Last week we looked at some of the research available on the immediate effects of porn use on children in the home. This week we'll dig a little further into the potential long-term effects. I'll end with an appropriate addition to Grace's Story, which itself gives us a look at the pain of the children of addicts.
The Effects on Children’s Developing Attitudes
Knowledge of betrayal and/or sex addiction obviously has a negative impact on the development of both boys and girls. Firstly, I believe that both boys and girls grieve for their mother when she is not honored. However, it is also common for children of both genders to become disrespectful to mom, if disrespect is what they are seeing regularly modeled by dad (all too common where SA has been the pattern).
It is important to note here that we women also can play a role in our children’s negative attitudes toward us. If we tend to internalize spiritual/ verbal/emotional/physical abuse rather than standing up to it, we teach our children that it is natural that we (and perhaps “all women”) should be disregarded or treated disrespectfully.
Girls and Anxiety
When a girl begins to internalize this kind of message, it can have terrible consequences for her own relationships, particularly her relationships with those of the opposite gender.
Moreover, I’ve also had young women tell me of their anxiety (for their own safety) when left alone with dad – most particularly when he is not in recovery. The image below was created by a 13-old-girl at the suggestion of her counselor. It’s a picture of her and dad in the wake of her parents’ divorce due to his addiction. Dad’s the one in the background.
Research continues to show the connection between SA and violence/offending. Girls should not be reprimanded for fears of dad which show an intuitive understanding of this. Instead they should be given what they need to feel safe from any real/perceived threats of molestation. See more on the issue of child molestation in Beyond Betrayal.
While I’m not aware of any studies that have been conducted on the female children of porn addicts, I have had young women relate to me that they have experienced difficulties with their own sexual development, in their young-adult married life, which they feel is due to growing up with a father with an addiction.
In Dad’s Footsteps
For boys, the combination of seeing their mother demeaned and other women objectified can be quite toxic. And, of course, such poisonous messages merely echo the shouts of our pornified youth culture — a culture which objectifies women and in the words of researcher Marie Crabbe, “makes violence against women sexy.”
When the vast majority of teen boys are using porn regularly (30% of Christian teens/young adults are using it daily says one study), knowing that dad is a user gives a boy just one more reason to “go with the flow.” Sadly, many, many boys’ first exposure to pornography, which may launch them into their own struggles with it, comes from dad (usually inadvertently).
The God of Hope
The good news is that none of these negative outcomes are inevitable. There are many ways to help our kids walk a healthier walk.
I have witnessed (in my own family) how dad’s willingness to come out into the light, enter a holistic recovery process, and work hard to embrace intimacy in his key relationships can have an immensely positive effect on the children. That’s not to say there were no losses. However, losses that can be grieved as a family – and with extra-family support – are far more easily gotten past.
Moreover, children are far better equipped to overcome parental SA when:
- They have been developing their own relationship with their heavenly Father
- There is a healthy spiritual life in the family (even most of the family)
- They are part of a healthy, supportive faith community that extends beyond their family
- They have at least one parent who has their trust and who is able to talk frankly and positively about sex
Even just one of these advantages will give children a leg up in recovering from the losses dealt them by dad’s SA.
Next week we'll look at how porn and sex addiction have a caused an epidemic of "widows" in our society. The post will include the next episode in the Compassion video series.
Grace's Story (continued)
I remember the day that my daughter sat on the other side of my desk.
“Mom, I wish I didn’t have to tell you this, but you need to ask dad to move out.” “Oh no, what happened now? Did you see pornography on his computer again?”
“I wish!” She tells me how my granddaughter had used his phone recently and seen that he had set up an appointment with a prostitute.
“Oh God!” My head drops and I have no words. But I am keenly aware that the pain I have tried so hard to hide for years has now trickled over onto my daughter and granddaughter. Oh God help me. Pain is now mixed with guilt.
I look up into her confused and lost eyes and I remember: this is the same little girl that 33 years earlier, clung to my leg while I cradled her baby sister in my arms. That night I was trying to be strong for all of us as I told her daddy, “If you leave us again tonight we will not be here when you return!”
“Business,” he said, “Must go.” But we both knew it wasn't business. He walked out. I remained. How many years has my daughter watched my tears, not understanding.
He is still leaving, what am I doing? God give me the courage to stop the bleeding one way or another.