We teach our kids to be polite using phrases like please, thank you and I’m sorry. But beyond the surface these expressions really denote respect and attentiveness to those we are speaking with. They are powerful communication tools.
When used appropriately, these three expressions can break down barriers, make up for misplaced words and even defuse hostile situations. Doubtful? Give ‘em a try.
What do good manners have to do with helping children reject pornography?
We know that the porn industry is targeting kids online. Its powerful influence on developing minds means that kids need their parents’ guidance and advice today more than ever. But sometimes, we get so anxious for our kids to know where we stand on an issue that we overlook what other negative messages we might be sending. To become true allies with our kids we need to work to keep our communication patterns in check. In other words, we need to remember our manners.
Read to the end to find out how one mom discovered the power of a single compliment
When shame creeps in
On the flip side, I have been thinking a lot lately about how easily shame interferes with our ability to communicate with our kids about pornography.
- The shame associated with the word itself. Does discussing pornography seem off limits or taboo?
- The shame a child might feel when accidentally exposed to pornography.
- The shame a child does feel when an ongoing habit of pornography use has developed.
The questions that keep coming back to my mind are these:
- Could parents increase the shame a child feels by inadvertently saying or doing something that makes the child feel worse?
- How much does a parent’s reaction determine the child’s trust to confide in his or her parents?
- In the end, does the child feel that love is offered unconditionally, no matter what he or she has seen or done online?
My worry is that we underestimate how deeply children need to know they are accepted by their parents. To complicate matters, some kids are very sensitive and need clear reassurance that they are met with approval. Even teens that put up a front of toughness or indifference are wanting to feel loved. As such, shame has no value in either the prevention of or recovery from porn use. Shame merely acts as a wedge to distance kids from accessing the full support of their parents.
Interestingly, we may not realize when we are building a wall of shame that prevents open dialogue. Sometimes we accidentally convey disapproval when our real intent is to protect children and give them every bit of support we can muster.
The good news is it can be as simple as saying thank you to get your conversation back on track.
From our readers …
Carol (name changed) recently shared with us how she discovered this important secret to good communication.
Carol’s son had been working diligently for several months to quit using porn. It had become his default coping mechanism to manage boredom, fatigue, stress and other uncomfortable feelings. His frequency of use had been escalating over a four-year-period. He finally confided in his parents when depression became more than he could handle. The guilt he felt was affecting his ability to socialize and focus on his schoolwork. He often obsessed about ways to harm himself.
Their first step was to seek professional counseling. As part of the son’s path to recovery he also asked Carol to be his accountability partner.
An accountability partner is someone who checks in regularly to give support and encouragement to an individual striving to overcome the habit of using pornography. Along with showing an abundance of love, being an accountability partner requires a great deal of patience and commitment. Overcoming compulsive habits can take several years.
With the counselor’s encouragement her son chose to track his progress through the Fortify program. The days he went without porn were called victories and the days he slipped into old habits were called setbacks. As his accountability partner, Carol would try to help her son identify the negative emotions that caused his setback. She listened as he brainstormed healthier ways to deal with his negative feelings.
During one particular accountability session she had the nagging feeling that a different approach was needed. Ignoring the setbacks completely, she turned to her son and said, “Look at this! You have had so many more victories than setbacks in the last few weeks. I am so proud of you!”
His reaction was nothing she had expected.
He burst into tears and through sobs said, “I honestly thought I wasn’t making any progress. I feel like we only ever talk about the things I am doing wrong.”
Carol says her knee-jerk reaction would have been to defend herself and tell her son that he wasn’t being fair to her at all. Afterall, here she was week after week patiently helping him sort through his emotions and fighting right alongside him. But something stayed that impulse. She realized this wasn’t her battle; it was his. Instead she reached out with a big hug and let him know she was sorry for not acknowledging more often what an amazing son he is.
Carol believes that moment was a pivotal turning point in his recovery.
“I had no idea I was reinforcing the shame he was already putting on himself … I wasn’t letting my son off easy. He knew he still had work to do. But I saw my role in his recovery more clearly. I could help him recognize how far he has come, bring his future goals into focus and encourage him to stay the course. He was still the one that had to put in the real effort. “
What do the experts say?
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Jeffrey Ford suggests that one of the best things parents can do when their child comes to talk to them about pornography is to thank them for trusting you. Look past the obvious problems and extend genuine praise. Think about how much energy your child put into finding the right words to say. Coming to you took a great deal of strength and courage.
What can you do?
It’s one thing to write about following textbook advice. But the fact is we are all going to make mistakes. We are emotional creatures and sometimes we will say or do the wrong thing. We might even shame our kids.
Thinking clearly in the moment is never going to happen all of the time. So when you forget to tell your kid, “thank you, I am so glad you trust me enough to talk about this.” Remember, it’s OK to come back the next day and say, “I’m sorry, I reacted poorly, please will you let me try this again?”
… I’m listening now.
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