As I sit here thinking about what to write with Valentine’s Day approaching and its emphasis on love, instead of reflecting on hearts, flowers, and chocolates, my mind ponders how different today’s dating life is for teens than even just ten years ago. Texting and emojis surpass one-on-one conversations and even emails with paragraphs and sentences. Enter Covid-19 and the isolation that came with it and the opportunities for face-to-face conversations drop even further. Axis reports that “around 85% of Baby Boomers and Gen-Xers went on dates in their senior year of high school.” This dropped to 56% in 2015 and 35% in 2020! We know interest in the opposite sex has not waned for teens, so how might they engage in intimacy?
I am very concerned that the time our teens spend engaging with that 4” x 6” technological back pocket wonder that goes everywhere (e.g., cell phone) is drawing them into a dark world that they are not prepared for and cannot imagine the lifelong ramifications of. It is a fact that the pornography industry has been and continues to target our kids—even as young as seven and eight—in hopes of addicting them to increase the industry’s coffers. You may not know, but the porn industry does, is that exposure to even ‘soft’ sensual images coerces the brain. This remapping of the brain is what results in porn addiction, and it is occurring in more and more of our kids.
Research shows that the first exposure to porn typically occurs between ages eight to eleven. In 2015 over 90% of girls and boys aged 11 – 16 were exposed to pornography. Surprisingly, the first exposure is often a pop-up, unexpectedly appearing on the home computer. Recently, I read in a credible resource (the name of which I cannot remember) that the proportion of girls now viewing porn is approaching the same level as boys, around 60%. What??!!!
While a primary factor motivating boys is sexual pleasure, girls turn to porn primarily for sex education. Please take a minute to think about what this means. Our sons are passively absorbing damaging lies, including violence expressed toward females, demeaning acts and talk, and disrespect, all ok, even normal, as part of “making love” Translation: love equals sex without relationship while healthy emotional, mental, and spiritual connection are not a part of physical intimacy and love. Perhaps even more frightening is that our daughters are learning that to be on the receiving end of these distortions is normal. Bottom line, lives are negatively impacted via the inability to develop and maintain healthy, intimate relationships; isolation; feelings of shame and hopelessness; lack of confidence; depression; sexual dysfunction; addiction; and the support of sex trafficking. None of these comes even close to love.
What is a parent supposed to do? Please, seriously consider the following:
Talk to your kids EARLY! Good Pictures, Bad Pictures, jr by Kristen A. Jensen is a great resource to open a general conversation with three to six-year-olds. Continue to porn proof with Good Pictures, Bad Pictures for seven-year-olds and up. Remember, their exposure to pornography is likely to happen before you are ready to start the conversation, so don’t wait to talk until you feel ready.
Have frequent conversations of short duration. Prepare your children on how to respond if/when they do view porn. Keep open conversation going. This is not a one-time talk, and topics can cover a broad range, including what trust, love, lust, respect mean and look like, and how these lived out with the opposite sex.
Require usage of laptops, cell phones, etc., to take place in public areas. Do not allow them in bedrooms.
Be a safe anchor for them to share with. Stay calm, listen, and don’t shame. Encourage your children to share with you about any exposure, with no fear of negative repercussions from you.
Educate yourself and learn how to talk to your kids by becoming familiar with the resources found on websites such as Axis, Protect Young Eyes, and Fight the New Drug.
Install protective software on your home computers, laptop(s), cell phones, and iPads.
Delay, delay, delay giving your kids smartphones. Choose phones that are not connected to the internet, like Gabb or Pinwheel.
Remain vigilant. We are all in this together.
Take heart, Parents. You can do this! Take advantage of all the resources available to you. Your child is precious, as are those he will come into a relationship with. She is well worth stepping into the short-term uncomfortable territory to achieve a healthy, strong future reflecting true love.
Director of Project Best Life