happy kid with magnifying glassBecause of the way children’s brains are wired, they are even more vulnerable to the harmful effects of pornography than adults. Why? Among others, two reasons stand out:

  1. “Mirror” neurons make children extremely imitative.
  2. A child’s pre-frontal cortex is immature.

Mirror Neurons

According to pediatrician Dr. Sharon Cooper, M.D., who spoke on this topic at a 2010 briefing on Capitol Hill, these two factors plus the availability of internet pornography create the perfect storm for hurting children.(Watch the eight minute talk here.)

Anyone who has children has chuckled at how imitative they are. I’ll never forget my four-year-old daughter playing in the sandbox with a spoon and toy pot. When I asked her what she was doing, she cheerfully replied, “Stirrin’ up a dinner!” Kids are wired to imitate the adults in their lives, and much of that is due to their “mirror” neurons.

Dr. Cooper explains that “mirror neurons… convince us that when we see something we are actually experiencing it.” These special neurons are located throughout the brain and help children learn from adults and from each other. Unfortunately, when they see pornography, these mirror neurons lead children’s brains to become prematurely sexualized, and they can cause children to act out or want to imitate what they see.


Dr. Sharon Cooper

Second, a child’s pre-frontal cortex, the home of common sense, good judgment, impulse-control and the moral/ethical concepts of right and wrong, is not fully developed until they are 22-25 years old. (Any insurance agent will verify that fact without knowing a thing about brain science!)

Functional MRI studies show that brain maturation begins at the back of the brain and moves forward, with the pre-frontal cortex being one of the last areas to mature.

When you combine a child’s mirror neurons with their immature pre-frontal cortex and add in the harmful messages of pornography, you get the perfect storm of sexual dysfunction.

What kids learn

From pornography as well as pornographic ads, children learn that:

  • Sex is merely an activity to stimulate their pleasure centers instead of a way to build a loving and committed relationship between two people.
  • Violent and other deviant sexual practices are normal.
  • What matters most is how “hot” their bodies are.

What we need to teach our kids

Let’s inoculate our children against the pornography that is ubiquitous in our culture by teaching them that:

  • Sex is a sacred way to build a strong marriage.
  • Normal sex is kind and loving.
  • Sex is only one part of who they are. Their intelligence, musical abilities, and all of their unique gifts are just as important to their happiness.

These messages will help to counter the lies they will certainly see and hear as they grow up and are assaulted by pornography in magazines, mall ads, billboards and the internet.

Kristen Jenson
Kristen A. Jenson is the founder of Protect Young Minds and author of Good Pictures Bad Pictures: Porn-Proofing Today's Young Kids. Kristen enjoys speaking, writing and anything else that will help empower kids to reject pornography. Kristen earned a bachelor’s degree in English Literature, and a master’s degree in Organizational Communication. Kristen currently lives with her husband in Washington State, where she enjoys growing a vegetable garden, watching Masterpiece Theater, and taking long walks with friends who tolerate her incessant talking about you know what. Above all else, her husband and three children are her greatest treasures.