How to Respond When You Catch Your Child Viewing Pornography

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As a parent of two, a son and a daughter heading into their teen years, my heart nearly breaks when I hear that children are getting into pornography at earlier and earlier ages. Recently I read that the average age for first exposure to pornography is 11 years old. Moreover, the largest and fastest growing group of internet porn consumers is youth age 12-17.

Perhaps your child is already among those statistics, and you find yourself asking “What now?!” 

In the hour of urgency, that dreadful moment when we initially discover our child has been viewing pornography, our first reaction most often will tend toward panic, rigid correction, progressive consequences and the demand for change, coupled with perusing the internet for those magical “10 Steps to a Pure Child.”

The intense emotions of the moment likely blind us from considering the Lord’s role and purpose for the situation. Romans 8:28 may eventually give us assurance that the Lord is sovereign and works all things out for good, but that’s probably not our first thought. As a parent who has dealt with many of the common child-rearing issues, however, I think I’ve finally learned the importance of this passage in Romans for parenting. It’s not always easy, but I’ve learned to step back from the situation, especially when it’s a major issue like viewing pornography, and seek the Lord’s purpose in allowing it to come to the surface.

Many of those who go through Pure Life Ministries’ counseling programs have lived for years, even decades, under the dark cloud of hidden sexual sin. Exposing it in the life of a child is truly a merciful act from a loving Heavenly Father. He aims to provide opportunity for the child to repent before the roots go any deeper. He wants to see it dealt with before it devours their youth and contaminates so many areas of their life. Believe it or not, discovering your child has been viewing pornography should become a unique and wonderful opportunity to check-in spiritually and minister to your child.

But first, it may be a good idea to step back and consider the Lord’s equally good purpose for you in the situation. Before you can help your child, you must seek the Lord’s mind and heart on the matter. You must be convinced that the Lord, who is also your loving Heavenly Father, intends to use this circumstance for your spiritual benefit. For example, could the Lord intend this as a way of making you more desperate and needy for Him?

As hard as it will be to see this as a gift, if this situation is to be used to bring godliness and greater evidence of the fruit of the Spirit in your life, then is it not truly a gift? Will you accept it? God is giving you this opportunity, this gift, as a time to engage with your son or daughter, to model repentance, to model dependency on the Lord, and to model what it means to grow in sanctification. Your relationship with the Lord and with your child has the potential of growing in depth, width and sweetness as you go through this together.

Even if your feelings say otherwise, could you start by thanking God for this situation? Spend some time just worshiping Him, because you will see His character more fully if you have an open heart and open eyes. Thank Him that this is not just about your child, but about His glory. Pray fervently. You will taste the Lord’s love for you more deeply, so use this time to get what the Lord has for you in this. He loves you so much that He is willing to allow the hardest stuff in your life in order to bring about the ripest fruit.

Developing and maintaining a right perspective on the situation, will go a long way to assist you in preparing yourself to minister to your son or daughter. Perhaps it would also help to remember and rehearse on a regular basis how the Lord has treated you. Do you remember the loads of lumber you have had (and have currently) in your eyes? Are you willing to allow the Lord to deal with that so you can truly be a benefit to your child in these dark days? How often do you repent to the Lord? What does your devotional and prayer life look like? Are you in the habit of dealing with your sin or covering it?

Recall that your child has watched you and the spiritual habits you hold to, and likely sees that as the standard. Think on what he or she has observed. What standard have you been promoting to him spiritually? This is a time to show the mercy God has shown to you. This is a time to dispense to your child the very grace that God has slathered all over you. Do you have a glimpse of His grace? Do you have a glimpse of the Cross? If so, then pass it on to your child. If not, then you have insight into why and how God is intending to use this in your life.

As you have dealt with sin in your life at any level, reflect on what has helped you in the past. What has brought true spiritual formation in your life? Do you have a testimony to share with your child? Would it surprise him or her to know that you have struggled with impurity, pride, selfishness, introspection, lust, greed and the like?

Consider: has the Lord ever refused any of your sin and left you to pay for it on your own? Has God ever yelled at you because you made Him look bad to His friends? Think and pray about how you can work together with your son or daughter to strengthen godly convictions and emulate Christ.

Obviously, your role as parent demands that you discipline your child, and the Bible encourages us to approach our children with gentleness, with humility and with grace. (2 Timothy 2:24-26) Your child is likely embarrassed. He likely knows that what he’s done is wrong. It is not a surprise to your child that you will be disappointed or angry. What will shock him, however, is if you are understanding, compassionate, non-judgmental and non-condemning as you discipline.

Work and pray hard to bring your child, not under condemnation, but to the Cross. If you rant and rave about the sin, about how wrong it is, but do not also highlight the solution in Jesus, then you are not telling the full story. In the same way, if you emphasize your standard and how it must be in YOUR home, without also freely acknowledging how often you fail in your attempt to honor God, then you will be seen as a law-giving Pharisee and your words will undoubtedly blow away from your child like chaff. Go out of your way to affirm your love for your child. Help him understand that he is precious to you, no matter his struggle, but that your goal is to honor the Lord and come alongside him in a way that ultimately helps him honor the Lord.

Seek his or her sincere willingness to accept your help with this. That will enable you to be far more successful in implementing safeguards into his life, such as no privacy in the home when on the computer, an internet filter installed on all devices, and as much vigilance as is practical over activities and friendships outside of the home.

And, never, never stop praying! Only the Lord can be with and protect your child wherever he or she goes. Only the Lord can change his heart’s desires. All you can do is to pray for and model Christ to him. And be encouraged, for the Lord assures us: “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7)

Gary Meeks is Assistant Director of Community Life at College Park Church in Indianapolis. Gary has served as an OCAH counselor for Pure Life Ministries since 2004. He and his wife, Peggy, who also serves as an OCAH counselor, have two children, Chad 14 and Molly 10.

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