by Kristen A. Jenson
“If you could go back in time and give your 10-year-old self some advice, what would you say?” That’s the question I posed to Brad, a recovering porn addict who I met at a speaking engagement last fall. Brad was happy to do this interview, and as a father and recovering porn addict, has lots of great advice for parents. (Don’t miss his top ten tips after the interview!)
Kristen: Brad, tell me how you first encountered pornography?
Brad: I was introduced to porn by my older brother’s friend—he brought over magazines that he had taken from his dad’s stash. We kept them hidden, and I could go and look anytime I wanted. All kids have curiosity. I wanted to see how a girl’s body was different from mine, and when I did the hormonal response in my body started to kick in. I was only ten years old. I had no idea I was becoming addicted, although I knew what I was doing was wrong.
Kristen: So how did your addiction escalate to the Internet?
Brad: My dad was a techie kind of guy and we had an early home computer. He got us hooked up to the Internet and I found that I could access pornography from our computer. My parents started using passwords, but they were easy to figure out. It became a problem because I didn’t have a block in place. There weren’t a lot of “protect your kids from porn” messages back then. I don’t think my parents realized how smart we were. I always went to church with them and was a popular kid—I don’t think they ever suspected I had a problem.
Kristen: So when did you realize you had a problem?
Brad: Well, I’d binge on porn and then I’d use my will power to stop. But even after staying sober for a year, I would fall back into it. I kept up this pattern even after I got married. It wasn’t until I finally admitted that I was an addict that I was able to begin fixing this problem.
Kristen: And when did that happen?
Brad: Before I explain that, you have to realize that all along a big part of my self-image was that I was a good Christian who always attended church. I had confessed before, but never suffered any big consequences. I truly was trying to overcome this, but even after setting up an extremely painful consequence for slipping up (telling my wife to take my precious kids and leave me if I ever looked again), I did slip up. At the time I went in to confess to my church leader, I had just started working with the youth—something I really enjoyed doing. But as soon as I opened up about my problem, I was released from that position. Other important privileges were taken away from me, and it felt like a kick in the teeth. It was humiliating because my entire congregation knew something was wrong. But I needed that. It made me realize that I truly was an addict that needed outside help.
Kristen: How did you get help?
Brad: I started attending a 12-step addiction recovery program for pornography and sex addicts. I’d known about these programs, but I always thought they were for hard core addicts, and I didn’t think I was at level. But the great thing is that since entering that program, I haven’t messed up once.
Kristen: What helps you to stay in recovery?
Brad: Firewalls. I had to put firewalls in place. It’s really amazing how well they work. One morning I woke up and saw that the house behind us had caught fire. It started in the garage and burned so hot that it melted the cars! However, the blazing hot fire did not breach the firewall between the garage and the house. I went over and looked at the sheetrock. It wasn’t any thicker than the regular sheetrock, but it was made of fire-proof material. That got me started thinking about things we can do to build firewalls.
For example, locking the phone is the biggest thing, so I can’t get to the Internet. That’s how I usually slipped up was on my smartphone. Now my wife has the passcode to the Internet. It’s very inconvenient because I’m a business consultant and I use my phone a lot. But locking it up has made a huge difference. I also never use my phone or go on the Internet after 10 pm. I just know that when I’m tired, I’m weak. When I’m tempted, I use a delay tactic. I make myself wait for 15 minutes.
I’ve learned that I had to identify my boundaries and build firewalls so I wouldn’t go anywhere close to pornography.
Kristen: If you could go back in time and give your 10-year-old self some advice, what would you say?
Brad: Wow, that’s a tough one. I think I’d tell that little boy to take a good, hard look at where he was headed and really think about the man he wanted to become. I’d tell myself about the years of heartache he might suffer as a result of looking at pornography. I’d explain the brain science behind addiction like you do in your book. I would tell him that he can be so much more if he’ll keep pornography out of his life.
Kristen: Other than the Internet, what else did you give up to get into recovery?
Brad: My 26 gigs of music that I’d been collecting all my life. I love music and I’m a musician. In high school, I was a really good break dancer, too. (And I mean, really good!) But I came to realize that this music weakened me. It was a trigger so I deleted it. In the end, being sober was worth it.
Kristen: Is there anything else that helped you to fight your porn addiction?
Brad: One of the things that stuck with me and gave me strength to fight was the understanding of how human sex trafficking is linked to pornography. I never paid for pornography—there’s so much out there for free!—but I supported it by viewing it. This made me feel so ashamed and the realization that I was contributing to this problem really helped to fortify my resolve to beat it.
Kristen: Any final words of advice for parents?
Brad: I want to tell them two things: First, take this very seriously and do everything you can to protect your kids. My parents taught me to stay away from smoking and drugs. They said that I would be tempted and pressured by my peers, but that I had to make my decision before the moment of temptation hit me. I think that same message can be applied to pornography and taught to kids so they are prepared.
Second, I want parents to know that if their kids are into porn, there is hope that they can overcome this addiction to lust (because that’s what it is). At one time I thought I was doomed to take this addiction to my grave, but although I still struggle, it is possible to learn to deal with addiction and come out the winner.
Here’s some more hard-earned wisdom from Brad.
A Porn Addict’s Advice for Parents
- Don’t underestimate kids or the pull of porn. Kids are smarter than you think. And pornography is more enticing to kids than you believe. Take access to the Internet very seriously.
- Empower with brain science. From a very young age, kids need to be taught about the neurological dangers of pornography. Books like Good Pictures Bad Pictures: Porn-Proofing Today’s Young Kids can be very helpful in explaining to kids that although looking at pornography does have an effect on their brain, they can learn powerful ways to protect themselves with the CAN DO Plan™.
- Analyze and then act to replace porn. Kids who are involved in porn need to figure out why they are using it. What are their triggers? Does conflict with friends or family members trigger porn use? Loneliness? Negative feelings? Find out those things and begin working on them. Just remember, when you take porn away, some other stress response needs to take its place.
- The power of music and video games. For some kids music can lead to a greater involvement with pornography. The lyrics and beat can add fuel to the fire. For others, it’s video games. Discover what weakens their resolve to quit using and plan ways to eliminate them.
- Find out your child’s portals to porn. You must be willing to do anything and everything to cut off access if your child has been viewing Internet pornography.
- Explain the link between porn and human sex trafficking. The young women in pornography are often the horribly abused victims of sex-trafficking. By the time kids are 10 or 11 they can begin to understand this concept.
- Get real. In order to get into recovery, a person has to first and finally admit that they are an addict. If your child keeps getting pulled back into using pornography, it’s possible that an addiction has been developed. The sooner this reality is addressed the better chances are for recovery.
- Understand that an addicted brain does not consider consequences. Fear of punishment or loss cannot keep a person sober. The addicted brain doesn’t work that way. It goes directly to the addiction, bypassing the part of the brain that considers consequences. That is the very nature of an addiction.
- To get and stay in recovery, addicts can put up firewalls. Parents can use this same idea to keep kids safe from pornography. Lock phones (from Internet access), put strong passwords on all mobile devices and change them often. Understand that kids can gain access to the Internet via all sorts of apps.
- Go sign up for Fortify. Parents with kids under 13 who are involved in pornography can sign up for Fortify—an online recovery program from Fight the New Drug—and work the program with them. The program was created for teens, so parents may have to explain a few things, but it’s a very affordable first-line option (and free for teens up to age 20). The programs includes 50 videos, a Battle Tracker calendar and loads of other amazing features.
Whew! I think this is one of the longest articles I’ve posted. If you’re still with me, give yourself a pat on the back for endurance! I hope you’ve learned something valuable to help your kids decide to keep pornography out of their life.
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