Principles, not personalities
Chances are this encounter will exacerbate personality differences already evident in the family, but parents and teen alike need to understand that this issue is not about personalities but about principles. Ideally, parents will have educated their children about the principles or core values that pertain to personal integrity. When these principles are violated, parents don’t need to make this a personal issue, even though the wound will be highly personal.
Those who have not undertaken this core training will experience greater difficulty reaching the teen. Compounding the problem will be any moral lapse or habits that the teen witnesses in the parents’ lives. It is extremely difficult to admonish a child for seeking out pornography if the parents have a few video cassettes they claim to be marital aids. Children are experts at sniffing out hypocrisy.
If parents are morally compromised in this situation, there are only a few choices they can make. They can either let the matter drop, thus resigning their teen to a cycle of pain, shame and addiction, or they can make the decision to eliminate those harmful aspects of their own lives and work toward bringing healing and restoration to the entire family.
Youth culture often counters parental values; adolescents may claim the right to express sexuality in whatever ways they desire. Without moral absolutes, they are prone to experimentation and believe that being true to one’s self is the greater good.
Boundaries and accountability
The fact remains that parents are responsible to a large degree for their children and for what their children do. For example, when an adolescent violates one or more civil laws pertaining to sexual conduct, his parents will typically become involved in the court hearings as well. Taking up their moral responsibility, parents of teenage addicts will need to state clear boundaries so that the guidelines and consequences are obvious.
Sadly, simply stating clear moral guidelines won’t change the heart of our children. Nevertheless, parents should be clear. Adolescents are to be accountable for their conduct, especially when trust has been violated.
Some initial guidelines for children would involve the types of media they are exposed to and the times and places of exposure. For example, parents would want to regulate Internet usage to specific times of the day or only when they are present. They may need specialized software to help them achieve these measures. Other restrictions could include limiting Internet use for homework purposes only and limiting TV viewing.
Heavy-handedness without appropriate ongoing communication and relationship can drive a teen further away from you and drive a continuation of his or her acting out.
The guidelines parents set should not be limited to media in the home. Considering the seriousness of your child’s problem, guidelines should also be developed for conduct outside the household, with a signed agreement clearly stating consequences for infractions.
The reader can see how this could easily become a case of “parenting with an iron fist.” These measures need to be moderated by your family’s situation and your unique relationships. Above all, you must enter into these measures making sure that you are acting out of love and a motivation to help your child toward healing. Just as important, your child must perceive that you are acting with such a motivation. Heavy-handedness without appropriate ongoing communication and relationship can drive a teen further away from you and drive a continuation of his or her acting out.
Ideally, fathers should discuss these matters with sons, and mothers with daughters. Follow-up is important and, at least initially, these times of accountability may need to occur daily so that the teenage addict can check-in.
Safeguard other children
The most difficult question that can emerge is how to safeguard other children in the home. We want to think the best of our loved ones, regardless of age. It’s hard to imagine that a family member may actually pose a hazard to another family member. Where sex addiction exists, however, a careful evaluation for risk factors is always warranted.
Understandably, parents will want to protect younger children from the knowledge that an older sibling is addicted to pornography or other sexual behaviors. In fact, many times, the younger children remain relatively innocent, and perhaps the parents have not yet initiated sex education. Nevertheless, there are times when parents will need to err on the side of caution, and share with younger children that an older sibling is in trouble sexually, and therefore, won’t be left alone in their presence without parental supervision.
Every family situation differs in type and severity. For this reason, it’s not possible to offer specific advice in a brief article. Fortunately, however, help and hope is available though Focus on the Family’s Counseling Department. For a confidential assessment and referral to a specialist, call (800) 232-6459 weekdays 6:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. (Mountain Time).
Seek professional help
If your child struggles with pornography or act outs sexually in other ways, professional help will be critically important. Often, Christian parents seek the help of a pastor, a Sunday School teacher, or perhaps someone from school. While all of these people have key-support roles to play, most likely none are specialized in the treatment of sex abuse and/or addiction.
The specialist can equip you to know how to approach your child. You will also learn how to monitor the situation, and develop more or less support depending on your particular circumstances.
Just because your teenager seems to be addicted today to pornography does not mean that he or she must remain addicted tomorrow. Kids of all ages are incredible resilient, especially when their legitimate needs are being met in meaningful ways.
A reality check
If your teenager is diagnosed with sex addiction, it means this condition did not occur overnight. To some degree, there has been a progression that most likely dates back to the first time your child was exposed to pornography or some other form of sexual abuse.
Because our children are in various stages of development where some degree of sexual experimentation is likely, it can be difficult to pin down whether or not a serious problem actually exists. The secrecy that surrounds sexual sin also makes it difficult to detect what may be happening in the private lives of our children.
As we work to restore our children to sexual and spiritual health, we must understand the role intimacy takes in this process. Sex addiction is never really about sex, but about the void in one’s spirit. Even when a teenager has a faith-based life in Christ, he or she will still be faced with quite a bit of sexual temptation. If he or she can develop self-control in this area, most likely self-control in other areas will follow.
In every case where self control abounds, we can express our heartfelt gratitude to God who loves our children even more than we do.