The Evolution of Pornography: Understanding its Modern Impact on Teens
If parents think about pornography at all, most parents think of something like Playboy magazine. However, the pornography that today's teens are exposed to is much different.
Additionally, the barriers that kept porn away from young men and women in the past do not exist anymore. Internet pornography is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Porn is never further away than your son's smartphone. Teens cannot only easily access porn through smartphones. Other devices can connect your son to explicit online pornography too.
For example, devices like PS4, Xbox, Nintendo consoles or handheld devices, tablets, and even smart TVs can bring explicit pornography into your home and in front of your son's watchful eyes.
Even tech-savvy parents who use parental control can still find that their teens are exposed to sexual content through social media or sexting.
Today, teenage boys and teenage girls are regularly exposed to explicit material. Also, it is commonplace for pornographic material to feature content that is much more graphic, violent, and psychologically harmful than any "dirty" magazine would have been. If you can think of it, then you can find it online. Most of these illicit images and videos are available on the mainstream Internet. Young people do not even need to venture onto the so-called dark web.
Being exposed to explicit pornography is a danger to teens. Your average teenager experiencing puberty may think about sex in regards to kissing, or what it may be like to hold someone’s hand. After viewing pornography, teens' ideas about normal sexual activities change dramatically. Their ideas expanded too much more graphic and sexualized images. Their images of sex are also often more violent and less concerned with consent.
They often come to see their potential sexual partners as objects and not as people. Also, teens are fantasizing about much more mature and graphic sexual things. This impact of pornography use on young people can be long-lasting and devastating to not only teenagers but to their future partners as well.
Understanding Porn And Sex Addiction
Pornography can turn a teen's curious internet search into a serious addiction. Dopamine is the basis of this addiction. Dopamine is a chemical in your brain that makes us feel good. It is a reward for doing things that will help us survive and succeed in life. For example, we feel dopamine when we laugh, exercise, eat, or have sex. Dopamine connects with our memories, which encourages us to repeat these activities. When too much dopamine releases too quickly, addiction occurs.
An excess of dopamine is released when viewing pornography, which releases high levels of dopamine immediately. Dopamine creates a powerful desire to watch more pornography. This desire is similar to the chemical process involved in drug addiction. The brain is not meant to handle such high, immediate levels of dopamine. The brain will build a tolerance for pornography. This tolerance may mean less dopamine is released. Worse, it could mean dopamine receptors are less functional.
Your son will need to consume more and more porn just to get the same high or begin to view more explicit or violent pornography to make it more exciting. As your son's consumption of pornography increases, his tolerance increases, a block builds between the reward center and the judgment center of the brain. This block inhibits self-control. A new pornography viewer will feel an urge to gratify his desire to watch pornography, whatever the cost.
Another hormone that is released when your teen views pornography is oxytocin or the "cuddle hormone." This chemical in the brain helps with attachment in relationships. It is easier for teenagers to seek pornography than to try to create real relationships to feel a sense of love, acceptance, and connection—especially those who struggle to navigate friendships or relationships such as teenagers diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder.
Pornography becomes the path of least resistance to create a counterfeit attachment and feel connected. It is easier for someone seeking acceptance to click a button than to reach out to another person the same age and try to talk to them while navigating the complexities of social cues, and complex relationships. Plus, they don't have to worry about the fear of being rejected by pornography either. Pornography fills the void of loneliness and helps them to feel a false sense of connection and attachment.
Unfortunately, it has never been easier to find pornography. Even among teens who are not old enough to drive, friends and peers can share pictures and text messages about sex.
Getting involved with pornography makes teens' social lives suffer. Their grades drop, hobbies diminish, and relationships deteriorate.
Pornography addiction can also escalate to problematic sexual behavior.
Approaching Your Teen
Parents and other family members can find it difficult to talk to their teens about porn and sex. Talking about sex makes a lot of people feel uncomfortable. But your teen might be waiting for you to reach out. Talking about sex and pornography could be a crucial conversation that could positively impact your son. If you aren't talking to your son about porn and sex, they will learn about it from elsewhere.
79% of teens and young adults who want to stop using pornography say they have no one in their life helping them. Remember, the porn industry is predatory. If you do not talk to teens about sex in media, then your teen will likely learn about sex from porn.
The best thing that parents can do to help their teen is to begin a conversation about porn before it becomes an issue. Begin a regular, age-appropriate conversation about sex and pornography at an early age.
Arrange a specific time to have an open, frank conversation with your son about sex and porn. Having a conversation about porn can be awkward. You will get practice. You will want to have a conversation with your teen more than once.
Your son will likely have more than one opportunity to view online pornography. You will want to counter the unhealthy messages porn sends to teen boys and teen girls with healthy messages of your own.
Helping Parents Help Their Teen
Most parents do not like to face the possibility that their son might have an issue with sex or pornography addiction. While that reaction is understandable, ignoring the problem is not going to improve your son's issue.
If you suspect that your son has a problem with sex or porn addiction, try to confront your own feelings of shame before trying to help your son. Do your best to talk to your teen neutrally and calmly.
A neutral attitude will be more likely to get your son to open up. He may also be more willing to accept the idea that he needs help.
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Knowing When to Seek Help
Many parents find it difficult to tell healthy curiosity about sex from a potentially dangerous situation. There are clinical evaluations that can help make that determination easier. One of these evaluations is the Sexual Addiction Screening Test (SAST).
On the SAST, you will answer a series of simple yes or no questions about their teen. The answers are completely confidential. No information connects you to your assessment. After you complete the SAST, you will be taken to a new page that shows a score representing the level of risk.
After you get your score, you will have the chance to request a call from someone who can help answer your questions. You will only be contacted if you make a request. Whether you request a call or not, your information will remain confidential, and you will be under no obligation.
Recognizing Warning Signs
It can be challenging to tell typical teen behavior from signs of something more dangerous. For example, staying up late is typical teenage behavior. It can also be a sign of pornography addiction.
If your son stays up late at night, make sure he can account for what he is doing. If your son becomes secretive or ashamed when asked about his time, that could be cause for concern.
Some of the other early warning signs of pornography addiction are similar to other forms of addiction. Keeping secrets, stealing, and lying are common signs of pornography addiction.
These are, of course, signs that parents need to get involved. When trying to find the cause of these behaviors, keep in mind that pornography addiction could be an issue.
Making sure that you create healthy boundaries around electronics and smartphones is an essential step with your teen. Various things you could consider doing are:
- Determine an appropriate age to give your child a smartphone. There are other phone type options besides a typical smartphone that you could give them if they are younger such as a flip phone or a safe smartphone for kids like a Gabb Phone. Just because their friends may have a smartphone may not mean they are ready for one or need one.
- Seek out parental controls to place on your electronics and smartphone. There are many options out there separate from the electronic or smartphone setting options that can help monitor what your teen is doing on their electronics. And limit them from accessing pornography.
- Educate yourself about various social media apps, and what your child can developmentally manage at their age. Many children don't understand the dangers that can come with social media that not only involve pornography, yet other risks. In that case, not allowing social media apps until they are more mature to handle them may be the right direction.
- Set time limits on when they can access their electronics. Make it a privilege, not an entitlement to use electronics. For example, they can not use their electronics until after their homework and chores are done. Then they are only allowed an allotted amount of time on the electronics.
- Set boundaries around electronics and bedtime. Have a designated place where their smartphones or electronics are stored at night and don't allow them to take them to their room for bedtime.
- Require that smartphones and electronics be used in a public place in the house. Do not allow them to be used behind closed doors.
- Educate yourself on various electronics. Be aware that technology advances fast, and if they have access to wifi on their electronics, they can usually access pornography (even on a Kindle or X-box).
- You are the parent. Ultimately you set the rules around their electronics and smartphone. If you feel their behavior is being greatly affected by their electronics, you can take their electronics away, until they can correct their behavior and follow the rules around it.
Putting boundaries in place may help your teen limit their access to pornography, slow down their search for it, and hopefully allow them to decide not to seek it out. Yet there are no parental controls or boundaries that you can set in place to adequately limit your teen from accessing pornography, especially if they want to seek it out. There are ways around parental controls and ways to erase their history as well or go incognito on a webpage so their account is not tracked. You also cannot control what they have access to at a friend's house.
Ultimately, the most important thing you can do is create open communication and a safe environment where your teen can feel comfortable coming to talk to you about their pornography use. If your teen seems to become possessive over their electronics or smartphone or become increasingly upset when you set limits around them, then it may be a red flag that there is more going on and that you need to seek further help.
Treating Porn and Sex Addiction
While there is an epidemic of sex and porn addiction, somehow, families always feel as if they are facing the challenge alone. But you are not alone.
Your family can be whole again. There are many resources available to help. You can have your son and your family back.
For example, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) offers a free helpline. The helpline operator will help you find the right resources for your family.
Another option is to find specialized treatment for your son. Oxbow Academy provides specialized treatment for sex and porn addiction. The school exclusively works with teen boys between the ages of 13 and 17, we are located in Utah.