As she sat across from me tears streamed down her face. Guilt and shock mingled in her words. Through brokenhearted sobs she shared with me how she and her husband had found significantly graphic videos on their 13-year-old son’s computer. Who was this person? She felt so confused, so betrayed. Their young teen was active in youth group, kind to his siblings, and sensitive to the needs of others. He was all a parent could want. Not perfect, but beyond occasionally forgetting homework or skipping chores to play another round of video games, they had little to complain about regarding him. This seemed so out of place and so much bigger than his parents could have imagined. His mother’s response displayed the level of shock this discovery brought. She shared with me how she found the videos on her son’s computer.
Suspicious of his new desire to be less visible when “playing games” on his computer, his mother did some searching on his computer one day while he was at school. To her complete shock she was not met by gaming sites in his history but instead vulgar and graphic videos of sexual acts and visits to pornographic websites. Her world felt shattered. The weight of innocence-lost was unbearable as she scrolled through his history. She couldn’t help but cry out loud at this discovery.
When her son came home from school that day he was met by his mother, her face clearly swollen from lengthy crying. She attempted to hold it together, but at her first initiation to talk to him, she crumbled and the tears were unstoppable. Understanding what must have been discovered, her son immediately was upset and promised never to do it again. He apologized profusely and begged for forgiveness. She would expect him to do no less. This was her sensitive child; he had been in tune with right and wrong since he was a toddler. He knew by his mother’s reaction that this was a moral failure. “How could you do this?” were the only words she had, delivered with uncontrollable sobs.
His father was no less disappointed. His reaction to the discovery, in an effort to never allow this to happen again, led him to take his son’s laptop and tell him he would never use it again. To secure this reality he threw the laptop in the trash bin. Both he and his wife were reacting to their pain—pain that in that moment was blocking them from considering how to respond to their son.
In situations like this it is very challenging for parents to know how to respond. As a parent your heart aches. You question yourself and your child all at the same time. Perhaps there is anger mixed with the pain. Anger at your child that your trust was trampled. Anger at yourself for being fooled. Anger at your spouse for not being more proactive in talking to your child about appropriate use of the Internet. Maybe even anger at your son’s or daughter’s friends for sharing the website with them. There may also be grief, disbelief, and shame. Despite this very challenging situation, it is important not to overreact.
When parents overreact to sexual sin in their teens, they can create an environment where sexual sin is the “unforgivable sin” even though, biblically, that is not true. Scripture tells us that “sexually immorality” can be “washed” and forgiven (1 Corinthians 6:9-11). Overreaction also inhibits continual communication. It is heartbreaking to see your child fall into sexual sin, but parents need to take their heartbreak to the Lord first and be willing to explore what it means to thoughtfully respond rather than shockingly react.
Overreaction can also come in the form of punishments so significant that your teen will see you as someone to hide from when he or she falls. A father once told his teenaged daughter that if he ever found out she was having sex with her boyfriend she was not welcome in their home any longer. One teen told me that his parents said if he ever got involved in pornography or sexual activity they would stop paying for his college. As a freshman in college, and young Christian, his struggle with porn was greatly troubling to him, but it was not something he was going to talk to his parents about because he understood their consequences.
Sexual sin is not the unforgivable sin. It is serious but forgivable. Your teens need to hear of the cleansing that is theirs in Christ. They need to know that they can be washed clean. They need to know and see that this is where the gospel becomes very relevant. Christ died for their sexual sin. They need to know they can have forgiveness from God, but they also need to know they can have forgiveness from you. If God does not hold this against them, when they repent, then you shouldn’t either. Holding forgiveness out to teens makes repentance all the more desirable.
Overreaction stops conversation. Talking about sex with your teen is awkward and challenging, but overreactions to their sins will make it all the more difficult for them to talk to you in the future. To avoid overacting consider the following:
- Go to the Lord first. Pray for wisdom to know how to approach your child. Remember your own struggle for sexual purity and ask the Lord to keep your heart humble and your words wise.
- Remember that sexual interest is a normal part of growing up. At one time the opposite sex was gross and annoying, and suddenly, with the help of hormones, they are much more interesting. Your teens are created by God as sexual beings. Walk with them in understanding the good boundaries God has created for sex and teach them the value of honoring the Lord with their bodies.
- Give yourself time to reflect before you respond. Instead of simply reacting to situations where your teen has compromised or shared a struggle they have had, let them know that you value such conversations and you want to take some time to think through how to answer or respond.
Join the Conversation
What ways can parents counsel with their teens when it comes to sexual sin? What have you suggested in your counseling?
The above post is an excerpt from Raising Teens in a Hyper-Sexualized World- Help for Christian Parents by Eliza Huie.