I was just picking up my oldest son, Timothy, from an overnight at his best friend’s home. The ten year old seemed tired and a little grumpy as he climbed into our car.
I tried: “How was your time with Adam?”
“Did you guys stay up late?”
“What did you do?”
“I don’t know.”
Usually our car conversations went better than this one. On the 10-minute car ride home, Timothy didn’t say another word. He got out of the car and went straight to his room. My wife and I received the same treatment at lunch, as did Timothy’s younger brother and sister. He didn’t seem as though he wanted to talk to anyone.
After dinner that evening, I went up to Timothy’s room, where I found him sitting on his bed, flipping through a car magazine. I asked him if everything was OK, and he shrugged and said, “It was nothing.”
I had to ask: “Did something happen at Adam’s house last night?” That’s when my son started crying. As I held him close, he asked me a question that made my heart stop for a moment:
“Dad, have you ever seen something bad online?”
Had I seen something bad? I had seen so much, but none of it seemed appropriate to talk about to my son. Was he talking about what I was thinking he was talking about? I had walked away from an addiction to Internet pornography just a few years ago, and I had always feared that my kids would struggle like I had. I wanted to tell my son that I hadn’t seen anything bad online, but the truth was, I had.
“Yes,” I replied. “I have seen bad stuff online. What kind of bad stuff did you see at Adam’s house? You can tell me. There is a lot of bad stuff online, and I know that sometimes, when you see it, it’s not your fault, and it can be pretty confusing. Sometimes you want to look at the bad stuff, even when you know you should look away. Let’s talk about it: you’re not going to get in trouble with me.”
My son was clearly ashamed, but the words began to come out. Adam had shown him hours and hours of pornography. There were videos and pictures, and there was even a site they went to where they could chat with naked girls. I learned that they had both masturbated together. It was exactly what a parent never wants to hear their kids say, but I might not have known that it had happened, or been able to have an ongoing conversation with my son, had I not answered his question honestly. Over time, I have been able to share a little bit more about my struggle with him and why pornography can be so destructive. I also talked with Adam’s parents, who had no idea. They were able to install parental controls and get their son, who had been struggling with pornography use for over a year, to talk with a counselor that helped him with his with his masturbation and is still working with him today.
It’s not a perfect outcome: I wish that my son had never seen porn. But given that he has, he knows that I am hear to help and talk with him whenever he struggles.
For more about leading an open and accountable life, be sure to check out XXXchurch.com founder Craig Gross’ new book: “Open” available here.