Counseling Teens Hooked on Porn

March 7, 2016

You peek into your waiting room and see your three o’clock client sitting next to his mother.  He’s a 16-year-old boy with ripped jeans, dirty sneakers, and a shaved head.  You enter the room and lock eyes with his mom.  She stands up to greet you with an enthusiastic smile.  The boy reluctantly stands up, nods his head at you, and enters your office with a look of irreverent apathy on his face.  And the counseling session begins!

The topic?

Porn.

The son has been caught watching porn on his phone, and his parents want you to make him stop.   What do you do?  How do you counsel this boy?

You must start with knowing your audience.  This is a teen–not a middle-aged married man or a 24-year-old single adult.  How is he different?

How Are Teens Unique?

When counseling a teen hooked on porn, you should be aware of a few potential strikes against you that may hinder progress in counseling.

  • He probably doesn’t want to be there. Think about it…when you were a sophomore in high school, would you have wanted to talk to a complete stranger about a porn problem while your mom waits in the adjacent lobby?  Chances are that he would rather be anywhere but in your office right now.
  • The age gap. Remember how uncomfortable it was to listen to your parents talk about sex?  This counseling session might be even more uncomfortable for the teen.  Not only does he have to listen to you—an extension of his parents—talk about sex, but he has to talk about sex.  And not just sex—  His masturbation.  Trust me, the only person with whom he wants to talk about sex and masturbation is a friend his age.  Not you.
  • A lack of immediate worldly consequences. If a married man is hooked on porn, his addiction is probably destroying his marriage and family.  If a single adult is hooked on porn, his addiction is probably preventing him from having healthy dating relationships and a future spouse.  However, if a teenager is hooked on porn, chances are the only real felt consequence is the embarrassment of being caught by his parents.  And this is not a strong enough reason for him to quit.

However, although you have these strikes against you as a counselor, there are also unique opportunities when working with a teen.

  • Play-Doh. The teenager in your counseling office is young.  His brain and his heart are still in the beginning stages of social, spiritual, and sexual formation.  He is malleable.  His inner self will be shaped by one of two things—the world or the Word.  You have a chance to shape him with the latter.
  • Domino effect. Teens interact with dozens of other teens each day at school.  Put simply, this boy’s circle of influence is huge.  Leading him to pornographic freedom may be the catalyst to many other teens also becoming free.
  • A lack of immediate worldly consequences. Yes, I also put this in the list of strikes against you.  However, a lack of felt consequences can also allow you to focus your time on his heart instead of the common circumstantial fires caused by porn addictions in adults.  In other words, there isn’t a weeping wife next to him.  He isn’t being asked to step down from his elder position at church.  All you have is a teen, his heart, and a lot of soul work to do.

What Doesn’t Work?

Let’s first shut the door on a few knee-jerk techniques when counseling a teen hooked on porn.

  • Yes, there will be awkward silence in the room—this is a teenage boy.  Instead of filling this awkward silence with a sermon, however, ask the teenager questions.  Get to know him.  Make it a conversation.  Perhaps even make it a game.  Be creative.  But please don’t preach.
  • Chances are that the teen views your counseling session as a punishment for him being caught looking at pornography.  He is probably waiting for you to tell him how awful he is.  You have the opportunity to speak and model the grace of Christ to a child who may never have experienced grace before in his life.
  • While there are obviously exceptions, most teenage boys are not ready to systematically psychoanalyze the intricate complexities of their hearts or minds, nor are they ready to have a therapeutic professional do so.  If you want to dig into the physical, emotional, social, mental, and spiritual roots of his porn addiction—which I strongly advocate—then you will have to be unorthodox, creative, and covert in doing so.

What Works?

There is no formula for counseling a teen hooked on porn.  However, here are a few pointers:

  • No, you are not this child’s best friend.  But you have to at least become a friend so that he trusts you.  Get to know the child outside of his porn addiction.  Inquire about his friends, family, school, activities, and interests.  Let him ask you questions about yourself.  Model transparency with your answers.  Make him feel comfortable and accepted.  Only then will you have a chance of reaching him.
  • While external constraints will never ultimately prevent the teen from viewing porn, it is important to protect him from unnecessary temptations.  Work with his parents to put up some walls.  Take away his smart phone.  Make sure his computer is in a public space at home.  If possible, put a software program such as Covenant Eyes on all his electronic devices.  Get fierce in putting up fences.  He’ll hate them.  But they are for his protection.
  • Make the child terrified of porn.  Wait, isn’t fear a bad motivation to pursue holiness?  Not always.  It is good to give a teen a healthy fear of pornography.  Why?  Porn is scary! It destroys people’s lives.  It corrupts people’s brains and hearts.   It kills marriages.  It makes future wives weep.  The teen should fear it.
  • Of course, the only thing that will ultimately change this boy’s heart is a rich relationship with Jesus Christ.  Talk about Jesus far more than you talk about porn.  Pray with the boy and trust that the Holy Spirit will use your prayers to melt his heart towards Christ.  Work to replace his affection for porn with a profound affection for Jesus.
  • Give him something to look forward to should he choose to live a life of abstinence.  Give him a vision for an untainted and unmatchable wedding night.  Paint a beautiful picture of sex in the context of his future marriage.  Ultimately, point him to a life beyond this life when sex will be unnecessary because of the soul-shattering joy that he will feel in heaven.

Concluding Remarks

Counseling a teen hooked on porn is a difficult endeavor.  There is no set way to do it.  The success rate is admittedly low.  But this does not diminish the importance of the task.  You will be shaping this teen’s sexual trajectory into adulthood.  You will be ministering not only to him but also to his friends and future spouse.  You will be paving the way for a life of sexual freedom.  Ultimately, you will be pointing him to Jesus, the only one in whom he will ever be truly free.  Will you be obedient to the task?


2 thoughts on “Counseling Teens Hooked on Porn

  1. I agree with “some” of your advice but what you offer here reads like a “self-atoning” effort. The teen “hooked on porn” may have never made a true profession and thus have true possession of faith in Jesus Christ as both Savior and Lord. The teen may very well still be a totally depraved sinner. The gospel, not a formula, is our only hope and help in counseling. The counselor needs to speak the truth in love by pointing the person to Jesus Christ and repentance and faith in the gospel.

  2. Why delete the comments? A wise person receives instruction, but fools despise wisdom according to Proverbs?

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