When Young Eyes Wander
Today, I'm feeling heavy as I jot my thoughts on a note in my phone. My heart aches with burden, but I'm hoping that perhaps something I write can bring a glimmer of hope and a spark of motivation to someone, somewhere. I am by no means an expert or certified professional, I'm just passionate. I've given my life to standing for a cause and shedding light to some of the darkest areas. I've started training schools and ministries with the intention of multiplying my passion, knowledge and training in others. So, here I go again. Simply hoping to share my heart and my passion with you.
Today, the average age that a child is first exposed to pornography is about 11 years old. That's the average age. Not the youngest. I recently sat with a friend as she shared that her relative had caught their son viewing porn on his computer at home. It wasn't an intentional search. It just happened. Once it happened once he was drawn into the spiral of confusion of what he had seen, curiosity to this new found world and an overwhelming, gut twisting shame.
He didn't mean to do it. I have heard stories of children pranking others and pulling up images on school computers, kids walking down a magazine aisle and being exposed to something far above their heads understanding but perfectly placed at their eye level. I have had to scramble for a desperate explanation with my own children when a provocative commercial or a scandalous billboard bombards their precious, innocent little minds.
I can't fully explain "what the world is coming to". I can talk for hours about the contributing factors to the devaluing of human life or the desensitizing of an entire generation, but that's another post. What is on my mind today is the issue that our kids are being exposed to pornography younger and younger each year. That seeds that bloom into curiosity and often addiction, images bombarding their minds in the middle of the night and feelings of shame are being planted younger and younger and younger. And it kills me.
The question then lies, "what's next?" If we live in a world where the question is less often: "will a person be exposed?", but: "when will they be exposed?", to an image that is pornographic on some level? What do we as parents do about it? How do we care for our children's minds, hearts, spirits and characters if/when they see something that is inappropriate. Here are my thoughts. This is how I think we can approach many struggles our kids face.
Talk about it.
Don't freak out, don't run away, don't avoid. We have to face it head on. Remember, His grace is sufficient for us!!
Don't react, respond.
Whether it is the first time they have been exposed or its a reoccurring struggle, it is always best to take a breath and respond. Usually, the first jolt reaction is not necessarily the best. Usually, that reaction is fueled by fear. We need to make our decisions from a place of love not fear. Whats the difference? Fear based decisions are reactions to fear. They look like anger, control, manipulation, shame, impatience and withdrawal. Love decisions are responses to a situation from an overflow of love and self control. They look like the fruits of the spirit: love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. They look like seeking God for wisdom, empathy and being in the fight with your child. Loneliness is a place where fear, shame and lies grow; knowing you have someone by your side inspires hope, courage and confidence.
Create a safe place.
Our responses and our reactions set a tone and create expectations for the future. You lay the foundations for the environment, culture and space of your home and family with each reaction or response. If we want to see our children walk in freedom, we have to allow them to be vulnerable; if we want to encourage vulnerability we have to create a safe place for it. How? 1. Lead out in it. You don't have to verbally vomit on your children or treat them as your counselor (that's called co-dependence) in order to lead model vulnerability; you just have to show you're human. You have bad days, you feel things, you hurt, you cry and you say "I'm sorry" when you are wrong. 2. If you want vulnerability, you can't punish it. Seriously, nothing makes a person shut down more tightly than when they open up and are met with anger, shame or disgust. Some things may be hard to hear, but thank your child for being open, empathize and respond. 3. Let them know it's ok to struggle. They should know your love is completely unconditional, always. Children want to make their parents proud. Even when there is a gap in the relationship, there is still a deep hunger for approval. Like most people they can be hard on themselves and see their struggles as a failure, or even worse, an attribute of their identity. I have taught my kids to know that, "mistakes are good because they help you learn". While we don't want to encourage a "throw caution and good sense to the wind" mentality, we do want them to know that when they fall, no matter how hard, it doesn't define who they are; rather the choices they are making are an opportunity to grow. They are a child of the king, not a mistake. 4. Create a culture of repentance and forgiveness. Say I'm sorry when you fail someone, and be quick to forgive and release. As adults we must lead out in this. 5. Relationship=trust. Trust=safety. Safety=openness. Spend time with your kids. Relate to them, have fun, know what makes them tick. Love them in the ways that make them feel the most known and the most loved!
Shame and empathy.
I have heard it said that shame feeds on the darkness, lies, judgement and fear; and that an act of empathy can quench even the deepest shame. I believe it. When you feel someone extend grace and empathy it not only draws you closer, it inspires you to be greater. Judgment is death to empathy. It pushes away and kills love. Empathy is not saying: it's not a big deal, that behavior is ok or doesn't matter. But it is a connection of the heart, a bringing yourself to the level and being in the situation in the moment with the person. There is a difference between guilt and shame. Guilt is the acknowledgement and conviction of: "what I did was wrong". Shame is a consuming feeling of: "who I am is wrong." It takes the action on as an identity. Conviction is healthy, shame is not. When we recognize the difference, we approach things differently.
Talk, talk, talk about it. I think so often parents worry about being "that parent"; the parent that nags or looks dumb for trying to relate. Sometimes we also fear that talking about things will make our kids uncomfortable and we love them so we don't want that! But we have to communicate. We have to be the ones to talk about sex, love, drugs, porn, masturbation etc. Seriously, if we aren't talking about it someone else will be. Where do you want them to get their information and values from. Talk about why these things matter. Again, not in a way that instills fear like: sex is bad, dirty or wrong; but in a way that is loving and shares about why purity matters. God doesn't tell us to flee from sexual sin (or any sin) because it's bad and makes him angry, but because he is crazy about us and doesn't want to see us hurt and caught up in the mess; because he longs to be connected to us without the junk in the mix. He wants his kids to know they can ALWAYS come to him as they are. Let's be parents like that.
Pray with them.
Prayer is powerful. So often we dismiss this and try to scramble to make something happen of fix the problem. But we are called to be still. Take a breath and bring everything to our God in prayer. When kids fall into sin, there is the same wrestle with guilt, regret and shame that we face as adults. Teach them to to approach their father as they are. To lay it before him and invite him in to help them and heal their hearts. Teach them to partner with God to fight the sin and temptation when it arises. Teach them that forgiveness is freely given, and while we don't "sin and ask for forgiveness later", God is always ready to connect. Pray for your kids. Cover them. I believe as parents we have authority to battle for our children and we cannot underestimate that.
Give them tools and keep lines open.
Give them tools for the future. Keeping lines of communication open. Not hassling them constantly, making them feel like you are expecting them to fail, but talk about how you will check in and what they can do if they are faced with this temptation again. Be in it with them. Set privacy controls on your devices and explain its not just a trust issue it's a matter of safety and you are taking action to be safe as a family.
Find people your kids look up to, that set a solid example who will encourage them and walk in accountability with them. Find someone you can talk to as well. You shouldn't openly share your kids struggle with everyone in your life, that breaks trust; but have a couple people you can be open with and pray with. Also, make sure it's someone you and your child both feel safe with. Someone who won't gossip and who can offer godly advice.
Recognize and process your feelings.
Seeing your child struggle with something so challenging can bring so many emotions up in you. Anger, sadness, hopelessness, fear and loneliness to name a few. The thing to remember is that emotions aren't bad, and often we have no control over when or which pops up. What we can control is what we do with them. How we process and handle them. We can't stuff them down or deal with them when it's convenient (aka never), we have to create space to process and release them in a way that's healthy for us individually. Some need to talk it out, cry it out, yell it out, write it out, paint it out or whatever... but we can't take them out on those around us.
When big things happen we have to deal with the emotions in order to avoid collateral damage now or when they explode from suppressing them.
Know yourself and what you need. Create the same space for your child.
I hope this encourages you. I pray that you have the courage to face each challenge and not to run away and hide. I pray you surround yourself with support and that each challenge brings you closer to God and closer as a family. You aren't alone. Remember, no matter how big a situation feels, YOU ARE NOT ALONE.