Updated: May 15, 2020
"Since it’s not possible to forever avoid stimuli that assault the senses, it is important to cultivate the discipline of discernment." Dive in to read more of this newest BLOG on PARENTING Youth & Teens.
**PARENTS: Read this blog. Then Apply it together with your Teen HERE.
“We have five senses that enable us to see, hear, smell, feel, and taste. These would have been used centering upon perfect love, and eyes, ears, nose, hands, and mouth, each with their senses, would have all become perfected by centering on love. To experience things with our five senses centering on love is an exquisite state. It is like a state of intoxication, only with love. You feel intoxicated by the environment, experiencing a reciprocal relationship with every other being. One never feels alone. Every being reaches to eternity, and each being expresses itself in a unique way. The intense beauty of the ideal world would be found through the reciprocal relationships developed among all the things of creation.” -Rev. Sun Myung Moon
"Discernment is not a matter of simply telling the difference between right and wrong; rather it is telling the difference between right and almost right." -Charles Spurgeon
“Our bodies have five senses: touch, smell, taste, sight, hearing. But not to be overlooked are the senses of our souls: intuition, peace, foresight, trust, empathy. The differences between people lie in their use of these senses; most people don't know anything about the inner senses while a few people rely on them just as they rely on their physical senses, and in fact probably even more.” -C. JoyBell C.
It is said that “we are what we eat”. We think of a body made up of nutritional building blocks - if balanced and healthy it will positively show in our glowing skin, energy levels and overall health. If what we consume on a regular basis is over processed and lacking in nutrition, the opposite will be true. Our five physical senses of hearing, sight, touch, taste and smell help us to perceive the physical world around us, to understand and experience it. What makes human beings unique amongst life on earth is our ability to infer meaning from our experiences and communicate them. Our senses exist to experience beauty, truth and goodness. The early years in childhood are filled with the excitement of discovering our surroundings and experiencing new sensations. Parents will fondly remember the reactions of their children the first time they sat on a patch of grass, paddled in the sea, tasted a lemon or watched a fireworks display. What children should infer from their early life experiences is that they are loved, that life exists to share love and joy with family, people around them and with God, which is the greatest meaning there is.
Parents of teens will look back at their child’s early years and remember how happy but also intense those times were for them, as much as it was for their children. Sleepless nights, crying, diaper changes, tantrums, fights with siblings, worries about their health and development. A parents’ senses can feel overloaded with all that we feel, need to respond to, think about and digest. In hindsight, we also recognize how relatively simple those times were, when a hug and a snack were able to solve most problems and when we were able to more easily control the environment and routine our children were in most days. We made choices over their diets, bedtime, places and people visited, and what kind of media consumption we felt comfortable with. We intuitively regulated our young children’s sensory input, sensing ourselves that this is a big part of what positively or negatively affects the minds and hearts of children.
At some point, things become more tricky as we navigate our children’s growing awareness and interests in the media that surround us and in their desire to be connected to their friends and participate in activities with them. Parents and children are faced with increasingly numerous choices about what activities to engage in or not. Guiding our children to choose nutritionally balanced food and avoid sugar, salt and additive overload can be a real challenge, for example. As is dealing with the reality that young children have access to tablets and adolescents to smartphones which offer the internet and its endless connectivity and array of wholesome and harmful content, 24/7. Since it’s not possible to forever avoid stimuli that assault the senses, it is important to cultivate the discipline of discernment.
We want our children to start thinking more deeply about what they are encountering and make healthy choices that bring them and others real joy and satisfaction. To discern what has real meaning and what are fake, often harmful, substitutes.
One of these harmful substitutes is pornography- sexually explicit videos, photographs, writings, or the like, whose purpose is to elicit sexual arousal. While parents might acknowledge that their teens will come across porn at some point, they will be shocked to learn that today, children as young as 7 and 8 years old are being exposed to pornographic content, even if they don’t own their own internet-enabled devices. What may have started out as an accidental find or introduced to by a friend can quickly escalate into a frequent habit which young children are ill-equipped to handle. Research indicates that children under 10 now account for 22% of online porn consumption under 18 (British School of Nursing, 2017). More boys view online pornography, through choice, than girls, although that number is rising as there is now a growing amount of female-targeted content being created.
Explicit images and videos negatively affect young children in a myriad of ways. Multiple and sustained exposure can negatively affect children’s mental health, body image and self-image, wrongly informs them of sexual behaviours, incites premature sexual exploration with self and others, and can set them up for sex addicitions and intimacy disorders in adolescence and adulthood. Pornography has a profound impact on our children’s values, attitudes and behaviors toward sex and relationships. Read more in an in depth report here: "I wasn’t sure it was normal to watch it" NSPCC Learning
Young people’s’ anonymous reflections convey the lonely descent into addiction and depression, but also the desire to do the right thing. “It started when I was about 6 years old. My friend showed me it. I started watching by myself at the age of about 9 or 10 when I got my first smart phone. But it was always just in the background and it wasn't often. It didn't feel like an addiction. But at the age of 13 my friends told me about this thing, masturbation. I tried it. In the beginning it wasn't that often but it got more often with time. After a few months I realized I'm getting addicted. I tried to stop but it was impossible. It has continued to this day. There were many failed attempts to quit. I got really depressed. I can't stop.” “I started around the age of 11. My parents discovered me using porn twice. Since then, my hiding tactics have improved, which allowed me to get deeper into it. I wish I had the courage and the determination to share this with my parents. My parents would probably help me, and be happy that I shared this with them. But I’m always worried about disappointing them.”
As parents, we need to inform ourselves of the real and devastating effects of porn and take a proactive stance to combat our families’ exposure to it. Know what media your children have access to and enforce screen time use and limits. Install internet filters and enable parental controls on home devices. Take time to discuss your family’s values and expectations regarding sex and relationships. Invite your children to freely talk to you or a trusted family member if and when they encounter any pornographic material and assure them of your understanding and willingness to support them with any issues that may already exist. It may not be an easy road ahead. During the sensitive teen years it is natural for our children to push the boundaries of parental control, to want to figure things out for themselves, make their own choices and establish themselves as individuals within the family structure. It can seem like they don’t want to accept our advice and reject our love but it is actually the time they need us the most. Be encouraged that you are acting in the image and likeness of God as you stand firm in your parental position by being an anchor and guide for your child.
How then can we parent our children to maturity? The power to parent comes from the quality of relationship we share with our child. The more securely attached our children feel to us, emotionally and psychologically, the more we are able to give our children in terms of protection, guidance, sharing our worldview and inspiring them to pursue a life of meaning with every choice they make. If we are aware that the bond with our teen is not as strong as it could be, or is damaged, then this is where we need to invest ourselves more intentionally. As inferred in the previous blog post, God In My Heart, children learn by imitating the behavior we as parents model to them but ultimately we can’t control everything our adolescents do, only guide them. Being part of an extended family and ‘village’ of like-minded families is optimal for demonstrating how living by certain values impacts every aspect of our lives and serves as a source of strength and support for grandparents, couples, parents and children. Try reaching out to make new friends who share similar values as yours, if you haven’t already found such a community.
A healthy exercise for us to do is to reflect on our own discipline in protecting and nurturing our senses. Do we have a good daily routine which allows us to look after ourselves, physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually, while at the same time fulfilling all the expectations of us from family, friends, bosses. What are our own online habits like? Do the shows we watch and music we listen to uplift us or leave us feeling like we’ve indulged in something unhealthy? Are we intentionally investing in our relationship with our spouse? Are we minding how we look at and interact with others, particularly members of the opposite sex?
If we aren’t clear what we think and believe about issues we need to make daily choices about ourselves, then now is the time to search our hearts and make the convictions necessary to be able to stand by timeless morals and values and explain to our teens why we make certain choices and are guiding them to do likewise. If and when we fall short on making the best decisions for ourselves and our family, there are always opportunities to address the need to change a habit for the betterment of the individuals and for the whole family. Take the opportunity to focus on accepting grace in your own journey towards embracing greater meaning in your life and share the benefits of making good choices with your teen.
Wisdom to guide my child in the best way, to know when and how to reach my child.
Protection of my son or daughter. To keep their hearts, eyes, mind and body pure in thoughts and actions.
Unconditional love in my parenting. Ask God to help me balance truth and grace. To always be a channel of love.
PRAYER TIME - Set aside time daily or weekly for family prayer and study. Discuss the different things we perceive daily with our senses and what the outcome of healthy vs. unhealthy choices could be.
GOOD STUFF - Guide your child in picking some positive music, movies and books which have wholesome messages, are memorable and fun.
HONESTY - Share the choices you have had to make and still make every day. Testify to the times you have made choices that brought you joy.
RELATIONSHIP - Spend one-on-one time with your child doing something you both love. Pick a movie to watch (focus on consequences of protecting or abusing ones senses) and discuss together.
RESOURCES with clickable links
Common Media Media recommendations and advice for families
Raising Children in a Digital World Video Dr. Gordon Neufeld ‘ Raising Children in a Digital World’
High Noon Creating a culture of sexual integrity, openness and heavenly sexual intimacy
Protecting Young Minds Protecting young kids from pornography, and promting healing from sexual exploitation
PREPARING FOR THE CONVERSATION WITH YOUR YOUTH/TEEN: