Understand Porn’s Effects on Your Children
Parenting in the Age of Porn
Sources say the average age of first exposure to porn is between eight and eleven years old. What’s more, children under the age of ten now account for 22% of online porn consumption for those under eighteen. Most parents have no idea that their teen or pre-teen is struggling with pornography or its effects. Parenting in today’s pornified culture requires getting educated so you can effectively help your children navigate the landmines of porn. It requires more than just the sex talk. Parents must be equipped to have the ‘porn talk’ as well. These ‘talks’ must be ongoing dialogues to be effective.
Porn Disconnects Families
That was Brett’s story. Brett’s porn addiction began in the seventh grade. He watched porn daily, sometimes four to five hours at a time. Porn became his escape when his relationships struggled. He said, “I can remember getting in fights with my parents and going to my room and scrolling through porn websites for hours.” When Brett would isolate from his family, he would find comfort in porn. “Porn was my source of happiness, and when I was down it comforted me. It became my family in a way. All this time with porn disconnected me from my real family. Even when I was with my family, my mind was clouded with thoughts of ‘when can I watch porn next’.”
The shame of what Brett was watching kept him from engaging with his sister and parents. “Porn was stealing my joy because I knew what I was doing was wrong. Even when I wanted to connect with my family, I just didn’t have any joy to give so I wasn’t enjoyable to be around.” Brett only found freedom once he went to college, started following Christ, and joined a recovery group. Reflecting back on his addiction, Brett said, “At the time, I had no idea how porn was hurting my relationships with my family. I am still trying to mend those relationships.” The fake intimacy of porn is so easy and can be so isolating that it sabotages people’s ability to cultivate real intimacy with the real people in their lives.
The majority of Christian college students using porn say that porn negatively impacts their relationships because they isolate from others. Porn is usually pursued in isolation, and the shame that results leads the user to deceive those closest to them. They start isolating from others during and after their porn use, and lying to cover up their behavior. Porn moves people away from their closest relationships.
Young People Are More at Risk
“Never before in the history of telecommunications media in the United States has so much indecent and obscene material been so easily accessible by so many minors in so many American homes with so few restrictions.” – U.S. Department of Justice.
Today’s youth are watching more porn, more extreme porn, at younger ages, with more frequency, and for longer periods of time than any generation.
During certain critical periods of childhood, a child’s brain is being programmed for sexual orientation. During this period, the mind appears to be developing a “hardwire” for what the person will be aroused by or attracted to. If there is exposure to pornography during this period, sexual deviance may become imprinted on the child’s “hard drive” and become a permanent part of his or her sexual behavior.
There is reason to expect the number of children addicted to porn to explode in the coming years. Combine their easy accessibility with their susceptibility to addiction, and it is truly the perfect storm — one that’s creating porn addicts by the score. And yet, freedom from porn is still possible for our youth.
The Developing Brain on Porn
Compared to a fully developed adult brain, the adolescent brain more rapidly creates circuits in reward centers of the brain, like the limbic system, in response to addictive substances. As a result, teens can become addicted more quickly; and the addiction has a stronger hold. Experts say it’s harder for adults who started smoking as kids or teens to quit than it is for those who first lit up as adults to kick the habit, and the same holds true for other addictive substances.
The research shows that bad habits established early in life are hard to break. Ninety percent of Americans who are addicted to alcohol, tobacco or drugs started using their addictive substance before they were eighteen. This is why there are laws to keep addictive substances away from minors. Despite this information, today’s youth have unlimited access to one of the most addictive substances on the planet–porn.
The Earlier You Heal the Brain, the Better
The earlier your child gets help with their porn habit and starts breaking free, the better. It will never be easier to quit than it is right now. The brain locks people into addiction through repeated use of pornography, but the good news is the brain can be changed.
Neuroplasticity is the phenomenon of the brain physically changing as someone changes their behavior. Old neurological circuits shrink when not used while new ones form with new activity and learning.11 The brain shaped by porn can be modified and changed. Changing the brain requires reprogramming it. The longer the porn use, the harder it is to reprogram. Old pathways must be replaced with new paths. Simply stopping the behavior isn’t enough.
Luckily, adolescents’ brains are more malleable and can be renewed more easily. Each year closer to adulthood means it will be more difficult to quit porn habits by building new pathways. It can still be done, but it will take more time and effort. Young people under the age of 25 using porn need to start seeking a porn-free life right now. Educating kids on the facts can help them gain a sense of urgency.
Indicators Your Child May Have a Porn Problem
There are several signs to look for which might indicate a child is using porn:
Increased isolation from family and friends.
Shame and guilt are common emotions that most porn users report, and these cause youth to isolate from their family, loved ones, and even friends. Of the practicing Christian college students who watched porn last year, 89% said they isolated from their relationships because of their porn use.
Loss of interest in activities and relationships they used to enjoy.
When dopamine levels are made unnaturally high through porn use, it can mean that people feel down and depressed when levels are normal. It is common for active, smart, and sociable young people to become disinterested or unmotivated because of their porn use. They may start being antisocial or depressed. Not everyone has this severe of a reaction, but many do.
Increased secrecy and lies.
Porn drives users to deceive themselves, and those around them. They don’t want to face the truth about themselves. An adolescent shares about the impact of his porn habit. “I know I’m forgiven in Christ but the level of self-hatred I have because of some of the stuff I have watched can be overwhelming and makes me feel worthless.” His shame drove his secrecy and his parents never knew he struggled with porn though he started at age 14. They found out only after his wife kicked him out of their house one year into marriage because of his porn habit.
They use sexual language or draw sexual pictures.
Sexual thoughts and fantasies dominate the thinking of an adolescent porn user. These can be an indication of something bigger going on below the surface.
Many of these indicators are related to the shame a child feels about what they are watching. The graphic imagery sticks in their brain and they feel a sense of shame and self disgust for what they are watching. Our survey showed that 81% of growing Christian college students felt self-hatred after they watched porn. Shame causes lying, hiding and isolating.
How to Approach the Porn Conversation
A great resource is the book Good Pictures Bad Pictures by Jenson and Poyner. It is designed for children 7-12 and explains pornography in an age-appropriate way. It is important for parents to make both the porn talk and the sex talk ongoing dialogues instead of a one-time talk. I recommend sharing the concept that there are good pictures and bad pictures out there when your child is five or six. Help them understand that sex is a good gift from God to be enjoyed in marriage. I know of one dad who reads this book to his kids each year and the conversation deepens each year and continues to keep the dialogue open.
Your kids should know they can talk to you about it. Invite your kids to share with you when they see a bad picture. They need to feel comfortable asking you about images or videos they might see from friends or on the internet. Without your involvement, they are left to figure it out on their own. The shame many kids feel when they see these graphic images cause them to start keeping secrets. The best way to counteract shame is to remind them of God’s unconditional love and to help them be open and honest. Vulnerability disempowers shame, but hiding gives shame more power.
This is too important of a topic to assume that everything is going well in this area. The statistics tell us that we should assume that things are not going well. As a matter of fact, assuming this in the area of porn is a great way to de-shame the topic. When a parent says something like, “I was reading stats on how pervasive and dangerous pornography is today and it is scary. If it had been this widely available when I grew up, I would have struggled for sure. What do you do to guard against it?” This deshames porn and gives the child the opportunity to share a failure or struggle.
Aside from deshaming, it is important to educate and warn your kids so they can effectively navigate today’s porn landscape. Besides educating your kids on the impact porn has on their sexual health and brain it is an opportunity to help them see the relevance of God’s word. Here are a few examples.
When talking about how the research shows that those who watch porn have less sex because of Porn Induced Erectile Dysfunction (PIED) and they enjoy sex less, you might point to John 10:10 where Jesus says, “the thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” Porn has the promise of sexual fulfillment but the enemy uses it to actually steal the enjoyment from sex and in the case of PIED even the ability to have sex. Research also shows that married couples have more and better sex than single people. An abundant sex life is found by following God’s example. God’s warning about visual lust in Matthew 5:27-28 applies directly to pornography. God’s word warned against visual lust like pornography and 2000 years later it applies now more than ever. God’s word is true and relevant and addressing the porn issue is an opportunity to show that.
When we ignore His ways we suffer consequences. The addicted brain is an example of the consequences of porn that God warned against. God has put sexual sin in a unique category of sin. In 1 Corinthians 6:18 Paul says, “Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body.” Sexual immorality in the Greek is the word ‘porneia’ where we get our word pornography. It refers to any sexual activities outside of marriage. The Bible teaches that when we violate God’s boundaries for sex we sin against ourselves, and PIED and the addicted brain are two examples of the outcomes. It’s important during these ongoing dialogues that we talk about how God has made sex enjoyable and for marriage. The way to have an abundant sex life is to follow his plan of sex within marriage.
If through the course of educating your teenager about porn, they wonder if they may be addicted – have them take this quiz. Let them know that no one gets free on their own and let them know about tools to help them. If they want help in quitting consider doing our 30 Day Challenge with them. This can be another opportunity to continue the dialogue.
Help the Next Generation
Young people who break free from porn have improved relationships with their family and friends. They spend less time in isolation, and break free from the shame that keeps them in the shadows. This also sets them up for healthy relationships with God, their spouse, and their family into the future. Hebrews 12: 1 says, “let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.” There is no heavier weight or destructive sin that is holding a generation of youth back from running the race that God has for them. Let’s help the next generation run free!