The Harm of Pornography & Hope Beyond Addiction: Arming & Healing Our Children

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Series written by Katie Sciba under guidance of Fr. Sean Kilcawley, STL

This is the final installment in a four-piece series on pornography. The first three can be found in the January, March and April 2017 issues of The Catholic Connection, or online at www.thecatholicconnection.org.

“[Young people] should be helped to recognize and to seek out positive influences, while shunning the things that cripple their capacity for love” (Amoris Laetitia, 281).
“The sad reality is that many children…begin viewing hard-core pornography long before their parents even consider discussing its dangers,” says Kristen Jenson, author of Good Pictures, Bad Pictures. The average age of exposure to pornography has slipped in recent years to a range of 8-11 years old, and because of its severe content, many children are afraid to approach their parents.

“Pornography today is violent; there are people enduring horrific sexual abuse” in addition to other lewd behaviors characteristic to the industry, says Matt Fradd, speaker and founder of The Porn Effect. “Kids don’t know how to process the combination of disgust, arousal, fear and excitement, so they hesitate to tell Mom and Dad, or don’t tell them at all.”

It’s this combination of reactions that adds up to a traumatic experience, according to Dr. Todd Bowman, director of the Sexual Addiction Treatment Provider Institute. Viewing pornography distorts sexuality, relationships and humanity in general. “Those traumas wire their ways into the brain’s memory and the damage comes when the sexual images or experience is incongruent with the level of development,” Dr. Bowman says.

But if a child isn’t saying anything, how do you know whether they’ve seen pornography? “It’s big differences within the child’s temperament that act as indicators,” says Dr. Bowman, such as if a child is suddenly aggressive when he usually isn’t, or moody and disconnected when she’s more often even-tempered and engaging. Is there a loss of interest in what usually draws them? “Sudden changes in a kid’s own ‘norm’ should alert parents. It may not be pornography, but something’s not right.” Exposure at any young age can lead to depression, anxiety, anger, frequent porn “use” or the inclination to mimic the behaviors seen.

This is why a conversation on pornography has to be initiated by parents, and with child exposure on the rise, moms and dads are taking a stronger initiative to arm their children. “It’s necessary because if we aren’t our kids’ primary source of information, the world will be,” says Jennifer Davis, wife and mom of eight. She and her husband Matt are turning over a new cultural leaf by having open, age-appropriate dialogue with their children.

The Davises are just one family who’ve found a prize in Good Pictures, Bad Pictures. Designed to be read by parents with their children as young as five years, the book broaches the subject of porn without corrupting a child’s innocence, and has been a helpful tool in navigating what many consider a daunting conversation. “Because this is all new to them, we realized the awkwardness was entirely on our side and by approaching the subjects of pornography and sexuality with confidence, we show them there’s nothing to fear,” says Davis.

Having open dialogue on pornography with teenagers is paramount to their safety as well, especially since so many are immersed in social media. Apps and sites like Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter and Facebook, make accessing pornography easy, even by accident. “Parents shouldn’t be surprised if their teen has already been exposed,” says Fr. Sean Kilcawley, theological advisor of Integrity Restored.com. “Ask when they first saw it, how it made them feel. Say, ‘I’m sorry that happened to you,’ and tell them you’ll do your best to protect them.” Following through by establishing parental controls at home and having routine conversation will help them feel safe.

“If your child comes forward, reinforce their vulnerability,” Fradd advises. “Thank you for telling me. I’m so proud of you. It wasn’t your fault.” The more open the dialogue, the less room there is for emotional and psychological damage, and the more potential there is for recovery.

Regardless if a child is exposed or a teen is struggling with addiction, both are victims in need of their parents’ concern and compassion.

Fradd also advises that parents be apprehensive about equipping their kids with devices. “If it’s necessary, it has to come with boundaries. Safe places to charge it at night, a safe browser or Internet filtering.” Dr. Bowman and his family utilize a “device basket” where all kids – their own as well as friends – place their phones and other Internet enabled electronics during visits. Disabling downloads, turning off wifi during desired hours, or using routers with parental controls like OpenDNS (free), KoalaSafe or HomeHalo are ways to control Internet access, too.

It’s important to note that pornography addiction can be avoided. Though preventing exposure may seem impossible, the fallout can be minimized with open, receptive conversation and boundaries.

Resources – Books
•  Good Pictures, Bad Pictures Jr. by Kristen Jenson (for ages 3-6)
•  Good Pictures, Bad Pictures: Porn-Proofing by Kristen Jenson and Dr. Gail Poyner
•  Angry Birds & Killer Bees by Dr. Todd Bowman
•  Integrity Restored: Helping Catholic Families Win the Battle Against Pornography
•  Every Parent’s Battle: A Family Guide to Resisting Pornography by Dan Spencer, III
•  Wonderfully Made Babies by Ellen Giangiordano
•  Beyond the Birds and the Bees by Gregory & Lisa Popcak

Resources – Online
ProtectYoungEyes.com
CovenantEyes.com for Internet filtering and accountability

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