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Talking about sex, in general terms, and even talking about being “safe” and avoiding “bad” sites online seemed easy compared to this talk, but I knew I needed to have it. My wife and I had tried to be honest, keep the conversation going with our kids, especially our oldest son, Jake. He was fourteen now, and I knew he was struggling, especially with masturbation.
When he was young, we had some conversations, but mostly, we focused on helping him realize that touching his penis in public wasn’t appropriate. That was really the last time we focused on something like masturbation, and we had never really names it, although we talked a lot about topics like purity since then as he grew and matured.
I remember being fourteen, and sometimes, I just felt like I was going to explode. Yes, at times, things set me off; yes, there were images, women, girls and situations that are especially problematic for a teen going through puberty, but sometimes, erections just happened as a young teenage boy. Still, I was a bit startled to realize that my son was going through this struggle. I had woken up in the middle of the night, hungry. As I was rounding the top of the stairs to head down to the kitchen, I saw the glow of the TV on. I paused and then slowly, silently made my way down the stairs to see a heartbreaking picture: there was my son, watching a “Friends” episode, masturbating. I crept back up the stairs, struggling between wanting to forget what I saw and knowing that I needed to come up with a game plan.
My wife and I talked, and we felt as though I needed to have an honest conversation with our son about this difficult topic. Honesty hadn’t disappointed in the past, and even though this issue seemed especially difficult, we decided it was the best approach. I told my son that I knew that being his age, the urges that he probably felt had to be pretty strong, but I encouraged him to try his best to avoid masturbation. I knew men that struggled with chronic masturbation, and the need to masturbate can often open up the doors to pornography use, fantasy and acting out. I told him that I knew that it wouldn’t be perfect, and he was likely to continue to struggle, but that I would help him as much as I could. He had the opportunity, even in this crazy time of life, to try to learn to be disciplined, and discipline was one of those traits that I associated with true maturity—being a true man after God’s heart, a principle we spoke often about. That being said, we talked a lot about grace. My wife and I also put time limits on the computers and the TV—we had filters, and we had blocked mature content, but we realized that even a show like Friends could set someone off. I am glad that I took the straight forward, honest approach with my son—it’s opened up many more conversations in the weeks since, and it hasn’t been as awkward as I thought to keep the conversation going.
For more about leading an open and accountable life, be sure to check out XXXchurch.com founder Craig Gross’ new book: “Open”, available here.