Recently I’ve seen quite a bit of chatter on social media channels regarding a new parenting book called Good Pictures Bad Pictures: Porn-Proofing Today’s Young Kids. In fact, many people I know who I tend to agree with on matters of sex and porn, have shown to be huge fans of this book.
And I’ll be honest, I haven’t read it.
But when I have been asked for my thoughts on the book, my response has been the same… I don’t love the title.
Now again, I haven’t read the book. And by no means am I going to criticize something I haven’t read at all. But the title, in and of itself, sums up something I often struggle with when talking to people about how they approach matters like pornography and masturbation.
We often tend to label behaviors as good or bad because that’s easier than explaining why those same behaviors are not beneficial or healthy.
Easier to tell your kid that naked pictures of people are “bad” then explaining why looking at pictures of naked people is not good for their spiritual, emotional, or sexual development.
Far more expedient to tell men and women that “touching yourself” is sinful and wrong than to dig into the implications of masturbation and why it can be harmful for your marriage or how the objectification of others is dehumanizing and not in line with Jesus’ treatment of people.
Assigning something the value of “bad” is way simpler than asking why something is “bad.”
This is why as parents my wife and I have always tried to avoid terms like “bad” when talking to our kids about their behavior and choices.
Rather we use words like unhealthy, unhelpful, damaging, inappropriate, or even poor.
For instance, when our kids were old enough, and we got into the topic of “cuss words” we would tell them that certain words were not appropriate. We’d also explained why those words were not appropriate and assured them that if they did use said words, it didn’t make them bad people but could reflect poorly on them and not communicate who they truly were.
And when it comes to sex, porn, and masturbation we apply the very same mindset.
Because telling someone what not to do isn’t as helpful, or impactful as explaining why something isn’t worth pursuing.
For instance, I took the time to explain to my son the potential impact masturbation and porn could have on his emotional health and future relationships rather than focusing on its moral qualities.
I could have just said, “Hey man, that’s bad – don’t do that.” But what would that have done, other than instill some temporary fear and create potential shame?
I rather give him all the facts, afford him the opportunity to ask his own questions, and engage him in some meaningful conversation so when he does have to make the choice to look or not look, masturbate or not masturbate, have sex or remain a virgin… it’s his choice, and he knows why he’s choosing the better path (hopefully).
That being said, this principle goes way beyond simpler parenting.
Labeling something as “bad” or “sinful” only tells half the story and can often lead to shame and condemnation without understanding or growth. This doesn’t mean we should be afraid to recognize choices or behaviors as “wrong,” but doing so shouldn’t be our first and only choice when confronting difficult matters.
Because when it is…
- We shut down potential meaningful conversations.
- We miss out on important teaching moments.
- We ignore why the alternative is preferable and beneficial.
- We skip opportunities to examine and refine our own belief systems.
- We spend all our attention and effort demonizing what’s “bad” rather than taking time to celebrate what is truly “good.”
The truth is, growing up in the church I’ve seen far too much focus on identifying wrong and sinful behaviors when it pertains to sex or sexuality (i.e. bad stuff) instead of communicating the beauty and benefit of God’s creative design. And as a result, I’ve seen little to no progress in the way we approach matters of sex and sexuality with each other and more importantly with those outside our tight religious circles.
And while the phrase “good pictures, bad pictures” may be a catchy and appropriate title for a parenting book, it’s not the mindset I would recommend when engaging your friends, spouse, or kids when talking about sex, porn, and masturbation.
And if you are a man, woman, teen, or church leader who struggles with talking about these topics, this September we invite you to join us for a candid and fresh conversation on matters many avoid out of discomfort. Shameless is an interactive online experience that will challenge and inspire you, leaving you better prepared to handle these sensitive discussions with your friends, churches, spouses, and kids.
For more information about this event or to register yourself and/or your group visit www.shamelessevent.com.