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I just realized that my teenage daughter has been looking at porn online. I am very upset by this — but I really want to handle it the right way. I have no idea what the right reaction to this is. Do you have a suggestion that would help?
First of all, don’t react. When you react, you will always do so from a place of fear instead of love. It is very important (when dealing with another person about anything) that you make a clearly thought out, conscious choice about how you want to handle the situation, and that response must be based in love.
The following process — for thinking out your options — is one you can use to find an appropriate response to any situation that shows up in your life.
You should get out a piece of paper and write down exactly what happened that upset you. Then write down some of your options when it comes to responding. Then, you should identify which of those options are based in fear and which are based in love.
Remember, fear-based responses don't work because they are focused on you, cast the other person as a bad person which makes them defensive, and make the other person feel unloved and undervalued. You must choose a love-based response which keeps the focus on them, is without judgment, and makes them feel loved and valued in the end.
Here are some of your options in this case:
1) You can let her know you are really disappointed in her and get quiet and cold towards her for a while, to get the point across. This is an immature, manipulative, fear-based response. Your cold shoulder is making it very clear that you see her as worse than you, and this kind of behavior will destroy any relationships of trust and respect you had. It is also a selfish approach which sends a message loud and clear that your love is conditional.
2) You can get angry — blow up, yell, take away privileges, lecture and respond emotionally. This kind of response is, again, all about your fears. I get it that you are scared. You are afraid that your child will get into trouble, stray from the right path in life or become a bad person — and all of this would reflect badly on you or trigger your fear of loss. But if you make this about your fear, your child will resent you for it. This kind of response will also take her focus off the issue (that she is curious about sex and looking for answers) and make it all about mom and dad being mean.
You will also remain in the dark about what is really going on with your child, because this response creates a place where your child will never open up about her thoughts and feelings and why this happened in the first place. A fear-based reaction will put a giant wedge in the relationship.
The other problem with taking away privileges and punishing her is it won’t stop the behavior. If she wants to look at pornography, she will have many opportunities to do so when you aren’t around. So trying to force good behavior on her won’t really work. You must handle this in a way that will help her decide this behavior isn’t right for her so she won’t do it, even when you aren’t around.
3) You could have a mutually validating conversation with her. Before you have this conversation, you could check your fear at the door. You could make a conscious decision to see her as the same as you — a struggling, scared but divine, amazing human being in process, learning and growing every day. You can give her permission to be human, make mistakes and be less than perfect, and still deserve your love and respect. You must not come from a place of judgment and see her as less than you.
Then, you could set your thoughts and feelings aside upfront, and ask questions and listen to her. You can learn important things about your children when you listen more than talk. You must ask questions about what she thinks and feels about porn and her experience with it, and just listen without responding.
You must make sure the number one goal of this conversation is making sure she knows you love her, value her and think she is an amazing and good person. Anything other than this objective is about you. (Plus, the best way to encourage good behavior is to let someone see that you see the best in them.)
You might ask her questions about her curiosity and let her know everyone at her age feels this way. You can ask her how she felt when she looked at the pictures. What she thinks about porn and why it might be dangerous? The more questions you ask — which give her the opportunity to express exactly what you were going to tell her anyway — the better.
After you have really listened to her and she feels understood and loved, you could ask if she would be open to hearing your concerns about porn. You can explain why you don’t view it — why you think it creates unrealistic expectations of sex and can even become addictive. This is your chance to share your values and why you have decided to live that way.
You must help her to see why she should choose not to view it anymore for herself. The only way the behavior will stop is if she decides it isn’t right for her. This way she won’t do it, even when you aren’t around.
Once you have clearly defined your options, cross out the ones based in fear and choose a love-based approach.
There is a great article in Psychology Today that has some suggestions for setting limits and rules around media exposure, since kids today are exposed to more sex in media than ever before. It is important to use parental controls and set limits with your kids.
I realize that the love-based approach I just described requires a great deal of maturity, wisdom, love and compassion — but you can do it!
Kimberly Giles is the founder and president of www.ldslifecoaching.com and www.claritypointcoaching.com. She is a sought after life coach and popular speaker who specializes in repairing and building self-esteem.
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Kimberly Giles is the president and founder of Claritypoint Life Coaching and 12 SHAPES INC. She is an author and professional speaker. She was named one of the top 20 advice gurus in the country by Good Morning America in 2010. She appears regularly on local and national TV and Radio.