After a youth group meeting, a young man named Brian walks over and wants to talk to you privately. Sensing something serious, you take Brian back to the office to talk. Even before a word is out of Brian's mouth, you notice his nervousness. Brian begins to tell you of his battle with pornography and masturbation and how it has started to control his life. He is obviously frustrated and sick of his actions. He has come to you to find help. As Brian is talking, you begin to pray that God would give you the wisdom to help him. But you are still sitting there wondering, "What do I do?"
Pornography is an addiction that becomes an obsession for a number of reasons. Everyone who is addicted to pornography is trying to fill some void in his life. It may be the affects of childhood abuse, relational problems or emotional pain. Because there are many roots to this addiction, it is often hard to find and heal the real reasons behind it, especially when we have no professional training. However, having at least a basic understanding of what can cause such an addiction will help us in getting the person back on track. Some good books that give insight into the reasons why people get caught in the addiction as well as advice on getting out would include False Intimacy, The Pornography Trap, and Everyman's Battle. Here are a few practical starting points for helping someone in your youth group who is addicted to pornography, based on personal experience and research.
First of all, when a student comes with this sensitive problem, we must not look down on him. We are all sinners. The last thing he needs is condemnation. Romans 3:23 says, "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (NIV). Gene McConnell, who deals extensively with pornography addiction, reminds us in his book, Pornography and Addiction, that "addicts must know that the Lord does not despise people who are in captivity — locked in behavior patterns they can't break." We all have sinned and God does not have a hierarchy on sins. He wants all of us to break free from the sins and addictions that hold us captive. Instead of condemnation, we need to listen to the student and understand the depth of the addiction to pornography.
You might think calling it an addiction is harsh. Any sin that takes over one's life is an addiction. We need to know how deep the student's addiction is so that we know what help he needs to break the hold it has on his life. Once we have heard his story, it is important to let him know that we do not look down on him. We need to communicate that we are willing to do what we can to help him find freedom from this addiction. If we forget to show these students God's love, we are going to do more harm than good. The student must know that you have his best interests in mind and that you will keep it confidential unless it involves activities that are harmful to himself or others.
In dealing with young people who are addicted to pornography, we must try to understand if they want to fight this because they are truly sick of it or because they have other motives. For example, some students might try to fight it in order to gain acceptance from the ones giving them the help. They may be attempting to fill an emotional emptiness in their lives. In my own battle with pornography, I did this numerous times. For almost two years, this was a pattern in my life. I would lie to my youth pastors when they would ask me how I was doing with my lust and my surfing the Internet. I wanted to be accepted. I felt that if I failed in the area of purity during the week, my youth pastors would not accept me.
Once we know that students truly want to deal with this addiction, we need to encourage them to get rid of all of their pornography. Then, we must help them devise a plan to avoid returning to it. This may include getting filters or filtered Internet access, having the family move the computer to a public place, or going to the extent of no longer using the Internet. All of these options really depend on the relationship the student has with his parents, how serious the problem is, and how much he really wants to fight this problem.
In putting a plan in to action, accountability should be part of it since we can not fight this battle alone. It is vital that someone keeps the student accountable. It can be you, another youth leader, a parent or a special group dealing with this issue. There are also some great resources available that involve accountability, like the products and services of Covenant Eyes, which provide accountability by sending a history of the Web sites visited by the user to an accountability partner. Another option is Setting Captives Free, which provides a 60-day program of accountability and free course work on breaking the addiction.
The student also needs to know that he is not alone in the battle against pornography. He needs to be reminded that there are others who struggle, too. The devil tries to make those struggling believe that they are the only ones with such feelings, but it is not true. It is also important to recognize that this addiction seriously affects one's relationship with God and that they will need help in rebuilding that relationship. They will further need to change how they view others. Pornography teaches those who view it many lies about sexuality that need to be addressed. Here are two sets of examples of these lies:
Excerpted from "The Effects of Pornography and Sexual Messages."
Excerpted from "In Your Face ... In Your Mind: Resisting the Power of Pornography."
To keep another person accountable, you must constantly let him know that you care about how he is doing with his battle and that you are not going to look down on him if he continues to struggle. It is a challenge for him to be honest, but you must encourage it. He is only going to further hurt himself by lying.
As part of the battle plan, we must also help these pornography victims find alternatives to their previous behavior. This will help provide freedom from this addiction. Students needs to begin to replace their addictive behaviors with healthy alternatives to their temptations. An addiction to pornography is one that is often acted upon in private and late at night in place of schoolwork and developing relationships. So we need to encourage them to find activities to be involved in, ways to keep from being tempted when they are likely to be tempted, and steps to get them back on a normal track. It often takes time and a significant amount of effort to develop new behaviors and practices that will replace their urge to seek pornography as an escape to life's problems.
To the pornography addict, it takes a lot of energy and purposefulness in all that we do to not run to the Internet to dull the pain of life or when we are bored. It is a battle. But it is one that we must fight. We need to replace the destructive habits of our addiction with ones that are constructive. From personal experience, I know that it takes a large effort to stop doing what seems to come so naturally since it has become a habit in our lives.
It is important to recognize that some students may be beyond the level of support and help that we are able to give because of our limited education about pornography or understanding of the issue. Some students may be so deep into the addiction that they need to seek professional counseling. If you need to find such a counselor, call the Focus on the Family counseling department for a recommendation in your area.
When involving a counselor, it is often necessary to involve the parents as well. This can be a really complicated situation to deal with. However, when the student's safety and best interests are at stake, it is something that is inevitable. Some parents are easy to involve and others are difficult to involve. The student needs to have some say in how this is handled. The parents may not have a complete understanding of what is involved in the Internet. It is important that, whatever steps are taken in this area, you follow your church's policy or talk with a Christian counselor and establish guidelines for parental involvement.
These basic steps should guide you when it is necessary to help a person who is struggling with pornography addiction. And, of course, steps will vary according to each individual situation. In the case of my addiction, some of the steps, like parental involvement, were not used because I did not have a strong relationship with my parents. In fact, the youth pastors who helped me, while they were doing their best, did not see all that was going on and they did not seek to bring complete healing. Eventually, I got sick of my continual struggle with pornography and had friends who were willing to keep me accountable and challenge me in my walk with Christ. That is when I saw results start to happen.
My passion is to see pastors and churches talking about the dangers of pornography and bringing healing to those in and around the church. The sooner that we are able to bring healing and hope to those we are struggling, the quicker we will be able to break the devil's hold on God's children.
Below are some of the resources that best address this issue:
At the basis of your ministry as a pastor and your relationship with Christ as a believer is His love for you.
The need for youth ministry is far more extreme than I have ever thought. Through my experience, I have noticed that teens today have a lot of doubt in God and little respect for their parents. The need for a positive impact by a youth pastor has become essential.