How to Raise Children in a Pornographic Culture
Digital porn is ubiquitous. So how do we prepare our sons and daughters to win the war against the porn culture all around them? It’s a great question from a mom named Molly.
“Pastor John, thanks for this podcast and all the times you address parenting. My question: What is the best way to prepare our children to go out on their own in our pornified culture? I have two young boys, and seeing so many good, godly men fall victim to various kinds of lust makes me deeply sad to think about my own boys becoming more aware. I know at the end of the day the Lord is sovereign, but is there anything specifically I and my husband can do now to help them see what is truly valuable and to prepare them for these digital temptations ahead?”
Well, I doubt that I have any greater wisdom here than Molly and her husband do, but I’ll give a list of things that they can at least compare their list with to and see if there might be one or two things that they haven’t thought of that might be helpful.
“Highlight in the Bible the superior joy that comes from knowing Christ, rather than all the forms of sin they might pursue.”
Of course, I want to make clear that when you make a list like this, each one of these is a reality. It’s a massive reality. It’s not just, “Oh, here’s another thing on the list to tick off.” I hope we’re all aware that even though I’ll go through these pretty quickly, every one of them is a work of the Spirit that needs our whole heart.
There’s no guarantee that our children will turn out to be believers or walk in the ways that we want them to. I do phrase the question like this: Why do some children trust Dad and Mom and their way, want to conform their lives to the vision of their parents, and then make it their own someday, while other children, almost from the beginning, seem to treat their parents as if they’re foolish or unwise or unworthy of trust? They’re always pushing against instead of saying, “Well, of course Mom and Dad know best. They’re older than I am, and they’ve been around the block a few times.”
Why is that? Why do some children, even in the same family, do that? So what we want are strategies that God might be pleased to use to create in our children a deep personal trust in us as parents first, and then through us a trust in the true and living God as our children experience their faith as completely their own.
So let’s keep that in mind. There’s no guarantee here. Children in the same family treated the same way can be resistant or compliant, and our goal is not external conformity to rules; it’s inward love for God and his way.
So here’s my list.
1. Children need a humble heart in order to comply with Mom and Dad and with Scripture, so pray earnestly that they would be humble under the mighty hand of God (1 Peter 5:6). Pray that God would give them the gift of deep humility.
2. Seek to be utterly authentic in your own love for Christ, your own joy in him, and your own delight in his ways. You can’t force upon a child satisfaction in God when it does not look as if he’s satisfying Mom and Dad.
3. Saturate your family with Scripture. Talk about it morning, noon, and night. Talk of it when you get up, when you go to meals, when you’re riding in the car. Talk of the word of God, and seek to help your children understand it. Treat the Bible as the absolute authority in your life. Pray that the children will grow up believing that this book is the highest authority in the universe under God.
“There’s a better, more joyful, more lasting, more satisfying way with God than with sin.”
4. Highlight in the Bible the superior joy that comes from knowing Christ, rather than all the forms of sin they might pursue. Make this a recurrent theme in all your teaching. Join Paul in saying that you count everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:8). Help them flesh that out and see, “That’s why we’re going to obey. There’s a better, more joyful, more lasting, more satisfying way with God than with sin.”
5. Tell stories again and again — from the Bible, from society, from history, from missions — about young people, young men and young women, who did amazingly sacrificial things for the joy that was set before them in God. In the end, most of our children grow up craving significance as much as they crave other things. They need to know where to find that significance. They want to do something that really counts with their life. These stories — stories of Daniel, David, Timothy, missionary stories, military stories from WWI, WWII, the Civil War, etc. — help them. This is where our children will hear stories of young people who did amazing acts of bravery.
6. Make the gospel the constant refrain of all of our teaching. I mean, keep in front of your children that Christ died for sinners, and that he provides a way of preserving and restoring fellowship with himself when we have failed. All children fail. They all do bad things. Their conscience bothers them. They know they are sinners. They need to be reminded again and again about the gospel way of handling failure and sin, not the world’s way. Otherwise, they’re going to become secretive and hide their sins because they don’t know how to settle them with God, let alone with their parents. But if their parents are constantly holding out the gospel way of dealing with failure, then they might keep their children from going underground with regard to their sins.
7. Don’t assume that all is well in their hearts. Probe. Ask more than the brief “How are you doing?” question. Get alone with them in the seclusion of a bedroom or in the car or a restaurant where just you and that one child go. Dig into their hearts, their feelings, their fears, their hopes, the challenges that they feel at school and with their other siblings. Don’t settle for a glib, superficial, one-word answer. Tell them stories about your own feelings as a child, your own failures and sins and struggles, so that they’ll be open that way. Few things, I think, soften a child and give them hope than to know Mom and Dad are not infallible.
“Most of our children grow up craving significance as much as they crave other things. They need to know where to find it.”
8. Help your children find good, Christian, godly friends. The Bible says that bad company corrupts good morals (1 Corinthians 15:33). Of course, we want our children to grow up and be good evangelists, but it’s a mistake to think that finding their closest friends among unbelievers is a good preparation for young minds. There’s a difference between loving unbelievers and loving what they love. For young, impressionable minds, the methods of spiritual warfare against the powers of darkness are not yet in full force.
9. Be sure, if you can, that your children have a good church where they’re forming the habits of corporate worship and discipleship. Let them see you, Mom and Dad, love your church, and worship and sing and pray and become active churchmen and women. If that’s what you want them to be, they need to see that.
10. Establish, in your home, protections on all your electronic devices so that the child is subject to the same scrutiny as Mom and Dad, or vice versa. Don’t treat them as untrustworthy while you pretend to be above scrutiny. Let them know that the whole family understands the dangers of pornography (as well as other superficial distractions) and its easy accessibility. Let them know that Mom and Dad share in the same concern, the same burden, the same susceptibility, and the same accountability.
11. I would suggest that Mom and Dad form a relationship with one or two other couples to form a plan to fast and pray together. Perhaps it is once a week or so. You skip a lunch, show up, and pray for thirty minutes, just for each other’s children. You pray that God would exert supernatural power to work in your children all the dreams you have for their godliness.
I’m sure there are other important things that I haven’t said, but I’ll mention these eleven in the hope that they might stimulate our friend Molly to go deeper and seek her own way with her kids.