Amid digital-age porn, kids need 'safe place'
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (BP) -- Traylor Lovvorn saw porn for the first time when he was 8.
It set him on a path that ripped his family apart for years before God healed him and put them back together.
"Today's 8- to 12-year-olds, when they are first exposed to porn it is not a Playboy or Penthouse centerfold -- it is much more graphic and hardcore," Lovvorn said.
Those early childhood viewers of hardcore pornography are now entering their 20s -- and "the church is not ready," he said, describing the implications as massive and the numbers staggering.
These days 9 of 10 boys and 6 of 10 girls are exposed to hardcore porn before age 18, he said.
It's in response to this epidemic that Lovvorn and his wife Melody started Undone Redone, a ministry to help protect and heal families from the devastating effects of pornography and sexual addiction and sin.
The Lovvorns, of Birmingham, Ala., led a seminar on "My Secure Family: Equipping Parents to Protect Children in the Digital Age" at Samford University in partnership with its Ministry Training Institute and The Alabama Baptist newsjournal to open the conversation.
"As a parent, we have got to be the safe place where our children feel safe to come and ask their questions and to be curious" for when -- not if -- they are exposed to porn, Traylor Lovvorn said.
"Otherwise our children are left to traverse the landscape by themselves. I know we're busy and sometimes it's easier to let the phone or device be the babysitter, but we've got to be engaged with this."
Melea Stephens, a licensed professional counselor from Birmingham who also spoke during the Jan. 23 seminar, said it's important for parents to give their children a way to categorize porn so they know how to respond when they are exposed to it.
"For example, I know of one little girl who was first exposed to porn at a neighbor's house when she was 6. Because she didn't have a way to categorize it, she started acting out what she saw. She started acting things out on her siblings," Stephens said.
Porn warps children's sense of safety and their development because they don't have a compartment for it, she said. "To give them a way to compartmentalize porn is a first way to help them deal with it."
Traylor Lovvorn said trying to insulate children from the world is like having a pool and -- instead of teaching them to swim -- building a fence around it and pretending it's not there.
"We are pretending the world isn't broken, and we're trying to keep them from seeing that it is," Lovvorn said. "Life is messy. It's broken. We have to have the conversations. I'm not talking about 'the talk.' I'm talking about an ongoing conversation that lasts. Think about the onslaught of information they are inundated with. We are foolish to think that one conversation is adequate."
Some parents respond to threats like porn with fear-based reactions such as denial, Lovvorn said.
But denial sends the message that you don't care whether your child is facing the world's brokenness alone, he said.
But the other end of the spectrum -- hyper-vigilance -- communicates to your child that he or she isn't trustworthy, Lovvorn said.
"We need to set boundaries but we need to talk about the 'why,'" he said. "We need to have a grace-based response rather than a fear-based reaction."
And that grace-based response provides the compartment that Stephens said is so important.
One resource for talking with children is a book called "Good Pictures, Bad Pictures," which is meant to "porn proof" young children, she said.
"Instead of eliciting curiosity, it helps defuse some of that by teaching them that there are bad pictures out there and why they can be bad for them," Stephens said. "It [porn] is not some major secret ... so when it comes up they are more like, 'Oh, I know what that is,' and know how to deal with it."
It helps them know how to take their thinking brain and make it the boss of their feeling brain, Stephens said.
Traylor Lovvorn illustrated this idea with the story of some young children who decided for themselves to change the channel when something inappropriate came on even when no authority figure was around to tell them they shouldn't watch it.
"It was a beautiful picture of how they can learn that it's not just a rule, it's the heart behind the rule," he said. "It's about shepherding their hearts and training them early so that they can understand and think for themselves."
Starting the conversation early, Melody Lovvorn noted, also helps set up a safe place for children to return to talk as they grow up and face more real threats.
"If we have those conversations, they know 'Mom and Dad are preparing me and I've got this safe place to go back to,'" she said. "One of the things I told my boys was, 'In middle school, if you get a picture from a girl and it's naked photos, this is how we want to handle it,' and then I gave them a plan."
As parents, the Lovvorns want to "create safe fences" but also teach their children to "think and be aware of the Holy Spirit telling you when something is not right."
Teaching them to think is the most important thing, Traylor Lovvorn said. But he also offered some practical helps to be that "safe fence" as children grow up.
One of them is Circle, a device that helps parents monitor and filter devices and even set bedtimes in the house to cut off Internet access via phones and laptops.
Another is an app found at teensafe.com that allows parents to view their child's texts, see the location of their child's phone and see what apps he or she has installed on the phone.
"Kids say things like, 'You have no right to do this,' but we do," Stephens said. "You are their parents and it's your responsibility to help them navigate the world."