Have you ever worried about how to protect your family from an overly sexualized world? If you have, you are not alone. Lots of parents wonder how they can protect their children from pornography use, addiction or problematic sexual behavior. Discussions about protecting children and teens usually center on using internet filters to keep children from seeing unhealthy images. Filters are important and it is crucial that you have a good one in place, but filters alone are not enough.
No matter how hard parents try to protect their family from negative influences, unhealthy sexuality is everywhere. It is imperative that children incrementally learn about human sexuality in developmentally appropriate ways. Parents need to teach teens and young adults what healthy sexuality is
so they can spot the lies pornography stealthily hides from the non-discerning eye. So what is the secret weapon to protecting children from pornography use and sex addiction?
The secret weapon is emotion coaching. What do emotions have to do with problematic sexual behavior? Dr. Jill Manning states, “Most people who struggle with a pornography habit have a hard time identifying and coping with emotions and stresses in constructive ways” (p. 161). Pornography and other forms of problematic sexual behavior can be used as ways to numb unwanted feelings. Children who learn early in life how to manage feelings such as anger, loneliness, fear, and sadness are more likely to deal with life’s stresses in healthy ways. Knowing how to cope with difficult emotions can be taught through emotion coaching.
While it is probably not what you expected, emotion coaching is a key ingredient in raising sexually healthy children. It is a key way for parents to help foster emotional well-being in their children. You can begin by teaching your children about each emotion and what that emotion feels like. Explore how each emotion feels and plan healthy strategies to deal with feelings such as anger, sadness, and loneliness. It is also important to validate your child’s feelings. Sometimes parents –out of their own discomfort– may invalidate the feelings of their children. Emotion coaches understand that their child’s reality is not the same as theirs and that their child has the right to their own perception.
Example: A child runs into the house crying because of a skinned knee.
What an emotion coach would not say: “Stop the crying, a skinned knee is no big deal!”
What an emotion coach would say: “It really hurts when we fall and skin our knee, doesn’t it?”
Hearing and validating a child’s feelings helps parents and children to connect at an emotional level and can be a bonding experience. It fosters trust and facilitates growth and development. It isn’t always easy, but the end benefit is worth the effort. If you make mistakes, thats okay. Apologize, repair damage done, and move on with self-compassion.
Emotion coaching helps your child grow and mature into a healthy adult. Not only does it decrease their susceptibility to pornography use, but it will help them to be healthy sexually and emotionally. In order to have mature physical intimacy, a person needs to be able to express emotions and show vulnerability. Emotion coaching teaches children how to understand and express feelings, a skill is crucial for building healthy relationships.
It can be scary to raise children in a world with distorted messages about sexuality. But there are things you can do to protect your children. Be sure to use strong internet filters and have ongoing developmentally-appropriate discussions about sex and relationships with your children. Most of all, remember to pull out the secret weapon and be an emotion coach to your children. It’s worth it!
Gottman, J., & Gottman, J.S. (2013). Emotion Coaching: The Heart of Parenting. Seattle, WA: The Gottman Institute.
Manning, J.C. (2008). What’s the Big Deal About Pornography? Ann Arbor, MI: Sheridan Book.