Below is a note from a concerned mother about her and her child’s traumatic experience with pornography. We have chosen to protect the identity of the child and the family. Yet this letter is a gift for many of us to learn from as we continue the fight against the pornography industry and the objectification of men and women.
Something was up with him, yet I couldn’t put my finger on what it was. He was inexplicably angry and defiant. He felt closed off and distant. I missed him. My young son was carrying around the weight of evil and shame, bearing it alone.
How did this happen?
I wasn’t oblivious to the dangers of pornography; we’d talked about it in depth a few times, and I was intentional in how I monitored and placed boundaries around what he was exposed to. In fact, I often felt embarrassed about how restrictive and cautious I was, compared to other parents. No screens unless under direct supervision. No entering friend’s homes unless I’ve met and spoken with the parents to explain our no-screens rule. I thought I had checked off all the boxes to keep him safe.
My son often played with a friend who lived just a few houses down from us. I checked in with him periodically to be sure that the no-screens rule was being followed there, and he always assured me that it was. Reassured that this was a Christian family who homeschooled like I did, I trusted them.
One day, I went to pick up my son from their house and found the boys in the friend’s room with the door closed. I barged in without knocking, and there was a scuffle followed by two boys looking up at me, faces riddled with guilt. I asked what they had been doing, but neither would say. That was the last time they played together.
One afternoon, I asked my son pointedly what had happened that day; I knew he wasn’t telling me the full story. His face shifted and he looked sad, yet relieved. I softly asked, “Were you guys looking at naked people?” He sighed and said, “Yeah.”
My stomach dropped. Oh, no. No no no.
He shared that another boy had dared his friend to watch porn, and that they had both been watching together and masturbating through their clothes on a pretty regular basis. Carefully and kindly, I asked how he felt about it. He said, “I liked it at first, but the feeling after… Not so much. I really just wanted to play video games, but he kept saying ‘Just one more video…’”
This news pierced my chest. My sweet boy.
I hugged him and said “I’m so sorry.” I asked a few more questions. How many times? (Many.) How long had this been going on? (Several months.)
How many ways can a mother’s heart break?
What followed was hours of conversation, in which I learned more depravity than anyone should ever know, from my baby boy. His voice, high and sweet, spilling out horrors.
I will not blame myself during this moment. I worked hard to protect him, and I am a good mother.
“Mom, there was a man, and he was having sex with a goat. Isn’t that weird? And there was another one, it was about a father and son, he was about 5 I think… He was getting into his bunk but then his dad wanted to have sex with him…”
How is it possible for a little boy to know such evil?
We talked about sex, bodies, myths and lies, truth and beauty. He was more courageous in telling his story than I felt receiving it. The loss of his innocence, the shame and confusion he’d been feeling; the weight of it all felt unbearable. I held his shoulders, looked into his eyes, and said, “This doesn’t change anything between us. I love you and like you just the same, and there’s nothing that you could ever do to make me love you any less. Nothing at all. Do you know that?”
The more he talked, the lighter he became, and the heavier I felt. What a privilege, what grief. I comforted myself and my son by reminding him that God’s love is bigger than anything, way bigger than this.
My love is powerful and true. I push back the darkness with my love.
“Mom, if you could wish for one thing, what would it be?”
I don’t know, Son, what would you wish for?
“I’d wish for no more porn in the world. Maybe when I grow up I will fight against porn.”
Battling evil shouldn’t be a little boy’s burden, but even my hyper-vigilance wasn’t enough to stop the relentless and targeted assault of the porn industry on his bright, curious eyes.
Our story illustrates the necessity of connection and acceptance between parents and children. As emotionally grueling as the experience was, I am deeply honored and grateful that my son was able to share his experience with me so openly. In the end, he trusted me to help him with this, and that is a gift I will never take for granted.
Here are a few things I am finding helpful as I navigate this new parenting terrain.
I try to focus on teaching and guiding rather than rewards or punishments. I have learned that discipline that uses fear is not only futile, but harmful to a child’s development. (You can learn more about this here.)
I am careful to separate my child’s choices from his core identity. For example, rather than say, “You are a liar!” I say “You are choosing not to tell the truth. I feel sad about this. I love you and I want to help you make a better choice.”
Safe, nurturing touch helps support healthy physical and emotional development. Hugs, snuggles on the couch, and playful wrestling are his favorites. We also practice boundaries and consent around physical touch.
Honesty & Open Communication
I am open and honest with my son. He knows he is free to ask me questions about any topic and I will never shame or belittle him. When he shared all of the horrible weird things he saw, I didn’t act shocked or disgusted; I simply held a neutral and open space for him to process.
My no-screens rule was useful in helping me identify what was going on with my son and helped build his trust in me. When he broke the boundary and experienced pain because of it, he understood that rules exist to protect him.
Education & Awareness
After talking about what happened, we went here to learn more about porn’s effect on the brain. He learned that he isn’t bad, dirty, or perverted for having a physiological response to explicit material. My son was able to see the specific ways that his brain and biology were essentially hijacked.
This was one of the more traumatic parenting experiences I’ve had, but what happened to my son is sadly very common. I hope that our story and the things we are learning are helpful to other parents.
-From a concerned Mother