Internet pornography is quite powerful in capturing the attention of the teen brain. This power can be understood in considering how easy it for people to:
- Choose what they want to watch or view any time—and often for free or little cost.
- Find images that involve sound and motion, which have a more intense effect on the brain.
- Click through many images in a short amount of time and be exposed to more in quantity and variety in one sitting than through a magazine or DVD.
- Take advantage of the “Triple-A Effect” of accessibility, affordability, and anonymity.
- Become addicted to pornography in shorter spans of time because of easy and speedy access to it.
McAfee, the world’s largest dedicated security technology company, released insightful findings from the company’s 2012 Teen Internet Behavior study. It found that many teens are accessing inappropriate online content. Specifically, 43 percent of teens have accessed simulated violence online; 36 percent have accessed sexual topics online; and 32 percent have accessed nude content or pornography online. This means teens are accessing images and information about men and women, relationships, and sex at an age when they are most impressionable.
While the problem may be a challenge to quantify, there is considerable evidence that the world has changed—especially for children and teens. Many parents often find themselves struggling to know what to do to help their kids. In a recent staff meeting with my counselor colleagues, we all agreed that the number of calls from parents on this issue has increased dramatically.
As a group of professional therapists, we handle a wide range of issues (depression, marital problems, coping with divorce, addictions, and spiritual issues to name a few). The Internet is still a relatively new innovation, and it has already significantly impacted our society. While the benefits of the Internet are undeniable, there are clearly emerging problems directly related to it. It was rare even ten years ago for a counselor to be asked to treat a teen hooked on porn, but it is now a frequent request from parents.
I often think of the story of Rip Van Winkle by Washington Irving. It seems as if we are in the world of Rip Van Winkle. One day he wanders into the mountains to go hunting, meets and drinks with English explorer Henry Hudson’s legendary crew, and falls into a deep sleep. He awakens twenty years later and returns to his village to discover that everything has changed. One of Irving’s major points is the tumultuous change occurring over the twenty years that the story encompasses. The connection to 21st-century society is more than obvious!
Having an Internet pornography addiction so young also has serious long-term implications for the teens. Here are just a few:
- It poisons their view of sex.
- It desensitizes them to actual relational and sexual satisfaction.
- It leads to destroyed marriages.
- It damages their spiritual vitality and connection with God.
- It hinders the development of their character and integrity.
- It robs them of their potential and God-given purpose.
What can parents do?
The most important thing is nurturing good communication with their children. According to a recent survey commissioned by The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, teens say that parents (38%) most influence their decisions about sex—more than peers (22%), the media (9%), teachers and educators (4%), and others.
Studies show that kids are influenced by their parents and what they teach them about sex. If parents don’t take on this responsibility, their children will be informed by the media and Internet. Here are some additional parental tips:
- Be Proactive. Too many parents either ignore the problem or assume that their kids will never get involved with pornography. Be aware of what your teens are doing online.
- Set limits. Dr. Karen Koch has written a very helpful book called Screens and Teens. She warns that screen time is quickly replacing family time, and it is hard-wiring the way teens connect with their world. Parents need to lead by example and limit screen time so as to give priority to real-time relationships.
- Provide biblical teaching. Parents can teach their teens stories from the Scriptures such as those about Joseph, Samson, or David to name a few. The goal is to teach and exemplify the sacred sex view of God’s Word.
- Cast a positive vision. The Bible proclaims, “Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he” (Proverbs 29:18). Parents have a key role to know the gifts and abilities of their teens and to bless them with a positive vision.
The good news is that Internet pornography addiction is treatable. With parental support and professional help, teens can recover. Faith and hope has a lot to do with recovery.
There are several additional keys to successful recovery. Teens need:
- Roadblocks to cleanse their brains (this means some sort of accountability software).
- To work toward 3-5 months of a porn diet in order to push the “reset button” on the brain and continue healing of the brain.
- A medical evaluation for things such as OCD, ADD, depression or anxiety.
- A mentoring relationship marked by encouragement and accountability.
- Learning strategies to deal with temptation and relapse prevention.
- Spiritual guidance to overcome the distortions of pornography and learn the biblical principles of sacred sex.
- Counseling to help uncover the issues existing before the porn addiction so they can deal with the real problem(s) rather than fall back into this
destructive coping mechanism.
- Therapeutic and spiritual help to combat the shame and help the them become more grounded in their spiritual identity as one loved unconditionally by Abba Father.
Again, parental support is critical as parents need to have conversations and an ongoing dialogue with their teens about intimacy and the meaning of sex. It is very important on the latter point that parents point their teens to the one Source that makes recovery possible and provides true satisfaction. St. Augustine put it this way, “You have made us for yourself, Oh Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee.”