What 10 Parents Learned When Their Child Was Caught in a Porn Trap [Part 1]

What 10 Parents Learned When Their Child Was Caught in a Porn Trap [Part 1]

In this 3-part series, follow along as 10 parents describe their journey of helping a child overcome the addictive pull of pornography—and the advice they hope to pass along.

Over the past three months, I’ve listened to the profound stories shared by parents from homes across North America. They’ve told me about their amazing kids. Kids who are kind and considerate. Outgoing and funny. Smart and ambitious.

Kids who in the blink of an eye (literally) found themselves caught in the porn trap.

As you continue reading, do your best to set aside fears, doubts, or pre-conceptions of what it must be like to raise a kid struggling with porn. Unfortunately, many good kids do get caught in the porn trap. Maybe they weren’t warned. Or maybe the pull to look was just. that. strong.

Either way, overcoming pornography is a challenging road — one we don’t wish upon any child. What we’ve discovered is that these good kids fare much better when they have parents who are willing to walk beside them, fight for them, love them … and never give up.

What 10 parents want you to know

These parents agreed to share the details of their experience because they want you to know:

  • First, how urgent it is that we start this conversation TODAY and keep following up.
  • Second, some of your closest friends need your support and understanding.
  • Third, you’re not alone if you have a child struggling with pornography.

Finally, these parents want you to know that if you’re helping a child find their way out of the porn trap, recovery and healing are possible.

The stories are anonymous — all names have been changed.

Reaction, realization, and reflection

In this first part of a 3-part series, parents describe the journey they’ve been on since first discovering their child’s pornography habits. As you continue you will learn more about their:

  • Initial reactions and the frustration of finding adequate support
  • Understanding obstacles on the road to recovery
  • Realizations about their role in their child’s recovery
  • Reflections, progress, and practical advice for other parents

We know these stories will increase your compassion for those fighting to free kids from the porn trap.

NOTE: There isn’t time or space to share each family’s full story. Because we are recounting the real-life experience of families overcoming trauma, it may seem discouraging at the outset. Keep reading. You will soon find yourself in a beautiful story of redemption. It’s true! The hardest trials in life are often what lead to our sweetest and greatest moments.

PYM: How did you first react when you found your child was looking at inappropriate things?

Some parents happened upon pornographic materials in their child’s search history. Other discoveries were more extreme. Toni’s son (age 11) exposed himself to a young neighbor girl (who by good fortune, immediately told her mother). Ruth learned that her son (age 15) had downloaded a file containing hundreds of child abuse images when the police showed up to search their home.

Regardless of the circumstances surrounding discovery, each parent expressed that they felt overwhelmed by the situation and ill-prepared to offer their child practical solutions.  

I assumed we could talk through the crisis

“We did our best with the knowledge we had at the time. Our initial solution was to talk it through, lock down the internet for a time, and help our child (age 12) make plans to do better. We assumed that would be enough. But we weren’t accounting for the cravings pornography had introduced to our son.”  — Sharon

I had no script for that

“I thought I was prepared to handle the idea that my son (age 12) was looking at pornography. I’m not saying I condoned it. But I had grown up knowing that my dad had a stash of magazines in the house. What I was not prepared for was the nature of the pornography we found … It was so far beyond what I could have imagined. I didn’t have a script for that. I’m sure I made all sorts of mistakes trying to make sense of it.” — Josh

We had no one to turn to for help

“Our son (age 13) was masturbating up to 7 times a day and had constant thoughts to expose himself. This issue was bigger than anything anyone had ever seen before. The school was of no help. Our church was of little help. We found therapists and programs geared for adults. But it seemed there nothing for children.”  — Toni

We needed better tools

“We first sought counseling through our church. But back then, no one was making the connection on how porn affects the brain. Or how the brain affects behavior — not even therapists. Their focus was on getting my son (age 14) to replace his unhealthy habits with more uplifting thoughts. Unfortunately, these weren’t the tools that could help him.” — Alana

“Have you wanted to talk to your kids about pornography, but didn’t know what to say?! I’ve felt that way for quite some time and finally found a solution – Good Pictures Bad Pictures. . . I highly recommend this book to all people with children. A must have for all parents!” – Amazon Review. CLICK HERE to learn more about Good Pictures Bad Pictures: Porn-Proofing Today’s Young Kids.

PYM: What have been some your child’s greatest obstacles in overcoming the pull to return to pornography?

Most of the parents pointed out that their timeline for their child’s recovery and their child’s own timeline were very different. Even when children understood the negative impact of pornography on their lives, they were hesitant to put in the effort needed to make changes to their behavior. SImply put, for the child at that point in time, using pornography felt too good to give up.

The attractive nature of pornography

“I don’t think he was ready [at first] to commit himself to the idea of letting go. He still liked it too much.” — Sharon

Their natural character traits get hijacked by porn

“Our oldest son is very outgoing. He’s also incredibly smart and investigative by nature. In a way I think that made him more vulnerable to pornography. His thirst for information drew him back in time and time again.

And yet, his younger brother, who is more socially introverted, also struggled. For him, pornography was likely used to fill a gap left by loneliness and boredom.” — Alana

Related: How Porn Hijacks Young Brains

Mental health problems complicated our son’s recovery

“Not long after our son had begun using pornography we noticed significant changes in behavior (violent outbursts). With the help of a therapist, we learned that our son was suffering from OCD. Pornography didn’t create his illness but it was intensified because of it. Understanding there were other factors a play helped us set better expectations all around.” — Macey

Note: When pre-existing mental health issues were discovered parents agreed on two things:

  • First, pornography use exaggerated their child’s negative behavioral symptoms.
  • Second, understanding their child’s mental health became a key factor in helping them overcome their reliance on pornography,

“Our son became so depressed in the sophomore year that he ended up leaving school for a time. We didn’t understand what was going on then. Now, I realize that there were signs of depression even from when he was younger. Once he was diagnosed properly and got the meds he needed, he started to succeed at school and life again.” — Sarah

Struggling with his identity and searching for answers

“I had to understand two things before I could appreciate my son’s struggle with porn. First, he was dealing with same-gender attraction. Second, porn is absolutely EVERYWHERE. The accessibility is ridiculous.” — Josh

PYM: What have you learned while helping your child heal from pornography?

A general theme among all the interviews was that parents felt they needed to find a way to support their child’s recovery without being overbearing. Still, even when parents learned to relinquish control, their involvement was in no way passive. Rather they learned to become proactive minus “the panic.”

Let go of the blame and shame

“Porn is a real problem in the real world. It’s a challenge that hits a lot of kids hard. I needed to recognize that my son was going through his own life experience — a big oops — that with concerted effort he could eventually put in his past. At first, I felt an overwhelming sense of blame, shame, and panic. But that wasn’t helping either of us.” — Sharon

I cannot take his addiction away

“I’ve learned to give my children space to grow their own strong roots. I am a very protective mother by nature. I want to step in and do things for my children. My son was very young when he was first introduced to pornography. I cannot blame him for that. But I’ve also learned that I cannot take his addiction away from him. He has to do the work himself.” — Sarah

Live in the present moment

“I needed to see my child for the individual he is; rather than a walking version of my future fears. I do so much better when I’m able to stay in the present. I try to take the approach of ‘what can I do at this moment that will help my son?’ If I start to panic about the future that’s when things get really scary.” — Macey

Look for the right kind of support

“When there’s an addiction involved, the best thing is to find your child a therapeutic level of support — something that combines the science of addiction with the spiritual aspect of healing.

I am not in charge of my child’s healing or how fast that happens. I can not save my child. No human can save another human. My role is to love, support, and believe that they will heal. The timing of when and how that happens has everything to do with him, not me.” — Toni

Related: Does My Child Need Counseling? Reassuring Advice from a Porn Addiction Therapist

What advice would you give to other parents? Is there anything you would have done differently?

Kids need tools they feel good about

“Get involved immediately. Help your son or daughter find the tools that work for them. Be aggressive. Check in regularly. Find out what is helping and what is not. Fighting pornography addiction means retraining your brain, learning to avoid triggers, and responding differently when an impulse starts. It’s not about will power. Kids need tools they feel good about. And the right tools make all the difference!” — Alana

One recovery resource that is available to all ages in any location is Fortify. It’s an online program designed to equip individuals struggling with compulsive pornography use – young and old – with tools, education and community to assist them in reaching lasting freedom. Their mission is to help spark an uprising of people tired of porn messing with their lives – and ready for something far better. Check it out!

Be prepared beyond prevention

“Honestly, I thought we had nailed it. We were having open dialogue about the harms of pornography, activating parental controls on all of our devices and filtering our Wi-Fi. It was on a week-long visit to his grandparents that he found unfiltered access to pornography. For our son (age 13), it became an immediate obsession.

One night I woke up to find him standing over me in our room. In my half-sleep, I thought he’d had a nightmare and was needing comfort from mom and dad. In reality, he had used my fingerprint while I was asleep to unlock my phone to access porn. He had done it successfully once but the screen timed out. It was only on the second attempt that I was awakened.” — Macey

Don’t ignore unusual behavior

“I kept his phone at night and checked it regularly. All our devices were set with passcodes. Plus, I was never shy of talking to my kids about pornography. I had even explained to them about child pornography and that it was abuse. Looking back, I now recognize a few vague clues that he was using pornography.

For example, he spent too much time in the bathroom with his phone. And there was one night he freaked out just as I was about to check his phone. He threw a total fit, punching a hole in the wall. We got so distracted by his outburst and subsequent trip to the ER that I forgot to check the phone. If I had, I think I would have found the files sooner.  

I feel terribly guilty. I often wonder if I could have done something differently. But I don’t have an answer that makes sense.” — Ruth

Face the issue straight on

“I wish I had realized the kind of media that was really coming into our home through various sources. It’s definitely tougher to filter content coming at our kids than it should be. So along with filtering, I think parents should face the issues straight on. This is not something I would ever hesitate to talk about with kids.” — Josh

There is so much more to this story

As I said, we only have time to scratch the surface of these powerful stories. If you’ve stuck with us this far … thank you! By learning from the experiences of these beautiful families you are more prepared to initiate change in your family and community.

We will hear more of their stories in Part 2 and Part 3 of the series. For now, know that all of these young people have grown stronger in their fight to overcome pornography because of the support they receive from their parents. They are great kids (some now grown with kids of their own).  Each has hopes, dreams, and exciting aspirations for their future.

Here are just two of the amazing experiences these families shared.

I have no thought of shame

“I remember my son calling me from the hospital when his first baby was born. His wife was resting and he was holding his brand new babe while we talked. He said, “Mom, this is my little girl. And I have no thought of shame in my head. I fought so long to free myself so I could be safe. And worthy to be the kind of father that could protect my kids.” — Toni

Seeing our whole family together

“One of our daughters got married a few months ago. She asked her brother to be a Master of Ceremonies at their reception. He went above and beyond in his role. He was so amazing and helpful. He might just be the best MC ever! Of course, the wedding was the highlight. But seeing our whole family together in that way was fantastic.” — Sharon

3 take-aways for parents

  1. Every child, every family is vulnerable to the porn trap. Harmful habits can form quickly. Sadly, kids are naturally inclined to keep dangerous habits a secret — especially when they know looking at inappropriate things online is wrong. Parents can do their best to create a safe zone where kids can share their challenges and get unconditional love and support. Children may or may not choose to reach out for help right away, but it will make a difference in the long run.
  2. Children are unique. Pornography can target individuals in different ways. Natural personality traits and mental health issues can become additional roadblocks on the path towards recovery. Parents are in the best position to take the whole child into account and look for the help they need.
  3. Parents and children usually have different timelines for when to tackle recovery in earnest. Ultimately, recovery must come from the individual struggling with the addictive habits. However, a parent’s love, support, and interest in their child’s recovery play a significant role in their child’s future success and ability to believe in themselves.

What’s coming in the rest of the series

A child’s pornography use affects everyone in the family in some way.  Part 2 will look at how parents learned to manage their own painful emotions and find their own recovery.

Wouldn’t you love to sit down with these parents and learn what advice they have for you and your family? Part 3 will offer practical advice from those who have walked this journey and what helped strengthen their relationship with their child.

Get more help!

We’ll send you our free SMART Plan Guide for Parents to prepare you to help your child heal from pornography exposure or use. Click the image below!

The Real Experts (Kids!) Inspire Parents to Talk About Pornography

The Real Experts (Kids!) Inspire Parents to Talk About Pornography

This article is part of Talk Today, Safer Tomorrow, a national campaign from The Safeguard Alliance and the National Center on Sexual Exploitation to help parents protect children from the harms of pornography. Get your free guide – Talk Today, Safer Tomorrow! 10 Easy Conversation Starters – and resources from our partners at the end of this post.  #TalkToYourKids #TalkTodaySaferTomorrow

The real experts (kids!) inspire parents to talk to kids about pornography

If only you could peek into a child’s mind when talking to them about the dangers of pornography! Are they feeling anxious or upset? Is the conversation making them more curious? Today you’re in luck! We’ve got answers to those questions (and more) from six field experts— real kids! —  who share how learning about pornography has helped them. Plus, hear their advice for other kids and parents!

The families we talked with have been discussing pornography in their home for at least three years. Their children now range in age from 5 to 14, and they were first taught about pornography between the ages of 2 and 11.

Each of the parents had a slightly different motivation for providing kids with a safe place to discuss this important topic. Janelle (name changed) admits it was a trial by fire for her. At first she wasn’t comfortable bringing up the subject at all. In time, she realized something needed to change if she wanted to protect her kids.

Janelle’s story

“Four years ago I would have said, ‘I’d rather have my teeth pulled than talk to my kids about pornography.’ I couldn’t wrap my head around the idea that this could be a family discussion. Today, I have a completely different perspective. Let me explain why I think every parent, no matter how awkward or inadequate they feel, should start this conversation today!

For many years my husband and I were oblivious to the fact that our older kids were struggling with pornography. Although different experiences lead them to look, they were only between 9 and 11 years of age when they were first exposed. From there, they discovered that pornographic content could be easily accessed through our home computer.

I really can’t describe the flood of emotions I felt when we found out. I was shocked and devastated. Angry with my kids for what they were looking at, but also angry with myself for letting it happen. The silver lining was that our kids wanted help. Looking back, I know we were extremely blessed that they found the courage to come to us.

At first we thought it was enough to closely monitor their online activities. But over and over again, the pull of pornography won out. Each setback meant our kids felt a renewed sense of shame and failure. One day it occurred to me that I was trying to solve a problem that I still thought was taboo to discuss. If we were going to tackle this as a family I had to get over my inhibitions, and fast!

I began looking for information—anything that would help me know why my kids were struggling. I desperately wanted to know what I could do to help them. Eventually I found the book Good Pictures Bad Pictures: Porn Proofing Today’s Young Kids. Reading this was the first of many steps our family has taken to help protect our kids from the harms of pornography.

The more I understood how and why the young mind is vulnerable to pornography, the braver I became at talking openly about this subject. Admittedly the conversations with our kids weren’t always perfect—or easy. Yet as we talked, my husband and I found better ways to support our children in their efforts to overcome this dangerous habit.

The experience we’ve had with our kids was a wake up call I don’t wish on anyone. There were times when we were overwhelmed and sought additional counselling. Now that our younger children are approaching adolescence, I can’t imagine not giving them a plan and a safe place to talk about the harms of pornography. My first priority is to prepare them well. I’ve made sure they know what pornography is, why it is harmful, and that they can come to us with any concern. Talking openly has given our family the confidence to make smart choices.”

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

Getting over the initial fear of talking to kids about pornography

Getting past the natural resistance to talking about this can take a parenting leap of faith. Many parents worry that their own awkwardness or inexperience with this subject could do more harm than good. To put your mind at ease, listen to the following advice from six awesome kids!

Advice from a 5-year-old girl

“My mom taught me that pornography is pictures of taking your underwear and clothes off, not for a shower, but around other people. It makes me unhappy that some people use pornography because it is not good. It can hurt your brain and trick it to be mean to other people. Pornography can also make you get an addiction because you want more and more of it.

I can stay safe from pornography if I turn it off right away and look at something different. I know I should say, ‘That’s pornography!’ to my brain and ask mom and dad for help to think about other things.”

Her advice for parents: “I think parents should talk to kids about pornography because it’s bad and so we can learn how to protect ourselves. It’s easy for kids to find pornography. I remember seeing it on a sign by the Las Vegas airport.  Some kids might think they should look at it because it seems cool, but it isn’t.”

Her advice for kids: “I would tell kids not look at pornography because it makes your brain stop growing.* It won’t help you be a good person. And it can make you mean. Also, an adult who uses pornography might hurt you.”

*Giving kids the opportunity to describe the dangers of pornography in their own words allows parents to determine when further clarification is needed. Remember this is a layered, ongoing conversation. A 5-year-old warning other kids that porn stops your brain from growing is an example of how a young child might internalize the harms of pornography.

Note: Findings from a German research study indicate that a steady consumption of porn does reduce the volume of gray matter in specific regions of the brain—most notably those responsible for decision making.

Tips from a 7-year-old boy

“It was weird the first time my mom talked to me about pornography.  But now I know I should shut off the computer if I see bad pictures. I think kids could get tricked into looking at pornography if they think its funny. I know one kid got in trouble at school because he kept pulling his pants down at recess and showing his private parts. Maybe the teacher told him that was pornography because he stopped.”

His advice for parents: “Parents should definitely read Good Pictures Bad Pictures with their kids because that’s what my mom did.”

His advice for kids: “I would tell kids not to look at pornography because it’s not good for you at all!”

Ideas from 10-year-old boy

“I am so glad I know about what pornography does to your brain and how it can become an addiction. I only knew I shouldn’t look at bad pictures but I didn’t know why it was bad. Lots of kids are probably the same way.”

His advice for parents: “At first it was kind of weird to talk about it but now it’s not. You should definitely tell your kids. I feel more confident to know what to do if I see pornography.

I remember a boy in my class was looking at inappropriate pictures on the iPad. I quietly told the teacher because I knew I was supposed to tell an adult. The iPad was taken away from him. I’m glad he didn’t know I told on him because I didn’t want him mad at me. But I’m also glad he stopped looking at bad pictures.”

Insight from an 11-year-old boy

“I’m glad that we read Good Pictures Bad Pictures together. It was interesting. I learned a lot about the brain and addiction. The more we talk about it the safer I feel when I am playing my video games.”

His advice for parents: “It’s like the difference between a pop quiz when you’ve missed a week of class and a regular test you studied for. Obviously, you’re going to do better on the test you studied for. Parents shouldn’t be afraid to talk to kids about this. I like being prepared.

Related: 3 Ways to Mentor Responsible Digital Kids

Thoughts from a 13-year-old girl

“I don’t really understand why anyone would want to look at pornography but I’m glad to know what to do if I see it.

So far I haven’t noticed my friends talking about this. Maybe it’s more of a boy problem at my age.* I think if boys are looking at pornography they will show their friends who are curious. Boys might think they have to look at it to be cool.”

*Letting kids express their thoughts can help parents see how kids are interpreting their experiences. Kids may not understand that many young girls are viewing pornography, but girls may be even more silent about it because they feel so much shame. Parents can clarify the issue as they have these open conversations.

Her advice for parents: “If you are afraid to talk your kids about pornography, start with a book or something. Then try to bring it up in normal conversation. You won’t be as nervous after you do that a few times. I was embarrassed to talk about it with my parents the first few times. Now it’s not embarrassing at all.”

Her advice for kids: “I think more kids should learn about why pornography is harmful—and what to do if they see it. I would tell kids to get help if they think they are addicted so that they can do better things in life.”

Encouragement from a 14-year-old boy

“Talking [with my parents] about the dangers of pornography doesn’t make me curious to look because it literally informs me of all the reasons I shouldn’t. Now I know I can tell my parents about anything bad I might see. I know they won’t be angry and it would just be an accident that I saw it.

There are definitely kids my age that look at porn. I just leave or ignore the conversation if it starts to get inappropriate. I like that I’m prepared and know how to handle these situations. It makes me more confident at school.”

His advice for parents: “I would definitely encourage parents to talk to their kids. It’s better to inform kids about the dangers instead of them discovering it on their own. Kids should know they can talk to their parents about it.”

His advice for kids: “I would tell kids to stick only to online friends you know in person. Make sure you have a good friend group that supports your choices. If you know how to avoid pornography and don’t go looking for it, then most of the time you won’t have any problems.”

Talk today for a safer tomorrow

After listening to our group of “field experts”, it’s easy to understand why kids thrive when parents talk to them about the dangers of pornography. If at first the conversation feels awkward and embarrassing, don’t worry! It does get easier. Remember that when you talk today, kids learn:

  • How to recognize and reject dangerous online content
  • Why pornography is harmful and habit forming
  • How to have more confidence by feeling prepared at school and among peers
  • To ask their parents anytime they have questions or need help

Remember, kids want to feel prepared for the challenges they may encounter. As you can see from these kids, it will be worth it to teach them what they need to know!

Get our free Talk Today, Safer Tomorrow guide for 10 Easy Conversation Starters.

Getting started has never been easier. Protect Young Minds is a member of The Safeguard Alliance, a national organization that connects leaders who are preparing young people to grow up free from pornography. Together we created this free guide of ideas for parents to get those important conversations going! Get your copy below.

Related posts from some of our partners in The Safeguard Alliance:

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5 Ways Kids’ Brains are Super Susceptible to Porn

5 Ways Kids’ Brains are Super Susceptible to Porn

“What’s the most important thing to know about the effects of pornography on kids?” Dr. Jennifer Brown, mom to 5 growing boys, doesn’t hesitate to share her well-founded opinion on that question! She insists that parents and policy makers need to understand 2 facts:

  • First, recognize that kids’ brains process porn different from adults, and
  • Second, that kids’ brains are more vulnerable to porn.

Why does this matter? Because when we really get the facts straight, we come up with better solutions to protect children —not just in our homes, but also our communities. In fact, what Jennifer learned about the impact of pornography on kids has already helped create new government policies with the best interests of young people in mind. And it can help you improve your family strategies too!

effects of pornography on kids

Proactive mom was determined to make a difference for kids

Jennifer spent years reading through published research about the development of children’s brains and bodies. She was on a quest to understand how pornography could affect growing kids. Her findings motivated her to advocate for better public policies to protect kids. She even helped her home state of Utah declare porn a public health crisis (the first state to do so!) And remember, she’s a mom of five kids (ages 4 to 12), so she has plenty of opportunities to practice what she preaches.

We had a lot to talk about! Let’s start with her studies.

The brain’s natural safeguards are under construction during childhood and adolescence

We get it . . . porn is harmful! So why does it help to understand how it impacts the brain?

If you’ve read Good Pictures Bad Pictures: Porn-Proofing Today’s Young Kids you’ll recall that pornography acts like magnet to the brain. It pulls viewers in to look — even when they find the images disturbing or frightening.

“Have you wanted to talk to your kids about pornography, but didn’t know what to say?! I’ve felt that way for quite some time and finally found a solution – Good Pictures Bad Pictures. . . I highly recommend this book to all people with children. A must have for all parents!” – Amazon Review. CLICK HERE to learn more about Good Pictures Bad Pictures: Porn-Proofing Today’s Young Kids.

That’s because sexually explicit content triggers a physical response in the body — a chain of events that ultimately floods the brain with unnaturally high quantities of chemicals (dopamine among others). In a split second, intense messages of excitement and euphoria are sent through the body. It’s important for parents understand that whatever response their child may have to porn, it’s a natural result of their biology.

“Porn just impacts young people in such a bigger way. There are very specific things about the adolescent brain that make it different from an adult brain.”  — Dr. Jennifer Brown

Adults brains’ have safeguards in place to protect them from being tricked by these chemical messages. But in the child and teenage brain, these safeguards are under heavy construction. This is what makes kids more vulnerable to the pull of pornography than adults. When pornography is viewed habitually at younger ages it could drastically interfere with normal brain development.

Related: How Porn Use Becomes an Addiction (Simplified!)

5 ways kids process porn differently than adults

Growing kids are under construction! Jennifer outlines 5 big construction zones of young brains. She encourages parents to keep a mental list of these zones. That way parents can encourage healthy brain development while considering the impact of the activities their kids are participating in.

Construction Zone #1: Underdeveloped prefrontal cortex

The brain’s ability to reject signals from pornographic content occurs in the prefrontal cortex. That’s where all rational thought patterns and self-control take place. But this area of the brain isn’t fully developed until the early-to-mid-twenties. That means when kids are exposed to pornography they don’t always have a natural ability to make safe, healthy decisions on their own. Especially when they are being ambushed by pornography.

Construction Zone #2: Dopamine in overdrive

The next hurdle a young brain has to overcome is the system that seeks and receives pleasure (often referred to as the reward pathway or dopamine system). When kids reach puberty this system goes into overdrive! That means youth exposed to pornography actually feel more and get a higher hit of dopamine then an adult. Dopamine cravings are also stronger at this age, putting young people at higher risk for addictions.

Construction Zone #3: Imbalanced stress response

As the adolescent brain matures, its stress response system becomes unbalanced. This causes the system to respond more quickly and for longer periods of time once triggered. Pornography is an expert trigger of stress! A release of cortisol puts the system into action. This has a double effect on the brain. First, large amounts of cortisol further impair the “thinking brain” (prefrontal cortex) and second, it can increase feelings of anxiety or depression.

Construction Zone #4: The organizational window of adolescence

Repeated exposure to porngraphy increases production of testosterone and cortisol. These steroid hormones have a significant impact impact on what’s referred to as the organizational window of adolescence (a very sensitive period of brain development). Too much exposure to pornography when young will allow these stress hormones to subtly rewire the brain. Changes that occur in adolescence can influence the brain’s emotional responses clear through adulthood.

Construction Zone #5: Increased testosterone levels

Testosterone levels are at their natural peak during adolescence. As such, so is sexual anticipation. That means that when young people, particularly teen boys, are exposed to pornographic content their sexual response will be much higher than that of an adult. They will also have increased feelings to act out on what they are seeing — further increasing their level of sexual anticipation.

Important! Does this all sound overwhelming? Deep breath! We’ve only described what could happen when a child or teen’s use of pornography is left unchecked. This study was not designed to take into account the significant role that parents, grandparents and youth leaders have in helping kids rewire their brain to overcome habits of porn use. Love, persistence, effort and faith are powerful tools!

Building a case for porn as a public health crisis

All of Jennifer’s findings can be found in this research paper, which was prepared to show that pornography is a serious health risk to young people.

Interestingly, Jennifer is a dentist in her professional practice. What pushed her to devote so much time to study the brain?

In her own words: “I felt like we needed to focus on science as we engaged in this battle.”

Jennifer could have stopped after the study – but she moved on from the library to the legislature! She had never been involved in political action before. Yet the facts Jennifer uncovered motivated her to push for better laws to protect kids.

“About 5 or 6 years ago I started contacting my local Senator, Todd Weiler, asking him to take a stand against pornography. Initially he was reluctant to do much about this issue — but he will tell you how I kept bugging him about it. Finally, I wrote a letter that was really ‘quite to the point’. I told him that he really had an obligation to protect our youth.”

Senator Weiler and Jennifer ended up working together on many legislative changes.This dynamic duo has influenced their State Legislature to pass a bill or resolution concerning pornography in every session since their first meeting:

  • Library Bill: Mandated filtering — including WiFi —  in all libraries.
  • Custody Bill: If a parent has intentionally exposed a child to pornography, that can be taken into account when determining custody situations.
  • Internet Provider Bill: ISPs have to send out a letter and let their consumers know what options they have for filtering pornography.
  • Resolution Regarding the Impact of Adult Images on Children’s Development: Recognizing that both softcore and hardcore porn negatively impact brain development of children.
  • Resolution on the Public Health Crisis: pornography was declared to be a public health crisis (Utah was the first state to declare this. It cause enormous media uproar! Since then many other states have pass similar resolutions.)

This is an incredible example of what one parent can do to affect community wide change.

Mike and Jennifer Brown and family

How does an anti-porn advocate teach her own kids?

Jennifer keeps working with lawmakers in her community to take greater responsibility for the safety of young people. But she is quick to admit that the most important conversations on this subject take place in our own homes.

Kids need parents who understand the unique qualities of developing brains. It helps motivate us to keep preparing our kids!  Here’s how Jennifer and her husband, Mike, carry on the conversation at home:

  • We start with our family technology plan.
  • We talk about why their brain needs extra care to grow healthy and strong.
  • We decide on the kind of media that we can all enjoy together.
  • We discuss why some media is harmful to the brain.
  • We have made a decision to hold off on social media until our kids are older.
  • Talking openly means we are all on the same page at the end of the day.

”As our kids grow it’s important to continually reassess how they’re doing and how our media plan is keeping up with new technologies. We come back to the conversation every 3 to 4 months to have a relaxed discussion together. We find the more upfront and honest we are about the potential risks, the more open they are to discuss ways to stay safe.”

“It’s important to keep it comfortable and involve kids at their level of comprehension. I think the last time we did this we were all sitting on my big bed. Some of the kids were definitely more attentive than others. For me it’s just as important to start the habit of talking openly as to have a productive family meeting.” — Dr. Jennifer Brown

Act now to protect kids from the effects of pornography

We know that online pornography aggressively targets young viewers. What can we do to ensure our kids stay safe? Science helps us understand why kids are so vulnerable to the pull of pornography. Kids love science! We can come alongside our kids and help them so they can:

  • Understand that they are special – their brain works differently from an adult’s because they are growing.
  • Recognize that bad pictures are physically harmful to their brain as well as emotionally and socially damaging.
  • Strengthen their thinking brain (prefrontal cortex) using the CAN DO Plan.
  • Choose to protect their brain by making smart media choices with parents. (Get our Family Media Guide below!)

So talk about some of these ideas with your kids today and help them take charge of what affects their amazing brains!

Share your thoughts about this post with other parents in our Protect Young Minds – Parent Discussion Group on Facebook.

FREE Family Media Standards Guide

Parents may find talking about healthy media choices with their kids is a natural time to lead into a discussion about the harms of pornography. Include facts about how kids’ brains process porn differently from adults. To get you started we’ve prepared a downloadable guide, My Family Media Standards. Get your free guide by clicking on the image below:

8 Screen-Free Activities for Fun Face-to-Face Time This Summer

8 Screen-Free Activities for Fun Face-to-Face Time This Summer

Woo-hoo! Summer vacation is just around the corner. Get out the flip-flops, pull up the lawn chair, sit back with ice-cold lemonade, and relax while your kids are busy with screen-free activities. At least that’s how the first 30-minutes might play out. Until . . . wait for it . . . “M-o-o-o-o-m, I’m bored.

Screen-free activities

Ah, the age-old problem: Adults never have enough time to relax, and kids always seem to have too much! It’s tempting to rely on digital devices as boredom pacifiers, yet deep down we know that’s not a healthy long-term solution. This pattern can actually lead to compulsive behaviors —a trap we really want to help our kids avoid!

Furthermore, we know the threat of contact from online predators and exposure to pornography increases with the amount of time kids spend online. So, what’s the solution to keeping kids busy, safe, and happy all summer long?

Planning now for a fun, safe summer of screen-free activities

We aren’t suggesting a summer ban on phones, tablets or video games. On the contrary, we encourage deciding now how to enjoy tech fun with a healthy balance of face-to-face social interaction.

Read Good Pictures Bad Pictures: Porn Proofing Today’s Young Kids to understand how the feeling part of the brain acts on instinct and reward – and how to help it make healthy choices.

Today we’ve got eight tips to help you and your kids have a fabulous, relaxing summer without becoming screen junkies. Each of our solutions encourages more social interaction! And whether your child is 3 or 13, face-to-face playtime works overtime to entertain kids, encourage healthy development, and decrease the risk of exposure to pornography and online predators.

Stick with us—we’ll get you that lemonade yet!

8 Simple tips to encourage choosing people over screens

1. Organized playgroups

A few years back a small group of moms in our neighborhood organized a day camp among their families. What a fantastic way to encourage younger school-age kids to socialize away from screens!

Once a week they would host each other’s kids. This gave the other moms in the group time to run errands, put in a few hours at work, or whatever they wanted to get done. The host provided kids with a few screen-free activities (games, crafts, etc.), a healthy snack, and a few hours of supervised play. The next day, the kids would have fun at another home.

2. Park days

If the thought of organizing activities for the “entire” neighborhood is not your idea of fun, then Park Days might be more your speed. To get started, you just need a group of interested parents and a list of favorite parks in your community. Moms at our church have been doing this each summer for more than a decade with great success!

At the beginning of the summer plan a schedule (usually once a week) of where to meet. Get the word out to families in your group. All you have to do is show up at the park, picnic in hand, and play together. The kids get fresh air and exercise while building friendships and the parents get to chat up a storm. It’s super casual and works whether it’s two families showing up or ten.

3. Community events

With a little detective work you can find a lot of free or low cost events in your neighborhood. Check out library programs, museums and art galleries to see what they have to offer. Some churches and even businesses offer summer day camps. You’ll want to book early, as these tend to fill up fast!

Many of my friends have taken advantage of these short-term programs. Their kids spend the day singing songs, playing games and other screen-free activities. By week’s end they’ve made a whole bunch of new friends.

4. Connecting generations

Grandparents have so much to offer (more than just free babysitting!).

What are grandma and grandpa’s favorite hobbies or special talents? Tap in to them. Plan time this summer for your children to work on special projects with their grandparents. They will come home with more than a new skill — they will have made memories and discovered they have the coolest grandparents ever!

Opportunities for grandparents to pass along their own heritage are endless! It could be gardening, woodworking, baking, quilting, or painting. Or maybe a sporting event, a trip to the driving range, or attending an outdoor play is more their style. One fabulous grandma I know insists that all phones and devices are off anytime grandkids are in the car with her. For them, this is quality time to spend together.

5. E-free days

Sometimes, despite our best intentions, we find tech still starts to take over our lives. It’s pretty normal! We live in a digital world. When my friend Kim notices things are getting out of hand, she announces to her kids that they’ve got an e-free day coming up. This is when they shut down everything (mom and dad included) and go completely analog for an entire day.

It’s kind of radical, but Kim has found that this defined break from technology is what her family needs to reset and reconnect with one another. They’ve been doing it for several years. Her kids are now age 13 and 15. Their e-free days are for books, board games, family outings or anything that doesn’t involve a screen. When I asked her how the kids respond she explained:

“Our daughter says she feels more relaxed and more creative during an e-free day. Our son, (who manages high-functioning autism), says that he feels like his brain gets a rest. I can hardly think of a better gift for him than a day when he feels that his brain can slow down just a little bit.”

Kim recommends anyone thinking of going e-free to start small — a few hours at first. Get the kids involved in planning screen-free activities so they feel part of the special day!

6. Tech basket

Now that you’ve got a summer routine you’re happy with, what happens when you open your door to kids in neighborhood? Are they coming in loaded with tech devices? After hello, is the next sentence, what’s the WiFi password? Not only do you need to keep an eye out on your kid’s device, but on everyone else’s too!

This is a great opportunity to talk with other parents. Find out if they have rules or expectations about how their kids use technology at your house. Chances are they will be thrilled to discover they’ve got an ally! Next, make sure both your kids and their friends understand the house rules about devices.

Don’t be afraid to ask kids to put their devices away and enjoy some screen-free activities together. You could even invite kids to deposit them in a designated tech basket until it’s time for them to go home or they need them for a specific multiplayer game (see below).

7. Time limits for social apps

When kids become tweens, schedules tend to naturally loosen up. Friends become a significant influence, there’s less routine for bedtimes and sleeping in may even become the norm. Many parents find they get a little more free time in this stage of life.

A more relaxed routine doesn’t have to mean a lack of guidelines to follow. At Protect Young Minds we recommend you establish an early bedtime for devices that connect to the internet. That way when kids are up late there’s no risk of getting inappropriate text messages, and it helps tweens get the rest they need. Bedtime should definitely be a screen-free activity!

It helps to involve kids in this type of planning. Ask them what they think is a healthy amount of screen time and how they plan to carry out safe online practices. You could even reread Good Pictures Bad Pictures: Porn Proofing Today’s Young Kids together!

Have you wanted to talk to your kids about pornography, but didn’t know what to say?! I’ve felt that way for quite some time and finally found a solution – Good Pictures Bad Pictures…I highly recommend this book to all people with children. A must have for all parents! –Amazon Review, March 14, 2014. CLICK HERE to learn more about Good Pictures Bad Pictures: Porn-Proofing Today’s Young Kids.

My kids love to play video games. During the school year they are so involved with extracurricular activities that game time is limited (plus, no video games on school nights). Our carefree summer schedule means they can really get into their favorite games. If my husband and I didn’t set limits they would easily play for hours on end. It’s not just them – video games are addictive by design!

Instead, we have set (but flexible) times each day designated as gaming time. We keep it social by encouraging multiplayer games and inviting friends over for specific gaming parties.

Establishing a healthy gaming routine takes time and intention. When our kids were young, we suffered more than a few tantrums over lost levels and “time to turn it off”. But we always held our ground. We constantly reinforce the idea that gaming is not to become an obsession. It’s for fun and entertainment only! We’re also very selective about the type of games we allow in our home.

Keep a go-to list of family favorite real-life games such as board games, puzzles and outdoor games. These are just a few options that will help kids transition away from the screen when video game time is over!

How to plan your summer together

Hopefully these ideas have you thinking about more fun ways to reinforce the importance of people over screens with your family. To make this summer a social success, involve kids as much as possible in choosing their activities.

  • When you are planning any of these activities, ask kids for ideas to make it better! What parks would they like to go to? What would be fun to do with grandparents? What activities would they like to do on an e-free day?
  • Give kids an assignment to help them feel invested in making the activity a success! They could pack a special snack to share with grandparents, hand-deliver invitations to friends for a park day, or decorate the tech basket.
  • Set aside a specific time to review safe internet practices. The more kids have a voice in this conversation, the better! For example, ask them how much daily access to the internet they think is healthy (their answers may surprise you)!
  • Do your kids know how to recognize and reject pornography? Before they go online this summer review the CAN DO Plan.
  • Ask kids what makes summertime special. They might like to come up with a bucket list — 100 low or no-cost ideas to do in one summer. Stick it to the fridge like this cute list. When boredom strikes, refer to the list!
  • Keep it positive! Focus on all the fun things you can do together and allow screen-time to naturally fade into the background. Keep things fresh — lean on friends and extended family when your own creative juices expire.

When kids socialize their imaginations blossom. Through real interaction, they learn to empathize, negotiate and compromise (important life skills that aren’t found in their typical online interactions.) While more face-to-face social experiences and screen-free activities won’t guarantee safety from dangerous content online, the more kids learn to nurture real-time relationships, the more likely they are to recognize and reject pornography as a counterfeit to human connection.

Start planning screen-free activities now – and watch your kids choose people over screens all summer long!

Do you have some good summer activity ideas to share? Join our community in the Protect Young Minds – Parent Discussion Group.

FREE Bonus: Get 23 FUN Questions to Ask Your Family!

Keep the conversations going! Use these 23 questions around the dinner table or on your next road trip to inspire great family discussions. (These questions even work well as icebreakers at parties or youth activities!). Want to turn any everyday moment into a fabulous memory? Click on the image below and get these questions today!

Safety First! The Pros and Cons of Facebook Messenger Kids

Safety First! The Pros and Cons of Facebook Messenger Kids

It’s been several months since Facebook launched its new app, Messenger Kids, and it’s created quite a stir. Critics see it as a marketing tactic ready to hook young people into the Facebook ecosystem as early as possible. Fans of the app praise it as the kid-friendly social space they’ve been waiting for. So which is it?

Messenger Kids

How well does Messenger Kids lives up to its promise being a “fun, yet safer place for kids to connect with people they love?” Can social apps like Messenger Kids support positive development during a child’s formative years?

Here are the details so you can make an informed decision for your own family. Whether Messenger Kids is the solution you’ve been seeking or just another “screen monster,” you’ll want to explore our talking points at the end of this post.

What is Messenger Kids?

If you haven’t already heard, Messenger Kids is a stand-alone messaging app designed for kids age 6-12. It allows kids to connect with friends and family through a tablet or smartphone without the use of a phone number or Facebook account.

There are other apps on the market that provide this service. But Messenger Kids has been designed with very specific safety controls (we’ll get to those shortly). Plus, it is connected with the world’s most established social media network. Approved friends and family members can use their existing Facebook Messenger app to connect with young Messenger Kids users.

Everyone at Facebook headquarters is quite excited about the time and research that’s gone into the creation of this app:

“In addition to our research with thousands of parents, we’ve engaged with over a dozen expert advisors in the areas of child development, online safety and children’s media and technology who’ve helped inform our approach to building our first app for kids.”

It’s hard to deny that Facebook has worked hard to listen to parents’ concerns about privacy, data collection, risk of predators and other online dangers. Though Messenger Kids is by no means a perfect solution, we can say confidently that it offers better security features than other commonly used apps like Snapchat, Instagram and Musical.ly. (All of which, according to federal law, are prohibited to users under the age of 13.)

Quick overview of Messenger Kids’ security features

Parental controls

  • Parental controls are “baked-in” (no need for a separate filtering product)
  • Parent approves all child contacts
  • Parent is notified if any content is flagged or reported on their child’s account
  • Parent can remove a contact at anytime
  • Child cannot restore deleted contacts

Filters

  • Sharing of nudity, sexual content or violence is blocked
  • A dedicated support team will respond quickly to flagged content
  • App is pre-loaded with age-appropriate emojis, Gifs and stickers
  • App has no hidden back-doors to Google search

Privacy

  • No in-app purchase
  • No in-app advertising
  • Child registers through a parent account
  • Child accounts are not visible on Facebook

Potential red flags

This all sounds like incredible progress in online safety. But is it too good to be true?

One tech guide says parents should know there are limitations to Messenger Kids’ filtering system. In a series of simple tests, they discovered it was quite easy to sneak profanity and nudity (screenshots of naked buttocks) past the filters. On the plus side, the app’s dedicated support team performed better. When the offensive content was reported, it was removed in less than 3 hours —and the account was disabled.

Prepare kids to recognize and reject pornography. Download our FREE guide at the end of this post: 3 Simple Definitions of Pornography Kids Can Understand.

Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood expressed strong concerns in an open letter to Mark Zuckerberg demanding Facebook pull the plug on Messenger Kids altogether. They argue that young children are simply not ready to handle the “interpersonal challenges and addictive power of social media.” The letter states:

“Messenger Kids is not responding to a need – it is creating one. It appeals primarily to children who otherwise would not have their own social media accounts. It is disingenuous to use Facebook’s failure to keep underage users off their platforms as a rationale for targeting younger children with a new product.”

Does Messenger Kids impact healthy development?

Before deciding if Messenger Kids is the right fit for your family, consider how suitable or relevant it is for your child’s development. In other words, could kids age 6 -12 benefit from regular use of this kind of social app? Jennifer Shapka, a developmental psychologist says . . . it’s highly unlikely.

That’s because kids in this developmental stage aren’t yet seeking the social connections that older kids are. You, as a parent, are still the most important social agent in your child’s life. It’s not until the teen years approach that friends become the center of their social life.

That’s not to say that young kids won’t enjoy the app. On the contrary, they’ll love it! It could be the game aspects of the fun masks, sound effects, and stickers that draws them in. Perhaps we should ask the question, is this the way I want my child to be entertained? Shapka adds, “It’s kind of beyond me why we’d endorse yet another way that encourages kids to sit behind a screen.

If you are interested to learn more about Messenger Kids’ impact on child development, listen to the following sound clip:

Social media use by kids

Facebook checked out the numbers, and discovered that many young kids are already using social media with their parent’s approval.

  • 93% of 6-12-year-olds in the U.S. have access to tablets or smartphones
  • 66% have their own device
  • 3 out of 5 parents admit their children under 13 are using some kind of messaging app, social media or both.

The obvious concern is that most social apps come with high risks for this age group. We’ve written about how common it is for young children to be targeted by predators posing as friends or celebrities, how accessible pornography is, and the growing threat of sextortion.

Talking points: Putting safety first

It’s easy to believe that these dangers only happen to other kids. But all kids using any kind social media are at risk. Understanding that your own kids are at risk too is the first step towards giving them a safer social media experience.

If you’ve decided that Messenger Kids is a good fit for your family, here are some talking points to help you discuss with your child how they will use this app.

  • Who are your online friends? Are you just looking for a fun and easy way to connect with grandparents? Will school friends be included? If so, why and how many? What are parent’s guidelines for approving new friends?
  • Inappropriate content: Review what to do if they receive a message with bad words or bad pictures in it. Read Good Pictures Bad Pictures: Porn-Proofing Today’s Young Kids together to help them understand what pornography is and why it is harmful. Let kids know that you will regularly look through their messages – then follow through and be vigilant.
  • Time limits/locations: Be clear about when and where social apps can be used. Some experienced parents suggest you sit with kids when they are talking online and shut down the app when it’s not in use. Many use an external monitoring system like Circle with Disney to enforce time limits.

Most importantly, determine if you’re ready to take on the added monitoring needed to keep your child safe on this communication platform.

What do you think about this app? We’ve love to hear from you. Consider sharing your own experience with kids and social apps in our new Facebook Discussion Group for Parents.

FREE Guide: 3 Simple Definitions of Pornography Kids Can Understand

Children growing up in today’s digital reality can stumble across inappropriate content almost anywhere. But you can help keep them safe. The first small step to take is to teach your child to recognize pornography. This FREE guide makes is super simple!