Episode 197: John Fort and Discussing Emotions and Sexuality with Our Children

In this episode we talk with John Fort who works with Be Broken Ministries which helps families talk about emotions and sexuality with their children as well as offers many other ministry resources for men, women, and families to move from sexual brokenness to wholeness. We also have an important announcement in this episode and other resources for you. We’ll be back for Season 8 next week!

Our Guest: John Fort

John Fort, MST, is the Director of Training for Be Broken, helping men, women, and families move from sexual brokenness to wholeness in Christ. He speaks across the country and oversees online training for Be Broken on Pure Life Academy.  His background in biology, human health, and child development give him a unique voice to help parents assist their children to safely navigate our hyper-sexual world. Before working with Be Broken John was a high school science teacher for two years at Pan American Christian Academy in São Paulo, Brazil and a middle school science and health teacher for seven years in Oregon. John has authored or co-authored over ten books, including Honest Talk: A New Perspective on Talking to Your Kids About Sex and Father-Son Accountability: Integrity Through Relationship.

John and his wife, Anna, live in Oregon and have two adult children.

Books and Resources Discussed in This Episode:

Transcript/Show Notes with Links:

Terrie (00:08):

Welcome to “Books that Spark,” a podcast for parents and caregivers, celebrating books that help us with everyday discipleship every day, sparking important conversations with our children. We’ve been talking a lot about how we want to disciple the next generation, and we’ve learned through some of the interviews we’ve had recently that we can use any book we’re reading to disciple our kids. Any circumstance we’re in, we can find those teachable moments that we can grasp and really speak into the lives of our children and encourage them in their walks and their development toward following Christ. Now we are at the end of season seven, and we are on a break for a few weeks, and so I’ve chosen some episodes that I think will really be worth listening to again, and I hope they will bless you, and I hope you enjoy them. Today we have one of those replays, and we will be back for season eight of “Books that Spark” in just a couple weeks.

Terrie (01:06):

In the meantime, enjoy these replays, and I wanted to share something important with you this week. I want to share an interview with you from John Fort. He has some wonderful materials, and one of the things we become very aware of in our culture today, but especially during pride month, is that we need to have some important and uncomfortable conversations with our children.

Terrie (01:28):

I was watching a family testimony from Christopher Yuan last week, and I will share the link to this wonderful video in the show notes. But if you don’t know who he is, he had been heavily into the homosexual lifestyle. He was also a drug user and was arrested and spent quite a few years in jail. His parents in the meantime had become Christians, and his mother was praying for him every day. Through all that happened, he came to the Lord and rejected the life and the lies he had been living. He now speaks. He’s a professor. It is just an amazing story of redemption, of what God has done in his life.

Terrie (02:09):

But one of the things he and his parents call us to is to have these conversations. We should be the ones as parents teaching our children about sex and about God’s ideal for marriage and the family and all of those things. We need to be talking about them and helping our children navigate the murky waters in which they live right now. This testimony is well worth the listen. It’s about an hour long, not quite an hour long, but it is so good.

Terrie (02:39):

And then the conversation with John Fort and the materials that he has are so helpful. There are some great resources that he mentions. And then in addition to that, I wanted to share with you that Foundation Worldview, whom we love, Elizabeth Urbanowicz, who is the founder of Foundation Worldview— she’ll be on our podcast in season eight, and we’re looking forward to that conversation. But they have a new curriculum called “God’s Good Design,” new Biblical Sexuality curriculum for ages four plus. We’re having to start so young talking about these things and they have made a curriculum that is age-appropriate for having these conversations for beginning to help our children understand the truth even when they’re bombarded by other ideas. So this is available.

Terrie (03:29):

The cool thing about it is because of your faithful listening to this podcast and because she has been on our podcast a number of times, they are offering all of our listeners a 10% discount on this curriculum. So if you are interested in that, you can go to foundationworldview.com. When you check out, enter the code, SPARK10, and that will give you the 10% discount, and I’ll have the links in the show notes for you.

Terrie (03:55):

But this is very exciting. I’m very excited for this new curriculum to be out there, and we will be talking about it, like I said, in season eight on one of our episodes. So now enjoy this replay of John Fort’s interview and his wonderful resources that he has available for our families today in tackling some of these difficult conversations today.

Terrie (04:17):

Our guest is John Fort. He is definitely going to give us some important conversation ideas for our children. His ministry and his books deal with feelings and sexuality and helping our children to mature in a godly way in their sexual identity. So we’re so glad to have him here with us today. Thank you, John, for joining us.

John (04:40):

It’s good to be here.

Terrie (04:41):

First of all, I want you to tell me a little bit about your ministry. I know you’re a part of a ministry that’s bigger than the books, so tell us a little bit about the ministry, and then we’ll jump into talking about your books you have available.

John (04:53):

Alright. I work for Be Broken Ministries. Our mission is to help men, women, and families move from sexual brokenness to wholeness in Christ. We have a men’s department and a women’s department and a family. I’m kind of representing the family department of that right now.

Terrie (05:08):

Okay. You have several books for different age groups and a game. So let’s start out with the one for the youngest children, the picture book that you have, or chapter book, depending how you read it.

John (05:19):

Yeah, so the book you’re talking about is called The Adventures of Seven and Rōno, and it actually has nothing to do with Be Broken, I’m just the author of that. I write all kinds of things. I actually wrote this to my children when they were 4, 5, 6, somewhere in there, and what it is is a chapter book. It was 10 chapters intended to be used for like four or five year olds as a bedtime book, and you might think, well, that’s not normally what we do for bedtimes, but it’s 10 chapters. I worked really hard to make them exactly the same length. They take about 10 minutes to read, which is a good amount for bedtime. It has a picture and a page spread and it’s about a little boy and a girl, Seven and Rōno who are lost and trying to find their way home with the help of a character called Trudo who they can’t see, but who can talk to them, and Trudo represents God. Essentially the purpose of the book is to help kids understand concepts related to trusting God, but the reason it works for a bedtime storybook is every chapter that children wake up in the morning and at the end of the chapter they go to sleep. So it’s no cliffhangers or anything like that, so it works good. The kids in the story are going to sleep, so now you can go to sleep.

Terrie (06:21):

That’s good.

John (06:23):

But it also works for very early chapter readers. So that might be eight years old or seven years old, depending on the reading level of the kid.

Terrie (06:30):

All right. And then tell us about the books you have. I’m especially interested in talking about the one you have for fathers and sons. I think that’s so amazing.

John (06:39):

So let me back up just a little bit. I’m going to talk about Honest Talk first. Honest Talk, I wrote, the purpose of it is a new perspective on talking with your kids about sex. It is divided into sections for 5, 6, 7, 8 year olds, and like nine through 11 year old or 12 year olds, and then older, so like three sections for different ages of kids. And it’s based off this idea, we want to have ongoing conversations, not just about sex, but about emotions. One of the distinguishing things about Be Broken is very high percentage of our content is really about emotional awareness and emotional resilience. So kids need help with their feelings and when children never learn what to do with difficult or awkward feelings when they become teenagers, that can be one of the reasons that drives them to seek out inappropriate behaviors like looking at pornography or something because that makes them feel better. Sexual behavior, whether it’s pornography use or anything else, causes enormous amounts of dopamine to be released into the brain, and for a child that will be the best feeling thing they can ever do, so if parents have little kids, a lot of the work is really helping them understand and identify and then learning how to deal with the feelings they have, and that builds into, by the time they get into teenagers, you begin to show them the connection between feelings and temptation. Now we’ve had that book out for a few years and Focus on The Family, by the way, just bought that. So, about a year from now we’ll have a different cover cause I’m sure they’ll renew the cover, and they’re working on just editing and that kind of thing right now, so that’s really exciting. But what parents were saying was, “This book is great. It gives me a lot of good things to do, but like sometimes I don’t have time to read a chapter of a book and then figure out how to take that and do something with my kid.” Right? In other words, the background information is great, but I need more stuff to do, so Father-Son Accountability, which actually I happened to have written that before Honest Talk, but it’s made for a dad and his son ages 12 and up, and it’s very small, it’s eight chapters. Each chapter again, only takes 10 minutes to read, I mean, these are really small. And the idea is a father and son read one chapter and then at the end of that chapter it has him say, “Now dad, you share this” and “Son, you share this,” and it tells them exactly what to do. What we’re doing here is very little preparation, the dad doesn’t even have to read through it. I mean, he can, but it takes no preparation other than to sit down and immediately do it, and this is what parents have been asking is we need more things to just do with our kids, cause I’m too busy to read a bunch of stuff. I don’t have time to figure out how can I apply this with my kids, so Father-Son Accountability is that way. Now, I wrote that with my son. We just redid it a year ago. Things get outdated so fast, so we’ve come up with some better things. We still talk about these things today and he’s married and has a little boy right now too, so about 50% of the content he wrote, and in this book we actually say who’s talking, so you can always see, and we kept the stuff he said when he was 15, so you really get that oh, I can tell this is a 15 year old talking kind of thing.

Terrie (09:35):

That’s so cool. I love that. So you talk about how things have changed. Okay. When my kids were little, when they were in kindergarten, first grade, all we needed to talk about was how boys and girls are different nowadays in kindergarten, they’re being hit with transgender stuff and all kinds of things. So how has the conversation changed with our changing culture with the younger children especially?

John (10:00):

Well, the good thing is that it’s been in just the last few years that Christian writers have really seen the urgency and come up with some phenomenal materials that didn’t exist before, so the materials that exist now to speak into the crazy stuff culture is saying would’ve been good to use 10 years ago. I wish these books existed when I was a kid, because they’re not just a reaction to culture, they’re like, “We should have been talking about this.” Anyway, so my favorite book on that is God Made Boys and Girls by Marty Machowski. The first part of that book is for, I mean, as young as preschool, and they’re talking about not anatomical parts so much, but just like the whole idea of gender girls and boys. Then like the second half of the book in my opinion, is more for 10 years old and up because it’s abstract. It gets into some genetics a little bit, x y chromosomes and that kind of stuff, and that’s too abstract for little tiny kids, and so honestly, that book, the first half is for young kids and then the older half is for older kids. So it’s one book does both, if that makes sense. So the deal is, is that with parents today, there are these great resources, go buy that book, then have it on your bookshelf. When you have these kind of books like God Made Your Body and that kind of stuff, don’t put them in a special place, put them where the kids keep their regular books and say, you can look at this anytime you want, because just reading something one time with a kid doesn’t mean it completely sinks in, so they can pick it up anytime they want and look through it or ask to read it again. So gender, you have that when it comes to preschool. You have God Made Your Body by Jim Burns, it’s body part things in a super appropriate way. Then Jim Burns is also my favorite one for about eight years old when you’re going to explain them how sex works eight, nine years old, and we may feel like that’s too young. Here’s the reality when you look at historically with Christians and culture in general is, I don’t have time to go into how I know this, but in the past, kids knew how sex worked much younger than they did those of us who are adults. When we learned, they said, you need to know this, and it’s only been in the generations of parents and grandparents today when that stopped for some reason. So now we’re getting back to know about eight, nine years old is when they need to know this kind of information before they get it in some sex ed class or something like that, and so Jim Burns doesn’t get into all the details, but he does enough stuff that questions and does it really appropriately. Luke and Trisha Gilkerson have their Talk series, which are more for homeschool parents, it’s like the classroom book on sex education, but it’s done in a very Christian approach.

Terrie (12:28):

Okay. Well, and I know too, in the past when everybody lived on farms, you just learned a lot just from watching the animals.

John (12:36):

Yeah, you knew what was going on. That’s true.

Terrie (12:38):

Yeah. Okay, so another question I have for you, and I want to talk about your game before we end as well. How do we help a child if we’ve got a preteen or teen who has gotten into porn or something inappropriate, how do we help our kids heal from that and come out of that?

John (12:56):

Well, if it’s a boy, the Father-Son Accountability book is designed exactly for that. So the boy doesn’t have to have gotten into porn for the book to be useful, but it talks about what to do if that becomes something you have a hard time walking away from. For older kids, so that’s like 12, 13, but if a kid is a little bit older, we have an online book called A Family Game Plan for Discussing Porn, and that’s on our website, PureLifeAcademy.org, and that walks the whole family through discussing that. There’s other teenagers who talk about it, it’s very relevant, very quick, our videos are short, they’re like 3, 4, 5 minutes long, they’re not an hour long, so a lesson is much, much, much shorter. And so it walks through starting with feelings, and it walks through the conversations we need to have and helps them understand. Cause here’s the thing with a kid, especially a Christian kid, is that they will look at porn and not understand why they liked it and they’ll swear that “I’m not going to do it again.” They’ll promise themselves, they’ll tell God, and then a week later they do it again and they don’t understand. They can’t understand themselves. If mom or dad says, “Why are you doing that?” They’re going to say, “I don’t know,” and they’re telling the truth. There’s a chapter in Honest Talk that talks about that, explains what’s happening in their brain and why it is so difficult for adolescents to resist things like that. In other words, from parents, we need to understand it’s not their fault. They’re not monsters, they’re victims. The human brain is not equipped to resist something like that during adolescence because the prefrontal cortex is not developed until 25, that’s the part of their brain that helps them say, “I shouldn’t do this.” We need to be their ally and support them in navigating this because it’s not fair the world they got thrown into. So we have Father-Son Accountability, Honest Talk also talks a lot about that kind of thing, and then we have the video series if somebody thinks that might be better received by their kid.

Terrie (14:42):

Wonderful. Yeah, and that dopamine, from what I understand, it’s just like with taking drugs, cocaine or whatever, it just causes such a change in their brain that, like you said, it’s not something they can even really control, and it’s a reaction that the brain just does. So how can we prepare and protect our kids but still keep communication open? I have a hard time, this is the balance that I feel a lot of parents feel. The difficulty is we want to protect our kids, but we also don’t want them to grow up in a bubble and not be prepared for what they’re going to face in the world, and so where’s that happy place? Where’s the happy medium where we keep communication open? We protect them as much as possible, or prepare them maybe is a better word, as much as possible.

John (15:26):

Again, this is what Honest Talk was written for because it kind of gives you a roadmap of what to talk about when at what age. And the idea is feelings is half the battle and feelings is awkward to talk about, but not as awkward as sexuality, so it’s sort of the training ground where both the parent and the child learn to talk about personal things so it doesn’t feel so weird, and then when we need to have discussions about sexuality, it’s not such a giant step when we’re used to it. The main thing I would say is talking about feelings every day as much as possible. You’re not going to do this perfectly, but aiming to every day check in, how are you feeling? What’s been happening today? How’d that make you feel? What did your friends say? Working through that, so the entire family gets better at talking about feelings. We’ve already talked about teaching kids how sex works, how God designed sex to be, that’s not a bad thing, that’s a good thing, but you don’t talk about that all the time, obviously. What you can talk about though is things you’ve been exposed to. The older a kid gets, the more contamination, I would put it that way, they’re exposed to for obvious reasons. Don’t forget it’s not just pornography. Kids start telling each other sexual jokes and really off colored things pretty young, and that can happen in church. I remember when I was in fifth, sixth grade in church, boys were telling horrible, awful jokes to each other in the church building and adults weren’t around. So you got to remember, this is not just the online and books and things like that. So we need to get used to talking about, “Hey, what have you seen and heard today, and what did you think about that? How did that make you feel? Do you have any questions for me?” These kinds of things that we walk through to clean up the exposure. You use a bath to clean the outside of your kid and you use questions and talking about what they’ve been through to clean the inside, the stuff that they’ve been exposed to. So we want to do that every so often.

Terrie (17:15):

That’s really good. I remember just a personal story, my fifth, sixth grade years were in an army town and, oh my goodness, I learned more in those two years than I ever wanted to know from all these army kids, and I came home and I would ask my mom, “Mom, these kids are saying blah, blah, blah.” I knew nothing, I was so naive, and she’s like, “Oh, you don’t need to know that yet,” and I’m like, you know, if I can come home and articulate a question that is basically outlining how people have sex, I think I need to know what’s real and what’s not, especially if my friends are talking about it all the time. So when my kids were born, I was determined to be very open with them. Well, three of my four are on the autism spectrum, so they have a very difficult time articulating anything that has to do with feelings, and I’m like gung-ho, you know, getting the books, and I have these age-appropriate books and my kids are like covering their ears and nananana, they don’t want to talk about it. So I think we have to as parents be prepared to have the uncomfortable conversations to help our kids learn how to articulate their feelings, but also to be aware of where the child is and what they have been exposed to, then to be able to have that conversation. You think that’s the right attitude?

John (18:33):

Absolutely. I have the same story as you. When I was nine years old, I heard some teenagers talking about something that was related to sex, but I didn’t understand and I tried to ask my mom, and she got very upset, not at me. I could tell she wasn’t mad at me, but it just really upset her. I just, at that moment, can’t ask my parents. If my mom acts like this, I can’t even imagine what my dad’s going to act like. So I just kept going back to those teenagers to ask them questions, which that ended up with some wildly inappropriate and harmful information that I was exposed to.

Terrie (19:00):

Yeah, that’s the sad part. Okay, so let’s go ahead and talk about your game. cause I think that’s really a wonderful tool. We bought it too, so tell us about that.

John (19:11):

So we were doing some parent focus groups. This is after Honest Talk was written, asking them what they want, and they said, we want conversation cards. I want to have conversations, but I want to just say we’re going to have a conversation. I’d just draw something out to talk about, but I’m an overachiever, so I made a game instead. So there are cards and they’re divided into four kinds and they’re color coded. There’s feelings cards, which I’ve already talked about, so there’s questions about feelings. There’s get to know me cards, which are just to practice talking about personal things, then there’s family brainstorm cards, which those are designed to like, here’s a situation, the family can brainstorm what we think about it. Then the final ones are questions about sex. What you would do is, you use the first two, get to know me cards and feelings cards. That’s basic play, or beginner play. You do that for a while first, then you can throw in the family brainstorm once later because they get even more personal, then the questions about sex you only use once your kid has gone through one of Jim Burn’s books, they’ve had some information about how God designed sex to work and it’s really just asking questions that they should have learned and answer cards too, and the point of that is they’re not learning anything, the whole family’s learning to get used to saying the words that you have to say to answer those cards, that’s really all that’s about. We tested it out a year ago with a bunch of families and one of the things they said was, there’s not enough funny stuff in here, so we threw jokes and things in there that have not just for fun, but the gist of the game is everybody has four cards and you can play whatever card you want when you play it. You have to answer the question, but the more embarrassing the question is, the more points you get. So if when kids are playing this, if they want to win, they have to play the embarrassing ones. So what our feedback said, as soon as their kids figured that out, they only wanted to play the most embarrassing cards and, unlike conversation cards, these kids in every case asked their parents, can we play that game again? I think it’s unlikely that if you had conversation cards about awkward things that the kid would say, “Hey, remember those really awkward questions? Can we get those out and do some?” This was made entertaining enough that the kids actually wanted to play it again.

Terrie (21:16):

That’s awesome. Well, and I want to end with one final part. Your ministry has resources and information for parents who might be struggling. So can you tell us a little bit about that?

John (21:28):

So Be Broken started 20 years ago with ministry just to men and we have Gateway to Freedom, it’s intensive, a three day thing, and we have them in different places in the United States that men go to in this very small group. Be Broken doesn’t work with big crowds. That’s not what we do. We work with small groups of people because it works better. It’s anywhere between 9 and 18 men for three days and we help them really get a handle on things like pornography use or things like that and get going in a good direction and just follow up for two, three months after that, but we also try to help them find a support network in their area when they return home or if they needed a counselor in their area. So we have, we call a counselor and support group network. They’re not us, they’re not Be Broken, but we have relationships with them, so we try to help people find ongoing support. So we don’t do support groups and we are not counselors, but we’re helping people get started, or if a man, maybe he’s been through that stuff and just kind of got stuck and they’re just not getting better, then this is, and that’s called Gateway to Freedom. We have help for wives because when a man has been using pornography, his wife is going to feel betrayed. If the man gets help and the wife doesn’t, the marriage usually doesn’t survive, so it’s like this, if a man shot his wife and they come get the man because he needs some help to deal with that, but his wife, they say, “We need to help you,” and she said, “I’m fine. This is his problem, not my problem.” You just got shot, you need very different kind of help than your husband does, but you need help. So this is the same thing. The wife got shot and she needs healing, so we have wives care, which is online that just works better for women. We have a six week thing for that. Again, it’s more help, it’s not like ongoing forever and they can help women find ongoing help if they want it in their area, but they’re both important. Sometimes a woman will feel like, “This is not my problem, it’s not fair that I need help.” Well no, you were hurt and you deserve help. That’s kind of more the way to look at it now for women. We don’t have anyone in our organization that deals with women who struggle with things like pornography, but there are several organizations we refer out to if someone comes to us with those issues.

Terrie (23:30):

Okay. And then you also have a podcast. I know I watched some of the podcast episodes on the website as well that were very informative and helpful.

John (23:40):

Yeah, so Jonathan Daugherty, our president and founder, he runs Pure Sex Radio and there are a number of podcasts about Christian viewpoints and sexuality. This is the biggest. We have I think 30,000 listeners a month and it’s all over the world. The thing is, is we actually have clients all over the world, not just the United States.

Terrie (23:58):

That’s awesome. Well I love what y’all are doing. I think it’s so needed and it’s so uncomfortable for a lot of people, but such a needed ministry and I love that you’re helping guide parents to know how to help their children find health sexually and to grow up as healthy people, so this is wonderful. Thank you so much for sharing with us today.

John (24:19):

Thank you so much for having me.

Terrie (24:20):

Is there anything else you wanted to share that we didn’t cover?

John (24:23):

I just want to say this to parents because I understand this wasn’t easy for me when my kids were in grade school and needing these kind of conversations. I would just say this, you are the right parent to do this. Your child is in the right home to get this help and you can do this. It’s scary, but once you start, what you find is the relationship between you and your child gets stronger, not weaker when you do this.

Terrie (24:49):

That’s awesome. Well, thank you again so much, and I appreciate all that you’re doing.

John (24:54):

Thank you.

Terrie (24:54):

Thank you for joining us for “Books that Spark,” where we encourage each other to live out everyday Discipleship, helping to equip our children to follow Christ with their whole hearts. If you would like to connect with John, the links will be in the show notes to all the different websites and books that we discussed, the game that we discussed, and you can find him at Be Broken Ministries and that is simply bebroken.org. But do look for the links to the books and the game in the show notes. If you would like to connect with me, you can find me on my website, which is TerrieHellardBrown.com. I hope you enjoyed this episode, and, like I said, we will be back for season eight in just a couple weeks. So keep on listening and join us each time. We would love to hear from you. We welcome your comments on our blog post or social media and just jump into the conversation. We would love for you to join in. We pray you feel empowered as a parent or caregiver to walk by faith and to embrace everyday discipleship every day with the children in your life.

Your Host: Terrie Hellard-Brown

Terrie Hellard-Brown writes and speaks to help children and adults find God’s purpose and plan for their lives. She teaches workshops and writes devotional books, children’s stories, and Christian education materials.

Her newest book, A World of Pancakes, just launched and is available at terriehellardbrown.com. Her devotional for families, Building Character through Picture Books: 25 Family Devotions Based on Favorite Picture Books, is available on her website and through Amazon.

Her podcast, Books that Spark, reviews children’s books that spark imagination, emotion, questions, and discussion leading to teachable moments with our kids. Her podcast posts each Tuesday morning.

Her blog posts discuss living as a disciple of Christ while parenting our children. She challenges us to step out of our comfort zones to walk by faith in obedience to Christ and to use the nooks and crannies of our lives to disciple our children.

Terrie uses her experiences as a mother of four (three on “the spectrum”), 37 years in ministry (15 in Taiwan), and 32 years teaching to speak to the hearts of readers.

Her motto is “Life doesn’t have to be perfect to be WONDERFUL” and keeps her childlike joy by writing children’s stories, delighting over pink dolphins, and frequently laughing till it hurts.

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