Our young teen boys have locked phones but one of them was given a smart phone from a friend. He’s had it for a long time and we just found out about it. He has been looking at some awful stuff. Is there anywhere we can go for help? We feel he may have a pornography addiction and we don’t know what to do.
It’s discouraging to learn that, despite your proactive efforts to protect your son from harmful media, he still found a way to consume it. You’re wise to seek professional help and resources in the aftermath, but please recognize that your relationship with him is one of the key sources of healing for him going forward. Many parents underestimate their influence in moments like this, but this is the time your son needs you most. Let’s talk about how you can access good information while still actively influencing his healthy development.
Even though pornography and other harmful media have strong addictive qualities, I don’t find it helpful to children and teenagers when we describe them as “addicts”. I recognize you didn’t use that exact word, but I simply want to caution you when you’re talking about his struggles. Words are powerful, especially when used with young people who are developing their identities. I find it more helpful to use words like, “habit”, “struggle”, “problem”, and so on. You don’t have to minimize the seriousness of your concerns, but you’ll want to be careful to send a clear message that he’s not stuck in something he can’t overcome.
“Not everyone who uses pornography willfully is addicted to it,” points out Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. “In fact, most young men and young women who struggle with pornography are not addicted. That is a very important distinction to make—not just for the parents, spouses, and leaders who desire to help but also for those who struggle with this problem.”[i]
I recommend you listen to my interview with author and BYU professor Dr. Dean Busby on how to change the pornography conversation with our children (link in footnotes)[ii]. He is the co-author of “A Better Way to Teach Kids About Sex” and emphasizes that it’s important to reduce our shock and panic when talking to our children. They won’t hear any of the information we share with them if we look terrified and treat them as if they’re irreparably damaged. We need to have confidence that we can, as sex therapist Kristin B. Hodson, become the “sex experts” for our children.[iii]
Yes, your son has had some serious miseducation about sex, bodies, men, women, relationships, consent, and other important topics. However, this is an opportunity for you to more actively and directly guide and mentor him in these areas. Exposure to these fraudulent messages invite us to step in and impart our values and accurate information to our children. There are great resources from both of the individuals I cited earlier, among others, to help you and your husband offer him long-term support and education.
I think it’s also wise to seek support and education from counseling professionals on how to help him undo the patterns that pulled him into regular pornography consumption. There are qualified therapists who can help him recognize these patterns in his life and offer support to all of you to help set up his environment and relationships so he can move away from additional harm to his heart, body, and brain.
This effort will require an inspired mix of boundaries, consequences, compassion, education, support, and accountability with your son. He needs to know that these urges are completely normal and got hijacked by something very powerful. He needs to know that he’s normal and that this is something that can be healed. Commend him for any efforts he makes and reassure him he’s investing a much healthier future for himself and his future family.
Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at [email protected]
About the Author
Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in St. George, Utah specializes in rebuilding relationships from crisis to connection. Geoff is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, the host of the Illuminate podcast, and creates online relationship courses available at www.geoffsteurer.com. He earned degrees from Brigham Young University and Auburn University. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.