How Porn Hijacks Young Brains and 3 Effective Ways to Defend Your Kids (Part 1)

How Porn Hijacks Young Brains and 3 Effective Ways to Defend Your Kids (Part 1)

This is part 1 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 2, part 3 and part 4 of this series!

Fifteen-year-old Sarah’s brow furrowed as she recounted her story of being stuck on porn at age 8.

As a homeschooled child, Sarah (not her real name) had many advantages in avoiding inappropriate content online. She didn’t ride a school bus packed with kids watching cell phones, and she missed the naughty jokes on the playground. But she did overhear some boys saying words she just didn’t know, so she picked up her dad’s phone to search what she had heard.

Seizing a kids’ natural interest in bodies and sex

Each search produced a parade of images and video that shocked and confused her and ignited feelings she didn’t understand. Like every child, she was curious about what people looked like naked, but this was so much more than that. Each image and video led to another, and only the sound of her parents’ footsteps could break the trance.

In secrecy, day after day, week after week, month after month, she watched porn for two years before her parents discovered her habit and provided help.

Related: The Secret Life of a Young Girl Abused by Pornography

Kids who are exposed to porn are not bad kids

At 15, she brought her dad to our Covenant Eyes conference booth to sign up for internet accountability and filtering services, and she grabbed a handful of flyers to take home. “So many of my friends are struggling too,” she said.

Sarah’s story is common. Children today, who usually know little to nothing about sex, stumble into hardcore and deviant porn. Because they are unprepared for what they see, they fall headlong into its neurologically stimulating trap. Often, they sense that this must be wrong, but their brains won’t turn away.

Feelings of shame, secrecy, and fear lead them to keep their secret from parents, yet they are less reserved about sharing their discoveries with other children. So pornography is being spread from child to child like the secret handshake of an exclusive club. Except the membership is sadly broad and destructive.

All children are at risk

Parents shudder at this thought. It’s hard to imagine that our beautiful, sweet, and playful child would ever be curious (like you and I were curious at that age). And even if they did see pornography, wouldn’t they just look away? It wouldn’t dig its claws into them, right? If they did see porn, wouldn’t it be better to just ignore it, because talking to them about it might make them more curious, right?

In this four-part series, I will help parents understand why an untrained child has such a difficult time looking away from pornography. We can train our kids to turn, run, and tell, so that porn doesn’t have an opportunity to stain their minds and how they view the world.

Prepare your young kids to be safe with Good Pictures Bad Pictures Jr: A Simple Plan to Protect Young Minds. CLICK HERE to learn how to protect kids ages 3-6 from the dangers of pornography.

Holy smokes, what’s that?

Porn is not sex; it is a hijacking of sex.

Today’s graphic online pornography commandeers the brain’s neurology with what science calls supernormal stimuli. In basic scientific terms, a supernormal stimulus is anything that is artificially enhanced and exaggerated to create a response that is greater than normal. Think junk food, violent video games and (of course) porn. It can subvert and redirect our natural appetites and motivational systems.

Since the 1950s, a myriad of studies by Niko Tinbergen and others have explored supernormal stimuli through songbirds feeding fake babies who had wider and redder mouths, peacocks choosing exaggerated dummies for mating, and butterflies trying to mate with bright cardboard replicas and ignoring other real butterflies.

These animals were attracted to unnatural illusions of the real thing even when it when it would lead to their eventual destruction.

We see supernormal stimuli affecting people today as they choose saltier, sweeter, and fattier processed foods. Our senses are artificially stimulated far above what we find in nature.

Related: Protect Kids from Porn: A Simple Lesson from (Fake) Butterflies

Pornography, the great fake

Pornography is a totally artificial and exaggerated version of what real bodies look like and how real people engage in healthy and intimate sexual relationships.

In other words, porn can light up a brain, including an unsuspecting and inexperienced child’s brain. Today’s pornography activates fireworks shows in the arousal and rewards systems of the brain.

Online, a person can surf through dozens, even hundreds, of images and videos at a time. Seeing so much pornography, which is often shocking, violent, and even bizarre, isn’t normal. We weren’t designed for this. And our brains are taken hostage.

Supernormal stimulus is just the first step. Cravings and seeking out porn come with repetition.

And often, adults who struggle most with pornography were exposed at early ages.

Join me in part 2, where we’ll review some basic neurochemistry that rivets our kids’ attention when they see pornography. Parents who understand what is happening are better prepared to help their kids!

Read the next post in the series – part 2.

Free guide to help you stay ahead

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

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

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.

“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.

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!

Share on Pinterest!

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

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

This is part 3 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 2 and part 4.

Katie is a mom with the best intentions, but she was angry with herself for not acting more quickly to spare her child from watching porn.

After listening to a presentation from the Covenant Eyes team, Katie decided she would take some simple steps to protect her kids. It would take a little time, but she knew she could do it.

But she put it off. Procrastination is the killer of good intentions.

Just a few weeks after the presentation her daughter ran to her to announce that she caught her 11-year-old brother watching porn.

Katie handled the situation well, calmly talking to her son and hearing about what he had seen. He’d discovered pornography through the family’s computer and had been on a three-week binge.

“I knew it was wrong, but I couldn’t stop clicking,” he told his mom. “I don’t know why. I wanted to stop, but I just kept clicking.”

Related: How Does a Sex Addiction Therapist Protect His Kids from Pornography?

When we think of our kids, it seems impossible that they would ever get so focused on using porn that it becomes compulsive behavior. Shouldn’t they just know that it’s naughty and turn away?

Prepare your young kids to be safe with Good Pictures Bad Pictures Jr: A Simple Plan to Protect Young Minds. CLICK HERE to learn how to protect kids ages 3-6 from the dangers of pornography.

In the first post of this series, we examined how porn is a supernormal stimulus that hijacks our sexual senses, and in the second post we reviewed natural brain chemistry that can give a child tunnel vision when seeing porn. In this third post, let’s look at why a child or teen may find themselves returning to porn for an extended period.

A child may find themselves feeling stuck. They think about pornography even when they don’t want to.

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

3 Conditions that contribute to getting drawn into a downward spiral

Here are three concepts that help explain why porn can become compulsive behavior.

Sensitization

Cigarette smokers can name a list of activities that spark a desire for a smoke: drinking a cup of coffee, finishing a meal, sipping alcohol. These cues are called triggers, and they cause a sensitized brain to get a shot of dopamine that creates a craving to smoke.

A child who watches pornography begins a learning process of becoming hypersensitive to porn in the future. With repeated experiences, very little is needed to trigger a desire to view pornography.

Sexualized advertising, music, and movies are just a few of the cues that abound in our society. Some triggers can be:

• Being alone with a device.
• Bedtime, or late at night when they are fatigued or can’t sleep.
• Being upset, fearful, or angry.
• Visual cues from television or other media.

Even things not meant to be sexual become sexualized. Kids may find their minds preoccupied with porn and thinking of ways to access it.

Desensitization

This sounds contradictory doesn’t it? Can someone be both sensitized and desensitized to porn?

While sensitization means someone is easily triggered to want to view pornography, desensitization means that they feel a need to seek out more extreme content over time.

That’s because dopamine loves new things. The things that used to be so exciting lose their attraction. And it’s easy to escalate to something more shocking with a few clicks.

Hypofrontality

Compulsiveness is a good description for hypofrontality. Many porn users feel focused on getting to porn even when a big part of them is saying, “Don’t do this.” Even when negative consequences seem imminent, impulse control is too weak to battle the cravings.

For a young brain this has even more impact. The prefrontal cortex, the decision-making part of the brain, doesn’t fully develop until a person’s early twenties. So a child is not equipped to make good decisions with their thinking brain in regard to pornography unless they have been trained on what to do.

These conditions impact each other and allow a young person’s “feeling brain” to take the lead over their “thinking brain”. Gary Wilson of Your Brain on Porn describes it as a system out of balance:

Weakened self-control systems (hypofrontality), are overwhelmed by the cravings emanating from sensitized addiction pathways and a desensitized reward circuit. In other words – your willpower has eroded.

In these 3 posts, we’ve learned some real reasons why kids can get pulled into viewing porn. Since knowledge is power, we know that when parents understand what is going on, they can prepare their kids well and help them out more effectively. There is a lot more to this than kids just being curious!

Next in part 4, we’ll discuss how training your child is the best way to help your child turn away from pornography and tell an adult so they can get help.

Free guide to help you stay ahead

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!

Share on Pinterest!

how porn affects kids

How Porn Hijacks Young Brains and 3 Effective Ways to Defend Your Kids (Part 4)

How Porn Hijacks Young Brains and 3 Effective Ways to Defend Your Kids (Part 4)

This is part 4 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 2 and part 3!

how to defend kids from pornography

At a conference in Florida, a mom came running to our Covenant Eyes booth and exclaimed, “I attended your session last year and I’m so glad. My 7-year-old son was just exposed to porn!

She described how another 7-year-old boy in her neighborhood had received an iPad for his birthday and discovered pornography. The boy then showed her son, who thankfully reacted quickly. “No, that’s pornography!” her son told his friend. Then her son turned from the iPad, ran home, and told his mom.

After talking with the other boy’s parents, it was soon discovered he had exposed other kids throughout their neighborhood to porn. The other kids kept it secret out of confusion, fear, shame, and other reasons. Only the boy who had been trained by his parents told an adult.

Related: 5 Sneaky Locations Porn Finds Kids

How we can help our kids live free from the tug of porn

Parents are often afraid of talking about sexual issues with their kids. The idea of describing pornography sometimes seems out of the question. “Won’t talking about it just make them more curious?” parents ask.

Depending on which study you review, the average age for kids to be exposed to porn is between ages 8 and 13. Whatever the true number is, it is definitely young. I am confident in saying that it’s not if your child will be exposed to porn, but when, and whether they will be prepared for it.

We want to talk to our kids about sex and pornography early! Because if we don’t, someone else will – and it won’t be the information we want them to get first.

By talking with our kids we are not stealing their innocence—we are taking away their ignorance so that they can help protect their innocence.

Understandably, some parents want to rid their homes of electronics and media. But in today’s world where kids learn online and will need technology to join tomorrow’s workforce, that isn’t realistic either.

Three things you CAN DO now to prepare your kids

Here are three things that will make a big difference: train, protect, and carry on an ongoing conversation.

Step 1. Train your kids

I speak to thousands of parents year after year. There are many resources available for teaching our kids, but I always recommend Good Pictures, Bad Pictures: Porn-Proofing Today’s Young Kids and Good Pictures, Bad Pictures Jr.: A Simple Plan to Protect Young Minds. Always? Yes, always.

These read-along books are some of the best tools available for parents to train and prepare their kids for the day they will see porn. It describes pornography in an age-appropriate way and gives them easy actions to turn away, run to a trusted adult, and tell them what they saw. Turn, run, tell. And for older kids, the CAN DO plan has even more steps to help!

There are many great resources available today to provide for follow-up training, but the Good Pictures, Bad Pictures series is the best place to start.

“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.

Step 2. Put technology to work for you

The right technology can help protect and monitor how your child uses their devices. Filtering is not enough!

In a 2016 Barna Research study, every family interviewed reported that someone accessed porn when filtering-only tech was being used. In eleven percent of the homes someone accessed porn daily, and in 16 percent someone in the family sought out porn at least weekly.

Filtering software blocks mistakes and accidents, especially for younger children. But determined tweens, teens, and adults mess with filters until they find a way around them.

Accountability software is different. This type of tech helps by monitoring internet activity and sending a report to a trusted friend or family member who can hold you accountable for your online choices. It shows intent and curiosity, such as when a child or teen is trying to circumvent a filter.

Accountability software, such as Covenant Eyes, should provide easy-to-read reports that create opportunities for conversation about interests, curiosity, and online searches. Accountability software is a great benefit if you use it consistently to have conversations with your kids about their world and their use of technology.

Step 3. Follow up regularly

This brings us to our third point: have ongoing conversations. Regular check-ins are key! Being aware of the latest risks can help you remember to talk with your kids – one way to keep it top of mind is to sign up for our weekly email. You can even schedule reminders in your calendar to talk with your child about specific topics.

There are so many topics to discuss that will help your kids be prepared to make safe decisions online! From how to stay away from porn, to sending nudes (aka sexting), to watching out for predators. And so much more!

By planning for discussions, you won’t let too much time pass between conversations, and you can dive deep into a topic.

Related: 3 Secrets to Porn-Immune Kids

These three steps take time, but it’s SO worth the effort. We want to raise our kids with a healthy understanding of sexuality and strong relationships, as well as being able to manage technology and screens well.

We do not live in a world where we can “set it and forget it” or where we have “the talk” and are done. Raising smart and healthy kids requires diligence from early childhood to adulthood.

Luckily, many resources are available to help you parent well, and the Protect Young Minds blog will keep you informed. It doesn’t need to feel scary or hard. It’s actually a great opportunity to really dig into deep issues about happy, healthy living – and build strong and trusting relationships with your kids at the same time!

Don’t miss part 1, part 2 and part 3 of this series!

Free guide to help you stay ahead

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!

Share on Pinterest!

how to defend kids from pornography