How do I approach my child about their pornography use?

 As a parent of adolescent children the worries are endless.  You want in so many ways to see your child grow, develop and mature. On one hand you want them to be independent, on the other hand you want to protect them from so many things that can damage their future.


One of the primary concerns many parents face is the concern about a child experimenting with pornography.  Many parents experience high levels of fear and anxiety as to how best protect their child from the addictive poison that is so readily available to their children. 


Recently Cathy( name changed), a mother of an adolescent child, sat in my office gripped by fear and anxiety.  As she recounted how she had just found out her adolescent son had been viewing pornography she reported a sense of helplessness and fear about how to best approach him. I could see a wave of many emotions ranging from fear to anger to sadness surge through her as she discussed her concerns.


Like Cathy, many parents are faced with a similar scenario and too often allow their fear and anger to dictate their own response to the problem only to find out that they feel less connected to their youth and more worried in the aftermath.  Too often well intentioned parents respond to their child in a way that actually leads their child further down the forbidden path.  


A couple of things to consider when addressing this issue with your teen:


1 Take a break: Before you respond take some time and put yourself in your child's shoes. It is likely that they already feel some shame about the situation because they have been viewing pornography secretly. There is a good chance that your youth is caught between feelings of being wrong and dirty for viewing pornography and the curiosity and emotion that happens as they begin to navigate puberty. As adolescents develop and their body chemistry changes they usually become curious. It is quite possible that their exposure to pornography is in response to curiosity. If viewed through this lens it becomes easier to look at the situation as an opportunity to teach and connect rather than a crisis. 


2. Understand your own emotions:  Why do we experience so much anxiety, fear, frustration, and anger?  The truth of the matter is because we care so deeply about our children. If you convey this love and concern to your youth when discussing the topic of pornography and sexual intimacy you will likely find that interactions with your youth will yield more responsiveness, connectedness, and mutual understanding than the fruits that are produced when interactions are laced with anger, and fear.


3. See beneath the surface: Remember that addiction to pornography is driven primarily by shame and secrecy.  One of the best ways to deal with these problems is to bring them to light in a way that is supportive and educational. It is likely that your youth is feeling a little (or a lot) alone and helpless with the situation and feels like they cannot ask for help without being judged or punished. They are in essence being left in the dark to fight their own monsters alone.  Frequent, non-judgmental, and frank discussions or check-ins can become a ray of light for them in fighting their battles.


4. Fight through the awkwardness: Many parents struggle to openly discuss this topic with their children because they feel uncomfortable with the subject. This discomfort seems to come from a couple of sources.  First, they feel as though they do not have enough education or understanding of the subject and therefore hesitate to discuss it.  Second, they may worry that talking about these things will actually contribute to the problem.  In response to the first concern, there are a number of good resources for education including therapists, websites, and books (a good list of these things can be found on the resources page at  In response to the second concern, realize that despite your best efforts your children will be exposed to pornography and must learn to cope with it one way or the other.  It would likely be more educational and effective for youth to learn from their parents rather than other sources (media, friends, school).


5. Involve your youth in developing a solution and safety plan:  After you have conveyed your love and concern to your child try enlisting them in helping to establish the boundaries and expectations that will help them to avoid further use and keep them safe.  Vital things to include in the plan would be regular check-ins with them about their feelings, appropriate filtering systems, and guidelines for use of technology and media.


As you navigate the challenges that come with raising your adolescent child remember that when you educate yourself, understand your own emotions, and approach your child in a spirit of support and education that you can have greater success at connecting with and protecting them.

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