read, “No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.”
Nephi set the example of faith in the Lord’s help when he said, “I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them.” (1 Nephi 3:7)
The righteousness of God always triumphs over evil in the end and it is His will and His purpose to give us the strength to overcome evil. Light chases away darkness, not the other way around. Helping our beloved children and grandchildren fill their lives with light is the best way we can help them fight the designs of Satan in these latter days!
1 Rod W. Jeppsen, Turn Yourselves and Live: Is Any Thing Too Hard for the Lord? : a powerful, helpful guide to Christ-centered recovery from pornography addiction.
Rod W. Jeppsen, Line Upon Line, Precept Upon Precept: a follow-up to Turn Yourselves and Live, containing additional uplifting resources and ideas.
Rod W. Jeppsen, Lord, I Believe, Help Thou Mine Unbelief: an excellent Christ-centered, gospel-based workbook for wives of those struggling with sexual addiction—the only thing out there of its kind. Helps wives focus on their own spiritual quest and avoid the misery of trying to control their husbands.
Philip A. Harrison, Clean Hands, Pure Heart, Windhaven Publishing and Productions, Hyrum, UT, 2004, a riveting first-person story of recovery undergirded by Phil’s personal testimony of the Atonement and it’s continuing power in his life.
2 Dr. Bridell’s Logical and Rational Poetic and Beautiful Completely Guaranteed Diet for ALL your Appetites, See chapter 9, pages 41, 42)
Note: Darla has a rich background in writing and editing and has been one of Meridian’s most consistent and most-read columnists since 2002. To learn more about Darla and her books, Trust God No Matter What! and After My Son’s Suicide: An LDS Mother Finds Comfort in Christ and Strength to Go On, visit her website: darlaisackson.com. Also check out Barnes and Noble Nook Books and Amazon.com.