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.

You Just Don’t Get Me, Do You?

Have you ever heard that from a teenager?  If you’re a parent, I’m sure you have!  I think we can all remember saying that to mom or dad at some point.  I can still think of some people who I could say that to!

A friend of mine on Facebook posted the chart below today and it got me thinking about how important it is to really understand each other.  For example: It took me a year (ask my wife, I’m a slow learner) to realize when my Senior Pastor says, “Mike, staff meeting in five minutes” what he really means is, “Mike, I’m ready for staff meeting now, but I don’t want to be rude and demand your presence immediately.”  While I’m still usually the straggler of the three of us, I now realize that I should finish up what I’m doing and head in to his office as soon as I can wrap things up.

What are some of your sayings that seem to mean one thing while you really mean something else?  What are some things your son/daughter/friend says that seems to mean something different?

Understanding each other is hard work, but it is possible.

Parents – Are you taking studying your teenager to learn what they care about?
Teenagers – Are you studying your parents to figure out what makes them tick?

PS: Much to my wife’s delight, I think this chart means I should move to England immediately, because I pretty much fall in line with what the middle column.

Setting Media Guidelines for Your Teenager

Dictionary.com defines Media as, “the means of communication, as radio and television, newspapers, and magazines, that reach or influence people widely.”  Simply put, media is everywhere today – on our TV’s, computers, cell phones, iPods, radios, billboards along the highway.  We are constantly being surrounded by messages that are trying to “reach or influence” us.  So how can parents help their teenagers have healthy Media Guidelines?  I think there are a few things we need to explore first:

How Should Christians Engage Media?

If music, movies, tv, websites, books, etc. are all trying to influence us, then Christians need to be discerning people.  We need to pay attention.  Too often, when the screen goes up our guard goes down.  There are a few Scriptures that are really important:

Philippians 4:8 says, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”  When I was a teenager I often felt like adults who “didn’t understand” kept using this verse like a club to judge me for what I was listening to and watching.  If only I could get these thick-skulled adults to understand why my music was so amazing then they’d be alright with it.  Maybe I had a point and they were too quick to judge… but I wasn’t really wrestling with what this verse clearly means and how it should serve as a filter in what I filled my mind with.

Colossians 1:15-16 says, “The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.  For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.”  All things (including music, tv, internet, etc.) were created through Christ and for Christ.  The arts and media should be viewed with the goal to see Christ honored through them.  This must influence how we interpret the arts.  Example: Lady Gaga isn’t someone I would recommend listening to.  That being said, there’s a lot in her music that could spark some really interesting discussions about God’s authority, Creation, Human Nature, Christian Sexuality, etc.  As Walt Mueller encourages, “Affirm what you can affirm, and correct what needs to be corrected,” but don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.

How Much Media are Teenagers Consuming: Is This a Problem?

The Kaiser Family Foundation published a study last year entitled “Generation M2: Media in the Lives of 8-18 Year Olds.”  You can download the report for free by clicking the link, but here are some of the most important findings along with some of my commentary (actual numbers are as of 2009, but they’re the most current numbers available):

  • Typical 8-18 year old consumes 10:45 of media every day (increase of 2:12 since ’04)
  • 29% of that media consumption is multitasking (ex: using the computer while listening to music).  That makes the actual time with media 7:38.
  • 8-10 year olds average 7:51 total media each day
  • 11-14 year olds average 11:53 total media each day
  • 15-18 year olds average 11:23 total media each day
  • TV use is still almost double (4:29/day) the next most popular media (Music, at 2:31/day)
  • 71% of 8-18 year olds have a TV in their bedroom (Please Please PLEASE don’t do this. No TVs, no Computers, no Cell Phones at bedtime)
  • Video games are on the rise, averaging 1:13/day (was 49 minutes back in ’04)
  • Reading is down to only 38 minutes each day (that include Bible Reading too!)
  • Only 36% of teenagers have Media Rules restricting their computer time; 30% have rules regarding video games; 28% have rules regarding TV; and 10% have rules regarding music.  (Keep in mind, TV & Music are the two biggest media voices in teenagers’ lives, yet most teens don’t have Media Guidelines… think there’s a correspondance here?)
  • 8-18 year olds who DO NOT have Media Rules typically consume 2:52 MORE Media each day than people who do have Media Rules to live by.

Do I even need to mention the prevalence of Internet Pornography?  Check out “The Stats on Internet Pornography,” these numbers are out of control.  These reveal that we need to have filters in our heart, not just our computers.  But those “filters” won’t get there without parents (and obviously the Holy Spirit) taking action to teach their teenagers and pre-teens how to responsibly interact with Media.

Some Guidelines for Setting Media Guidelines

  1. Practice what you preach.  If you want your kids to live by media guidelines but you’re always in front of the tv/computer, then you’re simply being a hypocrite.  Obviously, you’ll boundaries will probably be different from theirs, but if you don’t have boundaries then maybe you have a problem too.
  2. Try to understand their Media preferences.  Ask a lot of questions (but not so many that you become a nag).  Ask them, “Why do you like this show?” “What is it about this music you identify with?” and “Why is Facebook so important to you?”  Realize when they answer, “I don’t know, I just like it” they probably aren’t blowing you off… they probably really don’t know.  But help them figure it out.  Look at the lyrics to the song, watch the music video (even if it’s painful), watch the show with them, and talk about it with them afterwards without giving a lecture about every fault you found.
  3. Determine boundaries with your teen.  That doesn’t mean you give them the final say, but ask them to put your shoes on for a minute and to consider what boundaries they would put in place for a son/daughter their age.  Have them help come up with the consequences of breaking those media boundaries too – that way when those boundaries are broken they know exactly what’s coming.
  4. With more responsibility comes more freedom.  Trustworthy teenagers should simply be given more trust.  Don’t be blind and only see what you want to see, but recognize that every one of your kids will require different boundaries.  After two strikes, the boundaries get tightened; but after a significant period of responsibility comes a little more freedom.  Remember, your goal is to help them internalize these wise choices when you aren’t there!
  5. Use the Pause button.  If you have a DVR/TiVo… USE IT!  If you’re watching a music video or a TV show or a commercial and you see something that could provide a great “teachable moment” (emphasis on MOMENT) then use the pause button and ask, “Did you catch that!  Where’s the lie?”

This is so important, I’d love to hear from some of you about what Media Guidelines you’ve put in place that have been helpful (and what you WISH you had in place before it was too late).

Understanding Peer Pressure

Last night I was reading about an experiment by psychologists from Temple University who wanted to understand how peer pressure works.  The New York Times published a great and short look at the study entitled, “Teenagers, Friends, and Bad Decisions.”

The study found that “Perceived Peer Pressure” is of far greater influence than previously believed.  In the study forty teens and adults were instructed to drive a simulated car through a course with stop lights and that the faster they completed the course, the greater their cash prize would be.  Each participant drove the course four times, however, in the last two of those rounds the participants were informed that two same-sex friends of theirs were watching them from another room.  While the adults’ time-results were fairly consistent, the teen ran 40% more yellow lights and got into 60% more crashes when they knew their friends were watching.  During this study, researches used a brain scanner that measured increased activity in the region of the brain that controls both reward processing and social information.

Dr. Laurence Steinberg, who oversaw the study, concluded that, “We’ve shown that just the knowledge that your friends are watching you can increase risky behavior. …The lesson is that if you have a kid whom you think of as very mature and able to exercise good judgment, based on your observations when he or she is alone or with you, that doesn’t necessarily generalize to how he or she will behave in a group of friends without adults around.”

Meanwhile, other research has shown that the brain is not fully developed until the mid-20’s.  Additionally, nearly every study has shown that the “goal of adolescence” is a quest for identity-formation and autonomy.  Combining these three factors (perceived peer pressure, the still developing brain, and the quest for self-identity), it should serve as no surprise that a teenager’s peer exert great influence on him or her.  While teenagers are on their quest to discover their own identities, they walk the line between being unique while not setting themselves apart from their peers, thus becoming a target for bullying or harassment.  As peers exert such influence upon each other on an individual level, it is necessary to recognize the peer-group is greatly influenced by the media.

Here are a few suggestions to help your teenager(s) combat Peer Pressure:

  • Help him discover his identity in Christ in practical ways.  Don’t be overbearingly spiritual, but be intensely practical about helping your son or daughter connect daily life with God’s purposes for him.
  • Get to know your kids’ friends.  This one’s pretty obvious, but make an effort to really get to know them.  Ask them questions and really listen to them, not as a spy, but as an adult who wants to understand them and have a Christian influence on them too.
  • Be patient.  Your kid WILL make dumb decisions, if he hasn’t yet… just wait.  Don’t be too harsh, but don’t brush it off by saying, “He couldn’t help it, it’s his friends’ fault because his pre-frontal cortext isn’t fully developed yet!”
  • Model taking responsibility for your own actions.  If you’re constantly making excuses, your kids will do the same thing.
  • Pray for your kids and with your kids.  It’s good to hear mom or dad say, “I’m praying for you,” but it’s another thing for them to actually pray with you about something your nervous about or struggling with.
What nuggets of insight do you have to add?  How are you helping teenagers win the battle over Peer Pressure?

What Can We Learn From the 2011 Teen Choice Awards?

The Teen Choice Awards were two weeks ago, but I just got pointed to the winners today through an article by Jonathan McKee, where he has an excellent post all about this year’s awards.

Here’s a complete list of winners, below are the awards that stand out to me:

Choice Movie Actor — Romantic Comedy
: Ashton Kutcher, No Strings Attached

Choice Movie Actor — Comedy: Justin Timberlake, Bad Teacher

Choice Movie Actress — Comedy: Cameron Diaz, Bad Teacher

Choice Vampire: Robert Pattinson

Ultimate Choice Award: Taylor Swift

Top Winners:

  • 6 Wins: Harry Potter (this includes both “Deathly Hallows” Parts 1 & 2 combined.) Wins include Movie of the Summer, Movie – Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Movie Actress, Movie Star, and Movie Villain.
  • 6 Wins: Taylor Swift. This includes the “Ultimate Choice Award” in addition to awards for Choice Female Artist, Choice Female Country Artist, Choice Country Song (“Mean”), and Choice Breakup Song (“Back to December”), and Choice Red Carpet Fashion Icon.
  • 5 Wins: Twilight Series.  This also includes Robert Pattinson’s win as “Favorite Vampire” (seriously, there’s a category for that!), which simply highlights how popular vampires and fantasy has become to today’s teens.
  • 5 wins: The Vampire Diaries.  See what I mean about this whole vampire thing?  I’ve never watched the show myself, but from what I seen (a few minutes here, a website there, etc.) it’s a pretty sexualized show.
What Can Parents & Youth Workers Learn:
  1. Your kids are either sneaking into movies you don’t want them seeing, or you have looser standards than the people who rate movies “R.”  Think about it: Ashton Kutcher wins favorite actor in a romantic comedy for “No Strings Attached,” a movie all about casual sex between two friends who want the pleasure without the commitment.  Cameron Diaz and Justin Timberlake with favorite actress/actor in a comedy  for the movie “Bad Teacher” which begins its self-description (on its website) by saying, “Some teachers just don’t give an F.”  Do you set media restrictions for your kids?  Do you know what parameters your kids’ friends have?  Don’t feel the need to stalk your kids, but if you aren’t monitoring what they’re watching and listening to then I guarantee you they’re seeing things you probably don’t want them to see.
  2. Vampires are still “in”… and probably will be for a while.  Twilight, Vampire Diaries, Teen Wolf, etc.  Vampires and other fantasy stories (aka: Harry Potter and the like) provide a great opportunity for writers to allegorize what they are seeing or experiencing.  Look for opportunities to ask your kids “Why do you think vampires are so trendy?” and hear them out.  Encourage them to think about it if they haven’t already, and then follow up with them after they’ve had a few days to think about it.
  3. There’s so much to be said for Taylor Swift.  For the most part, she’s kept herself pretty clean and controversy-free.  She dresses well enough to get the “Red Carpet Fashion Icon Award,” but she doesn’t do photoshoots (that I know of, at least) for Maxim or other “Mens Magazines.”  Her music is simple and clean and tons of teenagers identify with what she’s singing about, which is why she’s so huge.  But at the same time, she seems to jump from one bad relationship (she dated John Mayer… seriously, she should’ve seen that one coming!) to the next to the next, which might be why she’s able to write the “Best Breakup Song.”  Talk to your kids about Taylor – hold up what she’s done well, and talk about why they think she might swing from relationship to relationship.  When security and self-worth is found in anything other than in our relationship with Jesus Christ then we might be “filled” for a while, but only Christ gives lasting hope and contentment.
Did you watch the Awards?  What stuck out to you from the show?  Especially if your a teenager, I’d LOVE to hear from you what you think about both the Award show in general and some of my thoughts in particular…

How Marketers are Pushing Sexuality on Kids

Kids & Teenagers, are you aware of how the advertising industry is trying to take advantage of you?  Do you really want the things you buy, or are have you ‘bought’ the lie that purchasing this item will fill a void or longing in your life?

Parents, are you protecting your children and teenagers from believing what the advertising industry is pushing on your kids?  Have YOU bought into what they’re teaching?

We need to let kids be kids and stop rushing them into adulthood.  I think most of us reading this post would agree, but we aren’t always aware of the challenges that are actually working against us.  Be aware… your kids’ innocence may be at stake.

As a related-bonus: One of the most recent public demonstrations of this Sexualized marketing to children is Abercrombie & Fitch’s bikini for 7 year olds.  Walt Mueller wrote a great post about this here: “Abercrombie and our 7 Year Olds.”

Eating Disorders & Body Image Issues

My daughter is almost five months old, but one very important lesson I’ve already internalized for her came when a family friend came to meet her.  My wife and I were proudly holding her and said something like, “Isn’t she such a beauty queen, she’s so pretty!” Our visitor said, “… and smart too!” and smirked.  Why is it that even while my daughter is an infant, much of what she is being taught is about being pretty and being a beauty queen.  Obviously, since she’s an infant there’s not much else to comment on about her personality since much of that is still unknown, but it was a moment when I realized my duty to make sure my daughter is not raised with the princess-mentality where she feels the need to be a beauty queen.  I want her to be raised to have a healthy body image, not a warped view that tells her she needs to look just like the people on TV or else there’s something wrong with her.

I came across this link from CBS News on “Eating Disorders: 9 Mistakes Parents Make.”  It’s a great reminder of the imporantance to teach our children healthy views on body image.  Here’s a great link with Parenthood.com’s tips on “How to Tell if Your Child Has an Eating Disorder” and what you can do about it.

With the prevalence of Eating Disorders being fairly well known, I think most parents of girls know that it’s important to teach their daughters healthy body image (whether they actually teach it is another story).  If you don’t have a daughter, please don’t make the mistake of thinking, “I don’t have a daughter, so I’m off the hook.”  Many teenage boys see the muscle-bound action heros and the suave ladies-men and think, “I’m not like that, but I should be” and have similar self-image problems (though eating disorders are clearly more common among girls).  Also, young men need to be taught that women should not be seen as objects for their viewing/sexual pleasure and that they should not expect the women in their lives to look like the people on TV.

The National Eating Disorders Association has a great website that’s full of help for parents and teenagers, I strongly encourage you to browse through their website if an Eating Disorder is a problem (or a suspected problem) for you or your family.  The NEDA has prepared this helpful list of 10 Steps to Positive Body Image.

And please, do not feel the need to keep this struggle a shameful struggle, this is a way more common struggle than you may feel it is.  There is hope, but seek help and talk to a parent or trusted adult soon.  You don’t need to live in silence and shame, seek God through prayer and Scripture and invite a few close and trusted Christians into your life to give you strength when you’re feeling weak.