Porn Addiction & Teenagers

ABC recently ran a great but scary piece on porn addiction among teenagers.  According to a psychologist who was interviewed, we’re just at the beginning of a pornography epidemic – it will get worse in the next few years.  You can view the ABC’s Nightline report here: “Generation XXX: Teens Addicted to Porn?

As technology advances, access to porn will become easier and easier while avoiding porn will become increasingly difficult.  Technology isn’t the enemy, per se, but its the conduit through which the porn is so easily delivered to stoke our sinful desires.  If your son/daughter doesn’t have any restrictions on their use of technology (TV viewing, Internet usage, Internet filters, Cell Phone & Smartphones, etc.), I want to encourage you to check out a post I wrote last year: Setting Media Guidelines for your Teenager.

Walt Mueller at the Center for Parent/Youth Understanding has done significant work and has created the “Digital Kids Initiate.”  This is an effort to help parents and youth workers understand the digital world teens live so that we could discerningly affirm what we can while correcting what is dangerous.  As part of the Digital Kids Initiative, Walt has provided two noteworthy resources:

  1.  Info Sheet on Children & Pornography
  2. Parents’ Primer on Internet Pornography.

Here are some nuggets taken from the above resources:

  • 93% of boys and 62% of girls are exposed to Internet pornography before the age of 18.
  • The average age of first exposure to Internet pornography is 11.
  • 30,000 Internet users were accessing pornography every second.sdf
  • There were 4.2 million pornographic websites. That equals 12% of all Internet sites.
  • 70% of boys have spent more than 30 consecutive minutes looking at online pornography on at least one occasion. 35% of boys have done this on more than ten occasions.
  • 23% of girls have spent more than 30 consecutive minutes looking at online pornography on at least one occasion. 14% have done this on more than one occasion.
  • The 12-17 year-old age group is the largest consumer of Internet pornography.
  • Only 3% of boys and 17% of girls have never seen Internet pornography.
  • One poll indicates that 50% of evangelical Christian men and 20% of evangelical Christian women are addicted to pornography.

If you haven’t talked to your teenager about pornography, chances are… you’re already behind!  Talk to your kids about porn – yes, it’s uncomfortable and awkward for everyone, but you’re not doing anyone any favors by only talking about things that are easy to discuss!  Take the initiative, and don’t just have “the talk” once and then never again, make it a conversation instead.

What should you do if your son/daughter has been looking at porn?  Here are Walt’s suggestions (as found on the info sheet linked to above):

  1. Control your anger.
  2. Go after their heart, not their behavior.
  3. Keep a discussion going about biblical sexuality.
  4. Examine your own heart. Are you living God’s design for your own sexuality?
  5. Block the doors. Take steps to restrict access and choices, while engaging them in ongoing accountability.
  6. Don’t let up or give up. Shepherd them forward in their spiritual lives with the goal of heart change.
  7. Evaluate whether or not outside counseling is necessary or beneficial.

Posts You Should Read

Maybe this will become a semi-regular feature on this blog, maybe it won’t… but here’s a list of blog posts and articles I’ve read (some carefully, some quickly) and found helpful, insightful, convicting, etc.

The Message of the Bible in 221 Words – Here’s an excellent and brief explanation of what the Bible is all about by DA Carson.  If we could all learn how to explain the Story of the Bible in an understandable way that connects the OT & NT I think we’d all be better off… this article will help you begin to do that.

A Call to Remember –  I love Church History, here’s Kevin DeYoung’s explanation why we need to remember our history as Christians.

4 Reasons to Keep Bikini Pictures off FaceBook – This one’s for teen girls and their parents.  The Summer is coming… that means a whole bunch of teen girls will be posting pictures of themselves and their friends in their bathingsuits online for the world to see.  Here are four reasons why that’s not such a good idea.  This one’s worth sharing (probably via private message, posting it on someone’s profile page might come off as a bit judgmental).

Middle School: A Crucial Parenting Moment – This one’s from the Boston Globe, and I’m really thankful for the post.  I often refer to Middle School as the time to fire-proof teenagers, and High School as the time when you need to put fires out.  If teens are fireproofed well in Middle School there will be way fewer fires.  This article says something similar and relates it to sexual behavior and other risky behaviors.  Gone are the days when we can assume Middle Schoolers are too young and innocent to be discussing sex, drugs, etc. with… if we avoid those conversations we all lose.

Parents’ Guide to Kids and Cell Phones – The tagline here is “Everything you need to know before you buy your kid a cell phone.”  This article addresses some really good questions/issues to consider before getting your son/daughter their first cell phone.

The Digital Divide: How the Online Behavior of Teens is Getting Past Parents – This is a PDF produced by McAffee (the internet security program) to help inform parents about their teens’ online behavior.  Wow, there’s a TON of information in here that could be overwhelming, but if we want to know what teenagers are really doing online then we should pay attention!

What’s the Deal with Cyberbullying?

I want to start with a disclaimer: I don’t have as much time to devote to digging up as much research as I’d like to, but I feel so strongly about this I want to put this information in front of you.

The Cyberbullying Research Center (which has a GREAT website, I strongly encourage you to take a few minutes and browse through all their studies and graphs and otherdata).  Check out their site here:

Here are a few statistics from the CRC that I found especially interesting:

  • 20% of all teens report both being victims of cyberbullying as well as being guilty of cyberbullying others!
  • Girls are 10% more likely to be victims of cyberbullying
  • Girls are 3% more likely to cyberbully others
  • The most common form of cyberbullying is posting mean or hurtful comments online.

If you haven’t read my post on Formspring.me, I strongly encourage you to read it and have a conversation with your teenager about the site.  Even if he or she doesn’t have a Formspring page, I’d be shocked if he/she doesn’t have friends with one.  The more I check out various students’ Formspring pages, the more I’m growing in my hatred for cyberbullying.

I remember taking classes in developmental psychology in college while studying to become a youth pastor and hearing a professor say that internally most teenagers are walking around saying “Do you like me?”  I know, that sounds a bit overstated, and it may be – but I’ve found it very helpful in reminding me the importance of consistently communicating “I care about you and accept you.”  Anyone who’s been the parent of a teenager can affirm that especially after an argument or conflict teenagers are quietly asking “Do you STILL like me now?”  Cyberbullying makes this normal aspect of identity-formation that much more difficult and complicated.

So how do I prevent cyberbullying?

  • You can’t – but you can minimize it.  Even if your teenager doesn’t have a cell phone or any internet access he can still become the victim of others posting mean things online about him.
  • Be proactive in discussing media (especially social networking sites like FaceBook, MySpace, and Formspring) with your son or daughter.  Discuss the potential for cyberbullying and how to respond Christianly if he falls victim to it.
  • Consistently and clearly affirm and build up your child’s identity.  Help her value and treasure what makes him different form her peers, so that when others try tearing her down she’s already been built up.
  • Be an active listener.  Ask good questions (not accusing questions or leading questions).  Listen more than you speak.  If you son/daughter doesn’t experience you listening to him/her about “meaningless stuff” then why should he expect you to be supportive enough to talk about difficult issues arise?  With Teenagers you don’t prove yourself in crises, but in the monotony of common daily interactions.
  • Pray daily and specifically for your son or daughter.  Don’t pray simply for God to shelter them from harm, but for Him to strengthen your children to grow in the love for God and for themselves in the midst of difficult experiences.

Thoughts on Formspring.me

If you aren’t familiar with “Formspring,” here’s a brief description from their website:

“Send and receive anonymous questions, and learn more about people you find interesting by following their answers.”

In my opinion, the most brilliant thing Formspring has done is teaming up with Facebook so that one’s Formspring page sends my questions/replies to his or her Facebook page.  People can even sign in to their Formspring page by using their Facebook login information!

The more I check out different Formspring pages, the more I really hate Formspring.  Here’s why:

  1. It’s anonymous: most questions are harmless, but some very cowardly people ask mean questions (“Why are you so fat?” “Are you gay?” “Why are you so stupid?” etc.) because they’re “faceless” and unknown.  Very cowardly.
  2. It feeds into narcissism: the mentality that you are the center of the world.
  3. If perpetuates insecurity: teenagers are already walking around silently asking “Do you like me?” and “Am I special?”  Sites like Formspring only feed into this insecurity and can do some serious harm (see reason 1 above).
  4. It feeds the notion that you can learn all about me by reading about me over the internet (as opposed to actually spending time with me).
  5. It makes cyber-bullying infinitely easier, all while being anonymous.

Disclaimer: When you submit a question, you are given the option to include your Formspring account name, but most people don’t.

In the past two weeks I’ve grown increasingly fascinated by this site and have spent time checking out pages of teens I know and teens I don’t know – and I haven’t seen one mean comment with someone’s actual name attached to it so you know who it’s from.

Like almost anything on the internet, some people’s Formspring pages are completely clean and they have not been harassed.  But it seems like those people are the minority and are very lucky (so far).  My “professional” opinion is to STAY AWAY from Formspring.me.

The Bottom Line:
I see very few benefits from having your own Formspring page, but many downsides to having one.  If I was a parent of a teenager today, I would allow my son/daughter to have a Facebook page (if I had complete access to it and could look through it with my son/daughter to ask questions about different comments, pictures, etc.), but I would absolutely NOT let my son/daughter have a page on Formspring.me.

How Much Media is Too Much?

Kaiser Family Foundation's report on "Changes in Media Use" among minors within the past five years

According to Walt Mueller of the Center for Parent/Youth Understanding, the typical teenager uses some form of Media (TV, Internet, Music, Cell Phone, Video Games, etc.) for 7:38 every day!  That’s crazy… until I think about how much I use my computer, watch TV, and use my cell phone… then I call it “work.”  It’s easy to hear figures like this and react harshly, but we all need to take an honest look at ourselves and the examples we’re setting.

Here’s a link to a great article on the “Source For Youth Ministry” about Media Consumption.  It’s not a short read, but it’s full of helpful tips to help parents discuss music and other media with their teenage children.

Teens: Do you look at screens (TV, Computer, Cell Phone) so often that your eyes start to hurt and your vision is getting worse?  Do you need to listen to music to fall asleep because you find silence either scary or too unsettling?  When was the last time you read a book or magazine and truly enjoyed it?

Parents: What example are you setting for your sons and daughters in these areas?  Are you talking to your kids about the music they listen to and the shows/movies they watch and what sites they visit online?

How the Internet Changes our Relationship with God

It’s no secret that the internet, and especially social networking sites like Myspace and Facebook, has changed the way that people relate to each other.  But how does has it changed our most important relationship: the one we have with God.

I wish I had time to really flesh this out, but I just don’t.  Instead I just want to take a few minutes to “brain dump” some of my thoughts about this.  If I get enough comments below then maybe I’ll put more time into this topic again some other time.

It’s so easy to write things to people and about people over the internet.  Example: I was just talking to some youth pastor friends of mine today about cyberbullying over Facebook and how easy it is for people to write comments about someone on Facebook that they wouldn’t dare say in person, because they know how rude it is.  The internet has a way of making us feel “faceless” and anonymous, even though what I write can be tracked back to me and I need to take responsibility for what I’ve written.

I think that as we grow more and more comfortable relating to other people “anonymously” through the internet we also grow more and more comfortable treating God the same way.  We’re “friends” with people on Facebook; we’re “friends” with God because we acknowledge his existence and go to church every once in a while.  We write posts on people’s walls; we shoot up prayers to God.

But what about actually calling people up and spending time with them?  How many people over the internet would you actually call up to ask for advice or to share some new heartache?  Instead, you just post it up to Facebook for the world to see and to comment on without any of the “messyness” real relationships.

It is absolutely impossible to create intimacy with someone over the internet.  I know, I know… “But I’ve formed some really good friendships because of the internet.”  Yes, that’s true – but if you haven’t heard the person’s voice, if you haven’t seen his/her tears or excitement IN PERSON, then you don’t really have true intimacy.  Remember: Intimacy =“Intimacy is the joy of knowing someone fully and being known by that person with no fear of rejection” (Andy Stanley, The Seven Checkpoints.  Howard Books, 2001. p.81).

I find the internet very helpful in initiating communication with some people that I wouldn’t otherwise be able to communicate to.  But when communication over the internet becomes my “default” there’s a dead end in that friendship.

Final thought for now:
Unless we work to maintain person-to-person friendships, endure awkward silences with others, don’t know what to say when the other person says something really difficult, and go out of our way to realize that real friendships aren’t always “convenient” like internet friendship… then I’m convinced we will grow to treat God the same way: like He’s “convenient” and impersonal and doesn’t require much from us.

Social Networking Statistics…

Average Time Spent on Social Network Sites in December, by Country*

1. Australia 6 hours, 52 minutes

2. U.S. 6 hours, 9 minutes

3. United Kingdom 6 hours, 8 minutes

4. Italy 6 hours

5. Spain 5 hours, 31 minutes

6. Brazil 4 hours, 33 minutes

7. Germany 4 hours, 12 minutes

8. France 4 hours, 5 minutes

9. Switzerland 3 hours, 55 minutes

10. Japan 2 hours, 50 minutes

*Countries with the highest social networking activity

Source: The Nielsen Company