Parenting and Porn

We can no longer ‘do to’ our teens the way we did when they were smaller and had less power. We used to ‘put’ them in bed and ‘make’ them sit on the potty. These were coercive acts made possible by our larger physique and their dependence on us.

Now we have conversations. We can have discussions, make requests, and talk about what’s important; but in the end the teenager will decide if they are going to pour that beer into their mouth or text that topless photo. Our teens are free agents in many ways. They will decide for themselves if they walk in the door before curfew.

“Parenting teenagers is about having influence rather than control,” writes Michael Riera. Because face it – we don’t actually have control. Is control over your kid something you want anyway? I aim to offer (or seize) opportunities that allow my son to strengthen his personal critical thinking skills so that he becomes more familiar with that ability and better able to use it. It’s hard to become proficient at something you don’t have much experience with unless you practice it.

My power to influence The Boy is directly related to the quality of our relationship. How close are we feeling? Does he care to listen to my opinions? Does he respect my thoughts? Does he look at my life and think, ‘she’s got some things figured out; I could do worse than pay attention to her.’

If we truly need to introduce some course corrections into the lives of our teens, it helps to remember, “You can only correct if you connect.”

Let’s talk about pornography.

Perhaps my son wants to look at porn. I can’t prevent my teenager from ‘wanting’ to do something, nor can I realistically control his access to porn in our Internet age. Apparently most boys in our culture seek pornography by age 10. But there are many things I can do, and I have done all of the following:

  1. Educate myself about pornography.

What’s out there? What’s the industry all about? What are the trends? What are the teens up to? I started my exploration with this book when The Boy was 9. I have continued to read about porn regularly ever since.

  1. Do my own emotional work on my feelings about pornography.

The subject made me squeamish so I needed to look at that. And honestly, I felt enraged by it. So I needed to explore that too. I wouldn’t be a resource to my son if I were afraid and preferred to keep my head in the sand. My objective was to open my eyes to the reality of porn, and feel whatever there was for me to feel about porn, so that I could give accurate information and be relaxed about the topic.

This definitely took some work.

The more I learned about pornography, the more I hated it. And the angrier I got, the more emotional work I had to do. And the more I worked through my fears and anger, the more emotional space I had to continue my research. In this way, my attention for the topic grew and I was able to think more flexibly about it, and actually become somewhat knowledgeable. But I still don’t like pornography.

Over the space of a few years the emotional work I did increased my capacity to think and talk about pornography. I was driven by my love for The Boy’s mind and my desire for his mind to stay powerful and nimble. Addictions do the opposite – they put our minds in chains. I knew if I didn’t rise to the challenge of being able to usefully discuss pornography, not only would we miss out on dialogue for his learning and growth, but I would also miss out on an opportunity to flex my own mind and make it more powerful. The work here was about my own personal growth just as much as it was about The Boy’s healthy development.

  1. Make it difficult for him to use pornography in our home.

I did this primarily by not giving him Internet privacy. Until The Boy started college just a few months ago we had only one computer that we shared and it lived in our living room. We both got smart phones when he was 14, and of course I knew that these devices could be easy doors to the world of pornography, but by then we had already talked a lot about porn.

I didn’t track his online activity or use any special filters for the reason that I want an attitude of openness and trust in our relationship. I want to be a mentor and guide, not a cop.

Also, my son is not a big fan of privacy – he literally never goes into his bedroom and shuts the door – so in our tiny apartment I know what he’s doing all the time. Easily 95% of his telephone conversations at home happen with his phone on ‘speaker’ just a few feet away from where I happen to be! I know this is highly abnormal behaviour, and I have often wondered what compels The Boy to behave this way. However I have never questioned him and have always acted completely nonchalant about it. What kind of idiot mom would I be if I said things like, “Please take that conversation into your room and shut the door and put on your headset; I don’t want to hear all about what you and Wesley got up to last night”?

Apparently The Boy feels safe having me know his business, which leads me to believe that something I have managed to do as a parent has promoted this feeling of safety. I can’t isolate exactly what that would be, so I can’t recommend any particular course of action if the reader wants to promote more openness with his or her own teenager. Perhaps it’s a combination of many things I have done, and have been doing, over years. In all likelihood, it’s not anything I have done since he became a teenager, but rather something I did when he was much younger that helped to lay the foundation for trust.

  1. Explain the major downsides to using porn.

There are many. Erectile dysfunction, not knowing how to make actual love to an actual human female, or how to connect with her as a person, or give her pleasure are pretty terrifying – and real – outcomes for Internet porn users. I also included information on the fact that pornography is filmed prostitution; it is an oppressive commercial industry based on making money through the domination of females by males. Sexism is something that has been talked about since The Boy was quite small, just like racism and the oppression of people who are non-conforming with their gender expression or sexual orientation. We’ve been talking about these topics since The Boy was in kindergarten.

  1. Teach respect for the mind.

The Boy is not a fan of horror movies, and he has had the terrible experience of involuntarily re-playing a scary scene over and over in his mind. We have had many discussions since we first started talking about pornography about how you can’t get something out of your mind once it goes in there, just like with the scary movie scenario. Everything we witness and experience gets mentally filed, and those files only grow. Humans don’t have the ability to wilfully forget. We can’t un-see anything once we’ve seen it. There is no ‘delete’ button for our minds.

Every individual has the big responsibility, should they choose to accept it, to be aware about what their mind absorbs and strategically choose beneficial inputs. Mental illnesses are often the result of injuries to the mind; they can be prevented. Note: I did not say injuries to the brain. I know some of you will fight me on this point and insist that mental illnesses are caused by chemical imbalances in the brain. But then I will tell you that chemical imbalances can also be a product of emotional trauma. And our understanding of trauma – what it is, how it happens, and how to heal it – has only begun.

  1. Be really open to honest conversation about the allure of porn.

With my mind prepped and primed (see #2 above), I had already considered, ‘What’s the worst thing he could say about pornography?’ I knew I needed to think about that ahead of time. ‘What might be the most uncomfortable question he would ask?’ I was ready. To be honest, we haven’t had a ton of conversations solely about porn, although the subject comes up from time to time in conversation about other topics like dating, sexuality, addictions, male isolation, masturbation, sexism, etc.

But I can’t keep him from WANTING to look at porn. As a parent, I can’t control his mind.

As a parent, how have you dealt with this challenge?

 

2 thoughts on “Parenting and Porn

  • Kerri, I swear you have a microphone in our home. You seem to time your blogs perfectly based on our family activity/conversation, so thank you so much for this one. You are always so insightful and I love your perspective. Keep them coming. I’m learning so much from you.

    • Haha!! That’s funny Michelle. I swear I don’t have a microphone 😉
      It pleases me a great deal to read that you are finding some value in my posts! Thank you for taking the time to write and let me know. Keep up your great work in your family. You make a huge difference to them everyday 🙂

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