Help for Parents of Teen Sex Addicts
|2009 - September|
Today, many parents know the basic tips on how to protect their children from predatory adults on the Internet. But few parents understand what to do if a child or teenager repeatedly seeks out pornography, phone sex, or risky physical encounters. How can parents distinguish between sexual curiosity and a serious problem, growing more unmanageable each day?
“Tom” and “Maggie” (not their real names) found themselves asking this very question, and initially believed the answer was clear. Their son “Jason” was a bright kid with excellent grades. “Through his early years, we never had to discipline him for the same offense twice,” Tom recalled recently. “He was in seventh grade, and in a car pool with a group of older boys. His interest in the computer turned from hot rod cars to soft core pornography sites which – I believe – he learned about from the ‘big’ boys .…We caught him and confronted him. His remorse [was] so genuine…that I thought the problem was solved. I vastly underestimated the seductive power of porn.”
Tom and Maggie slowly saw the addiction revealed through Jason’s behavior. Tom remembers, “He was soon drawn to sites that portrayed rape and bondage – images that went far beyond normal curiosity.”
They placed the computer in a public area of the house, and disabled it whenever they were both gone. “But we had an old computer, stored in pieces in a back room… [Jason] figured out how to put it together, download and print the images he wanted, then take it apart again. This was so blatantly the behavior of an addict – someone who knows the consequences of their actions will be severe, yet can’t stop themselves – that we sought the help of a highly recommended psychologist.”
They also looked for recovery resources online. The Society for the Advancement of Sexual Health (www.sash.net) defines sex addiction as “a persistent and escalating pattern or patterns of sexual behaviors acted out despite increasingly negative consequences to self or others.” Therapists familiar with the problem of sex addiction can help parents develop a contract for acceptable sexual behavior in their home.
Contracts specify accountability measures, such as random room searches or STD tests, as well as appropriate rewards and consequences. By working with specially trained sex addiction therapists, teen sex addicts understand how their inappropriate behavior painfully affects themselves and others; and parents learn new ways of communicating and maintaining the boundaries they set in their home.
Because most parents are unfamiliar with how to address sex addiction in a child, couples often differ about how to handle the problem. For instance, one parent may take a more strict or reactive approach, while the other may be more permissive. Parents who are divorced may have different standards of behavior in each household. Blaming or shaming one another or their child can be a particularly painful and confusing barrier to recovery.
Tom and Maggie learned that their early efforts at control were typical of many parents in the same situation. “Because I’d been fooled once, I became hyper-vigilant. My wife constantly monitored the computer, while I regularly searched his room.” Hyper-vigilance can take on a life of its own and become part of an escalating pattern of co-addiction between parents and their child.
Tom recalls, “We became spies on our own son. Whether he lied or not, he had already destroyed the bond of trust. I simply assumed that he was lying, and acted accordingly. We went through a period of secretly recording his phone conversations with his girl friends. If he said he was going to the movies with a particular friend, I’d wait until after the film started, then buy a ticket myself so that I could see with my own eyes where he was, and who he was with.” Like Tom and Maggie, by the time many parents reach out to helping professionals and Twelve Step support groups, they are already exhausted from monitoring or “snooper-vising” (as it is sometimes referred to in recovery circles).
In addition to working with a psychologist, Tom and Maggie attended meetings of COSA, a Twelve Step group for friends and family of sex addicts, where they could discuss their concerns with other parents. COSA meetings do not center on how to control the addict’s behavior. Instead, parents share their feelings of powerlessness and confusion, establish or deepen a connection with their Higher Power, and support one another as they each grow and change in their own unique way.
In COSA, parents learn what are known as “The Three Cs Plus One.” For instance, parents learn that although they did not Cause the addiction; they cannot Control it; and they cannot Cure it – they can Contribute to their family’s recovery. Parents do this by making their own recovery a top priority. Tom explains, “However much we might wish to spare our children the hard work required by a commitment to a sober life, only the teens themselves - by daily and constant effort - can accomplish what must be done.” Parents support one another to be clear, consistent and patient, to reduce the chaos and drama in their households, and to be available for their other children – no matter what the addict chooses to do.
While Tom and Maggie attended the COSA parents meeting in one room, Jason attended a separate Twelve Step meeting for adolescent sex addicts in another room down the hall.
“The group sessions helped him put his own actions into a context that was unavailable any other way. He realized that he wasn’t a freak, wasn’t alone, and – in fact – wasn’t in as deeply as some of the others in the group.” While few Twelve Step sex addiction recovery meetings accept underage members due to safety concerns, both parents and teens can benefit from reading the literature of Twelve Step programs, such as Sexaholics
Anonymous (SA), Sex Addicts Anonymous (SAA) and Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous (SLAA). In fact, many helping professionals incorporate the same spiritual principles of these Twelve Step programs into their task-centered therapeutic approach.
Today, Jason is in college, and Tom and Maggie have gone on to support other parents in COSA all over the country. Recovery for their family is an ongoing story – one that has made each member stronger for having walked through it together.
For general information on sexual addiction, parents can contact: Society for the Advancement of Sexual Health (SASH)
Sex Addicts Anonymous (SAA)
713-869-4902 / 800-477-8191
713-685-7503 / 763-537-6904
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