It’s coming. You know it’s coming. Eleven is the magic number. By age 11, 93% of boys and 62% of girls have been exposed to pornographic material. Go ahead and get your mind right before you find it.
The moment of truth as a parent hit me like a ton of bricks. Tenth grade boy whom we were serving as custodial guardian had made a mistake. (We’ll call him Jackson.) He’d accidentally left his screen on some cartoon porn. Graphics, animation, sex, all right there behind his glass screen. And that’s when it truly hit me as a man, as a father, as a teacher, as a mentor.
It didn’t matter that we had discussed proper use of technology. It didn’t matter that he told me prior to that day that he did not look at porn. It didn’t matter that he was regularly involved in “wholesome” activities. It didn’t matter that he was making the honor roll. Curiosity had caught up to him.
I didn’t want Jackson to be part of 73% of kids under 18 viewing porn.
I was fortunate that he was not present when I saw it. I had some time to gather my thoughts and strategize. I mentally traveled the journey from, “I can’t believe he’s looking at this trash”, to “I’m so disappointed in him” to “What is the end goal that I’m looking for?” to “What is my role in helping him?” to finally, “What would’ve worked for me when I got busted?”
This mental journey allowed me to quickly move my thoughts of him from anger that this was in my house – to “This is a mile marker in his journey to adulthood. It is part of growing up that simply has to be addressed.” We want porn to have a minimal effect on him and his ability to have safe and healthy relationships. We don’t want porn to impact how he performs academically. Bottom line, we don’t want pornography to get in the way of being the best person that he could be.
All this was important because it gave me the opportunity to approach him with a peaceful, solution-driven mindset that was not filled with reactions of fear and parental insecurity. To a degree, it was life. And as things happen in life, we look at them head-on and deal with them.
So the next day I approached him and after a few pleasantries about how things were going, I asked him directly, “Have you been looking at pornography?”
And, as I’m sure the majority of teenagers would do, he stopped, took a deep breath, looked at me, and clearly and succinctly said, “No.” Lying 101. He was staying calm and only answering the questions being asked. Note: He later majored in Theatre.
I responded in as calm a voice as I could muster, “If you did, understand that I wouldn’t be upset. It’s something I’ve had to deal with before. And since I’ve dealt with it before, I know better than to assume you haven’t yourself.”
Of course, I thought I was doing well. I had the right mindset. I was in a calm tone. I was in control. I was focusing on creating an atmosphere for honesty.
Jackson, our future theatre major who was acting a tad irritated because he was feeling accused, without looking at me this time again said, “No. Thanks though. If I ever do I’ll tell you.”
Stay calm Reggie. You’re being lied to and patronized.
I looked at him and said, “I saw some cartoon pornography on your screen yesterday. What was that about?” Evidence presented. Solid testimony on my part. Not even the future actor should be able to wiggle out of this one.
His response, which, sad to say, I should’ve seen coming, but I didn’t, “Sometimes these things pop up on my screen and it must have popped up afterwards.”
Impressive. I don’t know if he was just that prepared with his script or if it was all improv.
What I did next was just a gut feel. There are many different opinions and advice on how to move forward. But what I did next worked. I bet you want to know what I did, don’t you…? Check out the next blog, I’ll finish the story. Just kidding.
Seriously though, I put it on him to make a decision. I said, “Look, I don’t know what kind of person, what kind of man you want to grow up to be. But I think, correct me if I’m wrong, that you want to be a man of integrity, respect, honor, and one who can have amazing sex one day who is not living with shame and guilt from decisions that you have made in your past. If I’m wrong, then it is what it is. But if not, I ask that you don’t let pride, stubbornness or fear of mistakes cause a domino effect. If you did look or ever find yourself looking at porn, talk to me. No judgment, no punishment. I may even be able to help. If not, then keep making wise decisions and you’ll be all the better for it.” I dropped the mic and left the room.
That was risky. I let him lie to me. I let him think he’s getting away with it. But I challenged his character and called him to greatness. So how do I know it worked? The next day, I get home from work and there’s a letter on my bed explaining that he had been struggling with pornography and that he lied because he thought he could deal with it himself and he wasn’t sure how I’d react. It also said, “I do want your help.”
This led to regular conversations about what he was looking at, safety controls on any technological devices he had access to and boundaries to when he was using any form of technology. But that’s not how I know it worked. A couple of years later, I get a phone call from a friend of his who I happened to know. He started the conversation with, “I’ve been struggling with pornography, and Jackson told me that when he lived with you he dealt with the same thing and you helped him get through it. He told me that I should call you.”