5 Tips for Dealing with Porn and Kids

Co-written with my clinical partner, Ben Taussig, LCPC, NCC.Porn and Kids | Kansas City Moms Blog

If talking about sex with our teens in general is just about enough to motivate us to buy a boat and raise them somewhere in the middle of the Pacific (I’ve literally thought about it), how much more difficult then is it for us to talk about things like sexting, porn, and the myriad of ways that social media allows them to expose themselves to each other? It’s important that our kids know the dangers of sending or receiving naked images of their peers. That can go really, really, (REALLY) bad for them… like teens facing expulsion from school or even child pornography charges bad. There are sexual risks beyond STDs and pregnancy that exist in their world. The online world can have life changing consequences.

With the Fifty Shades of Grey debate in the last three weeks, moms are a bit polarized about the book and film’s messages about sex, love, and connection. I, personally, thank Russell Brand for his contribution to the discussion. I think we all agree on one thing though: we would not want our children to digest the content of that film, even as teens. Most of us are still analyzing Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood.

Porn. Seriously, it’s bad. If the majority of negative sexual consequences our tweens and teens face snap like a steal trap, the consequences of porn use are a slow creeping entangling vine. It doesn’t snap shut in an instant the way a baby, an STD, even getting busted with naked images of your underage classmates on your phone would. But the ensnarement of the addiction of pornography can grab us just as tightly.

Here’s the thing about porn: it isn’t a simple addiction. It has different sides, different appeals, even serves different emotional needs within us. On one hand, the chemical addiction to the dopamine spikes that accompany porn use are powerful. Brain scans of long term porn addicts can be difficult to tell apart from heroin addicts. Couple that with the fact that most tweens and teens are super afraid of getting caught (or violating rules) and therefore mixing adrenaline in with their dopamine, and you’ve got a neurological cocktail that we’ve heard described as “fishhooks in the brain.”

But there’s more than just the chemical addiction. In our work with adult sex addicts, we’ve heard a strong recurring theme: porn affects emotions. In the same way that a routinized cigarette relieves stress, regular porn use can deeply affect the way people manage their feelings. Good thing our teens don’t have that many or that powerful of those though, right? Unlike some middle school peers, porn is always there, always accepting, never scrutinizing you. It doesn’t require emotional trust in another person to provide acceptance and “love.”

Teens who regularly use and abuse pornography during pivotal developmental years seem far more at risk for leaning on porn for emotional regulation as adults. At least the ones we’re seeing in our office do. That’s a danger that exceeds that of simple chemical addiction. That can change how our teens’ brains  grow and who they grow into. As adults we’ve come to realize that how we manage our emotions, what we do with our feelings… what our relationships are like… what we are like.

The sex talk is a must, but it can’t stop with the birds and the bees. Power through the awkward and the uncomfortable to what really matters: keeping our kids safe, growing and healthy while we’ve got them, and setting them up to do the same for themselves. So what’s a mama to do?

1. Start young. The average age a boy is first exposed to pornography is 10. And mamas, I hate to tell you, but we see a strong number of young girls who also have a battle with porn. Since the majority of our KCMB readership are moms of young children, this is step one. Teach healthy sexuality by using proper terms when potty training, teaching hygiene, and talking about procreation or babies. By doing this, conversations about sex, the body, and relationships become a norm in your household and take away the secrecy and awkwardness (a little). Normalize sexual parts of the body for their natural functions (like breasts are for breastfeeding, for example).

2. Educate yourself. Start with Fight the New Drug, a not-for-profit that educates and provides resources, to learn how porn effects the brain, the heart and the world. TEDx has talks here and here.

3. Set a norm for screen-use being monitored and public, including cell phones. Decide before your kids hit screen-using ages. Fight the New Drug has a Family Media Standard that can guide you through general steps to being on the same page about Internet content as a family. Then: supervise.

4. Remove judgment. The primary emotion perpetuating the secrecy of pornography is shame. Some parents have difficulty with their own embarrassment about the topic of private parts and sex (look at Talking to Kids About Private Parts). Shame is isolating and debilitating, especially when the porn of choice is violent or somewhat outside of what many consider normal. We don’t want our children there. So whether with your son, your daughter, or your husband, remove judgement from your tone of voice and facial expression. When your child sees you as an ally, it takes away the isolation and makes them more likely to share their struggle, which gives you traction to offer help.

5. Share the Why. Why is porn a bad idea? We tell our kids why we brush our teeth, why we avoid alcohol and drugs, why we should be kind to others, why we should eat healthy food and not smoke cigarettes. They understand. Tell your children why porn is harmful. It makes people into objects. It perpetuates negative body images of women. It keeps the consumer biochemically captive. The reward circuit of the brain gets exhausted because of the need for constant, increasingly exciting stimulation.

Remember: our bodies can respond to anything exciting, whether we like it or not, whether we want it to or not, so it’s best to avoid the stimulation, so that real people and real love can be exciting when they happen.

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