Raising Kids in a Pornified Culture
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ZACH NIELSEN for The Gospel Coalition Blog, Feb 27, 2013
A recent article in The Telegraph highlights the tragic symptoms of a disease that's infecting our worldwide culture. The piece focuses mainly on teenagers and the dysfunction that has become normative in their lifestyles as a result of consuming porn.
In light of this, how can parents raise children in a pornified culture? Here are eight suggestions for this ever-increasing problem.
1. Aim to give our kids a huge view of God who is gloriously delightful.
We can't simply tell our kids to stop doing certain behaviors; we must also teach them to delight in what God has made. I've been trying to make a discipline of pointing out all the good in God's creation. A few weeks ago it was a blessing to watch my two older kids spend hours picking the wild raspberries that grow in their grandma and grandpa's huge backyard. They need to be reminded of God's goodness in giving us such amazing created blessings, like raspberries. If we're not careful, we can become functional gnostics (flesh and matter are bad; only what's "spiritual" has value) in our communication about sexual ethics with our kids. A helpful verse for them to memorize is 1 Timothy 4:4.
In short, I want my kids to know that sexual perversion is the height of idolatry (Rom. 1), but also that sexual integrity is the height of beauty. This demands we talk about it, probably more than we're comfortable with or experienced when we were kids. But it's a new world, and a new world demands new communication to train our children.
2. Teach them the gospel. Our kids are spring-loaded legalists.
They have to see us model gospel truth through active repentance and forgiveness. They have to know their acceptance before God isn't based on their performance, but on Christ's. They have to know their standing as a family member doesn't depend on their obedience, though their standing does imply a certain type of living.
For example, when we're disciplining our kids we often say, "Since you're a member of this family and since I love you so much, you will not do this." Consider the difference from saying, "If you want me to love you and if you want to keep living in this house, you better stop doing this." The indicatives of our faith must precede and inform the imperatives. Don't reverse the order.
3. Teach them that boundaries bring freedom and obedience is a blessing.
When I was a kid I thought if I screwed up, God was going to whack me with a big stick. No one ever taught me this, but it's what I felt. Obedience wasn't motivated by love, but fear of punishment. This didn't get me very far.
When my kids are age appropriate I plan to communicate that sexual sin will never provide the freedom we crave. They can choose to reap the harmful consequences of disobedience, but I'll warn them from Scripture and experience that they don't want to start down that path. Obedience leads to blessing.
4. Talk to them sooner than later about sex and internet porn.
When I was 8, I remember going next door to our neighbor's garage. Like any curious kid, I enjoyed snooping around a bit. I soon discovered he had boxes full of pornographic magazines. Sometimes a friend and I would sneak over there, grab a few, and go sit in the bushes to look at the naked women. Back then, this risky endeavor filled my stomach with butterflies for fear of getting caught by my parents or the neighbor. But all you need today is a closed door and an internet connection. The vilest perversion imaginable is only two clicks away.
We must communicate in general terms what's available and why it's so destructive. Some would contend this discussion will just stir up their curiosity, but what's the alternative? I'd rather have them be warned by me so I can offer reasons and means to fight than to have them innocently stumble on pornography someday on the internet.
5. Begin to train your kids how to interact with the opposite sex.
We've already started to "date" our kids. We feel it's crucial for them, at an early age, to begin experiencing what it's like to be treated well by a member of the opposite sex. Especially for girls, a lack of healthy male attention from dad will often prompt them to seek it in unhealthy ways from younger men more than happy to provide it. My boys need to learn women aren't objects to be consumed but image-bearers of God to be loved.
6. Guard who your kids spend time with.
Since sexual exposure is much more accessible today than 25 years ago, we're much more aware of whom our children spend time with. There will come an age (sooner than I'd like to think about) when we won't be able to guard them as tightly, but hopefully the foregoing points will have taken root in their lives such that they'll be equipped to make wise decisions.
Be careful, though, you don't take this too far and communicate an unhealthy fear of unbelievers. The older our kids get, the more we have to let them go and pray our training has taken root. There's really no other choice. We must train our kids so they're sheltered enough to be age-appropriately safe but informed enough to make wise decisions on their own. Just don't hide your kids behind the fortress of your supervision until they're 18.
This demands great wisdom. There's no manual. We must be parents of prayer.
7. Guard the computer and turn off the television.
We have Covenant Eyes on all our computers and, via the AppleOS, our children can only access the websites we've approved. Certainly this will change as they get older, but hopefully they will have internalized the gospel and tasted the blessings of obedience.
Victory over porn is finally a heart issue, but that doesn't mean we should forsake preventative structures. You'd never say, "I want to know my obedience is motivated by more than just following the right rules, so I'm going to dive into unwise situations to see if I'm strong enough to withstand sin!" That's absurd (1 Cor. 10:12-13). We need right hearts so as not to be legalists, but right boundaries can help us taste the blessing of obedience.
The TV will show your kids functional soft porn all the time. There are countless better things to do with your kids than watch TV. Read with them, play sports with them, enjoy creation with them, tell them a story, or just serve them in an activity of their choice. The key phrase here is with them. If they spend more time with the TV than with you, you're all in trouble.
8. Seek to cultivate a relationship with your kids such that they feel they can be open with you about anything.
As a young dad, I'm not totally sure how to make this happen, but I know it'll come through modeling openness. I try to draw out their hearts and show them that if they're honest with me, I'll be fair, loving, and compassionate. If they see me as guarded and reserved, why would I expect them to be any different?
Last, do you ever repent in front of your kids? If they never see you repent, what makes you think they'll come to you for help after seeing internet porn for the first time? Modeling repentance for our kids is probably the quickest way to show we believe the gospel and are a safe refuge in the midst of their sin.
Zach Nielsen (@znielsen) is one of the pastors at The Vine Church in Madison, Wisconsin, where he serves in the areas of preaching, leadership development and music. He is a graduate of the University of Northern Iowa and Covenant Theological Seminary and blogs at Take Your Vitamin Z.