How Porn Hijacks Young Brains and 3 Effective Ways to Defend Your Kids (Part 2)

by Dec 6, 2018Addiction/Brain Science, Help Kids Heal, Prepare Kids to Reject Pornography

This is part 2 of a four-part series by Sam Black from Covenant Eyes. Sam teaches parents all over the country how to prepare their children to be safe online. He also serves on the Protect Young Minds advisory council. Don’t miss part 1, part 3 and part 4.

Jimmy was just 8 when he got a new iPod for his birthday. His parents were sure he would just listen to music and play games, especially since they live in the countryside without an Internet signal. But Jimmy found the Internet at McDonald’s, at school, and everywhere else.

Jimmy also stumbled on porn with his new device. At first, it seemed weird and even scary, because each time he clicked he saw porn of every variety.

But watching porn was his secret – until he showed another 8-year-old boy while spending the night at his friend’s house. The friend’s dad noticed their secretive focus and took the iPad from Jimmy, discovering what he had been hiding in recent months.

Jimmy’s story is commonplace – except he was lucky to get caught. For most kids, the secret persists.

Our brains are susceptible to this seduction. In part 1, I discussed how online pornography is a super-stimuli that hijacks natural sexual curiosity. Now we’ll review the basic chemistry draws kids back again and again to view porn.

Related: 7 Signs a Child is Viewing Porn that Parents Often Overlook

Brain Chemistry 101

Our amazing brains produce a number of neural chemicals, hormones, and neurotransmitters that make sexual experiences intense. This neurochemistry is going on within a physical brain that builds real neural pathways and connections. In turn, neural pathways establish patterns of behavior. They trigger a person to engage in a specific action.

Many books have been written about this, but you can get an easy-to-read overview by downloading The Porn Circuit: Understand Your Brain and Break Porn Habits in 90 Days.

4 incredible processes that go on in our heads

Let’s review some key basics that explain why kids can get drawn into pornography.

Mirror Neurons

One reason children learn faster than adults is because they have many more mirror neurons. Simply explained, mirror neurons cause you to see something and feel like you are actually doing it.

It’s an incredibly powerful system for imitative learning! Just like when you recoil when you see a batter get hit with a baseball, or your heart races when you see runners cross a finish line.

And mirror neurons are at work when watching porn. You can see why that would not be a good thing for a child.

Related: Help Kids Beat Pornography! 10 Hard-Won Tips from a Dad Who Knows

Dopamine, the desire driver

Dopamine focuses your attention on whatever task is at hand and motivates you forward. It enhances reward circuitry that makes you feel good, and it also plays a major role in memory.

Even more than feeling good, it fuels the desire and craving to meet a need. Dopamine is involved in all substance and behavioral addictions.

Dopamine loves anything new. Imagine a child seeing pornography, something they have never seen before. Dopamine is released in response to this novel stimuli, giving a child’s brain a jolt of something that feels good, deeply focusing their attention, and burning the image into their memory.

Of course, dopamine is released when sexual cues are picked up, and it can focus a person’s attention to the point of tunnel vision. That is great in a marriage relationship, but bad for a child who is being exposed to pornography.

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Why we remember highly emotional experiences for decades

Norepinephrine is a neurotransmitter often associated sexual arousal, stress and the fight-flight-or-freeze response, helping us to be more alert.

Norepinephrine helps us burn highly emotional experiences into our minds. With the support of dopamine, this neurotransmitter is the reason why most people can still remember the first time they saw porn.

The fireworks show

Sex feels good. That is partly because our brains release endogenous opiates. Think opium, naturally produced by the body. These pleasure centers become more developed as people grow into teen years and adulthood.

However, sexual experiences are designed for the right time, place, relationship – and age. When this happens at the wrong time, place, relationship or age, the good physical feelings come along with negative mental, emotional, social, and spiritual feelings that can be damaging and traumatic.

Digging in deep

All this chemistry interacts with a physical brain that has the lifelong ability to develop new pathways. This is called brain plasticity or neuroplasticity. Doing an activity over and over creates pathways that make an activity easier and easier to do. And stopping an activity causes those pathways to fade over time.

Just as a creek bed doesn’t dig its course in a day, creating new neural pathways from porn use take time. Repetition matters. But because sexual activity launches such an amazing fireworks show in our brains, porn pathways can be built more quickly than those of less intense activities.

A child may find themselves feeling stuck. They may think about pornography even when they don’t want to. We’ll talk about these feelings of compulsive porn use next in part 3.

Free guide to help you stay ahead of the risks to your kids

Be ready to teach and mentor your kids with our Quick Start Guide for Proactive Parents. It’s got the basics that all parents should know about defending kids from pornography. Just click below for your free copy!

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Sam Black
Sam Black is a vice president at Covenant Eyes Internet Accountability, a speaker, and the author of The Porn Circuit: Understand Your Brain and Break Porn Habits in 90 Days. He joined the Covenant Eyes team in 2007 after 18 years as a journalist and has edited 16 books on the impact of pornography, how to protect our families, and steps to living in freedom. He has been married for 23 years and is a father of two.

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