When I was 14 my family moved to Las Vegas. My high school years were punctuated with soft porn on billboards and taxicabs, though we didn't go downtown very often. When we did walk The Strip, especially past The Mirage (remember it was the 90's and that was one of the biggest hotels in town), my parents cautioned us very directly, "Don't look down in the gutter and if somebody tries to hand you a piece of paper, don't take it! Don't even look at it." The streets of Las Vegas Boulevard were littered with papers, because people were paid to hand out smut. They didn't usually target little girls, but since we were curious and completely naive, my parents warned us and especially my two brothers. This was before the internet. Back in the day, it was easier to caution kids not to look at stuff that would rot their brain.
The Mirage hotel is a cool metaphor. The coppery shiny windows glittered from afar, easily seen from my neighborhood. Often we'd look east toward the big hotels while we were heading to church or school. But we all know a mirage is a lie - it's a shimmery illusion of water in the desert, and it can dangerously lead wanderers away from real water or rescue. It doesn't actually give water or life, just the false appearance of it. When you get up close, you're disappointed that it's gone and you're still thirsty. I'm sure you can see where I'm going with this analogy and the subject of this post - the empty, dangerous lure of pornography.
For those that don't know, I've always been fascinated by why humans think, feel and do what they do. I studied psychology in college and earned my bachelor's degree, which included an internship at a state facility in Utah working with teenage boys who had been in trouble with the law. At this juvenile detention center, young men came from Arizona, California and other states. Many had been in gangs or had serious addictions to drugs or, you guessed it, pornography. Seeing how their addictions were linked to their loss of freedom was sobering for me, and increased my desire to better understand.
This internship took place while my first son was tiny, and the following year I had baby boy #2. I was deeply moved by the teenagers I had met. So I started studying the brain even more, including how it's impacted by pornography. I'm not an expert, but since I have a husband and growing sons that I love and want to protect, it's been my hobby or side gig for many years. I'd like to share a handful of details from what I've learned in the hopes it might help your family as it's helped mine. If your kids are about this age, please start preparing and planning. My boys are big teenagers now, though it seems like two minutes ago when they were small.
My purpose today is to share a list of resources. The first two links are blog posts I've written. The rest of the links are from professionals and researchers who are a lot smarter than me. These are meant to be a springboard for you to do your own research.
- The Birds and the Bees. Before you teach kids not to look at bad pictures, you need to start a series of conversations about healthy human intimacy when they are in elementary school. This link includes suggestions about when and how to talk about human intimacy with your children.
- Phone Safety is super important when talking about pornography and healthy cognitive development in teens, so Norm and I wrote about some of our strategies.
- The Atlantic, "Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?" A sobering article reporting real science behind the change in teen behaviors due to the rise of smartphones and social media. A must-read for all parents of teens with phones.
- Fight the new drug is an amazing nonprofit. My kids' school in Utah County did a weeklong prevention campaign using some of their material.
- He Restoreth My Soul by Dr. Donald Hilton is informative and fascinating. He explains about the brain, how the brain works and how the brain is impacted by pornography. I REALLY loved this book and the stories it told to put things in perspective. And the focus on the hope available to all through the grace of Jesus Christ is also both wonderful and powerful.
- Rethinking Sexuality (God's Design and Why It Matters) by Dr Juli Slattery. Dr. Slattery proposes that pornography is a symptom of our broken cultural views on sex and intimacy. "As you encounter the pain of sexual brokenness you'll ultimately collide with, and point others to, the love and grace of Jesus."
- "Arm your kids for the battle" from BYU magazine This article has five proactive strategies for parents to prepare their kids for how to avoid and manage exposure to pornography.
So to recap, our teenager's brains are amazing things. What our kids put into their brains is SO important! I encourage you to give real thought to when to talk to your children about sex (it's likely earlier than you think, see The Birds and the Bees link above). Make it as normal as you can to talk about intimacy, and it needs to be more than one conversation where you have "The Talk." It should be a series of safe, honest conversations about intimacy, sex, appropriate use of mobile devices, and reassuring your kids that when they see something they shouldn't, it's okay to tell Mom and Dad.
My parents were wise to warn me and my siblings about the garbage in the Las Vegas gutter all those years ago. Obviously in today's world, that same garbage is free and available in your own home on multiple devices. My experience and education tells me that our job is to prepare our children and teach them properly about pornography that they will (it's not If but When) be exposed to digitally, and to teach them how to respond. And if you have someone you love (husband, ex-husband, boyfriend, girlfriend, teenage son or daughter) struggling with a pornography addiction like those boys I interned with all those years ago, the books I suggested are great resources, too.
Just like a mirage is a counterfeit to a real water source, pornography is a counterfeit to real love. It doesn't satisfy thirst, and it leaves the viewer empty, or emptier even. I don't think there's any real way to avoid pornography entirely in today's world (though it makes Norm's drive to live the simple life in the country a bit more appealing), so my goal is to share some real-world tools that can help.