One of the problems I occasionally struggle with is that of giving unsatisfactory answers to people’s questions. By that, I mean answers I know are unsatisfactory in the sense that they do not promise solutions, but are nonetheless the best I can do.
A recent example: The parents of a 15-year-old boy ask me what to do about his pornography addiction. When they discovered that he was using his electronic devices to access porn, they put safeguards on them. He managed to get around the safeguards. So they took the devices away.
To make a long story short, they have done all the right things; nonetheless, he continues to figure out ways of getting into porn. He has admitted he has an addiction and told his parents that part of him wants to stop but the other part doesn’t. Other than this thorn, he’s a good kid — responsible, hard working, and so on — and has a good relationship with his folks.
This story illustrates the fact that parenting does not produce the person. The person is “produced” by his own free will, the choices he makes. A child can be raised well, by good people and turn out badly.
Contrarily, a child can be raised badly and turn out well. Call this the Paradoxical Parenting Principle. Parenting and the child/person are not a cause/effect relationship. Parenting is an influence and one’s job, certainly, is to maximize the positive aspects of the influence, but even the most positive parenting does not guarantee a positive outcome.
I frequently refer to Mick Jagger’s Theorem: You can’t always get what you want. Children need to learn this reality principle, and the earlier, the better. People who grow up not having learned it are in for a lot of unhappiness. They aren’t sturdy people. You can identify them by their habit of turning even mundane elements of their lives into drama.
But Mick’s Theorem also applies to parents: You can’t always get the child you want. Most parents, in fact, don’t get exactly the child they want. They get a close approximation at best. Furthermore, parents who try to make the child they got into the child they want usually end up very, very frustrated, angry even.
So here’s what I have to say to the parents of this 15-year-old: First, fault here lies not with you, but with your son. You did not make some egregious parenting mistake that has caused this problem. Pornography is not his way of filling some emotional void you created in his life. He’s not doing this because Dad has done a bad job of teaching respect for women. And so on. Keep straight whose responsibility this is.
Second, your ability to steer your son in the right direction concerning this issue is very limited. It’s limited by his free will, which is a powerful force, and it’s even more powerful when a person’s free will is taken over by an addiction. Can you accept that you are not the agent of change in your child’s life concerning this issue; that the appointed agent of change may not come into his life until he’s an adult, if ever.
Everyone’s heard stories like that. You might try professional counseling, but unless he wants to conquer his addiction, that is not likely to yield fruit.
Third, you are obligated only to do your best. You are not obligated to solve this problem. Your son is. And if he doesn’t, you are not the less for it.
Family psychologist John Rosemond: johnrosemond.com, parentguru.com.