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2020: Summer Of Love

Here we are, just a little over six months into 2020, and already we know that this will go down in our own histories as a year filled with unexpected challenges. The first half of the year has brought monumental lifestyle changes and interruptions thanks to a pandemic, along with the challenges of dealing with our culture’s long-standing inequalities. In addition, political divisions are widening. If you’re like me, you’re wondering what surprises the second half of 2020 will bring. It seems like we’re all already living in a thick and confusing fog.

As I’ve been thinking back to the late 1960s and my own years of early adolescence, I can’t help but notice how similar 2020 has been to what we experienced during those days of cultural change and unrest. Those years were challenging years through which to parent, and the same holds true for those of us raising kids today.

While the issues are complex, let me suggest just one very timely spiritual truth we must teach our kids in the midst of this time where our differences have occasioned discord and hate. It’s a lesson I believe can help us all as we live in a world where civility can so easily diminish when people disagree on how to understand and handle issues like the current pandemic, politics, and racism.

The spiritual truth we must teach is one that is foundational to who we all are as human beings. . . a commonality that exists in spite of our differences. It is a truth that was revealed at creation and the beginning of time. Take a minute to read the Creation account, paying special attention to Genesis 1:26-28. This is where we learn about how all humanity has been created in the image of God. To be created in the image of God means that He has endowed us all with dignity and significance. Not only does this matter for how we view ourselves, but it matters deeply for how we view and treat others. Theologian Gregg Allison tells us that the doctrine of the image of God means that “all people should be treated with respect, with appreciation for God’s excellent design. Racism, sexism, classism, and ageism are categorically excluded.”

As the summer unfolds, our temptation to see those who might disagree with us on the issues of the day as “less than” ourselves will continue. In response, here are four practical steps you can take to instill in yourself and your kids a view of all people that will derail hatred that comes when we dehumanize those who are different, while moving us in the direction of loving God by loving our neighbor.

First, pray to see all people through God’s eyes. Our vision is clouded by our sin, our histories, and our circumstances. Pray for clear vision.

Second, when you are tempted to diminish the value of another, remind yourself that he or she is, like you, an “image-bearer.” The father of lies wants us to deny the image of God in others.

Third, treat all others with Christ-like respect. While legitimate disagreements might exist, show the grace and kindness of Jesus Christ in all of your interactions.

And finally, denounce the diminished view of other human beings wherever you encounter it.

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Cardi B, WAP, And Our Kids…

So the female rapper Cardi B has us all thinking. She’s got us all talking. And as one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most-Influential-People of 2018 (labeled by Time in that list as a “pioneer”), her latest single release has landed in big, big ways in a youth culture that’s primed and ready to be influenced and led. More on that in a bit. But first, this. . .

As a long-time pop culture watcher, junkie, and even pop culture lover, there’s very little I encounter that’s surprising. If you are a careful observer of cultural undercurrents, you can develop strong hunches regarding how emerging beliefs will soon spread and ultimately manifest themselves in outward behaviors. Yesterday, I was reminded of that fact when I was pleasantly surprised to find that the 1977 Francis Schaeffer film series, How Should We Then Live, is now streaming for free on Amazon Prime. Schaeffer has long been one of my culture-watching heroes and mentors. And when I quickly opened up and watched the first couple minutes of the last episode in the series, I was reminded again of Schaeffer’s brilliant Scripture-guided skill for discernment. . . to see things as they really are. . . and it was astounding to me how well in 1977 he was describing what is happening in our world today. But even after listening to and being trained by so many sharp culture-watchers, Cardi B’s newest single, “WAP”, has my head-spinning with surprise and sadness as I think about where we are as a culture and how we’ve gotten here.

So before jumping into some initial thoughts sparked by Cardi B’s latest release, let me give you a little who and what background if you’re finding yourself a bit behind in this conversation.

First, the who. As far as the music scene goes, the 28-year-old is a relative newcomer. In just a little over three years, the self-described Catholic who speaks of her strong relationship with God has gone from relative obscurity to being seen as Hip-Hop’s Reigning Queen. Truth be told, at this moment she might just be the most influential female on the music scene. She is a multiple-award-winner (way too many to list here) who is a life-style influencer and icon in everything from fashion, to gender definition, to identity, and to sexuality. If she’s new to you, you can eliminate your ignorance with a quick search on the Internet. In fact, check out her page on Wikipedia for an updated overview.

Second, the what. . . and this is where is gets a bit difficult for me to communicate details. . . as communicating the details about her hit song and video, “WAP” , is risky business. It starts with the song’s title, which is an acronym for a vile term for female genitalia. In this case, the song’s title doesrelate clearly to the lyrical and visual themes of the song and its’ video as it celebrates and promotes a version of female sexuality that is raw, expressive, table-turning dominant, and as one affirming critic has said, “Class-A filth, a torrent of horny one-liners. . .” I do believe that in order to fully understand what’s being talked about here and to prepare an informed response, you would have to watch and listen for yourself. However, that’s your call. You need to know that the music critics are loving it. And, it seems that the music-consuming population loves it as well. It has topped the global Spotify chart, debuted at #1 on The Apple Music songs chart (highest debut ever by a female artist), debuted at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, and the video garnered well over 26 million views during its’ first 24-hours. New York Times’ music critic Ben Sisario says it’s perhaps the raunchiest No. 1 single in history.

Simply said, Cardi B and her song “WAP” . . . and everything it tells us about culture. . . demands our attention.

As I’ve been processing Cardi B’s latest song over the last few days, a few initial thoughts have come to mind. At this point, they’re early in development and I’m sure they will take shape in new ways over time. But since the song is so new and having such an impact, I thought I would share just ten of my thoughts here.

First, as we always say here at CPYU, culture is a mirror. Cultural artifacts serve to reflect the spirit of the times and what the Bible calls “the course of this world.” Whether in print, on the screen, through the earbuds, etc. . . music and media are powerful forms that must “be read” if we are to understand the days in which we live. Culture shapes art, and art reveals to us the beliefs which are at the root of our behaviors. One of the great benefits of evaluating art and music is that as followers of Christ, we can eliminate the lag that so often exists between the time that ideas take root and grow, and the time it takes for us to respond by either affirming or challenging what it is we see and hear. In this case, “WAP” might not be telling us where our kids are today, but it does offer a peek into where they are most likely headed tomorrow.

Second, as we always say here at CPYU, culture is a map. What we see and hear defines the world for us. It tells us how things are and how things should be. It guides us into embracing beliefs and behaviors, normalizing them for better or for worse. Have you listened to the lyrics in “WAP”? Have you watched the video? Have you laid out Cardi B’s map that is serving to direct an entire generation of kids into how to think about and live out matters of identity, personhood, value, and sexuality? If we want to effectively lead our kids into a lifetime of embracing that which is good, true, right, and honorable according to God’s Word, then we must be able to answer the pervasive, attractive, compelling, and powerfully convincing messages coming at them 24/7 through pop culture. . . including this message from Cardi B that’s coming through loud-and-clear.

Third, wake up people. We’re not in Kansas anymore. I’ve never believed that “the good old days” were actually good old days. Human beings weren’t necessarily any less sinful and depraved in the 50’s and 60’s. Everyone had to live (here’s my Calvinism coming through!) with their own total depravity in a world broken by sin. What was different were the categories of vice and virtue.  By and large, people knew and shared the lines between right and wrong. Sure, while there was a more widely-held agreement, people still chose to cross lines from virtue into vice. But it was usually done on the sly. And when it was exposed, there were typically some kind of consequences. What’s different now is that those lines have disappeared, and what Cardi B and the rest of our culture have been encouraged to embrace and are encouraging others to embrace are old vices as current virtues. What used to be condemned is now celebrated. Truth be told, Cardi B is only being true to the worldview she’s grown up with. It’s a world where we are encouraged to “follow your heart” and “do the right thing”. . . the right thing being whatever your heart tells you to do. In a world like this, why wouldn’t individuals take God’s good and glorious gift of sexuality and indulge it without borders and boundaries? One more thing. . . for the Christian, we don’t own the conversation anymore. . . and I’m not sure we ever really did. We are pilgrims, strangers, and guests in this brave new world.

Fourth, whoever speak on matters of sexuality first will set the bar and own the conversation.Parents and youth workers MUST believe this to be true. . . and act accordingly. With pop culture filling the minds and hearts of even our preschool screen-centered and obsessed kids, the lyrical, visual, and lifestyle message peddled by Cardi B and so many others is being consistently seen and heard by the most impressionable and moldable human beings among us: our kids. What this means is that we need to have what might be difficult and hard-to-frame conversations at younger and younger ages about God’s grand and glorious design for His good gift of gender, sex, love, and marriage. Home and church need to be diligent at working together to make this happen. Think of it as a process of fertilizing  the soil of young hearts and minds so that the seed of God’s grand and glorious design will take root and grow, resulting in the sexual flourishing of our kids as they grow up. If we aren’t cultivating and fertilizing this soil with the Gospel, the fertilizer of “the course of this world” will do its’ job. (Check out CPYU’s free-resource-packed Sexual Integrity Initiative for help in this task).

Fifth, we need to know and teach God’s design for love, sex, and marriage. Both the culture and the culture-in-the-church are getting this wrong. The place to begin on these matters is in the Genesis creation account. What exists in the Garden at creation is God’s shalom. Things are the way they are supposed to be and the creation is set up to flourish. What exists is pronounced “Good!” by the Creator of all things, including sexuality and gender. Sex is to be embraced, indulged and experienced within the context of a covenantal monogamous life-long union between one man and one woman. (Here’s a link to a free “Parents’ Guide to Teaching Kids God’s Design For Sexuality”)

Sixth, we need to realize that the culture is promoting a “sex-positive” movement. Sadly, the cultural sense regarding biblical sexuality is that God and the Bible are “sex-negative”. In response to what is seen as out-of-date and repressive rules an regulations, the sex-positive movement is all about changing old values while promoting all consensual sexual activity as normal, healthy, and pleasurable. There are no borders and boundaries beyond mutual consent. It’s all a matter of personal preference. Cardi B is a contemporary mouthpiece for this movement. And chances are that your kids. . . even your Christian kids. . . have been so influenced and nurtured into this way of thinking over time that your conversations with them about biblical sexuality might meet with resistance. Again, they are only being true to a worldview they’ve consistently heard and they might know nothing else. Of course, parents and youth workers can and must change that for the good of our kids and the glory of God.

Seventh, there is a power play taking place in our culture. As we battle over worldviews and ways of looking at and living life, we are now beyond the point of civil discourse and discussion. Sure, that is happening in some places. But by and large our culture that celebrates and grabs for empowerment takes the power and runs with it. . . no discussion to be had. In the case of Cardi B and “WAP”, this is an expression of the move toward female empowerment in all areas of life, including sexuality. No question, there has to be pushback on the horrible and destructive ways in which men have misused, demeaned, disrespected, and abused women in our culture and our cultural history. . . sexually and otherwise. It has to stop. But there is always the danger that as the pendulum swings-away from one systemic sin, it might swing too far and land in practicing another. Be sensitive to this as you engage in conversations where those conversation happen.

Eighth, prepare yourself for conflict. . . even with your kids. I fear that to engage in civil discussion when there is disagreement is quickly becoming a thing of the past. We now live in a “cancel culture.” the dictionary defines cancel culture in this way: “Cancel culture refers to the popular practice of withdrawing support for (canceling) public figures and companies after they have done or said something considered objectionable or offensive. Cancel culture is generally discussed as being performed on social media in the form of group shaming.” In recent months, I experienced this in a personal way, all without any kind of effort made on the part of the canceler to ask for an explanation or clarification. It is a practice void of opportunity for conversation or expression of grace. A quick scan of the internet offers ample evidence of cancel culture in full bloom as pundits offer critique (many times grace-filled and reasonable) of Cardi B and her song. Labels are slapped on people (conservative vs. liberal), conclusions are drawn, commentary and analysis are taken out of context, and chasms grow. In the case of the kids you know and love, prepare for pushback as you seek to address the advance of the course of this world. And always remember that an investment in the people you know and love will require the kind of patience and grace that we ourselves have been shown by Jesus Christ. . . even when we are canceled.

Ninth, pray for those who are mapping and mirroring life. . . including Cardi B.I will stand first-in-line among those who are willing to write-off and condemn those who we believe are leading our kids and culture further and further away from the Creator’s design for our human flourishing. I confess that I desire to see these voices silenced. . . many times with little or no desire to see those voices and their messages change through an encounter with the Living God. I am continually reminding myself that all people. . . ALL people. . . are divine image-bearers. Everyone is given dignity, value, and worth. And just as I desire to see the culture swing more towards creational shalom and flourishing, so must I desire the same for individuals. We must pray for God’s grace to visit all people. . . including those with whom we disagree and even battle. . . with that grace settling on them in big ways through conversion and sanctification. This morning I encountered these helpful words from Fergus Macdonald regarding how to engage in this battle: “We dare not forget that God’s church is engaged in spiritual warfare. All our attackers are in servitude to unseen evil forces. Our priority is to pray for our visible enemies and against the ones who are invisible.”

And tenth, “WAP” serves as a powerful reminder of our responsibility to teach our kids skills in biblical media discernment. The Christian faith must be integrated into all of life, including the media choices we make and how we make those choices. We’ve been trumpeting this message here at CPYU, and over the years tens of thousands of kids have been trained by their youth workers and parents in the 3(D) process of Discover, Discern, Decide that is taught in our How To Use Your Head To Guard Your Heart 3(D) Guide To Making Wise Music Choices. You can learn more about this resource and this process here. It is a skill that when learned will serve our kids well for the rest of their lives. (Here’s a link to a helpful podcast on media discernment: Sex & Christian Parents: Biblical Media Discernment)

So, what now? As you respond to Cardi B and “WAP” in the midst of this teachable moment that’s dropped into our youth ministry and parenting laps, don’t forget to exercise diligence by doing the following:

  • Know God’s design for all of life by immersing yourself in His Word.
  • Live His design with reckless abandon in your life.
  • Teach His design to the kids you know and love.
  • Ask lots of clarifying questions. Listen before you speak.
  • Be patient. Cultural and individual change do not happen overnight.
  • Show the grace, mercy, and love of Jesus Christ as you tell your kids the truth.

And now. . . I’m going to watch Francis Schaeffer. . .

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My Kids, My Identity…

If it doesn’t happen, who is going to be more disappointed? You? Or your kids?

That question haunted me in a personal way as I rode past a high school football stadium during the last week of July. Coaches and players were assembled on the field for workouts in preparation for a season that might or might not happen due to our current pandemic. I rewound 17 years to my own son, and I began to wonder how he would have responded if his last year of high school football had been shut down. Then, I began to wonder how I would have responded as his dad. Truth be told, I don’t know that it would have been easy for me to take it all in stride. . . which I’m afraid reveals an aspect of my character that’s not very attractive.

The reality is that just about every extra-curricular activity in which our kids engage is in jeopardy. Sports, concerts, clubs, academic competitions, and other areas where our kids have a chance to shine might not happen. And what that means is that our parental opportunity to shine through our kids and their talents might disappear as well. I’m not so sure that’s a bad thing.

In his book Parenting: Gospel Principles That Can Radically Change Your Family, Dr. Paul Tripp includes a chapter on the topic of “Identity.” Dr. Tripp states the “Identity Principle” this way: “If you are not resting as a parent in your identity in Christ, you will look for identity in your children.” While expecting our children to be successful and do their best is not a bad thing, far too many of us are harboring parental hearts that are more focused on our children achieving the kind of success that makes us look good, rather than on the child who is required to deliver it. The result is that we crush and embitter our children through the weight of our pressures and expectations. When that happens, God bless our sons and daughters.

The remedy to this is to rest in our identity in Jesus Christ. If we are not finding our identity in Christ, we will to find our identity in something in the creation. . . possessions, vocation, accomplishments, and even our children. Simply stated, this is idolatry. As Dr. Tripp remind us, only Christ is able to give us the identity, peace, and meaning that our hearts seek.

So, how can you know if you are living to find your identity through your children rather than in Jesus Christ? What are the signs that your parenting is driven more by what you need from your children rather than by what God wants to do through you in your children? Dr. Tripp shares these five “sure indications”:

  • Too much focus on success. You want your children to succeed because you need them to succeed.
  • Too much concern about reputation. You rely on your children and their performance to polish your reputation as a parent.
  • Too great desire for control. You control situations and people to make sure your children succeed and enhance your reputation.
  • Too much emphasis on doing rather than being. You focus on your child’s physical, social, and educational accomplishments rather than on their heart.
  • Too much temptation to make it personal. You focus not on how their behavior is viewed by God, but on how their behavior affects you.

Parents, take stock of how you’re parenting. Are you putting undue, spirit-crushing pressure on your kids, or are you seeking to find your identity in Christ?

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HOW TO TAKE A SOCIAL MEDIA “PURPOSEFUL PAUSE”. . .

Two of social media’s most negative effects are 1) How it can become a time waster for both those who post and those who are consumed with reading posts, and 2) how social media is uniquely suited as a playground to indulge our sinful natures in impulsive “speak-before-thinking” ways that lead to all kinds of trouble. . . including glorification of self rather than glorification of God.

In Proverbs we read these wise words: “Do you see a man who speaks in haste? There is more hope for a fool than for him” (Proverbs 29:20) and “When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise” (Proverbs 10:19).

While I am far from consistently hitting the mark, I endeavor to follow the wisdom of Proverbs whenever I’m using social media. Here are some steps that you might find helpful as you take a  purposeful pause” before hitting “send”, “post”, “tweet”, or “reply.” Share these steps with parents, kids, and your church staff as a way to promote healthy social media use as an act of worship. . .

Download the rest of this article as a helpful handout here.

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Love, Sex, and Marriage… The Conversation With Your Kids

For me, my conscious first memories of engaging in the simplest of ways with the topic of love began in Kindergarten. Every year when I was in elementary school, I would spend the evening of February 13 punching out two-dozen Valentine’s Day cards from perforated sheets, signing them with my name, and stuffing them in envelopes. . . each one addressed to a different member of my class. Back then, we used those little dime-store cards to send the same message to everyone. . . male and female as I remember it. . . “Will you be my Valentine?”

Now that I’m grown-up, I often think back to those days and wonder if our willingness to throw our meager and meaningless little expressions of “love” around might have contributed in some way to the widespread confusion about the nature of romance that seems to have gone viral throughout our culture. When I look around at our cultural expressions (movies, TV, music, etc.) and personal practices (premarital sex, cohabitation, sexual identity issues, polyamory, etc.) I wonder if anyone even knows where to go to gain a clear understanding on matters of love, sex, and marriage.

Sadly, we’ve forgotten that love, sex, and marriage all have their origins in God’s good creation. We have to start with the Creator and His design. These days, the culture isn’t doing that. Sadly, many in the church aren’t doing that either. The Creator of humanity has given us love, sex, and marriage as a gift. In Genesis 2:24 we read, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” When understood in this light, we see that our current cultural beliefs and behaviors are not what they’re supposed to be.

We must take the time to teach the kids you and know and love God’s good truth about His order and design for marriage. Don’t wait. Whoever has the conversation with kids first sets the bar and owns the conversation. Will it be the culture? Will it be you?

Theologian John Stott reminds us that we need to see that Genesis 2:24 tells us that marriage is a relationship with 5 facets. Share each of these with your kids:

-Marriage is meant to be heterosexual. It is between a man and a woman. . . nothing more or nothing less.

-Marriage is meant to be monogamous. It is a relationship reserved for one man and one woman.

-Marriage is meant to be a commitment. A man is to leave his father and hold fast to his wife. What’s missing in a relationship where a couple simply chooses to live together is a commitment.

-Marriage is meant to be public. The leaving from parents is a social occasion where a couple commits themselves to each other in front of family and friends.

-Marriage is meant to be physical. A couple becomes one flesh by consummating their commitment to each other through the act of sexual intercourse, something God’s given them to indulge with each other exclusively!

The culture is educating our kids 24/7 on the nature of love, sex, and marriage. Are you telling them the truth?

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MASSACHUSETTS & POLYAMORY. . .

Like you, I saw the headline a few days ago: “A U.S. first? Massachusetts city votes to recognize polyamorous relationships in domestic partnership policy.”

The headline took me back a few years to some things we had written and recorded on this growing trend toward polyamory moving in our culture from vice to virtue. Specifically, we took at look at Polyamory back in the October 2014 edition of our monthly CPYU Parent Page. Here’s what I wrote. . .

The New Monogamy

Last March, an article in Rolling Stone magazine caught my eye. . . and made me grieve. Alex Morris reported on “Tales From the Millennials’ Sexual Revolution” and some troubling values, attitudes, and behaviors that are becoming normalized among our kids as they transition into adulthood.

Unlike the traditional understanding of monogamy where a man and woman are joined together and pledge their faithfulness to one another in marriage, this new monogamy exclusivity really isn’t about exclusivity or faithfulness at all. Rather, partners enter into a marriage, or even cohabitation (who gets married anymore?), with a “primary partner.” Then, they share and even celebrate the understanding that there will also be one or more “secondary partners” who are willingly and openly embraced and acknowledged. Why? Because the “primary partner” will not be able to meet all of one’s emotional or sexual needs. Sure, a version of this has been around for a long, long time. But it used to be called an “affair,” “cheating,” “adultery,” or just plain old “sneaking around.” Now, it’s being called “normal.”

Our culture is moving closer and closer to full-scale acceptance and normalization of what’s known as “polyamory.” The word combines the prefix “poly”- meaning “many or several” – with the Latin word for love, “amor.” In other words, those who embrace polyamory believe in having several emotionally and/or sexually intimate relationships at one time, and doing it all out in the open, with the approval of everyone involved. After all, if its no longer seen as a vice but now a virtue, there’s no reason to even consider hiding anything. This takes the commonly accepted practiced of premarital promiscuity and amps it up to new levels, where it’s not only something that’s expected and celebrated before marriage, but is now accepted and celebrated after marriage. In other words, your kids are now swimming in a cultural soup where relational and sexual faithfulness and exclusivity in marriage might soon be seen as an archaic throwback to a time that was . . . well. . . just plain old-fashioned.

Whether they call it polyamory or not, every one of your students will encounter this trend, and some will even embrace it. How can we equip our students to think about and respond to  polyamory and the new monogamy to the glory of God through being faithful to God’s will and way?

First, you need to talk about the new monogamy. Don’t ignore it or hope it will go away. Engage with your kids as you label, define, and describe polyamory and the manner in which it is sneaking into our culture.

Second, set the bar high for marriage. As Christians, we must always return to God’s Word if we hope to understand his design and intent for the institution of marriage. Marriage is a an exclusive covenantal union between one man and one woman.

And finally, bring the light of God’s Word on marriage to bear on this new understanding of monogamy. Help them to critique the new monogamy to help them see how far it falls short of God’s design for love, sex, and marriage.

I’ll be sharing more perspective on marriage that we can teach our kids in coming days. Stay tuned.

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Pandemic Pornography Use Is Increasing… A Response

It’s not at all surprising that a host of news outlets and researchers are reporting a spike in the use of online pornography during the current Covid-19 pandemic. People of all ages. . . children, teens, and adults alike. . . are hunkered down during the stay-at-home quarantine with extra time, stress, social distancing, loneliness, and boredom on their hands. Consequently, the temptation for those alreadyengaged with pornography is to run to this fallen expression of God’s good gift of sex with greater frequency. And with people of all ages able to access their devices due to increased time, the playground of the internet offers greater opportunity for pornography to find them.

This perfect storm has been seen by pornographers as an opportunity to build their audience. As an example, the world’s largest online porn site, Pornhub, made their exclusive subscription-based premium content free for 30 days. Consider this sad fact: during the 3-week pandemic shutdown in India, porn use increased 95%. In the end, it’s not only Covid-19 that’s going viral, but sexual immorality and the scourge of pornography as well. It’s frightening to think about what the fallout might be.

For parents and youth workers this is a moment that cannot be overlooked or missed. First, we need to help our kids understand that sex, sexuality, and gender are all good gifts from God. Second, we need to help them understand what to do when, not if, they encounter pornography. . . if, by chance, they are one of the few innocent and naive kids left. Third, we must equip ourselves not only for the aforementioned tasks, but to handle the temptation we will experience and face not only now, but for the rest of our lives.

Here are some resources we’ve put together than can help. . .

First, check out our Sexual Integrity Initiative. The website is loaded with all kinds of free resources to help you point your kids away from sexual brokenness and towards sexual flourishing.

Second, download and familiarize yourself with this free handout, A Parents’ Primer On Internet Pornography. This handout offers a succinct overview and response strategy.

And third, carve out some time to listen to this latest episode of our Youth Culture Matters Podcast. . . which features a conversation with Michael Cusick about how to navigate the issues related to increased pornography use during this pandemic.

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13-Year-Olds, Smartphones, And Pornography. . .

Last night I finished reading Rachael Denhollander’s sobering book, What Is A Girl Worth?, which tells the story of her courageous leadership in exposing the systemic sexual abuse of young female athletes by Dr. Larry Nassar. I can’t recommend this book enough. For those of us who might be ignorant of the breadth, depth, and fallout from the epidemic of sexual abuse, this book is an eye-opener.

What many don’t know about Larry Nassar is that in addition to molesting hundreds of victims through his medical practice, he was also deeply addicted to pornography. Not only was he convicted on multiple accounts of sexual abuse, Nassar was also convicted of having over 37,000 images and videos of child pornography on his computer.

As we’ve worked to understand and respond here at CPYU to the growing glut of pornography that is accessible, affordable, and largely anonymous, we have learned that as with all types of human brokenness we need to respond with a three-fold strategy.

First, we need to be prophetic. . . bringing the light of God’s Word to bear on the realities that exist. What do the Scriptures say about the issue of broken sexuality and pornography? And, how do we talk about pornography with our kids? Second, we need to be preventive. What can we do as responsible adults. . . parents, teachers, youth workers, pastors, etc. . . . to build the borders and boundaries that will keep our kids and ourselves from undoing God’s good design for our sexuality through sin? And finally, we need to be redemptive. What steps should we take when we discover that a kid we know has wandered into the dangerous world of pornography? (Many have found Tim Chester’s book, Closing The Window: Steps To Living Porn Free, to be very helpful!). And by the way, it’s not a matter of if, but a matter of when.

I was reminded again this weekend of one of the most powerful preventive steps we can take to provide for our kids’ well-being while protecting them from harm. In an article in the November 2019 edition of First Things, “How To Regulate Pornography,” Terry Schilling writes these words: “A thirteen-year-old with a smartphone in 2019 has greater access to pornography than the most depraved deviant could have dreamed possible two decades ago. . . Not only has pornography become more accessible, it has become more diverse and perverse, as cultural vanguards and even mainstream institutions have promoted sexual fetishism as a new sort of societal norm, if not overtly, then with a wink and a nod.”

While Schilling is right about the difference between then and now, she does shoot a bit on her age estimation. The fact is that in today’s world, the tipping point where more than half of our kids have their own smartphone is now age 11. And what about those kids that have their own smartphones at the age of seven or eight?

We have to ask. . . If we really care about our kids and their well-being, why would we walk them by the hand right up to the doorway into online sexual brokenness by giving them access to the internet through their own smartphones?

If you would like to learn more about kids and pornography, you can download our FREE “Parent’s Primer On Internet Pornography” here. 

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A Woman’s Take On The Super Bowl Halftime Show And Human Dignity . . .

The conversation continues. . . and so it should. . . because these things do indeed matter. (Here’s what I wrote on Monday). And lest you think that all those who care are only singling out the few minutes and participants we saw on Sunday night, that’s not true. What we saw was a brief  and wide-open peek into a widely-held and fast-spreading cultural narrative that’s so deeply embedded in our world and ourselves that it is largely invisible. We know that’s the case for the simple reason that when it is brought to light, the push-back is that it doesn’t even exist. . . or if it does in fact exist, it just doesn’t matter.

I’ve been tracking with the back-and-forth on social media. This morning, I ran across some insightful and heart-felt words from my friend Mindy Summers. Mindy is a young wife and mother who six years ago began a ministry to people who are making a living in the sex-industry. The ministry is called “SoLoved.” Mindy and her team don’t desire any attention, and I asked her permission to share the focus of the ministry and her words. She says, “We are a team of women and men (prayer & security) who reach out to women here locally within the sex industry. Our entire goal is to build relationship & sisterhood with the ladies in the clubs. We want them to know they are loved, valued, seen & that we so enjoy who they are. Every month we bring gifts, homemade treats, handwritten love notes and homemade meals to each club. It has been a true honor & joy. Our vision statement is this: ‘Ministering to women in the sex industry, helping them see they are valued and dearly loved by Jesus, and believing for lasting freedom for their lives.’” Mindy and her team are living the Gospel.

Here’s what Mindy posted the day after the Super Bowl. Her words are filled with hope, truth, and compassion. . .

After I put my babies to bed tonight I ventured online to see this halftime show everyone was talking about…

As I watched two incredibly talented and beautiful women…my eyes welled up with tears.

This is the thing- I am not sheltered. I spend hours in strip clubs every month. Hours. I’ve been doing this for nearly 6 years. I’ve seen a lot of stuff. Our SoLoved team desires to build relationships with the precious women within the walls of these establishments. They are treasures. Most of them are there because of childhood trauma & abuse, lack of opportunity and/or manipulation or coercion. They didn’t dream of this. It isn’t empowering…it’s where they are and they are doing the best with what they’ve been dealt.

…and the men. The men who go…most of them are sorting out their own brokenness within these walls. Porn addiction, broken relationships, loneliness, power trips & addiction are many of their stories.

The supply for the USE of women is due to the demand. The demand is 100% fueled by a hyper sexualized culture.

This all seems expected within the walls of a strip club, right? Sad…but expected.

If that isn’t heartbreaking enough…this. Tonight on a Superbowl halftime show…two super talented women chose to share their God given talents with the football fans by pole dancing and thrusting with little clothes on. In front of the whole world. The moves, the poles, the song lyrics…the sex industry was glorified as empowering tonight.

Let me tell you. That is a LIE. These two ladies choose to shake their tails for the world to gawk at…but there is nothing empowering about women being the recipients of the onlooker’s sexual attention. They have body guards to walk them off the stage. Most women just get a can of mace.

We say we are tired of rape, sexual assault and young girls being told their body is what gives them value…BUT THEN we go and we INVOLVE YOUNG GIRLS in the very scene…at a football game…and the crowd goes wild & we clap and praise it.

So dear young girl-
I bet you are super confused. We tell you that YOU ARE NOT YOUR BODY. We tell you that what’s inside is what needs to shine. We tell you that you have a MIND AND A SOUL. We tell you to take self defense classes, carry mace, watch out for date rape and don’t let a guy pressure you. BUT THEN…we entertain you with pole dancing, thrusting, hyper sexualized lyrics & seductive facial expressions…and we clap for it.

We tell you that women can do anything. Women are equals. Then we bring out two influential women to entertain us…with what? Sex.

Don’t buy into the lie. Women do have minds. They also have self respect. The things that are done in bedrooms and inside strip clubs should never be performed on a stage for strangers and children to watch. And you know what…I’m sorry that this is how things are. You deserve a better world. A world where women are empowered and can use their God given talents in ways that don’t scream sex. Because again…that’s not why women are here.

So dear girl…be proud to be female & don’t for one second believe the lies. Keep offering your gifts to the world in meaningful ways. Be kind. Be a friend. Dance. Paint. Sing. Play. Lead. Learn. Grow. Serve. Think. Do hard things. Change the world.

Again- I’m sorry that you live in a day when you can’t watch a football game without hyper-sexualization. How sad for us…all of us.

I know there will be some who shrug me off as judgmental and want to rave about how talented these superstars are…and let me just say…yes I know they are talented. No doubt. As for the judgmental part- my heart is not out of judgement…but concern for young girls and the messages we are sending about women. God help us.

Thanks Mindy.

(If you’d like to contact Mindy directly, you can do so at solovedcontact@gmail.com)

Here’s a link to one of our favorite books for teenaged girls. . . all about where to find identity in today’s sexually-charged/image- conscious world. . . Face Time: Your Identity In A Selfie World.

To learn more about the pressures on our girls, listen to episode 82 of our Youth Culture Matters podcast here.

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Shakira, JLo, and The NFL… Thoughts On Halftime

I’m really not sure how to put into words the cascade of thoughts, confusion, concern, and sadness that began last night shortly after Shakira took the Super Bowl Halftime stage. . .  and which have continued up to this moment.

My years in youth ministry and culture-watching have, I hope, been marked by growing skills in both the exegesis and interpretation of Word and world. At least that’s what I have endeavored to move towards. And, I hope that the fruit of that journey has been an ability to develop some kind of discernment that might reflect a growing commitment on my part to things that are good, true, right and honorable. It’s a journey that I’m still on and one that I believe all followers of Christ are called to pursue. I say this purely as a precursor to sharing some thoughts sparked by my ongoing study of Word and world, specifically how that all played out in an unsettling manner between halves last evening.

In case you are tempted to miss the significance of last night’s halftime show, remember that culture is both a map and a mirror. It serves both directive and reflective purposes. As a map, it tells us what to believe and how to live in the world. It’s an especially effective map when its pop culture forms are consumed by children and teens. . . who are in developmentally formative years which make them especially vulnerable to blindly following the maps with dedication and without question. What we watched last night was not at all benign. It served as a signpost pointing in a certain direction. As a mirror, last night reflected back to us our collective cultural heart. . . at least what the entertainment moguls desire and expect our collective heart to be. If we’re not all there yet, we at least know that our cultural leash is pulling us in that direction. As William Romanowski has written, “Culture refers to the way that we define and live in God’s world. It is a collection of ideals and beliefs, values and assumptions, that makes up a kind of master plan for living an interpreting life.” Last night that “master plan” played out on the halftime stage.

Rather than using this space to jump into a complete overview of the lives, careers, and worldview messages communicated through the entertainment brands known as Shakira and Jennifer Lopez, here are some thoughts prompted by last night’s cultural moment. . .

First, let’s never diminish or deny the reality of talent and where it ultimately comes from. We saw great talent on display last night. There were the players who have been given athletic talent. The performers. . . Yolanda Adams, Demi Lovato, Shakira, and Jennifer Lopez. . . those ladies can all sing! There were dancers who have been given the ability to move. . . something that I’m totally void of myself! The list of talented people who went into making last night’s Super Bowl game and broadcast a reality is long. . . coaches, producers, owners, administrators, graphic artists, videographers, marketers, etc. . . . all of them incredibly gifted and talented. And lest we forget, when all of them develop and pursue their talent, they are imaging the God who made them by exercising their creativity. The result might not be God-glorifying, but the talent in and of itself always is. Which leads to the next thought. . .

Second, let’s never forget that talent always moves in a direction of glory and praise. Our creativity. . . whether in work, play, academics, or the arts. . . always points in a direction of glory and praise. When talent moves in a direction that promotes the beauty of human flourishing, it gives honor and glory to God. It serves as a signpost where human eyes are not invited to stop and stare, but where human eyes and the hearts they lead to look beyond the creation to the Creator. But when it invites us to settle on the things of the world, the flesh, and the devil. . . then talent leads to the spread of cultural beliefs and behaviors that undermine our human flourishing and are ultimately idolatrous.

Third, we must endeavor to teach our kids how to discern media’s messages and maps. Here at CPYU, we’ve been relentless in our three-decade pursuit to help youth workers, parents, and kids alike learn how to process media critically and Christianly. Our popular tool to facilitate this is our How To Use Your Head To Guard Your Heart 3(D) Media Evaluation Guide.

And this is where I jump off into my great concerns and sadness over what was mirrored to us last evening. . . and the map that was laid out before the hearts and minds of children and adults alike. My thoughts during the halftime show unfolded in a short series of three social media posts.

When the children came on stage I couldn’t help but think, “Isn’t having children in this halftime show some kind of abuse?!?

A few minutes later I registered by dissatisfaction with Pepsi for their sponsorship of the halftime show: “I’m giving up Pepsi products.” And yes, I will be doing that.

And finally, I wrote these words: “I am currently reading Rachael Denhollander’s book, What Is A Girl Worth? I’m going to send copies to Shakira and Jennifer Lopez.”

If you are unfamiliar with Rachael Denhollander’s story, she was one of the main victims and whistle-blowers over physician Larry Nassar’s systemic molestation and abuse of young girls. As I’ve read, I have been reminded of how women are objectified, trafficked, and abused. I couldn’t help but notice the great irony last evening, as we viewed multiple commercials and messages touting the value of women. All humans are divine image-bearers. . . and we are served well when cultural outlets remind us of the value of the marginalized. But there were the reminders of the dark under-belly of the Super Bowl. . . an event that is now recognized as one of the main hubs for sex-trafficking. . . so much so that the this year the state of Florida teamed up with the NFL for a “Stop Sex Trafficking Campaign.”And on the half-time stage, there were the lyrical and visual reminders of the fact that we embrace an expressive individualism largely void of sexual borders and boundaries. The hypocrisy and mixed messages were unavoidable.

What is a girl worth? Far more than we saw last night.

Rachael Denhollander shared this quote from C.S. Lewis: “A man does not call a line crooked unless he some idea of a straight line.” It’s a clear reminder of our need to focus on the straight line of God’s revealed will and way, and to view all of life. . . our own and our corporate human endeavor. . . through the lens of God’s Kingdom priorities.

Some have pushed back saying that to criticize Shakira and Lopez is not an option if you understand Latino culture. The reality is that all culture reflects and communicates deeply held values. And where those values stray from the straight line, we need to pray and humbly push for change. . . not for change that results in conformity to one’s own cultural preferences, but for change that leads to fully experiencing the freedom and joy of true human flourishing. The Gospel confronts all cultures and cultural expressions. . . yours, mine, and ours. Last night’s message to me, to you, to my grandchildren, to all of us. . . it was deeply troubling. We’ve been made for so much more.

This morning, I took the time to read and ponder the lyrics from last night’s set-list. I would encourage you to do the same. You will see the map.

One little line from Jennifer Lopez’s “Jenny From The Block” jumped out at me. . . “Put God first.” That’s a powerful directive.

Perhaps it was timely that this morning as I continued my journey through the One Year Book of Hymns, I read about Frances Ridley Havergal and a hymn she wrote on February 4, 1874. She wrote “Take My Life and Let It Be” as an expression of “the blessedness of true consecration.” As I read the text of this old familiar hymn (see below), I was struck by what it really means to “put God first.” It’s a complete reorientation of everything. I made a list of what Havergal included in her hymn: life, time, hands, feet, body, voice, mouth, money, mind, will, desires, heart, love. . . everything. . . “Take myself – and I will be/Ever, only, all for Thee/Ever, only, all for Thee.”

As we pursue that end, let’s make sure that it is the One true God, His will, and His way that we have in our sights.

  1. Take my life and let it be
    Consecrated, Lord, to Thee.
    *Take my moments and my days,
    Let them flow in endless praise.
  2. Take my hands and let them move
    At the impulse of Thy love.
    Take my feet and let them be
    Swift and beautiful for Thee.
  3. Take my voice and let me sing,
    Always, only for my King.
    Take my lips and let them be
    Filled with messages from Thee.
  4. Take my silver and my gold,
    Not a mite would I withhold.
    Take my intellect and use
    Every pow’r as Thou shalt choose.
  5. Take my will and make it Thine,
    It shall be no longer mine.
    Take my heart, it is Thine own,
    It shall be Thy royal throne.
  6. Take my love, my Lord, I pour
    At Thy feet its treasure store.
    Take myself and I will be
    Ever, only, all for Thee.
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How Being Self-Aware Helps Interrupt The Destructive Porn Cycle

One of the bigger challenges of pornography is being able to disrupt the debilitating porn cycle that leads to “messing up”. If you’ve ever struggled, you know exactly what I’m talking about. You have a genuine desire to move beyond the addiction, but keep finding yourself back in familiar cycles. You wake up in the morning crying out to God, “I’m so sorry! I’ll never do this again!” in a prayer that is heartfelt and real. So, what keeps you stuck then?

1 Corinthians 6:18 says, “Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body.”

What is it about porn that keeps drawing us back even though it’s destructive not only to others but also yourself?

Surprisingly, it’s less about porn than you think. I’m not saying the sexual ramifications aren’t real, but we can almost always identify the events that lead up to the moment we regret.

A different question may be, “How do I catch myself early enough and keep from making self-destructive decisions?”

SELF-AWARENESS IS KEY.

Learning how to become self-aware is essential for feeling empowered. When you don’t understand the “why”, it is easy to feel hopeless and out of control. On the other hand, you begin to feel more in control of your life when you understand what’s causing the internal reactions.

The problem is this: Most of us didn’t grow up in an environment that taught us how to be self-aware.

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We didn’t hear questions like:

“What are you feeling right now?”

“Why are you feeling that way?”

“What caused you to react so aggressively?”

“Why do you feel out of control?”

“Learning self-awareness is like working out a muscle. It will feel a bit awkward at first, but the more you practice, the easier it will get.”

1. Identify your needs. We all have needs. The challenge is to find out what yours are and get them met in a healthy way. If we neglect our legitimate needs, we become reactionary.

2. When you feel a strong emotion, stop yourself and ask, “why am I feeling this way?”

3. Allow your heart to feel emotions. This may sound basic, but you’d be surprised how many people choose to stuff their emotions. It’s not hard to find distractions in today’s world. Social media, fast food, games, smoking, or porn… they’re all escapes in one form or another.  You have to consciously choose to block out temporary distractions to engage your emotions. Even the “negative” ones are there for a reason, helping to alert you of something else. Don’t be afraid to work through them.

4. Find healthy outlets. When do you feel “alive” or “refreshed”? Is it when you’re outsideSpending time with friends? Painting? Journaling? Date night with your spouse? Begin to notice when you feel engaged and present. That’s an indicator that you’ve found a healthy outlet.

When we begin to identify our needs, our pinpoint triggers, give our emotions room to express themselves and find healthy outlets, we are able to identify what’s causing the tendencies for self-harming decisions.

It’s how we can “Flee from sexual sin….”

The good news is learning self-awareness will not only help you with porn but in every other area of your life!

Like anything else in life, it takes time to create habits. Give yourself grace as you learn how to identify areas of your life you may have been neglecting for a long time.

Are there other things you do to maintain self-awareness? If so, I’d love to hear them in the comments below.

This post originally appeared on Josh’s blog. Used with permission.


Josh Cearbaugh is a life consultant with a unique ability to lead people through transformation. Through a combination of consulting techniques, he helps individuals to identify, and then dismantle, the crippling cycles where the majority of us find ourselves stuck. He has a passion for connecting people to their heart and helping them create practical strategies to change their lives. Most Recently, Josh’s consulting practice has been located in Austin, Texas. He met Danielle, his wife of ten years, in Mozambique while attending Iris Harvest School. They currently have two boys an one beautiful girl.

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Preventing Sexual Abuse: 10 Questions to Ask Your Childcare Provider

The following questions are tools for evaluating the safety of your childcare options and preventing, to best of your ability, your child encountering sexualized behaviors or sexual abuse in a daycare setting. 40% of sexual assaults against children happen by other children (1). In addition to evaluating the daycare workers, an evaluation of the children your child will be surrounded by is a beneficial step in ensuring safety. Some of these questions will be more or less relevant depending on the child care setting. A simple rule of thumb is the greater the supervision and the lesser the amount of children (of the same age and size), the safer the environment.

1. Call the licensing body of the childcare provider/facility and ask about sexual misconduct allegations.

These cases are public record. It’s not enough to just ask the worker themselves (though we hope they wouldn’t lie). The licensing body is legally obligated to tell you if there have been allegations or convictions of the childcare entity you are considering. If you are considering a childcare provider who is not licensed, make sure to receive consent to conduct a background check.

2. What is the acceptable age range for children in your care?

Sexual abuse happens when one child imposes more detailed sexual information/behavior on a child from a position of power. Age, size, physical dominance, and developmental advancement all are forms of power that can open your child to potential risk.

3. Have your children ever exhibited harmful behaviors towards others?

This is a great question to ascertain your prospect childcare provider’s level of awareness. If they’re not sure what you mean by harmful behaviors or can’t think of much— that might be a red flag. Behaviors for you to keep in mind and potentially specifically ask about would be physical aggression (biting, scratching, kicking etc.), stealing, unwanted touching, sneaking in pornographic materials, discussing sexual content, urinating on others, inappropriate nudity, threats, coercion, intimidation, secrecy, or foul language/name calling.

4. Would you sign a release of information for me to interview your children’s teachers at school to evaluate if they have ever had aggressive or sexualized behaviors?

This is relevant for a childcare provider who stays home with his or her children and is offering to watch your children as well (an optimal childcare situation). This may seem invasive to some— a preface to the question detailing your intentions in asking for it might be helpful. You’re not trying to determine if they are a good parent or trying to learn personal information about their child. You’re simply assessing if the child has shown aggressive, or sexualized behaviors towards other children in school. A refusal to give a release would not necessarily be a deal breaker for me but it would go a long way in building rapport if they did. In the case of the childcare provider having a teenager who would be active in the care of my child, I would be more insistent on this point.

5. Describe what supervision means to you?

Are children always within line-of-sight? Can they play in the backyard/pool when you’re inside? Are children permitted to play in the bedroom with the door closed?

6. What are your beliefs regarding nudity?

What’s an acceptable amount between children? With adults and children? Every family has norms around nudity: is it okay for a two year old to run around completely nude? What about a four year old? Is it acceptable for boys to have their shirts off? What is the expected swimwear at their house? Do children ever bathe together? Do children use the bathroom or change together? Do they change diapers in front of others or privately? If your child soiled themselves what is their parodical for clean up? It’s good to ensure you are aligned on these points.

7. What avenues are there for children to access the internet? What are the blocks and parameters?

Children’s access to inappropriate media or pornography can be a highly influential factor in sexualized behavior. Children act out and dramatize what they are exposed to through pretend play— it’s important to know what the children are exposed to.

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Ask about phone time, youtube, the apps on the tv, computers, iPads— get a handle on all the potential devices available in the home. Do children ever use devices unsupervised?

8. Was there ever a time you had to set a boundary with a child? What did you do?

Some examples might be a four year old child that wants to give open mouth kisses to every adult they see, a child looking through other people’s drawers, touching fragile objects, or wanting to snuggle in bed, or a child using profane language around other kids. Have their been times the child-care provider set a boundary with a child and how did they handle that? You’re looking for awareness around domains such as personal space, topics of conversation, conflict resolution, and authority.

9. Was there ever a time you had to set a boundary with an adult in regards to your children? What did you do?

This is valuable information. Does the daycare provider have awareness around children and other adults? Relevant topics would be personal space, inappropriate conversation, and discipline. Was there a time another adult tried to inappropriately discipline one of your children/children in your care? Was there a time an adult was using inappropriate language or talking about sexual topics in front of your child/ children in your care? What did you do? Can the childcare provider assert themselves and handle the conflict implicit in asserting boundaries with another adult?

10. What would you do if you witnessed sexual behaviors between children?

Daycare workers should have an understanding of what constitutes normal and problematic sexualized behavior (see “Was that sexual abuse? Or was that normal?”). Assessing the level of insight he or she has in regards to handling crisis situations is useful in knowing if you can trust this person to protect your child.

Bonus:

Ask for a list of 3 references of families who have left their children in the daycare provider’s care. When speaking to those references ask if there were ever any instances of aggressive or sexualized behavior. Did you feel they were adequately supervised or were there times the kids were off on their own? Was there access to pornography or inappropriate media? What was the discipline like? Ask questions regarding the content in the above questions to the point where you/they feel comfortable.

With these questions you will be able gather relevant information needed to promote your child’s safety.

1. Finkelhor, D. (2012). Characteristics of crimes against juveniles. Durham, NH: Crimes against Children Research Center.


Matthias Barker is completing his masters in clinical mental health counseling at Northwest University and is currently practicing at Lutheran Community Services fulfilling his internship. Matthias is working towards specialization in treating children who have undergone severe abuse as well as men recovering from childhood abuse. Before pursuing a counseling career Matthias held pastoral positions at various churches serving as a youth pastor and college internship coordinator. In his free time, he enjoys making ceramic, collecting house plants, and cooking BBQ. Matthias and his wife Paige live in Spokane, WA.

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Was That Sexual Abuse? Or Was That Normal?

It is difficult to determine the line between normal sexual exploration and harmful abuse. I see clients at an agency that specializes in treating children who have survived sexual abuse or have perpetrated against others. 40% of sexual assaults against children happen by other children (1). How does an individual rightly categorize the two when they encounter a nebulous situation?

Here’s a common question we receive at intake:

“They (two children) were playing in the bedroom/pool/backyard— I walked in and I saw them doing _______. Is that normal?”

I have also had conversations with youth pastors and para-church workers who, after witnessing an awkward/disturbing event, were not sure whether to call CPS, the child’s parents, a therapist, or if they should try and handle the situation themselves. There is a tremendous need for an educated understanding of what constitutes normal sexual behavior between children: studies have shown that 40-85% of children will engage in some form of sexual behavior before the age of 13 (2) (3). Children need caring adults who know how to respond.

So let’s start with an important question: what is normal? Is there such a thing as normal sexual exploration and play? Then let’s look at a criteria by which we can evaluate if sexual behavior is harmful or constitutes abuse.

Imagine you’re a kid and your parents tell you to cover up your toes at all times. “It’s inappropriate to show other people your toes…your toes belong to you and no one else… never touch anyone’s toes until you’re married.”

You would think that is pretty strange, right? You might even be curious as to why everyone is so worried about covering up their toes. Come to think of it… you have never really even seen anyone else’s toes.

What would you do?

Perhaps it’s in your personality to be cautious of this kind of thing. The idea of trying to sneak a peek at other’s toes seems pretty out there. Or maybe you’re more curious and you and your friends agree to trade peeks and see what the fuss is all about. Their toes look sorta like yours. Interesting.

Then you hear that the opposite gender’s toes look entirely different than yours— this is world changing news! You must see for yourself.

What kinds of behaviors would be typical of a kid who is curious about forbidden toes? What kinds of behaviors would be odd or indicate that the motive goes beyond innocent curiosity?

Prepubescent children do not experience eroticism in the same way adults do. Children, however, do have all the sexual hardware built in from birth and experience a broad range of pleasure sensations from the nerves on their genitalia. It is not uncommon for children to experience sexual arousal and even orgasm (while this has been observed in children even as early as the womb, sensations such as orgasm take place more typically when approaching puberty (7)). This pleasure, however, is not integrated into the same categories as adults have— children do not have a drive to seek sexual gratification (2). In the child’s mind, genitals are similar to toes. It’s a body part that sometimes feels good, sometimes tickles and sometimes hurts. Through this lens, it seems reasonable and even normal that children might peek, poke, and dramatize what they’ve heard about grown-up behavior. This exploratory play will normally be engaged in mutually and voluntarily, with kids of similar age, size, and developmental status, and be limited in type and frequency (2).

Part of how children learn is through acting out behavior in pretend play. So in addition to curiosity (peeking, and poking), behaviors might include dramatizations of topics such as how babies are made, going to the doctor, or playing house (to name a few). The play will reflect the level of detail they understand about a particular domain (2). Playing house might include a mommy and daddy lying in a bed under the covers— that might even include being partially or fully nude (depending on what they have heard about how babies are made). Kids often go to the doctor and are occasionally asked to undress for inspection of genitalia— this might be acted out in play. Normal sexual play will be driven by curiosity (as apposed to pleasure seeking) and reflect the low detail understanding that would be expected of a child who has not engaged in adult sexual activity (2).

Now when does that play become harmful or abuse? Abuse happens when one child imposes a significantly more detailed sexual experience upon another child from a position of power.

Power can occur on multiple levels— let’s break it down into three categories:

Knowledge power: Children who have been previously exposed to pornography or adult sexual behavior have an adult-level education regarding sexual behaviors. It’s not uncommon for a child who has been sexually traumatized by another to then at- tempt to regain their lost power by acting out sexually with other children in order to feel in control over their past experiences (2).

Physical power: Is one child older than the other? Does one of the children have a developmental delay or disability? Is one child larger in size (even if younger) and therefore have more physical dominance? Was there threat of harm made such as wrestling, pinning down, blocking an exit, or did one child have a weapon (2)?

Social power: Does one child have an authoritative status over the other child such as being the baby-sitter or being an older sibling? Children look up to people they admire, even if that person is not in authority over them. Is one child more socially outcast or isolated than the other? If so, the threat of, “I won’t play with you unless you ____,” is a lot more weighty (2). Were there manipulative social exchanges such as coercion, a bribe, or persuasion to keep a secret (2)?

With these dynamics in mind, let’s look at a few test cases and determine if the situation would constitute normal or abnormal sexual behavior and explore what next steps could be. After, we’ll look at a model to help us respond to circumstances like these that protects both the children’s safety and mental health.

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Situation #1(8)

Two seven year olds appear to be playing doctor and have disrobed down to their underwear. They yell at Mom when she enters their bedroom and tell her they are doing “private things”.

Take a moment and assess what we know thus far: is this normal or advanced sexual behavior? Is there knowledge power at play? “Private things,” could mean a lot of different things. When we as adults think of “private things,” we can fill our imagination with all sorts of sexual possibilities. But think of what the child experiences when they go to the doctor: the door is shut, they’re asked to disrobe, and the doctor might even explain his actions as, “protecting privacy.” This is not necessarily problematic behavior, but let’s continue to assess.

Is there physical power? Let’s say the children were the same age, size, and neither had developmental delays/disabilities. What we don’t know yet is if there was threat or coercion.

Is there social power? There is no status difference or coercion that we’re aware of.

What are possible next steps?

While the behavior does not necessarily look harmful, there is more information we need to gather to insure each child’s safety. We also do not want to needlessly alarm the children and cast shame by falsely accusing them. Without judgment or a tone of voice that would sound like anger, perhaps we start with a clarification that there are no “private things” that we keep from mommy. What happens next could be a list of questions or simply an announcement that mom is going to begin folding laundry in the room with them and they should continue playing their game. If they continue to play, mom can then offer coaching and feedback on what kinds of activities are appropriate and inappropriate. Playing doctor and listening for a heartbeat is fine but clothing should stay on. If the children begin to look ashamed, nervous, and want to leave the room, then more questions could take place to ensure that both children were safe and nothing dangerous was taking place.

When adults happen upon children engaging in nude or sexual play, the response from the adult has massive implications for how the child thinks about the event. I speak to adults all the time that were traumatized as children not by the sexual exploratory play, per-say, but by a teacher’s or parent’s stigmatizing accusation or fearful/hostile reaction (“pervert, what’s wrong with you! Stop being nasty!”). For children, reactions such as this produce shame, guilt, and the feeling that something is wrong with them. Rather than feeling the freedom to ask questions and seek understanding about these behaviors, they’re often avoided and transformed into feelings of self-hate.

Situation 2:

A nine year old boy plays with seven year old developmentally delayed boy. Father walks in the room to find both boys under the covers nude. When asked what was happening, both boys say, “nothing,” but the seven year old is in tears. The seven year old goes home and tells his mother that the nine year old asked him to put his mouth on the nine year old’s penis. The seven year old agreed to do this.

Is there knowledge power at play? Certainly. Oral stimulation is not a behavior that will naturally arise out of the child’s imagination. It is always a learned behavior and constitutes harmful sexual play for two children. Even if neither child ultimately told an adult what they were doing under the blanket, the seven year old crying upon being caught is a good indicator that the play was problematic.

Was there physical power? The nine year old in both age, size and developmental status has power over the seven year old.

Was there social power? We saw secrecy in hiding under the blanket and immediately lying upon being caught. We don’t know whether there was coercion or a bribe. Neither child was a baby-sitter or older sibling but the nine year old might have been given the responsibility watch out for the seven year old given his age and developmental status. The seven year old may have more limited play mates and be more socially vulnerable. There certainly seems to be social power at play.

What would be some good next steps?

Again, it’s not uncommon to be surprised and respond negatively to seeing a child doing something resembling adult sexual behavior. You may feel an impulse to shout, shut down, panic, cry, or leave quickly (2)— let’s look at some responses that we should avoid. From our observations, it is clear this constitutes harmful sexual behavior. However, disciplining or lecturing either child would not be a good step after learning this information. The nine year old seems to be in possession of information he doesn’t know what to do with (the advanced sexual education of oral-stimulation). It is likely that he learned this behavior either from media or an experience he had with another person. He might even be the victim of abuse that hasn’t been brought to light and is confused about this behavior. While his actions were harmful, it might not have been intended to be devious or malicious behavior.

Simply separating the children and ignoring the behavior would be destructive as well: it is likely the children were disturbed by the event that just took place and are feeling shame, fear, or guilt. Without healthy integration of this information and the under- standing of when it is harmful to exhibit this behavior, there is a chance of repeat perpetration.

So what should we do? In the moment, a very calm, nonjudgemental and matter-of-fact tone is best to start asking simple questions and gathering information of what just took place. After hearing what they are willing to disclose, respond with appreciation and positive affirmation for telling the truth.

In the case where they say, “nothing,” stating what you objectively saw would be helpful. “I saw that you both were under the blanket naked. Tell me more about what you were doing.”

If there were any signs of blood, vomiting or if you witnessed penetration, a trip to the emergency room would be your next step. Assuming the situation was as described, after the children’s disclosure, a simple statement about your house rules for this be- havior would be appropriate (without going into a lecture). Perhaps ending with a short statement like, “our house rules are there so that everyone is safe.” It would be best, then, to take your child’s friend home and explain to their parents what you saw. No need to interpret what happened, just a simple calm explanation of what you saw/ heard is adequate.

The first conversation with your child might be intimidating. Starting with love and gentle comfort would be an excellent first reaction. No need to discipline— a simple, “I’m sorry that was scary/confusing for you, I love you and am not mad at you,” is a great start. Follow this by stating what you saw objectively and see if they have any questions. Simple instruction around what that behavior is and when it is appropriate/inappropriate is optimal. If they don’t respond, tell them that you’re open to talking about this experience when they’re ready. No need to interrogate them. You might be thinking, “Okay, no discipline— but how do I make sure this doesn’t happen again? How do I make sure he knows this was wrong?”

Calling a therapist who specializes in “maladaptive sexual behavior” or “problematic sexual behavior” should be the next step. The therapist can adequately evaluate the situation, determine if the authorities need to be contacted and give advice in parenting through these kinds of experiences. The job of a parent is to be supportive and offer stability and love as the child integrates that experience into how they think about themselves, sexuality, and others for years to come (2).

Each potential situation presents unique intricacies that are beyond the scope of this blog to comprehensibly cover. For further information on this topic, see the recommended reading below. Regardless of the circumstance, using the following steps can be a useful tool in keeping children safe and responding to sexualized behaviors:

Assess:

  • Was there knowledge power?
  • Was there physical power?
  • Was there social power?

Respond:

  • In a calm, matter-of-fact, non-judgmental tone, ask what’s happening or state what you objectively see.
  • Make steps to keep children safe (separate and/or seek first-aid if needed).
  • Comfort, gather information, and create opportunity for questions.
  • Contact therapist/authorities

For more reading:Understanding Children’s Sexual Behaviors: What’s Natural and Healthy by Toni Cavanagh Johnson

Sources:

1. Finkelhor, D. (2012). Characteristics of crimes against juveniles. Durham, NH: Crimes against Children Research Center.

2. Gil, E., & Johnson, T. C. (1993). Sexualized children: Assessment and treatment of sexualized children and children who molest. Rockville, MD: Launch Press.

3. Albert B., Brown, S., & Flanagan, C. E. (2003). 14 and younger: The sexual behavior of young teenagers (summary). Washington D.C.: national Campaign to Present Teen Pregnancy.

4. Pereda, N., Guilera, G., Forns, M., & Gómez-Benito, J. (2009). The prevalence of child sexual abuse in community and student samples: A meta-analysis. Clinical psychology review, 29(4), 328-338.

5. Fehrenbach, P.A., Smith, W., Monastersky, C., & Deisher, RW. (1986). Adolescent sex offenders: Offender and offense characteristics. American Journal of Orthopsy- chiatry, 56(2), 225-233.

6. Hunter, J.A., Figueredo, A.J., Malamuth, N.M., & Becker, J. (2003). Juvenile sex of- fenders: Toward the development of a typology. Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Re- search & Treatment, 15(1), 27-48. doi: 10.1177/107906320301500103.

7. Johnson, T. C. , & Mitra, R. (2007). A retrospective study of children’s (twelve and younger) sexual behaviors. Unpublished manuscript.

8. The following scenarios are adapted with minor changes from Gil & Johnson, 1993.


Matthias Barker is completing his masters in clinical mental health counseling at Northwest University and is currently practicing at Lutheran Community Services fulfilling his internship. Matthias is working towards specialization in treating children who have undergone severe abuse as well as men recovering from childhood abuse. Before pursuing a counseling career Matthias held pastoral positions at various churches serving as a youth pastor and college internship coordinator. In his free time, he enjoys making ceramic, collecting house plants, and cooking BBQ. Matthias and his wife Paige live in Spokane, WA.

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This School Year – Keep The Conversation Going

Over and over again I learn how important a parent’s voice is when it comes to the conversations surrounding sex and sexuality. Parental involvement is critical in forming healthy sexual attitudes and behaviors. There are three areas I think parents can focus on this school year that will make a big difference in the years ahead.

Communication is KEY

Yes, peer and media influences impact youth and probably more than ever before. However, parents continue to be the largest influence of sexual attitude formation among adolescents. An important piece of parental involvement is communication between parents and children. 

Parental expectations regarding sexual activity have significant impacts on young adult sexual activity, particularly regarding first sexual encounters. This can only happen though if the parent is communicating their value to their child. Parental attitudes and expectations have been found to be protective, and as parental disapproval and communication of sexual integrity messages are communicated over and over, the likelihood of your son and/or daughter living out these values increases dramatically. 

It is worth noting though, how we communicate matters! While communicating messages of sexual integrity can contribute to delayed sexual experience, too much control or authoritarianism can lead to the opposite effect. Simply challenging your kids to wait and make it more about a rule than a change of heart can have just the opposite effect! 

Children Need to Know YOU Care!

In addition to communication, general care is often correlated with timing of sexual initiation. Support, perceptions of closeness and connection all factor into an overall caring environment. A few years ago, I read about a Dutch study that found favorable perceptions of parental care, support and connection are correlated with delayed sexual experience. I think the Dutch were on to something! 

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Simply communicating is not enough if your children don’t know you really care about their overall well-being. Being connected to a parent functions as a tool that protects against early sexual involvement. Take time to be with your children, enter their world, and get to know the things they are involved with throughout the school year. This will have a tremendous impact on the way in which your words (communication) land on them during the school year. 

Don’t Be Afraid To Be The Parent

The popular notion is to be a child’s best friend but this can undermine your authority. Being close to your child is important but don’t forget the role you play as their parent! Studies that have looked at parental control and sexual experience find that higher levels of control (less permissiveness, more supervision, and parents perceived as more strict) correlate with a delay of first sexual intercourse. It is worth noting that control alone may be counterproductive in reducing sexual activity, but is effective if coupled with care and communication.

Making a distinction between authoritative control (clear and fair demands) and authoritarian control (an arbitrary insistence on obedience), is important to isolating the most effective factors of encouraging sexual health. Again, this all works together, but when you engage in your child’s world you become more aware of what they are watching, listening to, and who their friends are. Higher levels of monitoring were associated with lower levels of sexual risk-taking, and delayed sexual initiation. 

When a parent communicates effectively, shows they care, but also is not afraid to show their authority when it’s required, have youth that more often than not delay sexual activity and are less likely to engage in risky behaviors. So as this school year begins take note of each and keep the dialogue moving forward!


Jason Soucinek is the Executive Director and founder of Project Six19. Dedicated to talking honestly about matters of sex, sexuality and relationships. Jason has spent more than a decade engaging audiences of all ages and backgrounds. He is an internationally recognized seminar and conference speaker and published writer on issues surrounding sexuality and youth culture. He can be heard on Project Six19’s podcasts, “DriveTime” and “Mixtape” as well as the CPYU podcast, “Youth Culture Matters.”

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What’s The Big Deal With Pornography!?!

This blog was adapted from the first episode of the second series of Project Six19’s podcast, DriveTime.

There is a story that is being worked out around us and within us. In Genesis 1 and 2 we find God made all things and made them good. The very beginning of scripture reveals this truth. “God saw all that He had made and it was very good.” – Genesis 1:31.

But the story also includes humankind’s rebellion, which resulted in all things being broken and distorted. “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. . .” – Genesis 3:6-7

We are broken people living out a broken and distorted sexuality. 

This truth must not escape us. It is especially important for us to remember as we dive deep into the issues surrounding pornography. There is a constant battle for what God declared as good and what satan does to distort and bring destruction. 

Pamela Paul writes in her book pornified: “The pornification of American culture is not only reshaping entertainment, advertising, fashion, and popular culture, but it is fundamentally changing the lives of more Americans, in more ways, than ever before. We are living in a pornified culture and we have no idea what this means for ourselves, our relationships, our society.” Porn surrounds us 24/7. Some of it is undercover and hidden while some of it lurks out in the open. It is easy to say as a culture and even individually we have become desensitized to some of the images and content that we now consider common and accept it by saying “it’s just the way it is.” 

This is the reality of the world we now inhabit.

The average age of first exposure to pornography is now 11 years old. For many years it was 12 years old but with the advent of the smart phone we are finding that there is a correlation between first time smart phone ownership and pornography exposure. Parents please don’t let this pass by you. Smartphones are the place where first time exposure happens the most and setting up healthy boundaries before they ever get the phone is important! 

But we need to also pay attention to who pornographers target most. Historically, we’ve thought children 12-17 were the targets of most of their advertising. But that is not true. Yes, they are the largest group viewing pornography but not whom they target most. That group belongs to boys ages 5-9! Please note: This is not because they are sexually aroused by the material but because they are curious about the human body.  

Going just a step further, in 2015, 32% of teens admitted to intentionally accessing nude or pornographic content online. Of these, 43% do so on a weekly basis.

Finally, by age 18 over 90% of boys and over 60% of girls have been exposed to online pornography.

Which requires us to say this – the porn epidemic is not only a “guy issue.” Girls ages 18-25 are the fastest growing group of those looking at pornography.

At this point in the conversation, it’s crucial that we take the time to actually define pornography. We can think we are talking about the same thing and realize how one person defines porn might not be the same as the next person. Therefore, being on the same page is important. 

Let’s start with a couple of definitions for adults. We really like the way Tim Chester in his book Closing the Window: Steps to Living a Porn Free Life defines porn – “Anything we use for sexual titillation, gratification, or escape – whether it was intended for that purpose or not.”

Focus on the word ANYTHING. Sometimes we try to fit pornographic images or writing into a box but this definition says ANYTHING, which means it might be different from one person to the next but it is clear about its intent.

One other definition to discuss comes from Harvest USA – They say pornography is “anything the heart uses to find sexual expression outside of God’s intended design for relational intimacy. It is anything that tempts or corrupts the human heart into desiring sexual pleasure in sinful ways.”

Obviously these definitions might not make sense to your kids, especially if they are younger. When trying to share what pornography is with younger kids, consider these key points: First, let your children know that pornography includes pictures of people without clothes on. Second, it may make you feel uncomfortable, embarrassed, or sick to your stomach (might also say words like “gross” or “weird”). On the flip side it may also feel exciting – which can be very confusing to have both feelings at the same time – but it is possible!

Now that we’ve defined pornography, let’s talk about how it negatively effects us. Researchers are finding that pornography influences more than just behavior. Pornography also reshapes the brain, breaks down relationships and has an impact on the community.

Pornography Harms The Brain

Studies have found that exposure to pornography between 9 and 13 is linked to high-risk behaviors. This is mostly due to how the brain processes the information it receives and an inability to separate fantasy and reality as it relates to sexuality. 

Watching porn lays down new neural-pathways in your brain. The more you use, the stronger the neural-connections and the more difficult it is to stop. This means your brain can actually begin to rewire itself causing an individual who habitually looks at pornography to get lost in the fantasy.

It Destroys Relationships

In real life, real love requires a real person. Research found that after men are exposed to pornography, they rate themselves less in love with their partner than men who did not see any porn. On top of that, another study found that after being exposed to pornographic images, people were more critical of their partner’s appearance. 

Several studies also show that partners of porn users often report feeling loss, betrayal, mistrust, devastation, and anger when they learn that the other half of their committed relationship has been using porn. Many even show physical symptoms of anxiety and depression. 

Porn is a product. It makes you miss out on the best parts of actual relationships. 

It Impacts Community 

So often we can think of pornography only really impacting the user. But that causes us to forget the impact on family, friends, spouses, significant others, and on and on. It also does not take into account those who create and participate in making pornography. Their own experiences are often flooded with drugs, diseases, rape, and abuse. Many victims of sex trafficking are used to film pornography. 

Porn’s reach has gone beyond the magazine and dingy store fronts. It is all around us and it is having a dramatic impact.

One last thing:

If porn is seen by kids it is important to let them know this should never be kept secret. For more on secrets and surprises please be sure to check out the third episode of DriveTime, Series 1.

DriveTime is a tool for you as a parent to get equipped, so you can better engage the world your son or daughter inhabits.

Check out further discussions around parenting and all the reasons you should be encouraged on Project Six19’s podcast, DriveTime.

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4 Ways To Porn-Protect Your Home

This blog was adapted from the fifth episode of the second series of Project Six19’s podcast, DriveTime.

One thing – no one solution will protect you 100%. We don’t live in boxes and there is going to come a time where pornography makes its way into your families life. The hope, however, is to mitigate its influence and impact as best as possible. Make Sure Your Kids Know Your Values. Ask yourself the following questions:

  •     Does my family have a view of sexuality founded on the truths in scripture?
  •     Do my kids know I value these same truths when it comes to sex, sexuality, and relationships?
  •     Do my kids have an understanding of what pornography is and how to reject it immediately if they see it?
  •     Do my kids feel comfortable talking with me about all things related to sex and sexuality?
  •     Are you giving a lecture or engaging in questions and dialogue when you discuss these subjects with your kids?

If you’re able to answer yes to most or all of these questions you are well on your way to porn-protecting your home.

Block Access Points

What are you doing to block access to pornography? Communication is by far the most important tool when protecting your home but it doesn’t hurt to have some tools that help you stop porn from ever entering your home.

Recognize where the points of access are in your home. These include a variety of locations – most of them found online. The obvious culprit is going to be mobile devices. Having a game plan for when your kids receive their first device should be well thought out. Remember, the most common point of entry for first-time porn exposure is through mobile devices. So knowing how they will be used before they are ever in your kid’s possession is important. 

If your kids already have a device then be sure to use the parental controls on the device. Also, limit the number of apps they can have on the device at one time. This better helps you (and them) manage what is coming and going. I might also consider removing the browser, social media channels, and YouTube from the phone till you feel they are ready. 

Encourage your kids to be open and honest with you about what apps they use on their phones or tablets. For some families, a “no secret password” policy works, where family members either forego the use of passwords on their devices or share their passwords with you, the parent.

From time to time, take an inventory of which apps your family members have downloaded, what they seem to spend the most time on, and what the purpose or content of the app entails. If necessary, use a service like OurPact, which allows you to set time limits, block calls from strangers, and more.

You might want to also consider Netflix, Hulu, and other similar accounts. Most services have filters or kid-friendly channels. Hulu has parental controls, so does Netflix, Amazon, and Sling. Take the extra time to set up filters and controls to keep your family safe.

Consider How You Spend Time With Your Kids

Often we spend time with our kids on our terms at the places we choose. However, this may take away opportunities for us to enter their world and learn about other points of access. 

For instance, video games are a popular way kids spend time playing. Sit down and play the games with your kids, or at least watch them play. This will help you make sure the game complies with your family standards. Also, be smart about which games you let your children play. Use the ESRB rating system (“E for Everyone,” “T for Teen,” etc.), but be sure to use it wisely. Even a Teen rating on a game may not be suitable for teens in your home.

The same could be said of books, music, or television shows. Take time to enter their world and listen to what they are hearing and watch what they are seeing.  

Utilize Filters

Finally, there are some great new filters for the home that help you manually control content on each of the devices connected to your internet. One of those is Circle by Disney. This deviceconnects to your router and allows you to filter content on every device connected through WiFi. This will also allow for TIME LIMITS on certain apps, such as social media, YouTube, and Minecraft.

Another filter is Koala safe. This deviceallows you to establish a child-safe WiFi network. When your child’s friends come over they can use the child-safe WiFi password to connect. The filters and limits previously established on this child-safe network will be applied to the friend’s device or phone as well.

There are many others and finding the one that works best for you and your family will be important. But do it before it’s too late.


DriveTime is a tool for you as a parent to get equipped, so you can better engage the world your son or daughter inhabits.

Check out further discussions around parenting and all the reasons you should be encouraged on Project Six19’s podcast, DriveTime. Available now where ever you get your podcasts.

Jason Soucinek is the Executive Director and founder of Project Six19. Dedicated to talking honestly about matters of sex, sexuality and relationships. Jason has spent more than a decade engaging audiences of all ages and backgrounds.

Walt Mueller is the founder and President of the Center for Parent/Youth Understanding and has been working with young people and families for over 35 years.

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2 Lies The Church Tells Us About Porn

This blog was adapted from the fourth episode of the second series of Project Six19’s podcast, DriveTime.

The culture is full of many lies when it comes to pornography and sadly, so too is the church. And not because of anything they do on purpose. It’s with good intent but a lack of knowledge or willingness that the church can sometimes communicate something it doesn’t plan or hope to share.

How we speak about, engage, and tackle this issue communicates what we believe about not just pornography but all of sex and sexuality. That is why it’s important for us to discuss the issues surrounding pornography with honesty both in our homes and in our church. 

Please be aware – even though we are speaking about the church we recognize it’s dangerous to say this is true for every church because it’s not. These are simply lies that have taken place in some churches and have in some way made it into our larger lexicon of beliefs surrounding this subject. The majority of churches are doing great work around the issue of pornography. 

We must be vigilant when it comes to any lie that either the culture or the church shares. Our goal must be to point back to the creation story and God’s ultimate plan as the sex-maker.

Lie 1: Everyone Who Looks at Porn is Addicted

Not everyone who watches pornography will become immediately enslaved. Sometimes we hear from parents who worry their child will become an addict after being exposed a few times. Too often, as fear and shame enters the parent-child relationship, it can make the problem worse by creating distance and isolation. While we are looking at how to navigate the pitfalls of pornography, we have to also recognize that those who fall into porn are not “bad” people, and not all people who are exposed become addicted.

The desire to watch porn arises, in part, from simply being a sexual human being. It’s true that science and research are showing the harms of viewing pornography, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to automatically ruin their lives and turn every person who watches into a hopeless porn junkie. 

Here is a legitimate question. Do we as Christian leaders interchange the words habit and addiction without meaning so? Understanding the difference between habit and addiction is extremely important. Especially as it relates to how one engages pornography. One noticeable difference between habit and addiction is the amount of effort and time required to change the behavior. Altering habits require minimal effort, time, and attention. On the other hand, addiction often demands an integrative, long-term plan to treat negative physical, social, and spiritual symptoms like withdrawal, as well as the emotional disconnect between body and behavior.

As a human being, you are naturally drawn to habitual patterns because repetition creates familiarity and comfort. Positive habits can even become tools of survival. Sometimes, however, habitual behaviors take a dark turn and develop into addictions. Recovery requires that you honestly assess your behavior and how it is affecting your health, relationships, job, spirituality, and life to understand the difference between habit and addiction.

Someone who habitually watches porn is dramatically different than someone who is addicted to porn.

When trying to assess your son or daughter’s pornography use, it can help to hear some of the warning signs of porn addiction. These include:

  • Being consumed with thoughts of porn even when they are not actively viewing it.
  • Viewing porn on a smartphone, iPad, and/or iPod during school, work, or in social situations where you might be seen.
  • Feeling ashamed, guilty, or depressed about their porn viewing.
  • Continuing to watch porn despite any harm it has had, is having, or may have on their relationships, school, work, or home life.
  • Early onset of sexual activity. 
  • Getting upset when asked to stop using porn.
  • Losing track of time when viewing porn.
  • Trying and failing to quit.

If you thought you observed more than three or four of these warning signs in your son or daughter it would be good to seek professional help. Most times, however, what we observe in church could be described as a habit, which requires the breaking of a custom or norm. 

Lie 2: I Am The Only One That Struggles With Pornography

Silence, unfortunately, is something the church can do quite well. As the number of those who struggle with pornography increase, along with an ever-growing number of individuals who experience other forms of sexual brokenness, it is unfortunate the church as a whole doesn’t engage the issues surrounding sex and sexuality more often.

There are a variety of reasons for this silence. We think it’s our own pasts and sexual baggage that keeps us silent, and dealing with sexual brokenness in our life and the lives of others is messy so we avoid it. I also think we don’t have a complete understanding of God’s grand design as the sex-maker, or maybe we simply just want to pretend everything is okay. Staying silent may seem easier than addressing these issues. 

Think about what this silence breeds. It can make people believe that their struggle is unique and that no one else has this same issue. This can make them retreat and cause shame to grow. 

And remember shame communicates, “I AM A MISTAKE” where as guilt communicates “I MADE A MISTAKE”. Those are dramatically different statement. So its important to recognize silence can make people believe they are not valuable. 

Adolescence is a period of life spent at the crossroads. It’s a time marked by overwhelming change, numerous questions, and a search for answers. But the crossroads where they stand are anything but quiet and desolate. Not sure which direction to take, our children and teens are presented with an abundance of confusing options. The noise can be deafening. Perhaps the signposts they choose to follow are the ones that are most attractive, loud and convincing in response to their unspoken teenage cry of ”Show me the way!” This is why we need to be absolutely clear when we talk to our kids about sex and sexuality. This includes our conversations surrounding pornography. Silence should never be an option.

There is a reason our kids are drawn to the naked human body – they were created to desire this. But there is a plan and a place where God has prepared for us to experience this desire – in the covenantal marriage relationship and we should be speaking this at every intersection along the way!


DriveTime is a tool for you as a parent to get equipped, so you can better engage the world your son or daughter inhabits.

Check out further discussions around parenting and all the reasons you should be encouraged on Project Six19’s podcast, DriveTime. Available now where ever you get your podcasts.

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3 Lies The Culture Tells Us About Porn

This blog was adapted from the third episode of the second series of Project Six19’s podcast, DriveTime.

The culture is full of stories of how porn doesn’t hurt anyone. Pornography used to exist in the dirt and dark shadows of society and culture. While it existed, there were commonly held standards and societal safeguards that kept it at the fringes and out of the mainstream. But that has all changed in a relatively short period of time. 

It’s no longer a matter of if you will see pornography…it’s only a matter of when. Those long held standards and safeguards have declined to nothing. Accessibility, affordability, and anonymity have all played a factor in making porn readily and easily available.

50 years ago, you had to interact with someone to personally purchase or secure pornography by buying it at quick mart or seven eleven. 35 years ago you could rent a VHS tape from a rental store. Both required you to stand before someone and make a purchase. 

Today technology allows someone to access pornography from their fingertips without ever having someone know, and the supply is unlimited. Type “XXX” into google you will get well over a billion results. 

Never before has pornography been so accessible and it also doesn’t cost you anything. Most of it is available for free online. 80%-90% of what is accessed is free material. All of which can be done sitting alone in your home while hiding your identity.

Because of this unlimited accessibility, our perceptions of pornography have changed. As society changes its standards and established safeguards, so too does our perception of pornography. 

Lie 1: Porn Doesn’t Hurt Anyone.

The truth is that the pornography industry regularly exploits the women and children they use in the making of their content.

In their analysis of over 80 million child pornography images since 2002, The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children found that 1 out of every 6 runaways reported in 2016 were likely sex-trafficking victims. This means these children were likely involved in either the adult entertainment industry (pornography) or sex trafficking.

These statistics also reveal many “porn stars” are involved against their own will. A common practice is to “groom” women through online ads luring them to serve in an escort service. A trafficker or “madam” (female leader of trafficking victims) then continues to push the victim toward a one-time role and then ongoing role in prostitution, pornography filming or a combination of these practices.

And the problem does not stop outside the doors of the church.

Most pastors (57 percent) and youth pastors (64 percent) admit they have struggled with porn, either currently or in the past, the Barna Group reported in a 2016 study. “Overall, 21% of youth pastors and 14% of pastors admit they currently struggle with using porn.” More than 1 in 10 youth pastors (12%) and 1 in 20 pastors (5%) said they are addicted.

Lie 2: Porn Helps Increase Sex Drive and Sex Life.

First, pornography distorts your view of sex and sexuality. We must remember that sex is a GOOD thing created by God to experience and share with each other within the boundaries of lifelong, exclusive, covenantal marriage. Sex is a means to foster marital intimacy for mutual pleasure and for procreation.

Pornography takes all that and turns it into something entirely separate from this plan. Sex is seen as purely physical – void of intimacy, closeness, oneness, relationship, and commitment. It’s all about the mechanics of what you get, rather than what you give. It also teaches that sex is primal, hormone-driven, and conquest-driven. 

Second, it SUPER-SIZES sexual expectations. Women are taught to behave like porn stars, men are taught to be aggressive in their pursuit, and sexual perversions are normalized. What was once disturbing is now tame, normal, and acceptable. We become conditioned to act outside of our God-ordained destiny as it relates to sex.

Lie 3: Porn Doesn’t Have a Lasting Impact.

First, Pornography causes an earlier onset of sexual activity in our children. In one study it showed an association between pornography use and increased acceptance of behaviors such as; premarital sex, casual sex, multiple sexual partners, cohabitation, premarital pregnancy, and substance abuse.

Second, it can lower an individual’s libido. A 2015 study by researchers at the University of California found a rare positive correlation between porn watching and libido. Couple this with an increase in erectile dysfunction in recent years in otherwise healthy young men, and it is largely thought that excessive porn use was the most likely the factor at play.

Finally, let us not forget how it hijacks the brain. There is legitimate scientific research and evidence coming out all the time that shows how pornography is harmful to the brain. We’re seeing more evidence about porn’s capability to change how the brain functions. Neuroscientific studies show that repeatedly viewing porn causes the brain to literally rewire itself. It triggers the brain to pump out chemicals and form new nerve pathways, leading to profound and lasting changes in how one sees sex, enters relationships, and engages with both.

These lies remind us of the importance of healthy discussions we have surrounding pornography in the home. It’s a good thing to talk about pornography because it’s one of the greatest threats to the spiritual and relational health of ourselves and our children. It’s an unfortunate thing because it’s so pervasive and enticing in today’s world. The statistics tell us this, our own experience tells us this,  common sense tells us this, and the sheer number of stories we see, hear, and find ourselves in tell us this. 

But here is the fortunate part, you and I have the opportunity to talk about God’s good gift of sex as the sex-maker with our children.


DriveTime is a tool for you as a parent to get equipped, so you can better engage the world your son or daughter inhabits.

Check out further discussions around parenting and all the reasons you should be encouraged on Project Six19’s podcast, DriveTime. Available now where ever you get your podcasts.

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Teen Vogue: Inviting Teens To Legitimize Sex Work

Teen Vogue magazine is not longer available in print, but it continues to pump out content in its’ free online format. In other words, it’s accessible. The target audience is girls between the ages of twelve to seventeen. Of course, there are those outside of the target (both younger and older) who access the content online.

Owned by Conde Nast, the magazine’s mission and purpose is stated this way. . . “Teen Vogue is the young person’s guide to saving the world. We aim to educate, enlighten and empower our audience to create a more inclusive environment (both on-and offline) by amplifying the voices of the unheard, telling stories that normally go untold, and providing resources for teens looking to make a tangible impact in their communities.”

Recently, Teen Vogue’s efforts to “educate, enlighten and empower” impressionable kids included an op-ed piece by Dr. Tlaleng Mofokeng of South Africa’s Nalane for Reproductive Justice entitled, “Why Sex Work Is Real Work.” This is not a joke.

In the piece. . . which for the life of me I can’t even imagine why it was included in a magazine for kids. . . Mofokeng argues that sex work (prostitution, sex trafficking, etc.) should be decriminalized globally. She ridiculously argues first that since as a medical doctor she is involved in advising patients on sexual health for payment, she is a sex worker herself. She even asks, “And in some ways, aren’t we all?”  She continues, “Sex workers must be affirmed through upholding and the protection of their human rights to autonomy, dignity, fair labor practices, access to evidence-based care. It is for this and many other reasons that I believe sex work and sex worker rights are women’s rights, health rights, labor rights, and the litmus test for intersectional feminism.”

Mofokeng lets her young readers know that sex work is something that can be legitimately bought and sold. . . “So, what exactly is sex work? Not all sex workers engage in penetrative sex, though, undeniably, that is a big part of sex work. Sex-worker services between consenting adults may include companionship, intimacy, nonsexual role playing, dancing, escorting, and stripping. These roles are often pre-determined, and all parties should be comfortable with them. Many workers take on multiple roles with their clients, and some may get more physical while other interactions that may have started off as sexual could evolve into emotional and psychological bonding. The clients who seek sex workers vary, and they’re not just men. The idea of purchasing intimacy and paying for the services can be affirming for many people who need human connection, friendship, and emotional support. Some people may have fantasies and kink preferences that they are able to fulfill with the services of a sex worker.”

While the inclusion of the piece in a teen magazine and the reasoning of the piece may seem to you to be morally reprehensible and horribly flawed, think again. Sure, for those of us who hold to a world view that values God-given human dignity, believes in freedom through the embrace of our full humanity as rooted in the image of God, and believes that the pursuit of sexual shalom is God’s life-giving will and way. . . well, the op-ed piece is a mark of our continued slide into the insanity of moral schizophrenia. But for those who are growing up in our brave new world built on a foundation of expressive individualism, this is nothing more than an accepted and logical conclusion. Ultimately, we’ve lost our collective mind.

So what should we do with this?

If you are a youth worker, I’d be making parents aware of the piece in Teen Vogue, along with its’ larger moral context. I’d also be letting parents know that even if their kids never access Teen Vogueor read this particular piece, they are engaging with peers who are steeped without thought or critique in this kind of believing and behaving. It will be communicated, lived, and rubbing off in the course of daily life. This is simply the way it is. So, parents must be processing this with their kids in age-appropriate ways.

Which leads to my next bit of advice. . . we must grasp the fact that this is certainly not the way its’ supposed to be. God’s good gift of sexuality is being distorted and denigrated in a variety of ways. What was once unthinkable is now normalized. But that doesn’t mean that normal is or should be acceptable.  We must communicate the truth about sex, sexuality, sexual immorality, and sexual trafficking (both that which is willing, and that which is forced).

I have been wondering when the bottom would fall out on the foundational commonly-held belief that sexual trafficking is despicable and must be undone. Sadly, Teen Vogue is making me wonder if we taken the first horrible step in the direction of the abyss. This is not what it means “to save the world.”

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Parents: Be Encouraged!

This blog was adapted from the sixth episode of Project Six19’s podcast, DriveTime.

So often parents can feel overwhelmed and defeated before the conversations surrounding sexual integrity even begin. Don’t worry, you’re not alone. Simply having a willingness to engage in this subject with your children makes a world of difference. Here are four things to remember as you engage in this conversation.

Parents, your voice matters!

Study after study shows that a parent’s voice has a lasting impact. For instance, one study asked parents who they thought had the most influence on their teens’ sexual choices. Close to half of the parents thought their teens’ friends had the most influence, but here’s the good news: in reality, 45 percent of teenagers ages 12 to 14 said parents were the most influential, with friends coming in a distant second at 31%. 

In another study, in which 15,000 7th-12th graders were surveyed, it was found that kids who perceived that their parents disapproved of teenage sexual activity were less likely to become sexually active. Finally, another study of more than 1,000 12 to 16 year old’s found that the more parents communicated with their kids about sex, the less likely the kids were to have sexual intercourse. This is good news. It means your voice matters… but this means your voice needs to be heard. Your value needs to be shared!

Provide a map for your children.

As you are teaching and giving good biblical sex education you need to understand that you are providing a map. Our children are swimming 24/7 in a soup that is flavoring the way they think, act, and reflect on sex. Because the cultural stuff they swim in everyday serves as a map (telling them what to believe and how to live), we must know where the cultural map is sending them. Then, we must respond by showing them the way of God’s map for their lives. Effective ministries to children and teens–whether in the church or home – are marked by a balanced, three-fold response to everything we see in the soup.

First, respond to what you see in the soup prophetically. Make an intentional effort to look for and seize opportunities to speak biblical truth into their lives in response to the realities that exist. Looking in the soup will reveal the realities that exist. Spending time with Jesus in his Word will shape your prophetic response. At times, you will find yourself affirming where the map of culture is sending kids in the right direction, yet at other times you’ll challenge the map where it sends them down the wrong road. Maybe the best way to put forth a prophetic response is to follow the lead of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. Do you remember how he did this? He would begin by saying something like, “You have heard it said that. . .” Then, he would lay out whatever the popular cultural belief was. Then, he would continue by saying, “but. . . I tell you. . .” Then, he would lay out the Kingdom way of looking at the matter. Your kids are soaking in a culture that shapes their values, attitudes, and behaviors with lots and lots of “you have heard it said that’s.” Your responsibility it to expose the “you have heard it said that’s,” and then correct them with the scripture’s “but I tell you’s”. That’s what it means to respond prophetically.

Second, respond to what you see in the soup preventively.All parents share a great concern for their kids’ physical well-being when they are young. We know enough about children to know that they might wander into the street, talk to strangers, or reach for hot stuff. As a result, we do our best to prevent them from wandering into the street, talking to strangers, and burning themselves on a hot burner or dish. Likewise, if we care about the spiritual health of our children, we should answer the map’s faulty directions preventively, by going out of our way to equip them to face all of life and its challenges in a way that brings honor and glory to God. They need us to pass on the valuable information we’ve learned about life so that they adopt values, attitudes, and behaviors that keep them from harm and tend to their spiritual well-being. One very practical suggestion is to regularly offer your kids opportunities to evaluate their music, media, and advertising from a Christian perspective. Not only does this preventive measure teach them to think through a Christian lens about all of life, but it opens the door to address all the topics in the media “soup” from a biblical perspective.

Finally, respond to their sin, failures, and mistakes redemptivelyAll children face temptation, and all children will make dangerous and sinful choices. Remember, they’re young, impressionable and very vulnerable. The determining factor in whether or not a bad choice turns into a situation that gets better or worse depends largely on your response. Your goal should be to help the child redeem these situations by turning a mistake into an opportunity for the them to become a more Godly and Christlike person. Don’t ever write off any child as hopeless or irredeemable. Rather, treat her as you know your heavenly Father treats you – regularly! – when you are the offending party.

Conversations surrounding sex are complex

Finding the right words, scripture, moment and clarity to effectively communicate your values in a world that is quickly changing can be difficult and it can cause you to freeze up and do nothing. But recognizing this truth will help you as you prepare to enter into this dialogue. You may not know the answers to the questions your children ask…and that is absolutely okay. One of the best things you can say to your son or daughter is “I don’t know but let’s find out together!” Make these conversations an opportunity to enter into the messiness of all this and point to God’s good plan for sex and sexuality.

First, protect what you can! There are elements in your son or daughters world that you can help eliminate. Parental controls on computers and phones can help prevent exposure to pornography. Setting tech boundaries will assist you in the ways you protect against unwanted content from making its way into your home. Also, look into signing a digital covenant with your children. This will help in developing healthy boundaries that lead to better understanding around the use of phones, tech, computers, and even TVs.  

Second, recognize your response mattersin times of crises. Because your voice has an impact you need to put into place a rhythm that helps you respond to your children when they disobey or disappoint us. Some of these include, controlling your anger when they do something you don’t approve of and remembering to go after their heart, not their behavior. Use the times they make a mistake as opportunities to discuss God’s VERY GOOD intent for their lives. 

Each of these will help you in this journey as you engage the complexity of sex in today’s culture. It might not be easy but we are thankful for parents that have willingly stepped into this journey and started a conversation that will positively impact your children’s lives.

DriveTime is a tool for you as a parent to get equipped, so you can better engage the world your son or daughter inhabits.

Check out further discussions around parenting and all the reasons you should be encouraged on Project Six19’s podcast, DriveTime. Available now where ever you get your podcasts.

This post appeared on Project Six19’s blog. Used by permission.

Jason Soucinek is the Executive Director and founder of Project Six19. Dedicated to talking honestly about matters of sex, sexuality and relationships. Jason has spent more than a decade engaging audiences of all ages and backgrounds.

Walt Mueller is the founder and President of the Center for Parent/Youth Understanding and has been working with young people and families for over 35 years.

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