Q: We recently found pornographic material under our 16-year-old son’s bed. Last year he battled depression, bad grades, and drug use, but this year he’s made a big turn around. He’s upbeat, has a job, is making good grades, and goes to church. But just when we thought we were out of the woods, this pornography thing comes along. My husband thinks I should not have been looking around in his room and that, furthermore, for a boy his age to be looking at such material is perfectly normal. Therefore, he thinks we should ignore the matter. I’m not entirely comfortable with that. Then again, if we raise the issue, I’m going to have to explain why I was snooping. What do you think?
A: Letting your son know that you conducted a search of his room might cause a setback in your relationship, which you should avoid. On the other hand, possession of pornography by a 16-year-old boy is not something that should be ignored. True, as your husband states, it is normal for teenage boys to be attracted to sexual material. That does not make it healthy. Pornography is potentially addictive and is associated with inappropriate sexual attitudes and also with deviant and sometimes even antisocial sexual behavior. For example, nearly all child molesters have a history of high involvement with pornography. Heterosexual pornography depersonalizes women, reducing them to sexual objects, the underlying message being that it’s perfectly okay to view and even use them that way.
This is not to say that any teenage boy who looks at pornography on a regular basis is going to grow up with a distorted sexual ethic or engage in inappropriate sexual activities. Nevertheless, the risk is there.
One way to deal with this is to simply make the inappropriate material disappear from your son’s room. Say nothing. He will get the message and at the very least will stop bringing such material into your home. He might even take his dad aside and want to talk about it, which would open the door for a creative conversation. If you decide to go with this option, Dad should figure out what he wants to get across and have his “tape” ready to roll. This will, of course, require an explanation as to how the material was discovered, in which case Dad should come up with something other than “Mom was snooping.” (And Mom, don’t do this again without good reason, and you won’t get yourself into this pickle.)
A friend of mine, when he discovered a Playboy magazine in his son’s room, just left it on the bed and said nothing about it. Two days later, his son came to him and confessed that he couldn’t stand the silence and wanted to talk, at which point the two of them had an excellent conversation.
A young man’s father is the ideal person to deal with this issue. Your husband might take your son aside and, without any reference to the “contraband,” open the door to a discussion about mature, respectful attitudes toward women. In the course of this discussion, he can bring up the subject of pornography as an example of disrespect toward women and, furthermore, one’s self. Assuming your son and his father have a good relationship, this message should have a very positive impact.
Family psychologist John Rosemond is the director of the Center for Affirmative Parenting in Gastonia, North Carolina. For information about his talks and workshops, call Elizabeth Stevens at (919) 403-8712.