Discussing porn with your children (Again!)

If you are a long-time reader of this blog, you know that we regularly encourage parents to discuss topics of safety and health with their children. One topic that bears regular repetition is pornography, and we are always happy when we can pass along a new resource to help you discuss the difficult topic with your teen.

Here is one such resource from Fight the New Drug.

On a personal note, please don’t shy away from this topic. The landscape of porn today is more more relentless, dark and dangerous than just a few decades ago. It is worth trying to steer our children away from it, however daunting the task may seem. You can be successful in turning young people away from porn. My husband recently shared a story from his childhood:

I went over to a friend’s house and brought Braveheart for us to watch. It was on VHS. Partway through, the movie stopped and Olympic gymnastics started. We thought the video had stopped, but no…it was still playing. Eventually, the movie came back on. Then I realized my dad had taken the VHS tape and recorded gymnastics over the part with some nudity.

My father-in-law cared about how his son grew up, the kind of man he would become, and the images he would see. It is humorous now, in a way, but also something for which I, as his son’s eventual wife, am forever grateful.

An Easier Way to Control Internet Use

We’ve written before about various ways to monitor, control, and spy on your teens’ internet and phone use.   If you multiply all the cell phones, tablets, laptops, etc. in your home, it’s no wonder parents get overwhelmed and give up.  So instead of trying to manage, one by one, each and every wi-fi connected device in the home, one product can help you do it all from one place…the router.  USAtoday.com recently reported on The Skydog web app and Smart Family Router (skydog.com), which can simplify and organize content control over many devices in your home, easily!  Said one parent reviewer on CNET.com, “This amazing bit of technology is actually useful, relevant and solves a number of problems that I, as a parent of a teenage son, have been trying to solve for years now.  What the Skydog will do for you is create safe zones for the users and devices that connect to your network. Depending on the level of filtering you want to apply to each person, you can drop each family member and their respective devices into groups that will monitor and block inappropriate destinations based upon rules you define.”

Porn addiction affects the brain

Recently, a 13-year-old student told me in a note: “I really don’t agree about not having sex…but what you said about pornography is true, because I’m addicted.”  I had described the role of certain brain chemicals activated through viewing porn, and the potential for regular viewers  to become addicted.  Besides the obvious connection between pornography addiction and attitudes about engaging in premarital sex, there is also the misery of living with an addiction, and the inability to live a free life.  A recent study discussed in The Sunday News reported that “scans showed that a central portion of the brain which is stimulated in drug or alcohol addicts also ‘lit up’ when compulsive pornography users watched explicit material. There was no such effect in the brains of people who were not habitual users of porn.”  The article went on to suggest that studies such as this might lead to greater pressure on societies to tighten controls on pornography.

“I Wasn’t Even Looking For It!” Teen Exposure to Sexual Images.

Readers of this blog may be convinced by now of the negative effect of pornography on the minds and behavior of teens.  I’ve written about it before.  Briefly, here is a partial list of social and interpersonal ills connected to viewing porn: marital instability, divorce, insensitivity to sexual violence in relationships,  earlier sexual debut (first sexual experience),  inaccurate views of “normal” sexual behavior (those viewing more pornography, for instance, believed that over 30% of people engage in group sex), and a host of other warped ideas about relationships.

The Crimes Against Children Research Center found, in a 2005 study, that 66% of teens that had been exposed to pornography had not sought it out.  It came to them. 

Today, I want to give you a nudge to take ACTION to protect your sons and daughters.  There is a free service, called Family Shield, from OpenDNS that I’ve seen mentioned repeatedly as a good place to start in the war against the intrusion of these  damaging images into young minds.  This LINK is to a somewhat “techy” article, but at the bottom it walks you through a “how to” on setting up this internet blocking software for your home.  It also includes a link for Family Shield.  

What about blocking sexual images on your teens’ smart phones?  This article has ideas on how to do that.

Parents Need to Know about Snapchat

I realize that I’ve posted almost every month lately about dangerous uses of media.  But here’s another one.  Snapchat (and it’s rival, Poke).  These phone apps promise that any photo or video you send, “disintegrates” in seconds.  So guess what teens think they can do safely now?  Send sexual pictures.  I’ve even seen the term “safe sexting” used.  No worries, since no one can pass it on to be seen by others or live forever in cyberspace.  Or that’s what they think.  In fact, Snapchat gives a false sense of security.  Anyone can take a “screen shot” of what you send before it disappears, and then it can be passed on just like any other photo.  As with any sharing of information, Snapchat can be used for good, or for ill.  Here is an MSNBC video about this wildly popular app that will tell you more: LINK

Sexual Pics Reposted

This article from TechCrunch reveals a phenomenon that isn’t all that surprising, although it is something that I am sure we all hoped wouldn’t happen to such an extent. Sexual pics, including those teens take of themselves, are reposted. Of course, that’s what we all feared would happen and was one of the reasons we told teens not to take such pictures in the first place…but was there any evidence that it was actually happening?

Now, the Internet Watch Foundation has given that evidence. Up to 88% of teens’ sexual pictures are reposted by “parasite websites,” even if the original picture was in a “safe” place. Teens may feel a false sense of security when they share an image via a social network that they think is secure, but once a digital image exists, in can be nearly impossible to erase entirely. So whether or not you have already discussed the dangers with your teen, talk to them again about protecting themselves by never taking sexual pictures in the first place. There is simply no safe way to take, store, or share such images!

And one more thing to keep in mind and discuss with your teen — why? Why take such pictures? The two main reasons that come to mind are peer pressure and the desire to be cool (as defined by a culture rife with pornography). So when you talk to your child, make sure they understand that no one, not even a boyfriend or girlfriend, should ask them to take sexual pictures. If someone asks them to do so, report it to an adult. And if they think it is cool, help them to understand that sexuality is not a tool to be used for fortune, fame or respect. That might be difficult in today’s age, but we must stop defining people by their sexuality and start holding up role models who exemplify something other than sexual appeal or prowess.

Many Celebrity Searches Lead to Bad Sites

Emma Watson, Selena Gomez, Jessica Biel.  Besides being celebrities, they also share the distinction of being in the top 10 celebrity searches that lead people to dangerous websites.  According to a McAffee report, “Cybercriminals follow the latest trends, often using the names of popular celebrities to lure people to sites that are actually laden with malicious software that are designed to steal passwords and personal information. Anyone looking for the latest videos or files to download could end up with a malware-ridden computer along with the trendy content. This year, searching for a celebrity name with ‘free downloads’ and ‘nude pictures’ as part of the search term resulted in the highest result of risky sites.”

So, it’s time for a little parental instruction so your teens can be careful as they surf the web. If you’ve been wondering why the computer is going so slow lately, this could explain it.  You can clear your computer of malware by downloading free security software.  Since downloads themselves can be malicious, a good way to be sure you find safe software is to go to CNET.com (LINK HERE) for safe download links.  In fact, the most popular link, at the top right column, is the free security software that our family uses…AVG.

Teens Viewing Porn. What’s the Harm?

“As long as you don’t hurt anybody….”  That’s usually the answer these days when someone challenges a behavior that used to be considered “immoral.”  But isn’t morality an outdated concept?  Interestingly, 70% of people viewing porn consider their activities “secret” according to an MSNBC study.  Psychology Today reveals that this may be because “Porn appears to bathe our brains in neurochemicals that lead to shame.”  With 45% of teens saying “their friends” (ahem…maybe themselves?) view porn, there’s a lot of shame going around.

Even if one removes morality out of the picture (although I don’t advocate that!), there IS still  reason to combat the use of porn in our culture.  Take a look at this helpful graphic from fightthenewdrug.org displaying the harm porn can cause.  Because the youthful, still-forming brain is especially susceptible  to porn, people are getting addicted at younger and younger ages.  And sometimes those addictions bear rotten fruit, if not now, then down the road.  Most of us know someone who has lost a job, lost a marriage, or even faced financial ruin because of his or her porn addiction.  Many adults  whose lives have been destroyed by a porn addiction would warn teens to not let it get a foothold.

The science is there.  Porn messes with our brains.  And it messes up our relationships.  Fightthenewdrug.org looks at the harmfulness of pornography from a scientific as well as a social and emotional perspective.  If you are concerned about your teen (or yourself or a spouse), you can find helpful information under the tab on their site entitled “Resources.”

Never Give Up

I am a big reader, and love learning new things.  In fact, I have just been reading up on youth and culture for about 3 hours straight. Here are some things I found out:

  • Teens are sexting (sending explicit pictures of themselves to their peers) not just because of peer pressure, but because they are exploring what it feels like to be erotically appealing to the opposite sex.
  • Parents must be fueling some of the sexualization of girls, because 8-year-olds don’t have money to buy trashy outfits.
  • Some people who have previously perused porn unashamedly have concluded, in public forums, that their porn use has affected their ability to desire and appreciate their real life partners.
  • After decades of decline, teen substance abuse is up these past three years.

I am feeling a bit depressed right now after all this bad news!  Is there a bright side  in this seemingly never-ending battle for the hearts and minds of our sons and daughters?  Has our culture won the war?  Do we throw up our hands in helpless defeat?

No.  We can’t.  We are parents. We love them, and want to see them have happy, healthy lives. We cannot control their behavior like we could when they were toddlers, but we have a responsibility to be wise guides.  In the words of a sage writer: “Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed.”  In an often broken world, we can continue to point our children to the straight paths…the ones that will take them to the finish line strong in character and healthy in mind and body.  It’s our JOB.

Skin and more on MTV’s hit “Skins”

I had heard about “Skins,” a new hit teen show (MTV, Monday night at 9 p.m) that had been accused of bordering on pornographic, and decided to watch it the other night.  Your teen may argue that it shows “real” life.  My take on it?  That may be true IF you take the most ethically challenged, dysfunctional teen behavior, compact it into about 45 minutes, and don’t include a single character who deviates from the moral abyss these teens live in.  These high schoolers’ lives revolve around constant sex (gay, bi and heteresexual), drugs, drinking,  other risky behaviors, and bad language.  So far, there has been rear nudity, but no frontal, and unlike in Britain (where the show originated), the swearing is bleeped out.  The adult characters (at least in the episode I watched) are irresponsible buffoons .  As I watched, I was filled with sadness at this picture of empty, lost and depressed teens.  Life can be SO much better.  Even the friendships–some of which are represented as deep–revolve around selfish hedonism.  A real friend cares about what happens to you, and would caution against many of the foolish behaviors that are normalized in this show.

I see little worthwhile in this show.  If you haven’t drawn the line on TV viewing yet, “Skins” may be a good place to start.  To read more, including episode synopses, see this article by Parents Television Council.