Our 16-year-old son was caught doing inappropriate things on his phone. He had been caught before, was warned and more restrictions were put. This time it was worse. One of his friends created an account for him and it jeopardized my husband since the phone is in his account. My husband is so upset because he says my son feels no remorse or he doesn’t seem sorry. This morning my husband told me he is seriously considering just giving him a flip phone. I really don’t want to go to that extreme. I think with more restrictions and more guidance he will be okay. I’m just worried this will drive him further away from us.

- User Submitted

Super common parenting question. We have a 16-year-old adolescent boy who is accessing, it sounds like from your question, sexually explicit material on his phone. So, Mom and Dad, what's important to know is that the vast majority of our adolescence, if you look at the data, both male and female, are not only accessing and using pornography on a regular basis, but have had exposure to it from a fairly early age. And, by the time it usually is discovered in their early adolescent or later adolescent years, it has become habitual and there are actually addictive responses happening in the brain that cause a craving and an escalating seeking behavior. So, what we know about that is that shaming that, threatening that, or being adversarial toward that, is not helpful, it actually drives it underground and fuels it. What we have the opportunity to do when we become aware that this is happening for our child is, rather than to be fighting against them, we want to be a partner with them, helping them navigate their sexuality in a very difficult online world.

So, some ways that we can help them protect their sexuality. Some of which are not probably going to be popular with our kids in the moment, are to put accountability and filtering software on all internet connected devices in the home. So, that includes cell phones, laptops, iPads, iPods, gaming systems, televisions, all the things.

Another boundary that can be very helpful is to keep all of those devices out of children's bedrooms and bathrooms. Kids going into the bathrooms for long periods of time with their devices is not always helpful to their sexual development and having those items kept in the public arena in the family room perhaps. That can be a really helpful guidance for our kiddos, where we sort of serve as the prefrontal cortex of their brain because their's has not yet developed. It doesn't develop until they're 25 or 26 and that's the executive functioning part of their brain. But, at that critical piece, is we want to be careful not to become adversarial about it and shaming of sexuality and punishing of sexuality, because what we want to do is be vision casting with our child, a vision of their healthy sexual future. We want to help them make sense of why the pornography use is not in their best interest and of why we are on their team encouraging them because we want them to have a fulfilling sexual life in their future and we have lots and lots of evidence why pornography destroys that.

Of course, remember, porn habits do not go away with data and facts. We want to help with a combination of some filtering and accountability and really positive encouragement. At the end of the day a 16-year-old boy is not going to stop anything unless he internally has a "want to" rather than that being externally imposed. So, our invitation, our opportunity as parents, is to help our children have a "want to" as they visualize their healthy and fulfilling sexual future.

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