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12 offers challenges
[Note: this Q&A includes a response back from the parent--at the end of Jean's response.]

Dear Jean:
I have an 11.8 yr old son. He is constantly forgetting to do things at home and seems very distracted. He acts before he thinks constantly. I've had him evaluated for ADD several times thinking this may be the culprit. The doctor does not believe this is the problem yet has no solutions.

The symptoms have worsened at home particularly over the past year. I just discovered that he has been sneaking within our house to watch pornography in our home for the past six months. He does this when I'm in the shower or when his father and I are busy with his younger siblings. We thought he was playing with his computer games. I am terribly concerned.

I have several questions. Could the combination of the preadolescense plus his "impulsive" nature be the culprits? I am completely horrified about this. Could he have an addiction to things of a sexual nature at this age? I don't know how normal it would be for a child his age to be so interested in pornography (and from what my husband told me, the websites are about hard core sex). Any guidance on what steps I should take next? 

Jean responds:

Thanks for writing in. I can well understand your concern and upset at discovering your dear young son is exploring hard-core porn on the Internet.

In terms of what to do next: it seems to me a heart-to-heart talk with him is in order. In talking with him, it would be important, I think, for you to be coming from a stance of wondering and worrying about him, rather than from a  punitive stance or stance of expressing how horrified you are by his actions. He understands that this behavior horrifies you; otherwise, he would not be doing it behind your back..

It's possible that he himself has no real idea of why he has been resorting to this kind of stimulation recently, and one purpose of talking with him is to help him explore his motivation. It's also possible that a friend has introduced him to this activity, and he has found it appealing, so in that sense he does know something about why he's doing it, but not, perhaps, why he finds it appealing.

I am wondering whether anything has happened at school, home, or with friends that is of particular concern to him at this time. I am looking here for some kind of disturbance in his world that has gone unnoticed--by him, by you, by the school.

As you have had more difficulty with him during the past year, it is possible that his world is changing in ways you've not understood. Obviously this is true with regard to his puberty (he is changing there whether anyone knows it or not), but there may be less obvious ways in which things have changed, and he may be having trouble acknowledging what's going on, if he knows, and managing the change. In response to not knowing how to cope with what's happening, he may find a powerful 'escape' in the porn viewing.

I would wonder, for instance, whether he feels that he is lacking attention from you/his dad. You mention that he resorts to the computer when you're taking a shower. How does he have enough time to do that, I would wonder? --or when the two of you are attending to the younger siblings.

Here's where I am going with this: does he in some way feel that he has been identified as 'a problem' in the family in a way that makes him feel lonely and even uncared about? Do the images of sex he is viewing make him feel alive in a way that he can't feel otherwise? I do not believe he can be a 'sex addict' at this age, so I wouldn't go there, but this could be the beginning of an unhealthy way of trying to cope with feelings he doesn't know he has or doesn't understand.

Even when we are very good parents, and I get that you are, or you wouldn't be worrying about him and trying to get someone to help you, we can sometimes not realize what our children are thinking and feeling in response to events within the family or outside the family. In having a conversation with my grown daughter a few years ago, I was startled--and hurt!--by the ways in which, according to her, I had hurt her during her growing up:  "According to her"--but that's it, you see--she has to be the expert on how she felt hurt, not me.

Concerning the distractibility and forgetfulness--search the Archives with the search words distractibility, disorganization, ADD. Plenty of parents have written in who have children just this age in whom a latent attention deficit begins to show up because of the increased demands at school. You've checked with the doctor; that's good. You may also want to check with teachers at school--do they experience him as distractible?

One other area you might want to take a look at: is he being overstimulated at home?  As he develops sexually, your son's interest in sex is piqued by many things, so take a look around the house to see if you are unwittingly providing too much stimulation in this area.

And of course open up the topic of sexuality with him if he'll tolerate it. He may be wondering a lot about how he's made and what sex is. If you're not comfortable talking with him about this (either mom or dad), be sure he has another source--the family doctor, a trusted older person. You might want to buy him a good book, such as Changing Bodies, Changing Lives , about teen sexuality.

Finally: if you continue to be concerned and/or are unable to talk with him, please do not hesitate to consult with a mental health professional who is good at working with kids. Use our Directory of Clinicians , write me  for a referral, or ask the school for a referral--they don't need to know what it's about.

It's hard, parenting kids--and especially parenting adolescents. Hope this is a bit helpful; good luck to you.


Disclaimer: Ms. Walbridge's response to your question is intended to be   educational and informative. It is not a substitute for face to face consultation or psychotherapy with a mental health professional.

Response from the parent, after receiving Jean's reply:

I just wanted to thank you for responding to my question about my 11.8 yr old son and the issues of pornography watching.  It is like the old saying of the elephant in 
the room.  As my husband and I read your response we were in awe at  how you hit the nail on the button.  It
was as if you were in our  home or really knew our son. 

We have found a good therapist to work with him, but he has been focusing on the issues of motivation regarding his organizational skills. As a result of your email, I  think it is best to ask him to change the treatment plan and focus  on his feelings more. 

I can't thank you enough. God bless. And you're right, it is such a difficult job to parent. This is only the beginning.  We have two more just behind him.

Jean's response to parent's response:

Thanks so much for your feedback! I answer dozens of questions (hundreds, over the years), but seldom get to hear back from the parent(s) as to the impact of my answer. It's good to know I am sometimes useful.

Good luck with your son--surely sounds like you're on the right track to consult with the therapist and see if he can
help your boy open up his feelings.

Thanks again for taking the time to give feedback!


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