This post was created after I attended the first-ever Australian symposium on the harms pornography poses to children and young people. It was a packed day – with numerous national experts sharing the latest research and their first-hand knowledge from working with children.
There was much great information shared. However, one of the topics which didn’t come up, but which is of particular interest to me (and probably you) is the effects of regular porn-use in the home (usually by dad) on children and teens.
How SA makes orphans
Whether dad (or mom) is hooked on porn or some other form of acting out, his addiction usually makes him emotionally less available to others. This is particularly true of those who are closest to him.
And when there's SA in the home, it's not only the addict who is less available. In this minute-long video clip (taken from an excellent presentation filmed at the Utah Coalition Against Pornography conference in Salt Lake in 2013), the presenters show the results of a 2000 study on children of porn addicts. Note that the first harm to children listed is decreased parental time – of both parents.
Sadly, not only is the addicted parent unavailable, we, the spouse, can be too. This is because, try as we might, there will be many times when we are unable to be as mentally and/or physically present with our children as we’d like to be. This is yet another loss we face due to betrayal trauma. My prayer is that God fills in the gaps, and somehow redeems this horrible loss to our kids.
Of course, it’s also a reminder that it’s crucial to get help for our trauma. More than just our life is depending on our healing.
The trauma of witnessing
Some of the other effects on that list in the video were harms that come from actually witnessing the addicted parent in the act. In this video clip, a teenage boy shares the pain of:
- Catching his dad using pornography
- Dad’s emotional/physical absence from the family
- Dad’s habit of blaming his mother for family problems
This young man’s pain comes through clearly in his voice. When a child is so unfortunate as to “catch Dad in the act,” find his pornographic materials—or in some other way piece together his unfaithfulness—his/her abandonment pain becomes compounded by trauma and the damages that come from exposure to pornographic materials. The latter, of course, can set a child on his/her own pathway to porn addiction and unhealthy sexual acting out.
In a recent blog post, counsellor Andrew Bauman notes that the misogyny that porn use creates in men can leak over to the father/daughter relationship. He notes many of his clients (and I'm sure he's not alone in this) have been "worried about the way they saw their daughters and girls their daughters’ age." He argues that this objectifying, or fear of objectifying, creates an unconscious misogyny that plays out in unhealthy interactions (boundaries too loose/sexualized, or boundaries too rigid/hateful) with all women. Seeing such interactions is likely to impact sons as well as daughters.
Moreover, if dad’s addiction is known by mom, the children are often picking up tension between their parents, or witnessing her trauma responses. The emotions this creates in children range from anxiety to terror and anger, depending on how mom’s trauma manifests and the child's disposition.
On the other hand, if mom is in the dark about dad’s addiction (or the child believes she is), and the child is aware of it, this can create a great deal of stress for him/her.
Too many children have experienced living in the terrible situation where they felt torn about whether or not to reveal the information they had about the betrayal. One friend saw her parents split up when she was 15, after she revealed information about the betrayal to the other parent. 40 years later, she is still dealing with the fallout of the pain and guilt from this event.
Disclosure to children
If the addiction is out in the open, it can be very helpful to teens (ideally 15+) to be informed of the issues. This is true whether or not dad is in recovery. If he is, disclosure should take place with both parents present. It should also include an explanation of betrayal trauma, while remaining hopeful and positive.
For more on age-appropriate disclosures to children, see Beyond Betrayal.
Next week I’ll look more at the effects of sexual addiction in the home on children’s developing attitudes — including their sexual attitudes.
As many of your will already have heard, my Masters of Counselling study on PSAs and domestic violence is now underway. Please consider participating whether or not you have been a victim of domestic violence. Visit the website for more information.