In a time when it’s impossible prevent children from ever seeing pornography, parents should instead work to build pornography resistance in their children.
There I was as a parent volunteer, smelling the hot lunch in the elementary school lunchroom on the first day of school. I walked around handing out napkins, stopping food fights, and having fun interacting with the children as they came in dressed in their new first-day-of-school outfits. All was well until I saw the youngest class walk in.
The little four- and five-year-olds were wide-eyed, perplexed, and scared. One by one each child sat down where they were told, hefted their lunchboxes and trays onto the table, and looked down at the buckles, packages, cartons, juice boxes, and ziplock bags. Then one by one, many started to cry.
“I need my mom!”
“I want my blanket!”
“Can I go home?”
“It’s too noisy!”
“I need help!”
So instead of spoons, I began handing out hugs while I tried to soothe and comfort the youngsters’ fears. I did everything I could to make it easy and comfortable for the scared little group. I opened their tricky lunch boxes, plastic containers, milk cartons, and fruit snacks so they wouldn’t have to struggle. My motherly heart was filled with frustration that we live in a world where very young children are expected to leave their parents and be thrown into this loud, complicated lunchroom—a place too complex for them to handle. I walked around drying tears, hugging, and solving every problem for each child as they sat and cried or stared around the room with wide eyes.
Then I saw the school principal walk in. She came right over. She stopped at the first child, smiled, and took the milk carton he was crying over. Then she patiently and carefully taught him how to open the carton and let him try for himself. Then she moved to the next child, a girl with fruit snacks. The principal showed her the little notch on the side of the package and demonstrated how to open it, then let the girl try it herself.
Up and down the row, the principal prepared children to handle the lunchroom, manage their lunchboxes, and open their own food. I saw courage, confidence, and calm fill the eyes of the little ones. This principal was comforting, but she was also teaching, modeling, and preparing these children to be able to navigate their environment, even when it seemed too overwhelming.
As I talk to parents around the country, often I find their attitudes about pornography and technology are much like my attitude in the lunchroom that day—they’re sad that their children’s innocence might be taken so young, mad that their children must live in a sexually saturated world, and afraid that the dangers of this harsh world will hurt their children.
Parents spend so much time being sad, mad, overwhelmed, and afraid about pornography that they don’t do the small things to prepare their children to be able to handle for themselves the world they live in. Instead, because of their overwhelming emotions, parents too often leave their children to navigate this pornography-filled environment alone—while billion-dollar companies, conspiring people, and Satan execute all their tricks to target and harm their children.
But as covenant-keeping people, we can stop being afraid and overwhelmed; and with a smile on our face and the Lord by our side, we can prepare our children to be pornography resistant.
What Is Pornography Resistance?
In the past, parents have tried to prevent children from ever seeing pornography. But as screens and pornography have become so integrated into our culture, protecting children from ever seeing pornography has become an unrealistic and exhausting standard. Parents can quickly become overwhelmed—because if pornography is not in their house, children are likely to see it at school, at a friend’s house, on the bus, or in any number of places that a parent can’t control.
Given these facts, parents should instead work to build pornography resistance, which will help the child in any circumstance, anticipated or not. Pornography resistance is not simply protecting a child from ever seeing pornography, but preparing a child to be resistant to the harmful effects from pornography when they do see it.
So how can we build pornography resistance in our children? We can consistently build this kind of resistance by:
- Nurturing relationships
- Communicating openly and often
- Creating places of security
- Living and teaching the doctrine of Jesus Christ
As parents proactively teach and practice these principles, their children can learn how to act and respond safely in a sexually saturated world; in other words, they can build pornography resistance. On a regular basis or when a parent notices a problem, they can do a quick assessment to identify which of these four principles needs attention and strengthening.
Parents can use the following questions as a starting place in assessing their child and the situation:
- How is my child’s relationships with me? with technology? with others?
- Am I communicating openly and often?
- Does my child have a place of security?
- Does my child know and trust the doctrine of Jesus Christ and understand how to live it?
Let’s learn a bit about each of these areas and then practice using them in real-life situations.
1. Nurturing Relationships
Although it seems basic, nurturing relationships is a foundational principle for building pornography resistance in young people. Pornography use can cause loneliness and impede the healthy attachment needed to create relationships, even with family and friends. And pornography habits are formed more easily when children do not have healthy relationships with parents and technology and if they are unable to nurture and build relationships with others.
Relationship with Parents
Nourishing a healthy relationship with your child does not mean always having a perfect relationship. All parents and children are going to struggle occasionally. But parents who diligently keep nourishing will create a connection with their child that will allow them to talk with and trust you when pornography causes problems.
Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf has taught, “Your efforts may seem small compared to the loud voices your children hear in the world. At times it may feel that you’re not accomplishing much. But remember that ‘by small means the Lord can bring about great things.’ One home evening, one gospel conversation, or one good example may not change your child’s life in a moment, any more than one drop of rain causes a plant immediately to grow. But the consistency of small and simple things, day after day, nourishes your children much better than an occasional flood.”
As you pray and consider ways to nurture your relationship with your child, think of things that are simple, away from screens, and can be a part of your everyday routine. Here are a few ideas:
- Observe something your child likes to do, and do it with them each day.
- Try outdoor activities, even a walk with the dog around the block.
- Read with your child before bed.
- Laugh with your child every day.
- In the car, listen to music that you both enjoy, and sing along.
- Ask your child to share a high, a low, and a funny moment from their the day while you eat a meal or snack together.
Relationship with Technology
Regularly assess your own screen habits and those of your child—keeping balance with screens is a constant battle for everyone. When you assess, don’t get stuck in guilt. Just try to be a kind, objective observer of your screen habits. If either you or your child are out of balance, change your habits.
Be aware that your own technology habits have a major affect on your children. A recent study from the Wheatley Institute showed that parents’ use of social media had a greater impact on the mental health of the child than the child’s own social media use. “Technoference” is a term that describes technology getting in the way of parents connecting with their kids. Changing your screen habits or your child’s screen habits can be a simple way of keeping pornography out of the desire or the reach of your child.
Relationships with Others
Because today’s children grow up with screens, it is difficult for them to learn how to build relationships with others, especially when a screen is not involved. As children grow, they will naturally begin to have more sexual thoughts and feelings. These thoughts and feelings are normal and good and a signal that children need healthy connection. As you and your child learn how to manage these feelings through nurturing relationships, your child will become more pornography resistant.
Here are a few things you can encourage your child to do to connect with others:
- Practice greeting other children at school.
- Practice putting phones down when they talk to other people.
- Brainstorm activities they can do with their peers in person—not on a screen. For example, playing board games, bike riding, fishing, arts and crafts, or cooking.
- Practice inviting a friend to do an activity.
Even teens need to practice these basic skills. Role playing is one of the most effective ways of building pornography resistance. It is especially helpful when young people and parents have words they have already practiced—it gives them the courage and confidence they need when difficult situations arise.
In each situation, you can usually find more than one area to strengthen. But for this example, let’s focusing on nurturing relationships.
You are at home when the elementary school principal calls to tell you that your child has been flagged for looking at sexual content at school.
Instead of ignoring or panicking, you take a moment to ask these questions:
- How is my child’s relationship with me?
- How is my child’s relationship with technology?
- How are my child’s relationships with friends and peers?
You realize that since your son started sixth grade, he hasn’t wanted to build race cars and tracks with you anymore. So you haven’t been spending as much time with him as you used to. In fact, he’s been spending most of his free time playing video games, and his neighborhood friends haven’t been over in a while since he mostly plays with virtual friends on his gaming system.
You begin praying and come up with a plan to know how to connect with your son better and help him learn how to build real relationships with friends. Instead of being angry and afraid, you have identified a weakness and have a plan to build pornography resistance.
2. Communicating Openly and Often
The principle of open and frequent communication is one that parents often have the hardest time starting. But once you start communicating more openly and more often, it can have a big impact on the pornography resistance of your child.
Because pornography and sex are such a part of the culture we live in, the days of having a one-time “talk” with a child are over. Learn age-appropriate ways to talk to your kids about sex, and then start talking. It gets easier and more natural the more you practice.
Consider how often your children are hearing misinformation and confusion about sexuality every day on social media and on the internet. As often as they are hearing untruths, they need to hear the truth from you. Depending on the age of the child, you might need a daily check-in.
An important goal of communication is to establish yourself as a holder of truth and a soft place to land when talking about sexuality and pornography. This happens best when positive communication about sexuality is first established, and then conversations about pornography follow. I’ve heard experts recommend that parents should think of the age they think is appropriate to start talking about pornography with their child, and then start two years before that age.
Do everything you can to reduce shame and fear as you communicate with your child. When you talk about sexuality or address instances when the child has seen pornography—on accident or on purpose—smile, use appropriate humor, and share your own life experiences. You can practice phrases ahead of time that will reduce shame and fear. Listen carefully to your child so you will and be able to respond openly.
Here are a few ideas of shame-reducing phrases you can say when your child sees pornography:
- “It’s OK, it happens to me too. I can help you.”
- “It’s normal to be curious. Let’s talk about it.”
- “I’m proud of you for telling me. Do you have anything else to share that I can help you with?”
- “Let’s think of a way we can keep that from popping up.”
Communicating Openly and Often
Your son who is serving a mission calls home as usual on preparation day. He tells you that he has been working through some pornography issues, and his mission president has invited him to talk to you about it.
Instead of ignoring or panicking, you take a moment to ask:
- Have I been communicating openly and often with my son?
You realize that since your son left on a mission, you didn’t think you needed open and frequent communication about sexuality. You were so excited to hear about his experiences that you forgot that this is one of the most stressful times of his life.
He is in a new place, with unfamiliar people, doing things every day that are out of his comfort zone. He’s feeling new and uncomfortable emotions. He is on social media regularly, with easy access to inappropriate content that might make him feel better for a moment—but after viewing it, he feels worse.
Now more than ever he needs open and frequent communication about his emotions, his sexual thoughts, and his screen habits. He needs to hear that you are still on his team and willing to talk with him about anything without shame or fear. You remember that he will come up with solutions and healing as you start listening and use open and frequent communication.
3. Creating Places of Security
In today’s world, children need to have their guard up constantly. Friends don’t just stay at school—they continue talking, teasing, and taunting on social media or text threads 24 hours a day. Harmful content, activities, and ideas are endlessly being pushed upon them through the screen in their hand.
Think of the relief a child feels, even when it is not expressed, as they walk into a place where they are safe—a place where they don’t need to worry about what their peers at school will say, avoiding another inappropriate video, or turning down music that drives away the Spirit.
Places of security can be your home, the devices your children use, and you as a parent. Children thrive spiritually, emotionally, physically, and socially when they feel safe. It takes rules and tools to create places of security for your child. The tools are filters, monitoring software, and parental controls that can be used to block as much pornography as possible.
But tools can only go so far. Rules are boundaries that can help protect your child from pornography and teach them how to use technology in healthy ways. Teaching and practicing with your child on how to recognize, refuse, and report will empower your child with a plan when they use technology. If a child will report and talk to you when they see pornography, it can help their brain and body not spiral into more harmful habits.
Creating Places of Security
You notice your teenage daughter is on her phone more than normal. You check her texting and see she has been texted late at night. You notice she is sending pictures that are getting more and more inappropriate.
Instead of ignoring or panicking, you take a moment to ask these questions:
- Is our home a place of security?
- Is her device a place of security?
As you think about it, you realize that during the COVID-19 pandemic you inadvertently relaxed a lot of the rules around technology in your home. During COVID your daughter needed to use her computer in her room for school, and her phone was the only way for her to talk to friends. So rules were eased.
Extra apps were added to her phone that shouldn’t have been, to make sure she could socialize with her friends. Now you are realizing your home and her phone aren’t the strong places of security that you were counting on. You plan a family council with your daughter to adjust the tools and rules to help you create a place of safety for your daughter.
4. Living and Teaching the Doctrine of Jesus Christ
A common and normal feeling when a child sees pornography is shame. Shame causes a child to feel like they are a bad person who’s unworthy of help or love. Shame can cause a child to hide the fact that they have seen pornography, which makes everything worse. Shame can keep a child from getting help from parents and from Jesus Christ, who stands with open arms.
Understanding and living the doctrine of Jesus Christ reduces shame around pornography. The doctrine of Christ is the process of having faith, repenting, being baptized and receiving the Holy Ghost (along with other gospel ordinances), and enduring to the end. These elements create a cycle, as described by Elder Dale G. Renlund:
“Each element in the doctrine of Christ builds on the preceding step—repentance builds on faith, baptism on repentance, and the gift of the Holy Ghost on baptism—and then the sequence recurs. Each cycle ends progressively higher, so the subsequent cycle is higher and different. In this way the doctrine of Christ is iterative. Cycling iteratively through the elements of the doctrine of Christ enables us to endure to the end.”
When parents and children understand that “repentance is not the backup plan; it is the plan,” as Elder Andersen has taught us, it allows for mistakes and room for growth as children learn to navigate a world full of pornography.
When a child sees pornography on accident or on purpose and parents find out, the parents have the sacred opportunity to help remove the shame and clear a path to Jesus Christ and His doctrine of faith, repentance, ordinances and covenants, and the Holy Spirit.
President Nelson said, “We need women [and men] who have a bedrock understanding of the doctrine of Christ and who will use that understanding to teach and help raise a sin-resistant generation.”
As your child practices turning to Jesus Christ in faith and repentance over and over, they form an attachment to and a relationship with their Savior. They learn to trust His love rather than believe their own fear and shame. Parents have a responsibility to introduce their child to Jesus Christ and His love and mercy through their own loving and merciful behavior. A parent’s love and mercy can help a child remove the shame around pornography and clear a path to Jesus Christ and His healing and cleansing power.
Teaching the Doctrine of Christ
Your teenage son went on a fishing trip with some of his cousins for a few days. When he returns, you notice a change in personality. He seems a little distant and irritable and doesn’t want to talk much. You think he must just need some extra sleep. But after a few days, the issue isn’t resolving, and the Spirit is reminding you to check in.
He has had a few incidents with pornography in the past, but you thought you had addressed it, and you’ve been trying together to build resistance ever since. After several weeks of open and often communication, he finally tells you about viewing pornography with his cousins on his trip.
Instead of ignoring or panicking, you take a moment to ask these questions:
- Does my son understand that Jesus loves Him no matter what?
- Does my son understand Jesus Christ’s mercy is powerful enough to forgive him, no matter how many times?
- Does my son understand how to use faith, repentance, ordinances and covenants, and the Holy Spirit to come closer to the Savior?
You remember that the last time your son had a problem with pornography, you were frustrated—and you showed your anger and frustration by sending him to the bishop without much help from you.
As you look back, you can see how this reaction created shame that has kept your son from feeling able to come to you or Jesus Christ. You ponder how Jesus would treat your son. You pray that as you talk to your son, you will have Jesus’s love and mercy in your countenance and in your words. When you feel empathy and compassion in your heart, you approach your son with the intent to introduce him to Jesus Christ’s love and doctrine.
With Jesus Christ and His gospel on our side, we can stop being mad, sad, overwhelmed, and fearful about raising kids in a pornography-filled world and start preparing our children to be pornography resistant.
To learn more and create a pornography resistance plan for your child, get Prepare your Child: Pornography Resistance, an interactive workbook for parents: