“Mr. Miranda, help me please…” I sat listening to a voicemail from a frazzled and terrified mom who had on the previous night busted her 6th grade, 11 year old daughter for looking at gay porn—both guys and girls—and for having a Myspace page. After calling the mom back and speaking with her, I shared some basic information with her concerning the addictive properties of pornography, a little about my story (I’m a recovering addict—since 1999) and some suggestions for internet safety.
She was speechless! I had to make sure that she didn’t have a coronary right there on the spot. During our talk she cycled through a bunch of different emotions: disbelief, anger, frustration, fear, terror…and then back to anger—okay, she stayed at anger and frustration for a lot of the time. Mom said “I thought I knew my little girl…I mean, you hear about this kind of stuff happening to people who are crappy parents, but me and my husband are great parents,” and they really were. But staying on top of a teenager’s ever changing cultural and moral landscape is a lot like a salmon swimming up a waterfall: if you stop for just one second you go backwards!
Once I began to delve a little further I realized that my student’s father looked at porn on a regular basis and you can fool a fool, but you can’t kid a kid. Kids know their parents habits and ultimately their character. I reminded mom that both habits and character are caught not taught and if they wanted their daughter to stop looking at porn, it was going to have to start with dad.
I also informed mom that she and her husband needed to begin really spending time with their daughter and getting to know her. Mom admitted that the family was really busy—the word she used was “fractured;” I thought that her choice of words was interesting for two reasons: 1. both she and her husband are nurses and 2. this was an accurate yet sad descriptor of individuals, families, communities and our culture as a whole: fractured, we are broken!
Mom went on to admit that when her husband came home from a hard shift, he would disappear into his “man cave” for hours at a time “playing on his computer and the internet.” Mom and daughter were left all alone to fend for themselves. Mom went on to tell the oh-so-familiar story of a lack of intimate sexual or spiritual relationship with her husband and how that lack of intimacy was mirrored in her and her husband’s relationship—or lack thereof—with their daughter. I could only assume that a large portion or possibly all of the time, this father was looking at porn. He was looking for healing, for intimacy, but it would never be found there. Speaking with the student confirmed the same story. The student told me that she rarely saw her father when he got home and when he spoke with her it was only about “safe stuff like school and my grades and stuff…never about who I am or what I like to do…or about what I can’t do.” This family was broken! How could we put the pieces back together? Getting to Know You
In my almost 18 years of experience in dealing with teens and families as both a Christian Counselor and as a middle and high school counselor, I’ve been asked the same question by parents, teachers, youth workers and anybody who just wants to get to know teens better: “Omar, how can I get to know my teen better?” And here again was this mother asking me the same thing. She said, “Mr. Miranda, I know you told me to get to know my daughter, but how do I do it? What do I say or don’t say?”
I’ve found that if I ask 5 questions, I can usually get to know what type of issues that teen is dealing with, the friends he/she spends time with and generally open the door to what’s going on in their life. These are the questions I told that mom and dad to ask their daughter and start the long and difficult road to healing the brokenness that they were all experiencing. Here are the questions in no particular order:
1. Tell me your favorite 3 video games you have played or are playing?
2. Tell me your 3 favorite bands/songs you are listening to?
3. Tell me your 3 favorite web-sites you have frequented?
4. Tell me about 3 favorite shows you are watching on the T.V.?
5. Do you have a myspace, facebook or other social networking site (SNS) page? Can you tell me about it? Can you give me your address?
Then when you have all that information, go surfing on the internet and prepare to be amazed at how much you learn! You might also be amazed at how much closer you and your teen are. If you want to dig deeper, ask your teen these questions once a week, then follow-up with questions like: “why do you like to listen/watch this…?” Get ready for some honesty! Remember, if you don’t want to truly know the answer, don’t ask the question