A good friend of mine has a son who struggles with pornography addiction. They both reached out to me because I’ve been open about my addiction and willing to talk to anyone who has questions or needs help. One of the first things I told her was to not be angry with him, don’t punish him, and don’t pile on any extra guilt — he’ll do plenty of that on his own and it won’t be helpful. (This message applies to dads as well.)
I just got a call from her today letting me know how well her son has been doing and that he hasn’t had a slip in three weeks. She told me he’s a completely different person. He’s confident, he’s disciplined, and he feels in charge of his addiction recovery. She also told me how he confided in her that he was so thankful that she was kind and understanding instead of angry and critical like some of the other boys’ moms in his online recovery group. It moved her to tears on the phone. I could tell that it was making all the difference in the relationship she has with her son and it’s totally helping him to have someone he trusts and loves to be able to turn to when he needs help.
To be honest, I was taken aback at the revelation that some of the moms of the young men in the recovery group were still acting out with anger and guilt when the youth would struggle. I feel strongly that I should share some tips on the best way to react to your son or daughter when they tell you they are struggling with pornography and how to react during their recovery.
First things first — please, do not over react. You might wonder what you did wrong as a parent, or what you could have done to prevent it. You might be afraid about what this might mean. You might feel that your child has done something very wrong. You might think that your child is a bad person. I can’t predict what you will feel. Our common enemy wants you to feel bad on purpose — it will be hard for you to not take out your anger on your child as a result. Be calm. Put a smile on your face (yes! a smile). Thank your child for sharing this embarrassing information with you. If they’re a hugger, give them a big fat hug! Tell them how proud you are of them to be brave and tell you. Tell them how much you love them. Let them know that you are in their corner. That you know they are not a bad person, but they have picked up a very bad habit and that it will require a lot of work to overcome it but that you’re determined to do it together. Reassure them that they’ve taken one of the hardest steps by talking with you and that you want them to feel comfortable to continue to talk to you about it.
Second step is to share your story with them (if you have one), keeping it age appropriate. “I remember when I was your age, I first saw pornography and …” Talk about how it made you feel (understanding and expressing emotions are a KEY to recovery) and what you did about it. If you talked to a parent, share that. If not, talk about how you (hopefully) wish you had and how you would have wanted that conversation to go. Talk about when you realized pornography wasn’t healthy for you. Talk about what it took to stop viewing it (if it was a struggle — not all people have struggles, but most do).
Now that you’ve shared something about your experience(s) with pornography, invite them to share some basic details about their experience. Try to keep your face very neutral and just listen. Ask when did they first view pornography. Ask when was the last time they saw images. Ask when was the last time they watched videos. How long do they spend viewing? Where do they normally view it? What are some other places/devices (iPods, tablets, phones, TV, computer, friend’s house, school, etc)? When did they try to stop watching it? How often have they tried to stop but been unable to?
All of this information will be useful for a professional to know, a recovery group, etc. Plus, you’re helping them learn to discuss these difficult, hard to talk about topics. Don’t worry about trying to root out everything they’ve ever done. This isn’t a full inquisition, just a set of questions to understand the patterns of behavior. Primarily you’re looking for severity. It’s possible they’ve only seen a few things and that an open conversation with you will help them understand how harmful it is and they will simply be able to stop. If it’s been going on for multiple years and they’ve watched it fairly regularly they likely will need professional help to stop.
As a side note, I always assume that masturbation is part of viewing pornography. I found the courage to tell my parents about my pornography problem at 12 but was still too embarrassed to tell them I was struggling to stop masturbation. I remember sitting in the living room with them thinking, “I wish they would ask. Please just ask me. I will tell you if you ask me.” But they never did and I struggled with the problem for 5 more years. So just say, “I assume you are masturbating as well, that’s very normal for someone who watches pornography.” You may have to tell them what that is in more specific terms. Then thank them for telling you. Again, no freaking out. Focus on how honest and brave your child is being.
Now, at some point there will be a lull in the conversation. Again, this isn’t about rooting out all of the past behaviors. This is about building trust in having these types of conversations with your son or daughter. Now begin to reassure them. Thank them for their honesty. Thank them for their courage. Thank them for recognizing they have a problem they couldn’t overcome on their own and having the courage to come see you. Let them know they are doing the right thing. Let them know you value their openness and love having these types of conversations with them. Setup a time to talk to them again (next week, or tomorrow — whatever you feel impressed to do).
If you’ve discovered your son or daughter has a serious problem and possible addiction I highly recommend seeking out a professional counselor to help guide you through this journey. The sooner the better — it took me years to get the courage to do so and I’m SO thankful I did, but it would have been even better had I done it sooner.
Let me know if I can answer any additional questions or if you have your own experiences you’d like to share. I’d love to hear them. I also have another post where I had my own experience and conversation with one of my daughters that might also be helpful.
My name is Mike.