The constant struggle of communication between parents and teenagers will always be on the foreground of the parenting world. Mary Jo Rapini, MEd, LPC explores what happens when teenagers discover pornography, the possibility of porn addiction, and how to cope and talk with your teen about the subject.
Gone are the days when parents used to find a Playboy magazine hidden in their son's room. Whether it was under the mattress or hidden among the trash, mom had an intuition about it and knew. Today's porn is different and it's a lot more dangerous. It's unlimited and teens don't have to buy anything to view it. The porn is on their phone and they are capable of making their own porn.
Husbands may get caught viewing porn, but the kids never do. They don't because they are more adept at creating their own porn websites and covering up their tracks. Sue Berelowitz who is a Deputy Children's Commissioner in London reported that kids are watching porn and enacting it. It's not only happening in the UK. It's happening in the U.S. and in many other countries. Parents have no idea because kids can get into anything they like on their phones, and they are geniuses with technology compared to most of their parents. Viewing pornography at such a young age changes adolescents' ability to understand what is normal. The porn teens are making is violent, sadistic and very ugly, reports Berelowitz.
There is no way to know what our adolescents will end up acting like if they become addicted to porn at such a young age. We do know that outrageous pornographic video clips are becoming a more common social activity among teens. According to Norman Doidge in, "The Brain That Changes Itself," porn must grow more shocking to please the viewer because once the brain views it, the porn loses its ability to excite as much. The brain grows numb with the same stimuli after awhile. These are kids, and kids aren't able to understand the fact that what they are engaging in now will have negative consequences on their life later. Teens have always looked for more outrageous ways to stand out among their friends, and if they can make a deplorable forbidden or disgusting video they may feel "socially accepted" even if it is for creating something disgusting.
Teens who are addicted to porn become socially anxious, depressed and awkward with reality. They aren't able to secure a "real date" or even know how to flirt in real life with someone. Many of them end up with erectile dysfunction while still in their teens. If all you view is pornography and unrealistic sex, you won't be able to function normally, and we have no idea how long the effect of this will last.
Perhaps the worst part of all of this is that girls (and boys) within a couple years age difference are the ones being emotionally and sexually exploited. Many of them are sending nude photos of themselves, as well as video clips of them doing violent acts with one another. Teens can coerce teens to do things that they would never do with anyone else, and all of this happens with the parents having no idea.
If you are a parent and you have a pre-teen or teen, your ability to monitor whether they are viewing porn is limited. They use incognito websites, and they know how to erase histories of where they have been. However, it is wise to raise your awareness and to begin the discussion with your child. Telling yourself that your child would never do this only heightens the chance that they would, could or are. If your child has a phone, they do have the opportunity, and being a teen they have the "know how."
Suggestions to begin the conversation would start with monitoring your child's phone. However, due to the skill level of teens hiding the information, opening a dialogue will be the best approach.
1. Begin a dialogue (a conversation) and stay away from threats and shaming. Parents have a belief that if they attack or make their child feel guilty the behavior will stop. Teens addicted to porn are getting rewarded by watching it and the social accolade they get from their peers. If parents attack rather than talk, the child will become more anxious and resort to using porn to comfort that feeling.
2. Encourage your child to seek other ways to cope with stress, their moods, and their feelings. Things such as exercise, getting outside, connecting with others in person, meditation, and focus on being there more physically will help them to cope.
3. Teens are hugged less often by their parents than in any other stage of their development. The teen years are some of the most challenging, and therefore teens need more, not less, hugs from their parents. Hugging your teen can help them feel reassured that they aren't bad; they are suffering from an addiction.
4. The worst part of a porn addiction for a teen or anyone else is the withdrawal from others and the isolation the addiction demands. Since it is virtual and not real, it is not fulfilling on an emotional level. The addicted person begins to feel separate and they begin withdrawing from others they were once connected to.
5. Talking to your child about a real relationship and reinforcing real relationships with them can make a huge difference. Explaining to them that porn actors or people who partake in porn are creating illusions. They aren't interested in long lasting, safe, intimate, and loving relationships. Talking to your children about this will go much further in helping them resist peer pressure and manage a healthy sexual curiosity than shaming or ridiculing them for watching porn.
Families who are engaged and talk together discourage porn use naturally. Encourage your child to ask questions and be there to help answer them. Take at least one day a week for family dinner and make sure your presence is felt in your child's life. Also, something as simple as being a good example or mentor of what a loving, intimate relationship looks like with your child's other parent can help.
The teen and pre-teen years are a challenge for everyone in the family, but no other time in your child's life will offer the opportunity to influence your child as much with a healthy, loving relationship.
Mary Jo Rapini, MEd, LPC, is a licensed psychotherapist and co-author with Janine J. Sherman, of Start Talking: A Girl's Guide for You and Your Mom About Health, Sex or Whatever. Read more about the book at StartTalkingBook.com and more about Rapini at maryjorapini.com.
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