Arming Our Children Against Pornography
In case you've not already noticed the massive problem of internet pornography, consider one small statistic: In 2019, the internet’s largest porn site (Pornhub) received 42 billion visits. That’s billion with a “b,” and all the trends suggest that this number will only grow.
This overwhelming flood of hidden sexual perversion is so enormous that we might be tempted to despair. But God has not given us a “spirit of fear, but of power and love and self-control” (1 Timothy 1:7-8). Confronting and defeating this massive evil is one of the most urgent spiritual wars for us to fight in the Spirit’s strength.
Given the scale of the problem, it can be hard to know where to start. Certainly, we must start with ourselves. If we have indulged the lusts of our own flesh by using pornography, we must repent, trust Christ for mercy, and fight tooth-and-nail in the Spirit’s strength to pursue holiness.
Our next priority, I think, should be proactively instructing our children in this subject. The average age at which people are first exposed to porn is 11 years old. This is a pressing issue for the children in our churches and homes. They are up against the massive power of sites like Pornhub, which is surely one of the most obvious strongholds of “this present darkness” ruled by “the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). They urgently need to be equipped with the armor of God.
Thankfully, there are a number of books available that provide valuable help to parents and elders who are seeking to disciple children with respect to these matters. In this article, I will introduce four such books.
1. Tips for Talking to Your Kids about Sex (CanaVox, 2020)
This book offers suggestions for talking to children of different ages, from toddlers learning to talk to teens heading for college. The book is brief and to the point. The sample dialogue is not artificial or contrived. This is the kind of thing you could actually say to your children. It is also well researched, so that it actually deals with the issues that children are likely to confront: sleepovers for 8-year olds, puberty for 12 year olds, sexting for 14 year olds, and the complexities of relationships for 17 year olds. At appropriate points, there are specific suggestions for moms speaking to their daughters, and for dads speaking to their sons. I especially appreciated the section on “Sexual Integrity,” which shows that these conversations can go beyond awkwardness and serve as inspiring calls to true manhood and womanhood.
This book does not offer its advice from an explicitly Christian perspective, nor does it quote the Bible. Nevertheless, it is jam-packed with truth and wisdom that fits well with biblical teaching, probably because some leaders of CanaVox are prominent conservative Roman Catholics. It would certainly be beneficial to supplement the conversations modeled by this book with instruction from Scripture. Parents may find some points where the book will need to be corrected by Scripture. Mostly, though, I think they will be glad for the valuable help in communicating our views in a loving and persuasive way (which is the hard part for most of us).
2. Good Pictures, Bad Pictures Jr.: A Simple Plan to Protect Young Minds, by Kristen A. Jenson, illustrated by Debbie Fox (Glen Cove Press, 2017)
The next book is more specific, in that it focuses on teaching little children about pornography in an age-appropriate way. It is Good Pictures, Bad Pictures Jr.: A Simple Plan to Protect Young Minds by Kristen A. Jenson, published by Glen Cove Press. This book is beautifully illustrated, and it features simple text in a big font, perfectly suited to young children. It teaches children a simple way to distinguish good pictures from bad pictures, and a plan for what to do if they ever see bad pictures: “Turn, Run, Tell.” There is a valuable appendix at the back for parents, which gives useful information about pornography and guidance about how to help children navigate these dangerous waters. Once again, this book is not written from an explicitly Christian perspective. Scripture is never quoted, but the book fits well with scriptural teaching. For example, the book states: “Every part of your body is good, including your private parts. But taking pictures of them is not good.” By God’s abundant common grace, this is a clear reflection of biblical teaching about our bodies.
3. Good Pictures, Bad Pictures: Porn-Proofing Today’s Young Kids, by Kristen A. Jenson, illustrated by Debbie Fox, second edition (Glen Cove Press, 2018)
The same author wrote a similar book for older children, Good Pictures, Bad Pictures: Porn-Proofing Today’s Young Kids. Once again, the book is beautifully designed, with lovely illustrations and helpful diagrams. The dialogue between a boy and his parents is natural and simple. The book exudes the warmth of a loving family environment. It is also filled with scientific facts about our bodies and brains that are relevant to this issue. It helpfully illustrates issues of sexual desire with analogies to how we love to eat ice cream.
The scientific perspective is mostly a positive feature of this book, as it can help to shed light on the problem and provide strategies for avoiding and overcoming it. Throughout the book, though, parents will need to be alert for unbiblical assumptions that confuse morality with therapy, sin with health. When the child asks how pornography can “hurt my brain,” the mom gives three answers. First, she says that pornography can hurt the brain by teaching “that a person’s body is an object to use instead of a whole person to be loved and respected.” This is an excellent point, but it is clearly an issue of morality rather than therapy. Second, she says that pornography “teaches lies” by portraying “people being mean and acting like it’s fun.” This is another excellent point, but again it is clearly a moral rather than a therapeutic issue. Third, she says that pornography fosters “a bad habit or even a serious addiction,” which potentially confuses a moral issue (bad habits) with a medical issue (addiction). Even with these concerns, though, I recommend that parents learn as much as possible from the scientific aspects of the book. These should be refined and corrected by Scripture, but they should not be discarded.
The greatest strength of the book is its practical and positive tone. It comes with study questions to facilitate conversation, and a practical action plan for kids to be ready when they encounter pornography. The informative notes at the back are also valuable for parents. On the whole, one comes away from this book feeling that it is possible and worthwhile to continue the raging war against pornography.
Not If, But When: Preparing Our Children for Worldly Images, by John Perritt, illustrated by Alice Mastropaolo (Christian Focus, 2020)
The final book I will mention is John Perritt, Not If, But When: Preparing our children for worldly images(Christian Focus, 2020). My first thought as I read this book was “Finally!” Finally, a pastor has produced a book on this subject, based on Scripture, designed for younger children, in order to help arm them for this fight. The book is again beautifully illustrated. A unique feature of this book is that it specifically addresses girls in the first half, and boys in the second. The material is substantially the same in each part, but the illustrations and dialogue reflect the two audiences. Each chapter is a single page, with a Scripture passage to read, a main point, and a question for discussion.
From one chapter to the next, Perritt unfolds the Bible’s teaching about sex and specifically pornography. The story starts with God’s good gift of sex in creation. It then moves from God’s law for using this gift, to various ways that the gift is misused, to the blessing of using it well. An interesting comparison point with other books in this article is the brief discussion of how chemicals in our brains are involved in sexual activity and desire, and how these chemicals can lead to addiction. The main difference between Perritt and Jenson on this point, I think, is proportion: whereas Jenson includes this type of discussion on nearly every page, Perritt mentions it in a couple of brief paragraphs. Perhaps that’s closer to the biblical pattern for thinking about these matters.
This book is very strong compared to the others in terms of providing biblical and theological instruction. There are two main weaknesses of the book, relative to the others. First, its design is not as fitting or attractive as the “Good Pictures, Bad Pictures” books. The pictures are not the problem—they are beautiful and interesting—but the book’s font and layout choices do not work as nicely as the other books. This is not an all-important issue, but it is still important, since a major purpose of these books is to appeal effectively to younger children. Second, the dialogue in this book is not as natural as any of the others reviewed in this article. At one point, the dad explains to his son that sex “is an intimate action between a husband and a wife.” This is unquestionably true, but it sounds a bit like a conversation between adults. Parents might do better, as is suggested in Tips for Talking to Your Kids about Sex, to explain to their children that mom and dad have “a special hug,” or that the “puzzle pieces” of mom’s and dad’s body parts come together, or give a factual description of what happens in sex (all depending on the age and capacity of the child).
I’m thankful for all four of these books, and I hope that they will help many parents and elders in the urgent work of preparing our children for intense warfare against pornography. After reading and reviewing all of them, I must say that my favorite line comes at the very end of Perritt’s book, where the dad turns to his son and says: “Remember, there is a day coming when pornography will not exist.” Come quickly, Lord!
Calvin Goligher is the pastor of First OPC in Sunnyvale, California. He and his wife Joanne have four young children.
Podcast: "Pornography: A Perpetual Pastoral Problem" (with Tim Challies)
"Cybersin" by Phil Ryken
"Other People's Pornography" by Jeremy Walker
"The Radical Society" by Zack Groff
PCRT '15: A Reformed View of Sex and Marriage
The Gospel and the Song of Songs, with Iain Duguid
Family Worship by Donald Whitney