Hindsight is always 20/20. In so many areas of life, when we look back on things that have happened we ask, “Why didn’t I see the signs? I should have seen this coming.”

In a society that increasingly encourages hands-off parenting, it is difficult to know if the reactions of teenagers are a burst of independence or a cover-up for something deeper.  Without being exhaustive by any means, here are five signs to look out for that might indicate your son or daughter is struggling with a porn problem.

Your son or daughter might be looking at porn

1. A Heightened Expectation of Privacy (Secrecy)

If you walk into the dining room and your child suddenly slaps the laptop closed or switches the screen quickly, you have reason to be concerned.

If there appears to be an extra line of defense (a locked door, a password on a computer, a passcode on the phone that you don’t know), you are right to ask why it’s there and then ask that it be removed. There is a difference between a closed bedroom door and a locked bedroom door.

As parents, it is important to make it clear to your children that there is an expectation of modesty—you wouldn’t walk in on them in the shower for instance—but the expectation of privacy is limited as long as they live under your roof and you pay for the phone or computer. Secrecy is not an option. It’s your job to know where they’re going, what they’re doing, and who they’re doing it with.

2. Withdrawal From Life

There is part of this that is natural as teenagers assert their independence. They form new circles of friends, get involved in new activities and are increasingly convinced that Mom and Dad are not cool. While “natural,” it can be excessive, especially when sin is involved.

If you notice your son or daughter spending large amounts of his or her time isolated- away from people, especially family, make an effort to reach out. They could be dealing with any number of issues, from a sin issue to a situation that has them confused, such as abuse. This is a great opportunity for you to mirror the love of Christ in how you love your children. Continue to actively and lovingly pursue them even when they don’t seem interested.

3. Outbursts of Anger

I once heard a pastor say that if you dig to the root of anger, you will often find lust. If your son or daughter is struggling with sexual sin, it is very possible that they are angry at themselves, their friends, or even you. It is easy to write this off as teenage hormones, but it is important that you not let that anger drive you away from them.

Quite often, parents react to their child’s anger in anger, which accomplishes nothing but hurt and shame. Anger is a common defense mechanism. It pushes people away. Instead of reacting in anger, pursue the root of that anger in a loving way. Help your son or daughter face whatever is causing that anger.

4. Constantly Tired

Again, we often write this off to hormones. Or you may think it is the upcoming mid-term plus the new part time job. However, someone who struggles with pornography or lust may waste hours indulging their fantasies. They might stay up all night searching for porn online or fantasizing about it. At the height of my addiction, I was sleeping only 2-3 hours every night.

5. The Perfect Church Kid

At first, this might seem like a good thing. What parent wants a child who rebels? However, one common theme I have found, especially among young women who struggle, is this desire to be perfect when it comes to her faith. She will memorize all of the Bible verses, sing in the choir, help in Sunday school, but at home, she is completely different.

As her parent who sees the angry, disconnected, tired teenager at home, you might be relieved to see her “living out her faith,” but be wary. That dichotomy of wills might be a way for her to soothe her conscience that she isn’t “that bad” after all. It might also be a way to keep “church people” from asking too many questions.

What You Can Do

Obviously, as parents, you have a God-given role to protect your children and to raise them to be well-functioning members of the Kingdom of God. If the foundation is solid, you can lay the groundwork for a relationship that will last long after they move out from under your roof.

Step into your role as protector, identify things that are out of character for your son or daughter and do not let them slip through the cracks. So many of these warning signs could also be warning signs for other issues.

Pursue the heart of your children. You are their biggest advocate. Stand on guard for them. If you think sin is creeping into their lives, do not just stand idly by waiting for them to ask for your help. If you wait, it is likely they will never ask. But if you pursue, if you show unconditional unrelenting love, you build a trust and a security that could last a lifetime. 

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