Book Review: Good Pictures, Bad Pictures: Porn Proofing Today’s Young Kids

When it comes to resources for parents to help their children address online pornography, there are very few options. Really, for many years there were none. The organization Porn Proof Kids (www.pornproofkids.org) sought to remedy this by publishing the illustrated book Good Pictures, Bad Pictures: Porn Proofing Today’s Young Kids. The target age of the book is not completely clear, but based on the introduction, I would say that it is targeted at an 8-10 year old child. A child much older than this may be too sophisticated for the picture book, though it is a good starting ground for discussion.

There are some really great things about this little book. It is the story of a young boy talking throughout his day with his mother and father about “bad pictures.” The book does a brilliant job of describing in understandable language the concept of addiction, the thinking brain and the feeling brain. Introducing these concepts to children at an early age can be very helpful in teaching them to use their thinking brain to overrule things like impulsivity. The book also does a great job in teaching what it calls the CAN DO plan, a behavioral plan to manage exposure to pornography, which includes telling a trusted adult.

As with anything in print, there are both good things about a book and some things of which I am not a fan. My issue arises because I am acutely aware of the impact of shame on addiction, particularly sex addiction. The authors of the book do devote a small paragraph to this in the introduction, stating that a parent needs to stay calm because “shame and secrecy only increase the power of porn.” Because of my awareness of the impact of shame, I have become incredibly careful in the language I use when working in the sex addiction field. Words, even if unintended, can be shaming. It is my insistence on non-shaming language that causes me to have an issue with Good Pictures, Bad Pictures. It is right there in the title. “Bad” pictures. I understand that the authors had to write in a way that young children would understand. However, if I am a young child and see a pornographic picture and it has been labeled “bad”, what happens to me emotionally if I am excited by that picture? Am I then bad too?

The book likens pornography to rat poison, calling it dangerous. Research studies show us that incidental exposure to pornography is not necessarily dangerous to children. Those children who have problems with online pornography are frequent users. From a sex positive therapeutic stance, pornography is not “bad”. Pornography simply is the depiction of nudity or sexual acts between adults that a child is not prepared to see or process appropriately. Pornography is inappropriate for children. I personally dislike the use of scare tactics that involve shaming language that may make a child feel bad about themselves for having a physiological response to sexual imagery.

Another issue I have with the book is how it talks about the dopamine system in the brain. The book states that pornography “tricks” the brain into turning on powerful feelings. This statement is entirely untrue, the use of the word “trick” here is misleading. Dopamine is released by pleasurable activities (they use ice cream), drugs, or sex. This is not trickery but a biological process. The book also calls the reward center the “attraction center” which is not accurate. Attraction is a multifaceted concept that involves more than brain centers and neurochemistry. I do wish that they were more accurate in their description of these processes.

I feel like I just spent three paragraphs talking about what I don’t like about the book. I will own that these issues come from my background in neuropsychology and an obsessive desire to never shame anyone about sex and sexuality. That being said, the book is really the best resource of its kind that I have seen. It provides a short, readable story for a parent and child to go through together. It provides a clear behavioral plan for a child to follow if they are accidentally exposed to pornography.

The book is best for younger children who perhaps have not been exposed to online pornography yet. The average age of first exposure to online pornography is about ten years old, though this data is old and the age is likely younger. Therefore, the earlier you start talking to your child about sex, pornography and sexuality the better.

For more blogs like this one, please check out our site The New Age of Sex Education

Tech Updates for Aware Parents

Father And Son Using Laptop At Dining Table

Side view of father and son using laptop at dining table

In the ever changing world of mobile technology, it is hard to keep up with new apps and services. Fads come quickly and leave just as quickly. During the first half of this month, a few tech changes have occurred that a tech savvy parent might want to be aware of. This post is a short recap of new things and changes. If you are interested, please dig further into the apps and/or new functions.

Peach

At the beginning of the month, the founder of the video messaging app, Vine, launched a new app named Peach. This new app is more like a Twitter or Facebook than a traditional messaging app. Messages that are written are posted to a home page in real time. The app allows for video, gifs and traditional images. There is also a draw function in case you want to post a doodle. The app is officially only available for iOS systems.

Three days after it’s release, Peach was in the top ten for social networking apps in the iPhone app store. Whether it is the desire for something new or the media hype, it is clear that people are checking out the app. Only time will tell if it continues to be popular or quickly loses ground.  (https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/peach-a-space-for-friends/id1067891186?mt=8)

Upshot

Upshot is being touted by technology bloggers as the Snapchat for events. This new app creates a cache of pictures from an event or location of an event such as a party. If the user chooses the autoshare option, any picture they take on their phone or via Snapchat will be posted on the Upshot private event stream that a user creates. The app syncs with Facebook events to make ensure a larger inclusion of photographs. Like Snapchat, the images do have a self destruct period. The stream will only be available for seven days after it has been created. The app is available for iPhones now with an Android launch in February.

The idea of Upshot sounds great. Create a private event for something like a baby shower or family reunion and everyone who is at the event (and who uses the app) can then see all of the photos of the event. I believe this is akin to the intent of the app as it is created by the same people who created the family Photosharing app called Togethera.

Upshot is given a 12+ rating for infrequent alcohol, tobacco or drug use. As with any social app, it can be used for great good. It seems like a great idea for parties and events. On the flip side, I would be concerned about the content of the Upshot albums when they are used at teen parties. We all know that some teens have used SnapChat to send sexual content. What happens if these types of images are uploaded onto Upshot from an event? Is the entire group on the private event then possibly in trouble for possessing sexual images of children? (http://www.upshotapp.co/)

Skype

You may be wondering why Skype is on this list as it just celebrated its 10th anniversary. On January 12, 2016, Skype just announced that it will be offering free group video calling that will be available on nearly all mobile devices. According to the company, nearly 750 million people around the world use Skype.

Though Skype is most frequently used in business and for legitimate reasons, there are some individuals who do use Skype to engage in sexual chat online. Be aware, that this group chat can now occur.

As always, this blog post is not meant to be an in-depth look into any of these apps or advancements. For more information, please check out the company sites to determine if you think the app is appropriate for your child to use.

Yik Yak

Yik Yak is an anonymous social network app that is popular among college students. I have written about the app previously on other blog posts. The company announced yesterday that the app is now going to also be available in a web version. The web version is fundamentally the same as the app but allows a user to type out their messages on a keyboard for ease of use or for when phone battery is dying.

When Yik Yak was originally created, the app was a problem with high school students but the founders, in a responsible move, geofenced the app around high schools and middle schools so it cannot be used in those locations.

For more posts like this, please see www.thenewageofsexeducation.com.

Family Online Safety Contracts

Father And Son Using Laptop At Home

Father And Son Using Laptop At Home

As my book, The New Age of Sex Education, how to talk to your teen about cybersex and pornography, is nearing completion, I am researching resources for parents. One of these resources is the Family Online Safety Institute. This is a very helpful and informative site.

What I love most about the site are the online safety contracts I found there. These contracts not only provide boundaries and guidelines for the child, but also the parent. Here are a few tidbits from the parent contract:

      1. Parents will get to know the services and websites their child uses.

By doing this, the parent agrees to get informed and stay informed. This is critical to responsible digital parenting.

      1. I will not over react if my child tells me about something “bad” he or she finds or does on the Internet.

I LOVE THIS! If a parent can follow through on this part of the contract, they won’t shame their child. It is hard to not be reactive if your child comes to you saying he or she saw pornography or were solicited on a website they should not have been on. However, if you can be calm and talk about the issue, you will go a long way to create safety and not create an aura of shame around sexuality.

      1. I will frequently check to see where my kids have visited and talk to them about my concerns.

These are just a few of the 12 items on the parent contract. These rules facilitate calm and healthy communication between parents and their children.

The site also has Safety Cards specifically for: cell phone, smartphone, gaming systems, tablets and computers. These are designed for a parent to give to their child and discuss when they get a new device. A parent can write their own rules on the card based on their own beliefs and family values. There is also a parent’s promise section on these cards.

Parents promise not to overreact if their child views something inappropriate. The parent also agrees to learn new things and be part of their child’s digital world. Another parent promise is that they, themselves, promise to responsibly use technology. Parents need to model appropriate behaviors such as not texting while driving.

There are many sites that will provide you with resources and many are very good. I wanted to highlight this site because it does such a great job in showing us that parents need to be accountable too. Having rule sand boundaries for both parents and children creates a safe environment that fosters open and honest communication.

A Parent’s Report Card: The Pew Report on Parents, Teens and Digital Monitoring

Father And Son Using Laptop At Home

Father And Son Using Laptop At Home

Yesterday, the Pew Research Center published a report entitled “Parents, Teens and Digital Monitoring”. This survey assessed how parents are managing their parental roles around their child’s use of digital media. I prefer to call it a parental report card.

How do Parent’s Monitor Behavior?

The abundance of monitoring apps and filtering software might make you think that there are a lot of parents using these monitoring options. The survey determined that 39% of parents used some type of parental control to filter or monitor their teen’s online activity. A more hands on approach appears to be more common, with 69% of parents checking their teens’ social media profile. Parents of younger teens are more active in monitoring or policing their child’s behavior. This finding is consistent with other published research.

In total, 84% of parents are monitoring their teen’s behavior in some fashion. This leaves 16% of online teens using the web, social media and apps completely unmonitored.

Social Media

Social media use is an integral part of teen life. Parents know this. Even though 60% of parents do monitor their child’s social media use, considerably less are active social media participants with their children. Though the report tells us that 72% of parents use Facebook themselves, only 44% of those parents are friends with their teen. Only 9% of parents follow their child on twitter (other social media sites were not specifically quantified).

I find myself somewhat concerned about this finding. Several years ago I worked with an amazingly bright teenage girl whose level of anxiety and depression closely correlated with what was going on socially on twitter. Were people doing things without her? Where they bullying or mocking her? Was she followed or unfollowed? As this goes on in other social media forums (i.e. Instagram), parents need to be more aware and proactive.

Talking to Teens

As I am a staunch advocate for frequent discussions with children about sexuality and online content, I was very interested to see how many parents were talking to their teens about acceptable online content. I was a bit disappointed with the numbers.

The survey asked parents how frequently they talked to their teen about the following things: behavior in school, home or social lives; what to share online; content they should be viewing online; content to consume via TV, books, music, magazines or other media; and online behavior toward others. These discussions were categorized as never, rarely, occasionally, and frequently.

The good news is that upwards of 95% of parents have had the discussion about online content at least one time. However, once is not enough. Only 39% of parents frequently talked to their teen about online content and 40% frequently talked about what to share online. Parents appear to talk to teens 13-14 years old more frequently (49%) but that number drops dramatically (32%) for older teens.

COME ON PARENTS! You can do better than that!

The survey also indicated that moms do more of the talking than dads. Teens need these discussions with both parents together (if possible) or separately. There are some topics that a teen might be more comfortable discussing with a same (or different) gender parent. Let’s step up your game Dads.

Demographic variables appear to have some influence on how frequently a parent talks to a teen about online content. The parents who most frequently talk to their teens about the online world tend to be less affluent (making less than 30 thousand a year), and less educated (high school diploma or less). The highest educated and most affluent parents talk to their teen the least.

Digital Immigrant vs. Digital Native Parents

The survey clearly showed that younger parents (under 45) are more engaged in their child’s digital world. They monitor more, check websites more, talk more, have access to their children’s passwords and monitor their child’s social networking more. This result also coincides with newer research. As digital natives start to have families, they bring their level of tech savvy to their parenting.

In the end, parents are not doing a BAD job managing their child’s digital world. They are not doing a great job either. There is much room for improvement.

How to Protect Your Child from Being Harmed from Cybersex: Teach them Resilience

During the course of researching my book, The New Age of Sex Education: How to talk to your teens about cybersex and pornography, I came upon the research of Pamela Wisniewski and her colleagues. Dr. Wisniewski’s research focuses on teen internet safety and parental mediation styles. In non-scientific terms, her work helps us understand how teens navigate risk on the internet and how different parenting styles and parenting behaviors affect the behaviors of teens online. Her work is very timely and offers wonderful suggestions on how to help your child navigate the online world safely.

In this post, I would like to focus on data from a presentation on the topic of resilience that Dr. Wisniewski and her colleagues gave at a conference in the spring of 2015. This topic resonates strongly for me as a possible answer or at least a piece of the puzzle for my clients.

Many, if not all, of my clients often ask why they ended up with a sex addiction or a pornography addiction. We all know that some people can view pornography and have no problem with it. You can equate this to the social drinker. Some people drink socially and never develop an alcohol abuse or addiction problem while others will quickly escalate into problematic drinking. The same can be said for pornography. Some people can watch online pornography sometimes as a tool to help with masturbation or as something they do with their partner to spice up their sex life. For these people, the use can stay casual and it never escalates into a problem. In fact, for these people, the use of pornography might even be beneficial to their sex lives. My clinical practice doesn’t work with this population. The clients who come to my office who watch online pornography often quickly become addicted. They all want to know why.

The question of why someone becomes addicted to online sexual behavior is important from many perspectives. First, having some information about the “why” can sometimes help clients feel like they have a better understanding of their addiction, their behavior or themselves. Additionally, if we can figure out “why”, we have tools to work with to help the client function better in the world. Finally, answers to “why” can help our prevention efforts immensely.

One of the key factors that may influence the effects of exposure to risky online materials is the presence of psychological problems or low self efficacy. Studies have shown that kids that report more psychological issues are more affected by experiencing online risk (such as pornography, bullying, etc). Other studies have shown that compulsive use of the internet by adolescents can be linked to negative affect. Negative affect is the psychological term used to describe feelings of distress such as anxiety, guilt, fear, etc. Dr. Wisniewski’s research shows us that resilience, the ability to overcome negative experiences, is a moderator between online risk and negative affect.

So what does this mean for parents of teens who are online being exposed to risk? There are many useful implications of this research. The first is that, as parents (or educators, therapists, etc), we need to be on the look out for psychological issues in adolescents. If these issues, such as depression or anxiety, go unnoticed or untreated, there is an increased risk of the child engaging in compulsive internet use. If a child has an internet addiction, interventions need to limit exposure but also treat the underlying emotional issues.

From a prevention perspective, perhaps one of the most effective prevention tools is to teach your child how to cope with negative emotions. Creating emotional resilience in your child may inoculate them from the dangers of any type of addiction, be it drugs or the internet. We also need to teach children how to cope with negative online experiences in a healthy manner. Because you cannot shelter your child from all risk, teaching them healthy coping skills can go a long way to limit or prevent psychological harm from experiencing a negative event.

Let us circle this discussion back around to the “why” question my clients ask. For many the answer lies in resilience and negative affect. Many of my clients experienced adverse life events as children or suffered from mental health issues such as anxiety, depression or social anxiety. They did not have coping skills or resilience and no one tried to teach them these skills. They found a way to sooth their negative affect (unpleasant emotions) on the internet and through pornography or sexual chat.

For more information on ways you can help teach your child resilience, click here for the American Psychological Associations Resilience Guide ( http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/resilience.aspx).

For more information on Dr. Wisniewski’s research, http://news.psu.edu/search/gss?query=pamela%20wisniewski&site=news

If you think your child may have a problem with cybersex, please contact our office for help.

Webcam Trolling and Children

girl and web camera

little girl look to the web camera in her hand and smile

A study recently published online in the Telematics and Informatics journal brought to light the problems of webcam trolls and how they can victimize children on chat sites.

First, let’s talk about webcam trolls. Many people are likely familiar with the term troll that is often used for people who post disruptive, mean, or harmful communication on the websites or social media sites of others. It is not uncommon to see a comment in the news about some celebrity replying to a troll who posted something on their social media site that is perhaps fat shaming, sexist, racist, homophobic etc. While this is becoming a relatively common occurrence, webcam trolls are not as well known.

A webcam troll is someone who engages in trolling in online forums, like the site Chatroulette. They may show pre-recorded video loops instead of live time video. Webcam trolls also may phish for information on these sites.

How do webcam trolls go after children? The answer is through initiating contact, often under false pretenses, and requesting erotic video chatting. The troll is often using a fake identity and a video loop. Through the chat process, the child is convinced to expose themselves on the cam or engage in sex acts on the cam for the other person. The person on the other end of the chat will record the sessions and they can be used for blackmail at a later time. The children are often threatened with exposure to peers and parents. Adults who are webcam trolled are frequently extorted for money. Children are frequently blackmailed for more erotic content.

When this type of webcam trolling occurs, children do not usually go to their parents to tell them what has happened. The children are often scared and don’t want to face the shame of telling their parents what they have done online with a stranger.

We may think that these types of things only happen on chat sites that have a reputation for being sexual or nefarious. However, this study shares the case of an 11 year old child who was playing Minecraft online. Anyone who is aware in our world knows that Minecraft is a video game that is insanely popular with kids. Part of playing this game is the ability to chat with others. In this particular case, the online chat friendship included simulated sex acts. When the online friendship went bad, the other child posted these videos online for the public to see.

The moral of this particular case is to not assume that your child is not at risk because they are not on chat sites. If they are video gaming online, they are open to this practice.

While webcam trolling does not happen frequently, it does occur. The authors suggest that prevention measures be taken such as not sharing personal data online as well as technically safeguarding the computer. They also suggest that if a person is engaging in chat with someone, they ask them to write a particular message on a piece of paper and show it in the web cam. This practice will help distinguish video loops from real people. Our long term suggestion is that computers and devices with webcam ability should always be used in a public part of the house, not in a child’s bedroom

As always, discussion and awareness help prevention as well. Talk to your child about web cam trolling.

For more information on children and cybersex risk please see our page The New Age of Sex Education.

Kopecky, K. (2016) Misuse of web cameras to manipulate children within the so called webcam trolling. Telematics and Informatics, 33, 1-7

American College of Pediatricians Position on Pornography

In October of this year, the American College of Pediatricians published a statement on their website regarding the impact of pornography on children. This statement, written by Dr. L David Perry, summarized the current research on the effects of exposure to pornography on children and concluded that pornography is harmful to children.

The position statement focused particularly on research focused on how children (not adults) are impacted by exposure to pornography. Young children appear to have emotional distress upon exposure to pornography, including embarrassment, shock, disgust or fear. There is also some evidence that children can become obsessed with the acts they have seen online and attempt to re-enact them. This can lead to the victimization of other children.

This summary does not present this data for the first time. However it is perhaps the first time that pediatricians are being exposed to the data. The statement concludes by saying that pediatricians should be equipped to discuss pornography with parents and help them limit their young children’s exposure to pornography.

This position paper brings up yet another avenue in which we need to open up the discussion of pornography and sexting. Traditionally, these issues may or may not be brought up at home or in school. If parents have a worry about their child’s behavior, they may seek professional mental health counseling. I do not think that pornography exposure is something that is traditionally brought up duruing a pediatric doctor appointment. It should be! The more we talk about these issues, the more we end up talking about sexuality with children. This reduces the risk of stigma and shame and increases the chances of your children engaging in healthy sexual behavior throughout their lifetime.

This post is truly just to say thank you to the American College of Pediatricians for being forward thinking and taking the risk to talk about pornography exposure and children. If more doctors come to understand these issues, we will have one more venue in which we can educate children and help those who may be struggling.

For more articles on this topic, please see The New Age of Sex Education.

Not All Teen Sexting is Consensual

Last evening I was in the office with some free time as I had confused the time a client was coming in for an appointment. It was a “meant to be” moment as during that time, I had the opportunity to assist a fellow clinician with his concerns regarding an adolescent client. To keep things confidential, let’s just say the client was a young teenage man who had received sext messages from a young woman. The consultation started as a concern about mandatory reporting. In the state of Pennsylvania, this did not meet mandatory reporting criteria. However, it was a great teaching moment for both the young man and the clinicians.

It is rather common knowledge now that many teens sext. This behavior has become a part of their culture, courtship and relationships. We still are frequently seeing news articles about teens getting in trouble for sexting either in school or legally. Though we understand that this is part of the new “normal” of teenage communication, we need to be cognizant of the difference between consensual and non-consensual sexting.

This young man was getting these sexts from a girl and he told his therapist they made him uncomfortable. He didn’t really want to receive them. He didn’t send anything back but was confused as to how to respond. Bravo for this young man’s courage to bring this to his therapist. It brings to mind psychoeducation that we do for sex offenders. What is the difference between consent, compliance and coercion?. What do they mean? (I cannot attribute the source of these appropriate descriptions.)

Consent: When a partner agrees with an action. The partner must understand the proposed action, know what society’s standards are for this action, be aware of the consequences and alternatives, be assured that a decision to disagree will be respected as much as a decision to agree, voluntarily agree and be mentally competent

Compliance: When a person goes along without actively resisting even though they may think it is wrong and doesn’t want to participate.

Coercion: Using tricks, bribes, force, or intimidation to get someone to go along with what you want to do. Coercion is a tool a person uses to get a victim to comply or cooperate.

As you can see by the definition, these concepts are clearly different. In this case, the young man was complying, as he did not want to participate. Compliance is NOT consent. For adolescents, there may be social consequences for standing up to someone in these situations which makes room for the possibility of coercion or compliance in sexting.

This young man was advised to clearly state a boundary with the girl sexting him. Please do not send any more sext messages. If she does not comply with his boundary, he then has the option to take the issue to the authorities.

Though a behavior may be “normal” among teens, we must take the time to educate them the true meaning of consent. Consent does not just apply to in-person sexual behavior, it also applies to sexting.

For more articles on sexting please go to www.thenewageofsexeducation.com

Our Confusing Relationship with Sexting

Each day I get the daily news feed from Google on topics related to my field, sex addiction, mindfulness, sexting, etc. If you are unfamiliar with the news feeds, Google culls the internet each day for new things with your keyword and sends you the links to all the new pages. Sometimes this yields a treasure trove of new information and sometimes it is just junk.

When it comes to the sexting news feeds, I am always struck by how dichotomous the links are. The news feed links tend to come in three categories:

  1. People being arrested for sexting with minors or some other sexting related scandal.
  2. The dangers of sexting and how to protect our teens from the behavior.
  3. How to use sexting to improve your relationship and have better, hotter sex.

We seem to not know what to think about sexting and the lines between good and evil seem rather gray.

Scandal, Disgrace and Jail:

Many headlines regarding sexting involve adults sexting a minor or engaging in a sext relationship with a co-worker, subordinate or patient. Two recent headlines from my geographic area include a juvenile probation officer who has been criminally charged for his behavior. He was sexting with a juvenile female who was on his juvenile probation case load. Another recent headline involves a New Jersey police officer who was caught sexting teenage girls. The message here is clear. Adults sexting with minors is not tolerated and is to be criminally charged and frequently publicly shamed. In truth, sexting in these cases has become the newest extension of abuse of power and inappropriate sexual conduct with minors provided by digital technology. The message here is clear and not terribly confusing.

Sexting is dangerous for your kids

Another prevalent headline involves warning parents over the dangers of teen sexting. This can be results from a prevalence study to a public service program put on by the police to warn about dangerous sexting. The coverage sometimes includes articles about how texting and sexting fit into the social dynamic of teen relationships. The message here is confusing at times. It is clear from the research that sexting has become a normal part of the lives of some teenagers. Data shows us that it has been integrated into courtship rituals. However, the press tells us that parents are terrified and worried about teen sexting, clearly one of a parent’s biggest fears. Perhaps this fear is based on the outdated or non-existent laws regarding minor sexting in some states or concern about cyberbullying. To me, it appears as though parents’ fears are based on a lack of understanding of their own children’s culture, a fear which could be abated with open communication with their child.

Sexting can make your relationship better

Learn how to write hot, sexy sexts to turn on your lover and spice up your relationship. This is where my confusion really takes hold. Our press and culture focus on sexting being something to shame, ridicule and fearful. People in power can abuse others via sexting. Children can be damaged for the duration of their lives from sexting. However, that magic moment when we are now an adult instead of a minor, sexting moves from something to fear to something to embrace. What? How does that happen?

It is true that using digital communication like texting and sexting can increase the connection in a relationship. The data are starting to bear fruit. Tindr is not ruining dating for everyone and smart, loving and committed couples do, indeed, sext each other for fun. It seems to help their intimacy, connection and relationship satisfaction as well.

Why are we so confused about the role of sexting? I truly have no answer but the strange mix of news stories that arrive in my email each morning mimic our culture’s confused relationship with sex in general. Drive down a highway and you can find nearly naked women (and sometimes men too) plastered on a billboard. You can watch very intimate sexual encounters on prime time television (nearing soft core pornography). You can have sex with prostitutes in video games if you are 12.

However, the one thing we can’t do is talk about sex. We can watch it. We can see it. We can do it in a video game but we can’t talk about it. Our culture still carries so much shame around sexuality that it is incredibly uncomfortable to talk about for most people. We don’t talk to our children about sex (but we let them play grand theft auto).

Sexting, like sex itself, is neither good nor bad but rather context dependent. There is nothing inherently wrong with using a cell phone for sexual conversations. As with most things online, the problem is in the hands of the user. Any means of abusing a power differential in a relationship is unacceptable and sexting provides an additional avenue for abuse. If sexting is inherently bad because it opens new opportunities for abuse, is chatting or emailing bad because some people can use it for abusing children? If one uses that logic, it could be said that going to church is dangerous because children have been abused by clergy. Obviously, this logic isn’t sound.

Sexting is a means of communication. It is our responsibility as adults to use it wisely. Be aware of the potential ramifications of sending images of yourself that you might not wish the world to see. Be aware of the fact that chat transcripts might be read by someone else.

Be aware that your children are likely either engaging in sexting or know of people who are sexting. Educate yourself about the law, the outcomes and your child’s culture. Talk to them about sexting and the possible consequences, both social and legal. If we just say that sexting is a bad thing, we are shaming an expression of sexuality. Let’s teach healthy sexuality and how to express it in a healthy manner.

Down the Rabbit Hole: How many clicks until your child finds hard core pornography?

Computer Key - Porn

A few weeks ago, a client shared with me an experience he had with his child. Let me start by saying that I work with pornography addicts, and this gentleman has been in recovery for years. He is VERY knowledgeable about online pornography, it’s dangers and how easy it is to access pornography online.

My client related that his wife had found pornography on his son’s phone. His son is in the 12 year old range. My client and his wife are savvy folks. They handled this situation and conversation with their son with grace, knowledge, compassion and most of all, lack of judgment. The point of this story is not that he found pornography on his 12 year old son’s phone, that is not an uncommon experience. It is not that he and his wife handled it beautifully. That, unfortunately, is not so common. The point is that my client, a pornography addict in recovery, was shocked by WHAT he found on his son’s phone. Rape Pornography.

This young man went down the rabbit hole. That is what many of my clients call the process. You start with an innocuous image (non pornography but normally something risque in a sidebar ad) and start your journey down the rabbit hole. Searching the web for anything is a process of clicks. It is the clicking process that can start the trance for which the internet is so famous. This happens if you are clicking links on Zappos.com, Wikipedia or pornography. The internet sucks you in and you end up on some site, three hours later, with no idea how you ended up looking at the page you are looking at. (For a great discussion of this, check out Phillip Zimbardo’s Ted Talk on The Demise of Guys webpage).

This young man clicked on a non-pornographic link on a webpage he was viewing. He told his father that in a series of very FEW clicks, he ended up watching pornography that simulated (we hope) rape scenes. It is this easy. Three or four clicks into adolescent curiosity online and an impressionable young mind is watching violent pornography. It peaked his curiosity and on a subsequent visit to the internet, he typed rape pornography in the search box.

Research tells us that it is not uncommon for adolescents to view pornography. It is now seen, in some circles, as part of the process of adolescent sexual awakening and awareness. However, what research also tells us is that adolescents who are frequent users of pornography have views that support the objectification of women and have distorted views on the act of sex itself. Violent pornography sends messages to minds that are not yet ready to fully understand them, about the role of consent and violence in sex. These messages are not good.

My client was not shocked that his son was viewing pornography. He was shocked at the type of pornography he was watching. He was upset at himself about his own denial. He never thought this would happen. This is the point of my story today. Parents are often in denial, even parents who are more in tune to the technological world.

If your child is older than ten, chances are he or she has seen pornography. If they are 12 or older, chances are they have seen quite a bit of pornography. Parents need to talk to their kids about internet pornography. This conversation has to happen not just once, but often. Parents need to know what types of pornography their children might view and be able to talk about that too. Has your child seen violent pornography? Have they seen pornography with animals, same sex participants, or even child pornography? Parents need to prepare to talk about all of these things if they want to truly help their child navigate this online world in the healthiest way possible.

For more information and similar writings check out The New Age of Sex Education.  For information on Dr. Week’s practice visit Sexual Addiction Treatment Services.