My husband, Mike, is an LDS bishop and attorney who deals with broken families and crime.
|Mike is also one of the best people on the planet. But I digress...|
If you asked him, "How can I help protect my children against today's epidemic of pornography addiction?" This would be Mike's answer.
1. Avoid violent video games.
Violent video games make a person lose the Spirit. They are addicting and escalating, which means a person needs more of them, and harder core content, to get the same thrill. Some teens play these until the wee hours even on school nights and their parents have no idea. These video games also use immodest female characters, combining pornography and violence, which can too easily lead to pornography addiction. 90% of pornography is violence toward women or children.
Avoid addiction in general, especially to electronics, but anything addictive, like energy drinks. One addiction seems to make a person more susceptible to other addictions.
What to do if your kids are already addicted to gaming? Pray. Hold a family home evening where you read together God's standards of media in For the Strength of Youth. Invite your family to fast and pray together about how to obey God's standards of media, and create a plan for change. Study resources that give your family strength to do the right thing.
2. Avoid giving youngsters internet handheld devices.
It seems that just yesterday LDS prophets were telling parents to keep internet computers in a centralized room of the house, not in a private bedroom. And an anti-pornography expert said never to place an internet computer in a teen's bedroom, because that would set him up for pornography addiction.
Fast forward to today. It's amazing to see so many well-meaning parents giving even young children internet phones or devices. Because so many teens and children already own these devices, if you choose not to go back to the safest path, the next best thing to avoidance is to create a plan of boundaries to help them stay safe.
- Filters. Here is a great presentation on filters and blocks for all your family's devices.
- Limit times and places. As parents, what times are okay for young people to use their phones/devices and what times are not okay -- at church, during school classes, the dinner table, after bedtime? Some parents have youth check in their phones at night so the kids aren't sneaking, losing sleep, and risking seeing bad content. Others have them check in devices before dinner so the evening is reserved for family. Some families have a limit of an hour a day on electronics so the kids don't become addicted. Our family doesn't allow teens to have internet phones or handhelds, but each child owns a laptop for online school. Our rule is that kids must use laptops in rooms where they're not alone. If they need an exception to the rule a parent must give permission. Our kids also must ask permission to use the internet for things other than school, and stay within a time limit each day.
- Limit content. Do your youth know which sites you don't trust? In our family we have certain sites that our kids must ask permission to use every time, like Youtube. There is so much good on Youtube, and also so much bad. I find that if I'm aware they're on certain sites and give supervision, the kids stay safer.
- Parents check young people's history. In Mike's opinion, the right to privacy never applies to parents and youth with electronic devices. Supervision is vital, so let kids know ahead of time that you'll be checking. Are they using appropriate websites? Are their social media posts appropriate? Do you know all the social media sites they're on -- not just Facebook? Are their texts and pictures appropriate? Are they erasing their history? If so that's a red flag and is a sign there may be pornography involvement. Pray about how to bring this up, and the sooner the better.
3. Have open conversations with your kids.
Many parents feel awkward about these conversations or don't know what to say, so they don't say it. That's a problem. Today, the average age of kids being exposed is between 7 and 12. When a child sees a bad picture, it creates a flood of conflicting emotions -- shame, repulsion, and enticement all at the same time. If they haven't been taught an action plan ahead of time, kids often won't tell parents, and they go back for more. Then they become addicted. This does not need to happen.
Important parts of this conversation are listening and staying calm no matter what your kids tell you. If you freak out, get angry or reject your kids, they won't feel safe opening up to you again. Thank them for confiding in you and promise you love them and will give the help they need to overcome this. Because porn addiction is so hard to break alone, often addicts need professional counseling or a support group. Maurice Harker is an LDS porn addiction counselor who runs successful support groups in Northern Utah. He is recommended by my friend who is a stake president in a young adult stake. Overcoming Pornography is the LDS Church's site for guidance if you find out a loved one has been using pornography.
- Porn damages and atrophies the brain.
- Porn damages relationships.
- Porn damages a person's ability to find joy and pleasure in real life. People start to prefer fake rather than real people and real life. Things that were enjoyable before like nature, books, friends, family, church, and learning, don't give enjoyment any more.
- Porn damages agency and self-control.
- Porn can take over a life, consuming nearly all of an addict's time, thoughts, and energy. Which makes a person lose employment.
- Porn removes the Spirit.
- Porn distorts feelings and perceptions. It can make violence seem okay, and make women have little value.
- Porn can make the user want to abuse innocent victims.
- Porn can make a person push others out of his or her life.
Here is a great book for parents to read to their children to open this conversation. We own two copies so we can loan them out to other families.
Here is a great presentation about how to talk with your teens about pornography.
4. Invite lots of light into your home.
When a young person consistently does holy habits to invite the Spirit, he or she is filled with light, and naturally has less desire for evil. These holy habits help us put on the armor of God, and help Christ change our heart and desires. How is your family doing with holy habits?
- Daily personal and family prayers
- Daily personal and family scripture study
- Weekly family home evening
- Attending church meetings and the temple, serving in your callings
- Using media to invite the Spirit into your home, like Mormonchannel, lds.org, uplifting and wholesome movies, using social media to share the gospel, and so on.
- Reading "the best books"
- Wholesome family recreational activities that aren't electronics
- Linda Reeves gave a recent talk about protecting families from pornography, where she emphasized consistent connection to the Savior's power: "The only things that really need to be accomplished in the home are daily scripture study and prayer and weekly family home evening.”
It doesn't make sense to invite in the light and then push it away by actions that invite darkness. For the Strength of Youth says:
"Do not attend, view, or participate in anything that is vulgar, immoral, violent, or pornographic in any way. Do not participate in anything that presents immorality or violence as acceptable. Have the courage to walk out of a movie, change your music, or turn off a computer, television, or mobile device if what you see or hear drives away the Spirit."
5. Teach your kids it's okay to stand alone.
Even with other religious young people, your child may feel like the only one that has high standards of media. It's okay. Our son, who is now getting ready for his mission, used to think he was the only 11 year-old on the planet whose parents wouldn't buy a video game console. I think they're fine if they are used for non-violent, wholesome games and not allowed to become addictions. But I had studied the issue of media addiction too much to risk it with our family.
So for a while, our son felt a bit alone. Then he saw what these increasingly violent video games were doing to boys he knew. Boys were spending endless hours playing into the night, losing interest in other things, and letting school and grades fall. And worse, sometimes video game addiction led to porn addiction. Our son has thanked us multiple times for being strong back then, because he is very grateful that his life never got sucked away by those kinds of addictions.
President Thomas S. Monson said, "Dare to be a Mormon; Dare to stand alone. Dare to have a purpose firm; Dare to make it known."
6. Get your family involved in family history and temple work.
Elder David A. Bednar has promised that when young people research their family history ancestors and do temple work for them, "I promise you will be protected against the intensifying influence of the adversary."
Here are some resources to help teach your family appropriate use of media.
Here is Bishop Edwards' challenge that he issued to our ward, which contains many of the same themes.