The day my 8 year old son was exposed to pornography
I love the neighborhood we live in. Our dead end road is full of kids that are the same ages as mine. They play outside together a lot and the culture is one where people look out for one another and care for the safety of all the kids. I can honestly say, regardless of their worldview or belief system, we share a common goal in protecting our children.
But already at age 6, when my son finished his first week of the 1st grade, he had learned every foul word there was in the German Language. We learned how quickly opposing values would present themselves to our kids. We decided at that moment, that the best course of action would be to equip and empower our children to make good choices built around Family Values and we began speaking these values into our kids. We never dreamed that at 6 years old we’d have to talk to our son about “grown up” things but we knew that he would be confronted with an array of topics now and we wanted him to be prepared.
Before the days of the Internet, the typical age for children to begin viewing "soft" porn found in magazines was between the ages of 11-13. Some researchers are saying the more common age of exposure to pornography now is down to 8 years old. For us it was clear that the question was no longer "if" our kids would be exposed to pornography, but "when." From that perspective, we tried to be intentional in talking to our son (and now our soon to be 1st grade daughter) to prepare them and equip them to handle the situation.
In our line of work (fighting human trafficking and forced prostitution), we receive countless requests for marriage and personal counseling from those who struggle with pornography. We have seen it utterly ruin marriages and brutally enslave individuals. Sexual sin (and I'll include sexual abuse here) is a deceptive and destructive battle that we never wanted our children exposed to but we realized that the only way to protect them was to equip them to fight against it.
A few weeks ago, I walked in on a conversation that my now 8 year old son was having with my husband. My husband looked up at me and said that our son was exposed to a picture of a naked woman by another kid, 2 years older than him, who he normally does not spend any time with. After the initial shock wore off, I asked him to walk me through the scenario and how he responded to the situation. He said, "When he showed me that picture, I looked away and said that I am not allowed to look at those kinds of pictures." Embarrassed by my son's lack of engagement, the boy put the smart phone away and said he would never show him those kinds of pictures again. In talking with our son about what happened, he was able to identify some key points that I wanted to share about.
1. He was able to identify that he felt uncomfortable with what was happening.
2. He knew how to handle the situation
At the close of our conversation, I said something we had often told him, “Son, we cannot be with you all the time to monitor what you are being exposed to when you are around other people.” And he immediately chimed in, saying, “But I listen to your teaching and that’s how I know how to handle different situations!” It was a parenting WIN moment for us.
I wrote this article with my son's permission. When I asked him if I could share his story, he was so glad at the thought that other parents would hear his story and help their kids to learn how to handle such situations. The experience taught him a lot and it gave us a chance to talk about what it means to have good character and what the Bible teaches about keeping bad company. It was a sobering experience for him. On the other side of it, I can say that he gained a deeper respect for the relationship that we have with him as his parents.
Here are some of the family values that we have been developing over the past few years.
1. Body Safety Rules
Here is a graphic we found that helped us to talk about Body Safety Rules with our kids:
We make this topic a casual and common discussion. We talk about if they felt safe after being at a friends house and give them the opportunity to share if there was something that made them feel uncomfortable. This gives them the platform to share openly with us.
In one instance, our son expressed concern that one of his friends kept trying to kiss him, even after he made it clear that he did not like that. This was something the other boy's parents were not aware of and so we contacted the family and let them know. It also gave us an opportunity to share about the concept of Body Safety Rules to their family. They spoke with their son and he adjusted and it has never happened again. Our son wasn't afraid to tell us about this situation because we constantly talk about body safety rules and look to create an environment where they know that they should tell us if something is happening that they don't feel good about.
Like most kids, mine ask a ton of questions. As they get older, their questions present teachable moments on deeper levels and we try to take advantage of that. When my kids started observing people smoking and began asking what cigarettes are all about, we took the opportunity to talk about addictions of all kinds, how addiction affects people and those closest to them. We feel that if we don't dive deeper into weighty conversations from an early age, it's highly unlikely that they will naturally open up to us when it matters most.
3. Self Worth
There are so many influences that effect the way we think about ourselves. At dinner table conversations about their day or when we have those “just before bedtime” talks, we try to listen for anything they share which shows a negative impact on their Identity, their destiny or their view of God’s Nature - and we address it. My daughter was upset about a girl in her class that was teasing her. The hurtful words that were coming at her were shaping her self perception. Our approach in helping her, aside from practical ways to resolve the situation, was to speak into the truth of who she is, who God made her to be and how that will play into the plan that God has for her life. We spoke to our children about staying free from the control of others so that their self worth is not found in what others think of them.
We did our best to limit our children's overall exposure to electronics but at one point it became hard for them to accept when "screen time" was over. They argued and insisted to be able to watch more and when they couldn't have their way, it wasn't long before they began to fight with each other.
At that point, we realized our practice with electronics wasn’t lining up with the value we have for Freedom. So we informed our kids there would be no screen time during the weekday at all and going forward, they could only watch one family movie with us 1 time per week and for the older ones, they could play a 30 minute video game 1 time on the weekends. Through this “electronics detox” - we were able to talk to them about addiction and the dangers of being controlled by something.
I’ll never forget one weekend several months later where my oldest was given the opportunity to play a video game for 30 minutes on a Saturday with my husband. At the end of the round, my husband said he was tired of playing and my son said, “Yeah, it’s probably been 30 minutes, I should turn this off.” He then blew my mind by adding “I’m so glad I don’t have that feeling anymore where I just want to watch something or play video games all the time.” He broke through the “Rules barrier” and experienced freedom as a Value!
When I think of the college culture in the US and the party scene that has swept across college campuses, I imagine that those who came from more restrictive households can easily find themselves perceiving a party life-style as "Freedom" from their parent's rules and regulations. Our hope in prioritizing Values over Rules is that when they are ready to move out on their own, our children would adopt their own set of Values that they can look back to when they face the many challenges that will be ahead of them.
After this recent experience with our son, we realized how important having established Family Values can be. I want to encourage you if you haven't created values as a family, give it a try. We certainly have a long way to go in figuring this whole parenting thing out, I've been so thankful to learn from the experiences of others and I hope that by sharing this, others will benefit as well :-)