Globally, porn is a $97 billion dollar industry accounting to 30% of all Internet data. Facebook—an extremely popular site with young people—was recently named one of the top sites for pornography, prostitution and sex trafficking. According to a 2008 study, 67% of young men and 49% of young women consider it acceptable to view pornography, and 87% of young men and 31% of young women reported regularly using pornography.
The effects on individuals, family and society are devastating. Research links pornography use to low self-esteem, sexual violence, negative attitudes toward women, increased extramarital affairs, and higher divorce rates.
The good news
As parents, we can help our children and teens avoid and escape this toxic poison. In a recent article, Lisa Ann Jackson Thomas from Brigham Young University outlined 5 things parents can do to help their kids win the fight against pornography.
1. Keep up the outer defenses
In 2002 (that's 14 years ago!) the London School of Economics reported that 90% of children 8-16 had viewed porn online, usually accidentally. The average age of first exposure is 12. Today, cell phones and other mobile devices are the most common access points for young people.
Human brains have both a "gas pedal" and a "break." While the gas pedal—or pleasure center—develops early on, the break—or frontal cortex with more decision-making abilities—develops later in life. The longer we can avoid childhood exposure to porn, the better equipped the children will be to deal with it when they encounter it, avoid addiction, and develop healthy relationships.
A few simple steps help protect children from early exposure. Use filters on routers, computers and phones, and perhaps even at the ISP level. Keep computers in common areas and have kids turn in their mobile devices at night. Set parental controls, and have a policy that parents can read texts and posts at any time.
2. Teach truth
According to a 2014 study, many young men cite pornography as their primary source of sex education. Parents should teach that sexual behaviors portrayed in porn are neither normal nor healthy. Teens that are the most sexually active are often the least educated on the topic. Their education is most effective when it come from their parents in a caring environment.
Be aware that as we talk about pornography, kids can get the mistaken impression that sex itself is bad. Kids need to understand the role of love and intimacy in the context of marriage and creating a family.
BYU Family Life professor Mark Butler emphasizes that teaching about sexuality should contain both a witness and a warning. Teaching children that healthy desires draw us toward marriage is the witness, while expressing the importance of discipline and boundaries is the warning. Rather than a one time, formal discussion about sexual intimacy, have open dialogues on the topic so children and teens feel free to bring up questions as they think of them.
3. Diagnose problems correctly
Adults often use the word addiction to describe involvement in pornography, no matter what level of involvement the person has. While addiction is a danger with pornography as it triggers the sexual-response reward system of the brain, jumping to label any involvement as addiction may shut down the open discussions parents and kids need to have for healthy development.
Consider taking a triage approach to assess your child's level of involvement. When did they first see pornography? How often do they view it? What types of images or videos have they seen?
Based on kids' involvement, parents can choose an appropriate level of action, from regular follow-up discussions to work with a therapist or addiction recovery group.
4. Teach emotion management
Young people sometimes turn to pornography as a means of managing stress. And kids today face a lot of stress. If they get into the habit of seeking pornography as a feel-good escape from emotional discomfort, the problem can be self-perpetuating.
Parents can do many things to teach healthy emotion management, starting with accepting both positive and negative emotions as normal and healthy. Allowing children to experience and cope with negative emotions, while demonstrating healthy emotion management themselves, helps children build skill sets necessary for life.
Parents should be especially careful not to shame youth who have been involved in pornography. The goal is for children to develop healthy, happy relationships, and shame tints the child's view of himself in a way that makes it difficult to love himself and others. "The most helpful," said one student who struggled with pornography "was my dad telling me repeatedly how much he loved me."
5. Practice patience
The teen brain takes time to develop, and the ability to make good decisions is one of the last to develop. (For some reason, parents of teens are never surprised to hear this.) As Butler says, the adolescent brain may be one of the primary reasons for God's gifts of repentance and Jesus' sacrifice. God does not ask us to be perfect today. His hope is that we progress. It's critical that along with teaching what appropriate boundaries are, parents also teach about the sacrifice Jesus made, gradual development, patience and persistence. It is equally important that parents keep these things in mind themselves as they help their children deal with pornography.