At an unprecedented level our children are being encouraged online. We know things are easing in many countries but we can also see life will not go back to the way it was pre-lockdown. I have friends who despite schools being reopened are choosing to keep their children home as disruption and operational changes in this new-look structure threatens a greater mental health risk than being home. Whether through the need to school online or the respite weary parents seek that screens offer, we need to be talking about online safety with a heightened antennae. Let's say we've gone from green alert to code red.
It's a quandary isn't it, when to talk about delicate subjects, how do we? What if I'm ready but they're not? You want to protect them from the shadows of life not be the one who exposes them? Over the years as we raise and have raised two teens, I came to see the vital necessity of teaching my kids to fight, prepping them for that day, a day that will come, it's not a question of if. The truth is that soft porn, pornography, sexualised content and conversations aren't going to happen in a one-off event like the iceberg waiting for the titanic, it's more the case that we're swimming in an ocean of sexualisation. If we're concerned about how to broach the subject we can safely say we have little shortage for conversation starters.
I've come across two wonderfully supportive and informative sources in the area of pornography, teen relationships and sexuality that I'd love to share with you. I'll link them towards the end. Here are just some of my personal take-aways from their content and drawing upon my own experience. All quotes shown are from the Media Savvy Moms podcast listed at the end or Greta Eskridge of Ma & Pa Modern.
I get it, it's scary. Your child has come to you, or worse, something has slipped out in conversation and you're knocked sideways in a blind spot. Fear kicks in, panic even. Our mind can easily over magnify one incident to appear as the catalyst for our child's life downward spiral! That sense of protection you thought you had has been unceremoniously shattered. If there's one thing I've learnt it's that coming from a place of fear towards your child will automatically send them into a defensive posture. Fear turns you into the adversary when what your child needs is an advocate, just like the Holy Spirit, one who comes alongside. Children need to feel like you are with them on the journey walking beside and helping unpack the questions of life. I picture Jesus in Luke 24 with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, they discussed and wrestled with many questions and Jesus walked and talked along the way, in the everyday minutia of life. Also remember His words, "I will be with you always". It's impossible to have meaningful heart to hearts if you've set yourself up in opposition.
The way we view God is how we'll act in our lives and with our children. Do you see God as harsh, unforgiving, demanding perfection? Or do you know He is kind, longsuffering, quick to forgive and full of compassion?
But you, O Lord,
are a God of compassion and mercy,
slow to get angry
and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness
Compassion is the antidote for fear.
Start with being compassionate with yourself mum. Certainly there's a place for reflection and self-examination, maybe there are some changes which need to be made, but when you know better you do better. Apply this same rule below to yourself first, remember that God loves you and believes in you. I have seen God's grace and love cover so many cracks in my own mum-walk, He is for you not against you, He wants you to succeed and believes you can, do you?
God knows what we're made up of, He became like us and understands the struggles. One area I have had to work through at different times is mum guilt. Whether you are a veteran with adult children or holding a newborn you probably know guilt and self-blame are the default position for mums by now. The accusing voices play in your head 'you did too much of that, not enough of this, what a failure, everyone else gets it right'. Jesus said love your enemies and that often means learning to love yourself. So turn that self-destructive voice off and build yourself up on what God says about you instead. Take a one-woman teatime and write down some encouraging verses for yourself and if you want to hear the audible voice of God over you read them aloud :)
Sometimes it's not your fault. You think you did everything right, crossed all the T's and dotted all the I's yet here your child has gotten off down the wrong track. So maybe you've been 'doing it' all wrong, it must somehow be your fault. But even God the perfect Parent, who did nothing but love with the purest love, provide the most beautiful home in Eden, gave His children everything needed (apart from that one tree ;) and walked and talked with them in sweet unbroken relationship, even God's children made a poor choice and fell prey to a cunning adversary. And we do have an adversary, the devil.
Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil.
He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.
1 Pet 5:8
Our children are not the enemy, the enemy is the enemy. I would often say to my kids, "It's not that I don't trust you it's that I know the tactics of the enemy".
Be hopeful about yourself, be confident in your ability to walk with God and learn how to walk alongside your children in ever increasing degrees of compassion, love and service. When I became pregnant with our first child I was terrified, I mean literally. I felt zero percent maternal instinct, I had never held a baby or been around a pregnant woman, never changed a nappy, did not know how to relate to children at all! Yet God promised He would teach me, it was there in writing so I believed Him. He will gently lead us.
He will feed his flock like a shepherd.
He will carry the lambs in his arms,
holding them close to his heart.
He will gently lead the mother sheep with their young
And so believe that of your children. Be hopeful. Be confident. They will learn. Have compassion for everyone in the story, for your child and for yourself. We're all learning.
We cannot control our children and who wants to, that's exhausting and at it's core, wrong, not to mention impossible. But I can control how I show up as a parent. I can choose to be calm; calm face, calm tone, calm body language. I can choose to be un-shockable on the outside, to take my panics and needs to God, spouse or trusted advisor while I have a catch my breath, regroup and calmly enter back into the conversation.
Don't deny yourself those hard feelings, it is incredibly sad when your child is exposed to porn or inappropriate content or contact. Cry, hug it out, sob into your prayers, journal or pillow but allow yourself grace to navigate those feelings. Denying how we feel is to deny how it feels to be a parent. I have often been touched deeply with God's sweet love for me as my heavenly Father when I've walked through dark times. It would be lovely to have the happy feels all the time but that's not reality, yet there is honey to be drawn from the rock if we'll lean into it.
It's a hard and holy work.
Be as preemptive as you can but accept you can't control everything. Be prepared, then fight from rest, grace and love. Always remember that God is holding your hand, not the other way round. When your child holds your hand they can easily let go but when you hold your child's hand that grip is unbreakable. What can ever separate us from His love!
Though they stumble, they will never fall,
for the Lord holds them by the hand
God holds you and is able to lead you through the minefield of online activity. Sometimes though your child might resist intervention as loving and as graciously as you might offer it, they may have passed the stage of curiosity and have formed an unhealthy attachment. My heart aches for you, this is so hard.
We cannot control our children's choices but we can control how we show up as a parent. Sometimes we will need to take a step back after doing all that we know to do and just stand (Eph 6:13). It can be the hardest challenge of them all because you feel like you're giving up which can translate to not caring, tough love. But sometimes like the prodigal it will take that child going to the end of themselves before they can see the truth of their situation. Just like the father in the story we need to be watching in prayer and waiting with open arms ready to celebrate.
If you would like to listen to the podcast by Media Savvy Moms or read more from Greta Eskridge I have posted details here.
Greta Eskridge can be found online on her blog or under the account name maandpamodern on Instagram.
Parents Aware can be found online at mediasavvymoms.com or mediasavvymoms on Instagram.
This is a fantastic episode from last week's podcast, all the quotes on today's blog were taken from Melody, Vauna and Marilyn's insightful, grace-filled advice unless otherwise stated.
With you in this!