We have saved the best for last. In this recent installment of The Everyday Missionary Podcast, I sat down with my son to talk about what it’s like to come out as gay in a Christian pastor family. Our hope in this was not simply to offer a glimpse into the challenges and closeness that can emerge, but also to display how the Christian and gay community can communicate with one another in a spirit of kindness, empathy, and understanding.
Recently I was reading through some Atheist material in preparation for an upcoming sermon series when I came across a familiar counter theistic argument. The basic concept is that Christians are actually Atheists in regard to all other gods except their “one true God.” Therefore the only difference between a Christian and an Atheist is that the Atheist goes one god further. Now I do admit the argument is not only cleaver, but a bit compelling too.
As an Evangelical I am a stanch Atheist in regard to all other gods. Oden is lore, Zeus is fiction and while Osiris looks like “Beast” from Teen Titans (which is awesome) he lacks standing support. But here is what is also true; I have no angst, spite or distain for those gods. I feel zero need to discuss how petty, juvenile, cruel or ridiculous they may be. In fact my “Pissed-O-Meter” doesn’t even tack .1 when I think about the topic of other gods.
Now maybe that is because I’m reflecting on gods that are long bereft of worship. So I decided to dig a bit deeper into my own emotional grid. But when I did so realized that my “P-O-M” doesn’t even budge when I think about the gods of current religions such as Islam or Hinduism. Isn’t that weird? It should be weird based on the “Christians are actually Atheists – save one” argument. Here is what I mean.
I concur that I am a full naturalistic skeptic in regard to Allah and Shiva, but I’ve also never been compelled to assault their character, actions or personhood. I can’t even imagine wasting time, emotion or energy to do so. I have certainly spent time dealing with comparative religious systems in light of Christianity, but I have never put the gods of those systems in my crosshairs because I know I’m shooting at thin air. I don’t waste time mocking the Flying Spaghetti Monster for the same reason. To have any critical or negative opinion of a deity that I consider to be a mythology is about as rational as mocking the Leprechauns I don’t believe inhabit my toilet bowl. What makes this even weirder is that while billions of people are affected by and follow the gods that I don’t believe in, my Atheism regarding their gods is so sincere I don’t feel the need to burn a single calorie to assault the character of their deities. I will challenge their religious philosophies, but I never attack their gods. Additionally I’ve never been a part of any Christian group where people sat around and badmouthed other dieties. They may talk about Islam’s doctrines, but no one I know sits around and talks about how silly or sadistic Allah is. That would be a bit weird right?
Then I thought about it more. I’ve also never met any full Atheist who has displayed the need to consistently dismantle the reputation of any other god – except the God of Christianity. On this god I find a disproportionate obsession with assaulting the character of what is adamantly defined as an inane and outdated myth. A famous instance of this comes from Richard Dawkins when he writes:
“The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”
I give Dawkins points for flair, but I also sit somewhat dumbfounded and think, “Why waste this much ink to mock a fable?” It would seem a sincere Atheist would be radically passionless toward any mythological deity precisely because of the “fact” that it’s a fiction. I think about how more than a few Atheists glibly equate God with Santa Clause, but none that I know of take the added time to bust St. Nick’s snow globes for breaking an entry or jipping naughty kids out of Christmas. Yet in my experience I commonly find Atheists are colored with a deep passion against the “myth” of the Christian God. It’s a case of real hate for the fake god. And then I realized, perhaps the hate is real because deep down inside they hope – might I even say, “pray” – He is real so He can feel their disdain.
As for me, I will continue to go on in my unimpassioned Christian Atheism. I will not Photoshop Zeus out of the Trevi Fountain to mock his mythological status. I will not imprint a Flying Spaghetti Monster between the elephants of the Banteay Srei Carving of Shiva to belittle Hindu gods. And I will not rant about the cruelty of the Sith Lord Darth Sidious when he had Anakin kill his loyal Count Dooku. All for the same reason, only realities are worthy of my passions.
Passion for your house (Oh Lord) has consumed me, and the insults of those who insult you have fallen on me. Psalm 69:9
In almost every sense of the meaning I find that technology sucks. It sucks time, money, energy, electricity, emotion, innocence and focus. This isn’t to say that I reject the positive aspects of the electronic age, but advancement has come at a cost. And the cost is not that we have, but that we have too many: too many emails, text messages, tweets, articles, posts, blogs, games, options, shows, channels and interest. In my immediate family alone we have 5 people with a total of 20 Internet, satellite, or texting capable devices:
- 5 Mobile Phones
- 5 Computers
- 3 TV’s (connected to a satellite provider)
- 3 Tablets
- 2 Gaming Platforms (1 TV based / 1 Handheld)
- 1 Blu-Ray/Netflix Player
- 1 Wireless Router/Modem Combo
Now here is where this really sucks, each of these are a portal to various levels of porn. Anything going out is a conduit for bringing unwanted things in. Therefore, if you are seeking to establish protections for your boys, while still remaining connected electronically to the outside world, be prepared to have a lot of your life and time sucked away to do it, but realize it will be worth it! In this final post to the series I will outline all the various ways you can get ahead of these opportunities. By tomorrow I can imagine that many boys will be very bummed to find that the way they were getting their secret fix is now coming to light.
Where To Start?
For the last couple of years I have sought to be rather vigilant in this area, but this Christmas we gave our son both a computer and a mobile phone and with that came the challenge to proactively work through additional safeguards. And challenge was no understatement. So challenging in fact that it’s pretty tough to plug all the holes. I can guarantee that outside of removing every electronic conduit in your home you cannot establish an airtight seal that will keep out the noxious fumes of hard-core porn (straight, gay and other), soft-core porn, sexting, sexually suggestive programing, sexual articles/stories or sexual advocates that are contrary to your values from your home. This is particularly why I saved practical measures for last and emphasized discipleship first. Jesus is your first and greatest offense, “controlling” technology is a useful, but incomplete defense.
Additionally as a disclaimer – I am not an IT engineer. I am a pastor with a moderately average knowledge of technology. I don’t give the following solutions as the exhaustive manual on “How To Porn Proof Your Home.” I could have gone to friends far more knowledgeable than I in this field, but I am running with what I know specifically as an encouragement. Some reading this will be very savvy in the overall realm of modern communications. Others will be more like me and have to hunt for answers. That means it takes some work. It will suck some time. It will keep sucking time since technology and adolescent prowess evolve at lightening speed. Yet the investment of time will pay off with a life of healthy dividends.
A Clear Edict
I find that with teens you can never be clear enough. As adults we are used to reading between the lines or understanding the intent of things, but for an adolescent abstract thinking is still developing. Therefore having clear, non-sarcastic, non-belittling guidelines from the outset makes a world of difference.
- “I can look at any of your electronic devices at any time I want without warrant, warning or permission. This is not to invade your privacy, but to protect your heart and mind.”
- “I get passwords to all sites, devices and email connected to you and I will be monitoring them. This is not to pry into your personal life, but to safeguard it.” (Remember parents, our goal isn’t to “catch them” but to “grow them.”)
- “I can grant or revoke any privileges you have electronically for the sake of your good. This is not for the purpose of punishment, but to honor my biblical responsibility to Jesus as your parent.”
In all of these, never feel bad as a parent for not being as carefree as other parents. There is a fine line between carefree and careless.
Rerouting Your Router
Your Wi-Fi Router is perhaps your most unconsidered device when thinking about porn. Makes sense since it doesn’t have a screen and to the best of my knowledge I’ve never heard of a 12-year-old boy was aroused by three blinking lights. Because of this many parents assume that protection begins at the device with the screen. Now a few years ago this was easy since Wi-Fi was a computer only feature, but today many kid oriented devices are Wi-Fi enabled such as the Nintendo DS or PlayStation Vita, not to mention that devices such as Xbox, Wii and PlayStation all come with Internet features. With so many options one way to put up a respectable detour is to address your router. On my home network we run OpenDNS. It’s free and it’s pretty effective at blocking content at the router (unfortunately it does not typically work for those of you cursed with a satellite provider due to their configurations). You can customize it to a limited degree and it is password protected (don’t pick any family familiar passwords – use your 4th grade teacher or something they would never guess). What is especially great about this is that it blocks most every device that connects to it regardless if the device has filtering software or not. Therefore outside of your son discovering the password or resetting the whole router it’s a good first line protection. Sometimes it blocks non-offensive content, but again this is a small price to pay.
P.S. Knowing the technological brilliance of some boys I would advise you both change the password on occasion and keep it recorded someplace non-electronically. Also make sure you still have control of the router by intermittently typing in your password, thus making sure they didn’t reset and type in their own. They can be crafty little hackers.
Filter His Computer & Password Protect All Others
I am a big fan of program called X3 Watch. Having said that, it’s worthless for a boy. We have it on all our computers and the reports go to my wife for overall accountability. Yet for a boy we need more than getting a report of the 200 porn sites he hit over the last 7 days. Therefore on my son’s computer we put Net Nanny. It’s customizable for both content and times of use (I don’t allow it to have internet activity between 9:00pm-7:00am). It is password protected, generates activity reports and can be accessed remotely.
In addition to this we do not allow him to use his computer in a bedroom or any room where a door is closed. We basically handle his computer like a loaded weapon and Net Nanny as the safety. In other words for the non-gun readers: just because it has a safety doesn’t make it safe and additional precaution is mandatory. If your son only has a desktop and it’s in his room – take it out, it’s just that simple.
On the additional computers in the home I would advise either installing Net Nanny or at a minimum running X3 Watch for general monitoring, but restrict access through password protection. Again pick a password your kids do not know and set those computers to need that password anytime they are turned on, opened up or come out of sleep mode (setting the sleep mode to every 15-30 minutes). A boy on a mission will look for any device not secured.
Making Mobile Devices Less Mobile
This is the tricky one right here. Not only do you need to be mindful of the obvious ones, but also the subtle ones such as sexting, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, or the 4 other options that just came out in the last 45 seconds since I started this sentence. The other part that is tricky is that unlike computers and routers that have a bit more uniformity, every mobile device is radically different from platform to platform or carrier to carrier. Even more challenging is that most of the operating systems on mobile devices are not designed to allow for a single program to monitor the whole device (such as Net Nanny on a computer). Therefore you will have to do some homework on your devices, but here is what I did with our son’s iPhone. I’m sure others can add solutions for Android and Windows in the comments section below.
The iPhone/iPad Itself
In the “Settings” – “General” – “Restrictions” I set a 4 digit passcode and disabled:
- Safari (the web browser)
- Camera (if your son needs a camera, give him one without digital sending ability)
- FaceTime (it automatically turns off with the camera)
- Installing Apps (this is HUGH – if you leave this on he can go get any other Web Browsing App he wants thus working against your efforts. If he wants an App you can do it with him. I give my son time every once in a while to do a big app download over 20 minutes and then I look over what he downloaded before I disable to Installing feature)
In the place of Safari I purchased the Web Browser App Mobicip. It’s very much like Net Nanny for an iPhone, but it’s the actual browser and not a program that monitors browsers (which is why you need to disable Safari and restrict Installing Apps). I also limit the times it can be used in the remotely accessible settings panel (again between 9:00pm-7:00am)
The Service Provider & Texting
With AT&T there is a month additive you can buy called Smart Limits. This allows you to control hours of usage and restrict texts that can come in or out through an approved phone list. In this I have only allowed family and close known friends to be on the text list. If he needs to interact with a person not on that list, a good old fashion phone call is perfect. Texting lowers too many inhibitions for adolescent kids and so not even giving the option until they have a couple of years under their belt is a good thing. And for the first time in this whole series I would say this goes doubly for girls.
On texting as a whole you shouldn’t have as much a fight if you start off with limits. If you are seeking to implement these later down the road it may be a bit harder.
IMPORTANT – Turn off (or never turn on) iMessage on their iPhone. iMessage bypasses Smart Limits since it is Web based, not Provider based. You may have to do some homework as to settings in Apple ID accounts so they can’t turn it on themselves as easily.
Additional iPhone/iPad Devices In The Home
If you don’t opt to take the same measures on your own devices, make sure you set “Autolock” with a “Passcode Lock” that only you know. Personally I have adopted the same standards for my own phone that I placed on my son’s. It is a way of standing in solidarity with him.
Keeping PlayStation From Becoming Play(boy)Station
In our home we have an Xbox360 in the living room (again, no potential Internet access points in kids bedrooms unless they are controlled by an hours of usage option). Our particular Xbox is a bit older and so it does not have an onboard Wi-Fi option. When we choose to access Microsoft Live we establish a Wi-Fi bridge via an Ethernet cable and one of our laptops. Therefore the Xbox is dependent upon another device that I have more control over based on the above precautions.
Obviously this is not everyone’s situation. Most new consoles and handhelds have built in Wi-Fi, thus having the OpenDNS option is a benefit in blocking the use of the browsing clients on console and handheld gaming platforms. Luckily some of the systems also have their own content filtering options as well. Some of these options may have better protections than others as far as passwords or pin numbers to engage or disengage the content filtering. The reality again is that we can’t just do it once and never check in again on it. Each device will suck some time to keep monitored, but the initial set-up instructions for the top brands are below:
HBOooo That’s What “TV-MA” Means
Premium channels and Pay Per View options are another area where the definitions between entertainment and “mature” entertainment are being blurred, and this too creates an opportunity for our boys. Now some of you may feel safe because you don’t pay for premium programming such as HBO, Showtime and Cinemax, but throughout the year these channels offer free trials with opportunities for soft-porn viewing. There are also the Adult Pay Per View options that offer “discreet” billing (i.e. the title is nameless on your billing) and thus are easily overlooked when paying bills or billing is automatic.
The best solution here is to set the rating on all your TV receivers to an acceptable level and block all adult channels behind a passcode that only you know. This is perhaps the easiest safeguard of all the opportunities for pornography.
Not Necessary Pornography, More Like Impuregraphy
The last thing I would add is so vast I needed to make up a word. Much of this whole series has been dedicated to the sometimes narrowly viewed theme of pornography, but the issue is much bigger. It entails any electronic opportunity that would misinform, ill-define or put at risk a biblical example of sexuality. Many of these are especially difficult to block because they sometimes fall into the realm of non-filtered content. It may come in the form of provocative movies through Amazon or Netflix, or through highly questionable (but technically permitted) videos on Break, Vimeo or YouTube. It may not even be sexually explicit as must as sexually contrary to your views (something even more serious with the tender and impressionable age of adolescents when kids are in search of an identity before they are capable of discerning one). Personally I know I can’t monitor every possibility, but what I have done is restricted all the major video sites on my son’s mobile device via the “Blocked Sites” option in Mobicip and then only allowed him access to such sites on his computer in the living room with the family around.
The Big Idea
Overall you as a parent are their best guide, filter, advocate and advisor. Thus you must be perpetually connected, talking and monitoring. You must be displaying a healthy and open view of biblical sexuality. And yes, it will be awkward for everyone involved. So start the uncomfortable discussions, ask the leading questions and share your own challenges. In short you want to be discipling their heart. Use the technology to your advantage like texting your son on how’s he’s doing or if he has questions. Just as texting lowers inhibitions in the negative, it can also be a means of him opening up to you as well so that you can swing around later with a face to face.
Our calling as parents is clear, “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” (Proverbs 22:6). Training isn’t exclusively commanding actions. Nor is it merely blocking opportunities. It is a concert of Bible, gospel, wisdom, heart, mentoring, failure, repentance and grace – along with additional protections that aid in keeping their hearts from corruption so that they may grow into the godly men Jesus seeks.
In dealing with our sons struggles with porn we must assure them of a solution. The gospel of Jesus is a message that both rids us of our shame and empowers us to overcome the strong biological, emotional and visual draw that is associated with pornography. Again I want to reiterate that making pornography impossible to access is not the solution, making it undesirable is. Therefore the most effective way this temptation will be resisted is to make obedience both a realistic possibility and an internal want. And that begins with understanding the power of the gospel.
Titus 2:11-14 says, “11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, 12 training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, 13 waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, 14who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.”
Three things must be imprinted into our sons hearts:
1st: Grace Is – Grace is the unsolicited, unearned and undeserved favor of God. In dealing with our sons we must remember that what they most need is a personal God who conditions their desires. We don’t want our boys thinking the way forward in overcoming porn (or any other sin) is chiefly a matter of self-determination, but rather it’s a matter of reformed affection that comes through a growing understanding of the power of grace. Helping our boys develop gratitude for Jesus’ sacrifice and forgiveness begins to lay the foundation for a life of obedience both in public and private.
What is especially good for us to remember is that it will always be grace – not law – that ultimately protects and liberates our boys. Thus if you simply jump to the end of this series on “the laws of practical porn proofing” and do nothing else, you may in fact taunt your sons to sin without even intending to. In Romans 7:7-12 Paul shares a profound truth regarding the law. There he says that the law entices – not curbs – sin. This is why you see people at the Grand Canyon throwing rocks just a few yards down from a “Do not throw rocks!” sign. The mere sight of “don’t” makes people want to “do” (especially in the adolescent brain). The reason is because the function of the law is to incite our natural rebellion, thus proving we need God’s grace to heal our defiant hearts. Therefore “don’t” – by itself – often works against us. Because of this the electronic safeguards we implement will be nothing more than challenges for our boys to hack unless they are coupled to a bigger sense of Jesus and grace.
2nd: Grace Saves – It saves us not only from the penalty, but the power of our sins; to renounce our rebellion and reinforce righteousness. Both of these are critical because we need our boys to know that resisting temptation is both an act of running from sin and running to Someone and something righteous (2 Timothy 2:22).
Additionally, they need to realize that the powerful draw of temptation is not as powerful as the ability to overcome. Sin and righteousness are not dualistic in the life of the believer. Temptation isn’t an equal and opposite force. In the believer’s tug-of-war over sin the Holy Spirit is the anchorman who shifts the balance of power. In the pull of the Holy Spirit we have what is needed to overcome moments of enticement (Romans 8:1-4 & Galatians 5:16-26). Paul knew this in struggling with his own temptation when exasperated he says, “24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7). I know that kind of frustration. I know that sense of failure. Who will rescues me from my failures? I love the answer, “25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7). Paul knew temptation, but he also knew that grace saves us from that sense of inevitability regarding failure. This is why he told the sexually charged and confused Corinthians, “13 No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13).
The key here is helping our boys to see the value of redirecting their attention when temptation comes; to reestablish focus when the internal booty-call suddenly arises in their temptations. Romans 8 reminds us that, “5 Those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. 6 For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.” Helping them learn to set a positive foothold for their mind will give them a powerful tool for life-long peace.
3rd: Grace Inspires – Grace must be communicated in a way that helps our boys become “zealous for good works.” We as parents must not reduce the inspirational power of grace by making it a synonym for law. Our tone must be that of understating, direction and hope. We are to bring empathy, boundary and the conviction that goodness is way better. We parent from the posture of sinners coming alongside fellow sinners with the reminder that we all overcome by grace. We are the living embodiment of how our boys understand Jesus and grace. Thus we must be careful to not take their failures or sins so personally that we fail to provide them with an accurate picture of who God is and how He empowers us to overcome ourselves in hope.
- Help your son to see that Grace is something we receive while Law is something we do. Therefore to receive daily overcoming Grace he must seek Jesus as the source of that grace through ongoing prayer. A great rule of thumb is to encourage them to talk out loud to Jesus so that he is more real in their life.
- Help him realize that in God’s common grace, Jesus has provided many opportunities to avoid tempting situations such as hobbies, sports, chores, friends or the like. Distractions when tempted are a wonderful form of common grace. It also follows the pattern of 2 Timothy 2:22 when it says, “flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace.“
- Help him begin disciplines such as quiet-times or devotional book readings that fortify his inner spiritual life. The Word of God has power and the life of the Holy Spirit in him is strength. We don’t want to overcome porn with Law (since that is impossible – Romans 7:7-11), we want Jesus to shape his heart with Grace and Truth (John 1:17 & Romans 12:1-2).
- Help him to know that Jesus died for porn. Specifically that Jesus took the sin of his porn viewing and suffered for it on the cross, so that he could be totally forgiven and made new (2 Corinthians 5:21). Let him know that while you will be taking some precautions to protect him, those are not designed to punish him or throw his past in his face. Reinforce that Jesus was punished in his place so he could be forgiven and move forward.
Friday: Final post to the series, “Technology Sucks! Safeguarding The 7 Primary Ways Porn Gets Into The Home.”
Most of us as parents will need to get comfortable with the fact that our boys first contact with porn will be much sooner than we would care to admit, particularly if we fail to provide safeguards far in advance. And typically the way most patents find out is not through a proactive confession or a yelp of shock in the adjacent room. No, most parents find out by stumbling upon an already established habit. It typically comes when you walk in on a flushed and deflecting boy or you decide to open a browsing history on his device of choice only to find a list of titles that make you flushed like a caught boy. In these instances a vast array of emotions can crush into your gut: shock, worry, anger, disappointment or disgust. All of these are understandable; it’s your first contact to his first contact. Yet before you decide to react from the circus in your gut, slow down so you can wisely respond to the real problem – his heart. His heart sin (manifest as porn viewing) is an opportunity for you to reinforce the sin conquering grace of the Gospel. With that in mind here are some responses to consider:
If you find out – don’t avoid, but engage.
Occasionally there are parents who would prefer to jam their heads in the sand and just pretend like they didn’t see. Or worse, there are parents who avoid it because they don’t believe such habits are really that wrong since “boys will be boys” (and because the parents themselves have the same habits). To be clear, both make for poor parenting (Deuteronomy 6:4-6, Ephesians 6:4 & Proverbs 6:15-23). Let me help us all out right now, if pornography is a part of your diet either individually or as an additive to your marriage “take out the log of porn that is in your own eye so you can deal with the speck of porn that is in your son’s eye.” (Matthew 7:5). Either resolve to remove it or seek out a safe confidant who can help you begin to overcome it. Whatever you do don’t leave it unaddressed, in your own life or his.
If you find out – don’t freak out, but draw out.
For some parents this is hard. Especially since some of the things you find may be uniquely graphic and disturbing. Keep in mind that when it comes to pre/early teen boys and pornography you have an unequipped mind crashing into an unregulated world that can lead to a remarkable display of discriminant viewing. For a parent the result can be such a high level of shock that they react with the blunt force of shame and guilt. Unfortunately shame is a powerful tool of the Devil to drive sin underground in the lives of people. If we shame our sons in this context it can inadvertently create an environment by which their heart is never addressed and so they simply learn how to better hide their habits.
Keep the big idea always before you – his heart. You want him to turn away from sin not merely for fear of getting caught by you, but because he has a fear of the Lord than cause him to hate sin (Proverbs 8:13). You want to recall the wisdom of Proverbs 20:5 “Though good advice lies deep within the heart, a person with understanding will draw it out.” You are the parent of understanding who can help draw out in your son what he knows deep down is God’s best. Therefore you want to ask questions more than make statements. Monologuing is easy for parents, but boys only hear about 1/5 of what is said in a “corrective” lecture. Because of this you’re better off to hit your intended target by opening a dialogue by which you can begin to deposit wisdom through conversation.
Now at this point many of you may be asking, “How do I open the duologue ?” I get it. For most parents dealing with sons and porn is a rookie situation. All those “What To Expect When Your Expecting” books didn’t prepare you for this. With that in mind I want to help us identify some Gospel oriented questions to ask our boys. To do this however I want to start with some less than ideal questions many parents ask and then move to the useful stuff.
Questions You Don’t Want To Bother Asking:
Why are you looking at these things?
It’s a redundant question that may inadvertently fuel a shaming tone. He’s looking because he’s curious, aroused and sinful. You know the answer better than he does. Besides the answer itself contributes nothing to the solution. Leverage good Gospel questions, not filler questions.
Do you think this is acceptable?
Obviously he doesn’t. If he did he would do it openly in the living room during family time. He hides it because he knows its wrong. This, like the previous question, is redundant. More importantly it is a misdirected question. The filter we always want to use in regard to sin is not “What do you think?“ but “What does Jesus think?” In Psalm 51:4 David says to God, “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight.” In viewing pornography a boy is harming himself and grieving his parents, but he is sinning only against Jesus who died and suffered wrath for his porn viewing. Thus it only matters what Jesus thinks.
What would your __________ (sister, mother, grandmother, friends, etc.) think of this?
The question hints that you may in fact broadcast his sin to Nanna. This may not be your plan, but it will make him wonder. Aside from that it works much like the previous question. The issue is not about what others think; it’s about what Jesus thinks. This is especially important since it is easy to find large pockets of people who affirm sinful practices as good and commendable. As soon as we make humans the primary consideration we are at the mercy of whatever they consider to be sinful.
Do you know how exploited these women are in pornography?
If your son is under 16 years of age he really has no idea – even if you tell him. Abstract thinking hasn’t fully developed and so a sense of empathy toward people they do not know, and who “appear” to be willing participants, is of limited value in dealing with adolescent temptations. This isn’t to say that this question isn’t an important one to address, but if we try to use it as a tool to repulse them away from pornography it will not be effective.
Talking With Our Boys – A Gospel Starter:
Parenting is sinners raising sinners. Therefore we should engage the conversation as a fellow sinner who realizes the need for and power of the Gospel. That is the tone that sets the opener statement, “I want you to know that I understand where you’re at right now. I want us to talk about it. Would you like to talk now or in about an hour?”
This seems trivial I know, but it shows this is bigger than a fifteen minute chat. What you’re saying is you’re prepared to take time to work this through; therefore you’re prepared to give him some time to think this through before you talk. It also reinforces the tone of a dialogue verses the “were talking about this now mister” approach that all but guarantees he will not open up to you.
Once sitting down to talk (in a quiet, non-public, uninterrupted space) here are some “drawing out” questions:
- When did you first start looking at these kinds of things?
- What kinds of things have you looked at?
- How often have you been looking?
- What do you believe Jesus thinks of what you’ve been looking at?
- Do you know Jesus has given us what we need to overcome our sins? (notice the solidarity of “us” and “we”)
- How can I help you out on this?
- What are some ways we can guard against this happening in the future?
- Is it cool if you and I pray together every night about this for a while?
- I’m going to ask you every few days how it’s going. Will you be open with me if I promise not to freak out toward you?
Now trust me when I tell you that the questions above are far easier to list than ask. And take my word for it; you’ll be lucky to get 20 words from him in the entire encounter. Yet it’s less about getting answers and far more about creating an open environment for you and your son to acknowledge sin and seek grace. He must know you have empathy and understanding more than you have judgment. This doesn’t mean you lack concern or disappointment in the conversation, but you need to have a tone by which he knows you really do understand where he is at and you want to help him along the process. And that is a key word for you to lock in – process. His temptations will not end with one heart felt conversation. The longer he has had to feed the habit the harder it will be to overcome. You are beginning a journey with your son that will consist of many conversations like this (and a few failures too). Therefore the biggest most powerful way to help him is to every time point him to what Jesus has done and can do.
Coming Up Wednesday: Pt.4 “Jesus Died For Porn”
Disclaimer: Of all the posts in this series this one has made me most nervous. Not for it’s content, but for its reception. With a topic like boys and porn its easy to think very “here and now” about it. How to fix, filter or fight against. I’m not opposed to those things, but this whole topic – and solution – runs deeper. Therefore my concern that some will read this and say, “Yadda, yadda, yadda… get on to some more interesting statistics or real tools that I can use.” If you find yourself in that place by the end of this post I recommend you skip the next few and pick it back up at (Pt. 5) – and with that be prepared for those measures to fail you catastrophically.
As I shared in the previous post, none of the human measures we undertake to guard our sons from pornography are foolproof unless we help our sons to avoid being fools. That is why it’s my conviction that the real “secret” in dealing with boys and porn (or men/dads and porn) is less about engaging the porn problem and more about focusing on the Jesus solution. That is the real heart of the following post. Ok enough disclaimers – on to our topic.
Discipling Your Son’s Heart, Not Just His Internet Connection
Often as Christian parents we believe our chief goal is to protect our kids. Let me break it to us, protecting the youth of America is not our chief calling. At best it’s to be an element in our parenting, but it’s not the goal. The goal is to raise godly adults. What this means for all of us in the child-raising gig is to own that our mission is actually adult-rearing. Here is why I say this, unless you plan to monitor your son’s electronic pantheon for the rest of his natural born life you will want to help him learn how to filter his own life more than you filter it for him. And when I say help him learn what I’m really talking about is you will want to help him want to filter his own life. Catch that? Want to; not need to, ought to or got to. Our core aspiration for boys and men is that pornography would be unthinkable, not merely unavailable. Therefore it’s not enough to just give him a diversion, distraction, filter or formula. We can’t make our big idea periodic anti-porn speeches or have him watch a documentary on sex trafficking in the hopes that he will be so repulsed he’s cured of his temptations. He must have a bigger reason and a deeper strength to counter the rushing torrent of biology and nature. The reason is because what our sons are up against is far more daunting than just an unfiltered media paired to a cauldron of testosterone. They are up against their fallen selves. Therefore, before we can get into confronting the topic of boys and the porn culture we must proactively address boys and their internal culture.
The Real Cultural Epidemic
As parents we can have a tendency to think that everything around us works against us. I get it. I feel that way too. But that is how I feel. When I stop and think I see that the real problem isn’t “out there” in our world. Nor is the problem strictly how out there is paid monthly to proactively come “in here” to my home through varied electronic mediums. The problem is deeper. Jesus said, “18 But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. 19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. 20 These are what defile a person.” (Matthew 15). It is my heart, my son’s heart and my culture’s heart that is the epidemic. Therefore the only thing that will make a long-term difference is an enduring focus on the culture of our heart.
Jesus Beats Heart
Rock beats scissors, scissors beats paper, paper beats rock, but only Jesus beats heart (Romans 6:6). Because of this helping our boys stand against the pull of porn begins by directing their hearts to Jesus everyday in every way we know how. For us as parents – particularly dads – this means modeling an emphasis on what godly men are called to. I say this because it’s easy to focus on lessor things with greater emphasis. We make much of career, college, grades, sports, hobbies, general values, the latest blockbuster, the newest gadget or a funny video on Break.com, but we struggle to make more of Jesus. Thus we should never be shocked when our boys grow into men who care more about lessor things.
In Titus 2 we are given useful direction on what matters most when it says, “2 Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness… 6 Likewise, urge the younger men to be self-controlled. 7 Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, 8 and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us.” Much of this list sounds very “moral,” but nestled in both the calling for the older and the younger man is the need to know sound faith and teaching. Knowing Jesus starts with knowing about Jesus. Then in knowing Him you desire to live like Him and for Him in self-control, integrity and sober-mindedness. Only a genuine relationship with Jesus is enough to shape the will and want of our boys. This means that Jesus can’t merely be the poster-child of our personal morality or spiritual sub-culture. He can’t be the God of “when it’s convenient” and still have powerful influence over our daily habits. He must be sought in such a way that He is real, involved, consulted, sensed and wanted in the fabric of life. Our prayers should be those of a passion to see and sense the power of God in our lives so that our boys will know the realness of Jesus. Don’t give them rules, expectations or demands – give them Jesus dynamic and living so that rules are desires and expectations are wisdom in action.
I don’t pretend to assume this is easy. A spiritually dynamic home is not rooted in a formula, but rather it’s a biblically informed quest. But that is the point, it’s a quest to sense and see Jesus active and living in our lives. It’s a daily pursuit to lay hold of the One who has laid hold of us so that by His grace our hearts are more conformed to His. This more than anything else is the core of porn proofing our boys; when Jesus is just better than porn.
Tips for parents (especially dads and grandpas):
- Pray daily that an “awe” of God’s presence would be in the life of your son. That Jesus would be real to them.
- Pray regularly with your son.
- Talk consistently about Jesus with your son.
- Repeatedly do things that display you care more about his spiritual health than his material achievement.
- Share with him about how you personally connect with God.
- Share with him that you understand the struggles he faces because you do too.
- Encourage spiritual outlets first and foremost such as youth group, church, ministry serving and quiet times/bible reading.
- Let him see you with your Bible or on your knees. It will only be good enough for him if he sees its good enough for you.
- Have regular Bible discussions with your son or perhaps do a book read or discipleship program with him. Proverbs is a great place because the insights are short and clear.
- Take him to Christian men events or have him just hang out with other men you respect.
- Point out great examples for him to emulate. One of the things I do with my son is point out the elders of our church and tell him, “If you live your life like they do you will do well.”
We live in a world of “E.” E-commerce, e-trade, e-file, e-news and e-vite, but we also live in the world of e-rotic. The online world is a realm unavoidably erotic. In 2007 it was estimated that 12 percent of all Web sites were dedicated to porn. Twenty-five percent of all search engine requests were porn related and 35 percent of all Internet downloads were pornographic. At that time 28,258 Internet users were viewing porn sites every second.
However that was 2007 when, believe it or not, the Internet was still young. Since that time online technology has moved into adolescents and with it the hyperinflation of mobile devices, social media, perpetual Wi-Fi and cooperative “big data” projects that have exponentially multiplied our capacity to produce and transmit information. In those 7 years since statics were last estimated, all the data ever generated by the human race has doubled 3.5 times. It’s not just that the Internet doubled in size 3.5 times; all human data ever produced since the dawn of time has doubled 3.5 times; the bulk of which is available with just a few taps of the finger, including the black hole of pornography. No one knows the precise numbers at this point, but currently porn related sites generate more web-traffic per day than Amazon, Netflix and Twitter combined. The top online video porn site streams 6 times more data per day than its non-pornographic competitor Hulu. As all human data has more than quadrupled in the last 7 years, so too has pornography, both in its scope and gratuitousness.
Now why does this matter to me? Because 7 years ago – when the stats were merely alarming and not apocalyptic – my son was 6 and thought girls had cooties. Today he is 13 and has a mobile phone, notebook computer, wireless enabled gaming device and a Wi-Fi connection to the open waters of the Internet. Add to this that he lives in one of the most sexually charged, confused and careless times our culture has seen in its recent history. Sexuality has risen to a civil right and thus biblical boundaries and validations have become suspect for younger evangelicals. In some of the most recent studies we see that evangelical Millennials (approximately ages 10-35) are more likely to engage in pre-marital sex, embrace co-habitation before marriage and endorse same sex relationships/marriage. Some of this fluctuating standard comes from general shifts in culture, some from the softening messages embedded in youth focused media and some comes from the desensitizing agent of pornography.
The most general data shows that 70% of viewers of pornography are male (which means 30% are female – thus while this is an article regarding boys, many of these principles need to be considered for our girls as well). Increasingly girls are viewing porn as a tool to discover what boys want or to explore their own sexuality, creating both confusion and identify conflict, but when looking at Millennial males the data jumps well above 90%. In a recent interview regarding an attempted research project measuring the impact of pornography on sexuality and male/female relationships Professor Simon Louis Lajeunesse of the University of Montreal said, “We started our research seeking men in their twenties who had never consumed pornography, but we couldn’t find any.” In short, the research was impossible because Professor Lajeunesse could not find a control group to measure the experimental group against; all were experimenting with porn and had been since the age 10 on average.
What is my penultimate point in all of this? If you have a boy and an Internet connection, you have a porn problem. Porn may not yet be his problem (and prayerfully will never be), but it is a problem you must seriously factor in when it comes to raising boys into godly men. And godly men are the ultimate point. Because of this I have not buegn this 5 part series with how to filter and monitor his Internet activity. I will close this series (Technology Sucks! Pt. 5) with a set of ways to aid in this, but they will not be foolproof. Yet that’s the point. The only way to make anything foolproof is to help a person not be a fool (Proverbs 14:16). Thus I go back to the reality that “The End – A Godly Man” matters more than “The Means – Keeping Porn Out.” Therefore the real intent of this series is not porn proofing your son’s devices, but Jesus centering his heart.