Earlier this month, Primary General President Joy D. Jones spoke at the Utah Coalition Against Pornography Conference. Her address focused on love being the greatest weapon to fight pornography. She explained how loving your children can foster a teaching environment and build a positive relationship with them so they feel confident sharing their thoughts. When they come into contact with porn (which is inevitable), she instructed how a parent’s response needs to be love not shame.
“After we have carefully and personally taught the truth, after we have gently built trust and encouraged conversations, then children need to know that despite their mistakes and choices, our assurance will be, ‘I will always love you no matter what.’”
Even with a little faux pas of reconstituting an organization’s hashtag by switching “porn kills love” to “love kills porn,” Sister Jones’ talk overall is good parental advice.
But this is why I am concerned.
In 2016 Bonnie Cordon, then second counselor in the Primary General Presidency (she’s now the first), paid a surprise visit to my old ward in Sydney, Australia. She spent the entire time with the Primary, observing and briefly sharing her testimony and her love to the kids.
During the weeks before Sister Cordon’s visit, the ward Primary president and I had been discussing the issue of pornography and how we could appropriately address it in Primary, where children range in age from 3 to 11. The average age a child sees their first pornographic image or video ranges from 8-11, but can occur as early as age 6. It seemed to us that addressing pornography could no longer wait until the kids turned 12 and entered the youth program; that would be too late and would not arm them with the proper tools for adolescence. It now fell into the domain of Primary. How were we to address this?
A Parental Responsibility?
We began constructing a sharing time lesson using the Family Home Evening lessons the Church introduced a few years ago. The materials focus on appreciating our bodies, using the guidance of the Spirit to choose media, acting appropriately when see pornography, and furthering our understanding of the Atonement.
Our lesson structure properly outlined, we pitched the idea to Sister Cordon. While she understood our concerns she said this topic is not something we were to address to a group of children in Primary.
Pornography’s relation to the Law of Chastity is what keeps it out of bounds when engaging a group of young children. Chastity and sex are not taught in Primary, and so the understanding has been that pornography is also out of bounds. But sex remains a topic teens will address in their various ages, while children of baptismal age are now likely to be exposed to at least the topic of pornography.
As an alternative, Sister Cordon suggested we hold a fireside or training for parents, grandparents, and other adult family members to educate them about talking to their children about porn. Our bishop was proactive and took this upon himself to discuss in a fifth Sunday combined lesson.
However, one crucial problem remained unresolved with this approach: several of our Primary kids did not have parents who were present – not just on Sunday, but also in general. In those circumstances, who is going to teach those kids, as Sister Jones said, about “one of the strongest urges and biggest temptations they will face”?
The Child Left Behind
Primary is generally meant to supplement what is taught in the home, not replace the efforts of parents. But I have a hard time letting kids who, out of no fault of their own, don’t have the “ideal” parental support as they wade into preteen life with and all of the travails that come with it, including the internet, social media, and other peer pressures. Why should some kids have to suffer even more because their parents are, for whatever reason, not there or not willing to guide?
In the opening of Sister Jones’ address, she directs her remarks everyone, not just parents. She calls for “parents, families, teachers, leaders – all of us – to really see, value and protect our children and youth.” But continuing to focus on the relationship between a parent and child as the sole avenue to teach about pornography weakens the call to teachers and leaders. It seems everyone is enlisted to help children navigate issues related to pornography except Primary teachers.
From a parental perspective, not every unpaid, volunteering Church leader will say the right thing or in the right way. And there are many parents making huge efforts to teach their children about healthy relationships and proper uses of technology. But I have not found a satisfactory fall back for those who are not fortunate enough to experience robust parental involvement. Sometimes even the most present and supportive parents are nervous, embarrassed, or unsure how to address this topic. Should those of us who can speak be allowed to teach?
At the moment, a child will hear the word “pornography” either by a parent (hopefully) or in General Conference. Chances are an accidental click or a close friend will show it to them. For the kids with parents who have not shied away from calling it out, they will know it when they see it and (again hopefully) talk to someone they trust. But what about the kids who don’t have that support? They deserve to be similarly educated and empowered to make their own choices. If Primary cannot fill this space, then who?