Today I want to share an new approach to what is commonly referred to as “porn addiction” treatment. I talk with many individuals and couples who are experiencing pain or distress due to unwanted sexual behaviors or use of sexual imagery.
He states that porn is the cough. Instead of treating the cough, we need to treat the cold, which could be depression, anxiety, lack of accurate sex education, shame, or lack of coping strategies. If you are dealing with sexual behaviors that feel out of control and would like help, call 801-944-4555 to schedule a session with Alice today.
Scary title huh? We don’t want to think about kids and pornography in the same vein regardless of context. Unfortunately, the reality is that first pornography exposure happens often during early adolescence or even childhood. You read correctly, childhood. I’m talking about playground and recess aged kids here. As parents in the digital age, I think most of us are aware that our teenagers have access to inappropriate content at their fingertips; however, we are less aware of the proliferation of it targeting younger children. As a result, we are often caught off guard about how to talk about pornography with young children. Sadly, being unprepared can often lead to some instinctual reactions, that while quite normal, can have unintended consequences in the messaging that kids receive. Mainly, that they did something wrong and that makes them “bad”; shame is not productive nor helpful for healthy sexual development.
Shame, as a parenting strategy, is not effective at creating healthy change in behaviors (notice the bolded…healthy). In fact, it is just the opposite. While shame may enact change in behaviors, it does so by undermining self-worth and value. Often with the universal emotion, shame, we feel like we are fundamentally flawed as human beings and irrevocably broken. Now with the parents I’ve worked, this isn’t the message that they are trying to instill in their children; assuredly, they are trying to empower and support their children. This is the reason why I think it’s imperative that parents be prepared with the messaging and a script, of sorts, for these conversations. Here are some of the most common questions that I get asked about dealing with pornography exposure and young children aged 6-12 years old:
When should I talk to my child about pornography?
If your child is using the internet then you need to start having age and developmentally appropriate conversations about pornography. Yes, if your 5 year old is watching videos or playing games then they can come across it, even with filters and other safeguards.
Example: Sometimes adults put stuff on the internet that looks like it’s for kids, like cartoons that show body parts that we’ve talked about being private like a penis or breasts. It isn’t appropriate for kids and it can be really confusing. We want to you show us if you see something that feels confusing, like it might be for adults, but you aren’t sure. We won’t be angry or mad, we love you and want to be able to play your games safely.
How did my child start looking at pornography?
Typically, a child’s first exposure to pornography happens in one of two ways: they either accidentally click on a link that takes them to a porn site or a friend shows them. Kids are curious and they tend to share their curiosity with their peers. Sadly, kids can be labeled as “bad” or being a “bad influence” when a child reports that their friend Timmy showed them a picture, video, or link that includes pornographic images. This sends the same messaging that was discussed above, that being curious about sexual imagery, sexual acts, or sexuality in general is “bad” or “off limits”. If we want our children to learn about sex from us, their parents, then we need to take ownership of having the conversations.
Thus, talk to your child about their curiosity. Work to normalize their curiosity about sex and the feelings that they experienced. Create an environment that is safe, even if you or they are uncomfortable, to discuss sex and pornography and your beliefs and values regarding them. They will get their sexual education from other sources regardless if we abdicate this role in our children’s development.
Example: Joey, thank you for telling us when you clicked on that link; you did exactly what we’d talked about you doing. We’ve talked about how sex and sexual feelings are normal and healthy, I wonder if you’re curious about any of the images that you saw? What did you feel when you looked at the images? Sometimes it feels really exciting to see things that we don’t know a lot about, like naked body parts or sexual acts, these feelings are normal and nothing to feel ashamed about. We value sexuality and feel that explicit sexual images are harmful to that development because they can portray sex in a way that isn’t realistic or healthy.
How do I teach my child that porn isn’t realistic?
For very young children, framing it as the actors are playing pretend puts the concept into a form that they understand as they often engage in pretending. Keep it simple, short and provide an opportunity to ask questions if they remain curious.
Example: Joey, you and your friends love to play superheroes right? Sometimes you even dress up as your favorites superheroes and pretend to save the world. The movie that you saw, the people are actors and are playing and pretending too. They were playing, sex is a way that adults play, but they were playing pretend in that movie.
Older children typically can conceptualize the difference between real and pretend without the fantastical examples; however, as pornography depicts real acts it can sometimes be difficult for them to understand how it isn’t real. I like to use an example of something that is also real but exaggerate like driving in the Fast and Furious movies. Go on YouTube and find a driving scene and watch it together and discuss how, while some of the basic concepts are real, the actual movie isn’t. For example, it was filmed on a sound stage or movie lot with a professional driver doing the stunt maneuvers. Adult films are also filmed as a movie production with actors, the maneuvers are scripted and practiced, the vocalizations and facials are exaggerated, etc. So, while the act itself is real, the depiction of the act isn’t.
While I just skimmed the surface, I hope this gives parents some ideas to start the conversation. This subject is scary and can be very intimidating for parents to explore with children, especially young children. However, parents have the opportunity to influence the narrative that children are exposed to in a way that creates a safe environment for healthy sexual development without shame.
“Technology has changed you!” is a phrase that my daughters throw around jokingly when I am on my phone, tablet, or laptop when they think that I should be engaged with them. They’re right though, as much as I hate to admit, and be called on, my behavior; technology has changed me. However, with the influx of digitally charged interactions comes the opportunity to connect with friends and family that, previously, was difficult to stay in contact with, but there is also the increased ability to disconnect from in – person interactions and relationships.
So, just how much is technology impacting our relationships? According to a recent study conducted by the market – research group Nielsen, American adults average 11 hours per day reading, listening, surfing, posting, or just generally interacting with media. 11 hours per day! Now, it’s true that a lot of us use a lot of media sources for our jobs, school, and hobbies, but how much of that 11 hours per day is spent on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snap Chat, Pinterest, or the social media site du jour? What are we giving up interacting on a social media platform for nearly half the day? How are our relationships with our kids, spouses, friends, and other family members impacted? How is our relationship with ourselves impacted? What is social media doing to strengthen or damage your relationships?
Interestingly, when I ask those questions of clients most look completely dumbfounded for a minute. Then as they begin to evaluate the function that media serves in their lives and their relationships, they often come to an answer quickly…it’s a distraction. Media is an escape hatch from real life, but it’s often “sold” as being reality. This seemingly innocent incongruity, fantasy vs reality, can cause some real issues. Ok, so what are some things that we can do to counteract the negative effects and heighten the positive effects?
Boundaries, boundaries, boundaries! That’s right folks let’s talk about how social media, and media in general, is going to be used within our relationships. There isn’t an easy button for this discussion, each relationship is different and so are the boundaries established within those relationships. Some families may have a social media moratorium during the week, others may have limits on what media influences are allowed, and still others may have a more laisse faire approach…no one solution is fundamentally better than the other as long as the people involved have been part of the discussion, even teens and kids. I’m not saying that the kids get to decide but allowing children to be part of the decision – making process and have a voice is empowering and models respect and compromise.
Set media free time aside every day and use part of it to connect with those you care about. Most people are not going to be in a situation where they must be “plugged in” 24 hours a day. Media free time is crucial to balancing mental, physical, and emotional wellness. Go for a walk/run with your best friend, take a hike with your family, go on a bike ride with y our spouse, or just sit around the kitchen table and eat dinner without cell phones or the TV on in the background. Also, allow yourself some time to disconnect from media and sit with your thoughts and feelings. Give yourself the space to really connect w ith yourself and understand what’s happening for you mentally, physically, and emotionally.
Be wary of the comparison trap! All media, but social media in particular, is rife for falling into the habit of comparing ourselves with those in our neighborhood, school, church, or the world in general; this is a harmful mindset. Remember that social media is being sold as reality, but it is fantasy. Often it is used as a “highlights” reel to life, but we don’t get to see the “bloopers” reel. Real life is not a series of perfect moments like what is featured on someone’s Instagram story. Comparing our lives to that well curated presentation can lead to feelings of failure, inadequacy, and hopelessness.
Lastly, take breaks from media if it feels like it is becoming obsessive or is dominating your “real” life. Recently, my college age daughter went on an “electronics fast” for one of her classes for a week. She was only allowed to use a desktop computer and the university’s website to complete homework, otherwise she had to be digital free. I admit, I had a hard time not being able to shoot her a quick text or message, but I think that it was an experience that we could all use from time to time. We have convinced ourselves that life would cease to exist without media …that is not reality.
Mindfulness has been defined as “the quality of being conscious or aware of something.” Mindful.org refers to mindfulness as “the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are, and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.”
Practicing mindfulness and incorporating this way of being into your life can improve one’s physical, social and psychological wellbeing. The benefits are well worth the amount of time it takes and are as follows:
Increase one’s ability to decrease anxiety and depression.
Helps one to pay attention and observe thoughts and feelings without judgement.
Promotes relaxation and calmness.
Reduces negative emotions and stress. Improves memory.
Boosts the immune systems ability to fight off illness.
Encourages one to eat healthy and cope with cravings allowing them to pass.
Alleviates physical pain. Develops a sharp focused mind.
Improves relationships. Increases work satisfaction.
We have all heard the saying Disconnect to reconnect. It is a bid to turn off electronics in an effort to become closer to the people in our lives. Recently, I had an opportunity to experience this. Over the holidays, we had a party at a family member’s home. As my husband and I were packing up our things, we looked around to make sure we had gathered all of our childrens belongings. We didnt see anything and went home. After putting my children to bed, I looked around and realized I had left my phone at the party somewhere. For the rest of the evening and most of the next day, I was without my phone. I never realized how much I depended on, and looked at, my phone until I didn’t have it.
That evening, before bed, there was no internet surfing, or YouTube watching. I simply read my book and went to bed. Since it was the holidays, I did not need to set an alarm and awoke on my own. As a reached for my phone to check my email and look at the weather, I realized I didn’t have my phone. Throughout the day, I went to reach for my phone only to realize I didn’t have it. Around noon was when the realization came that I looked at my phone for very stupid reasons and did it far too often.
I retrieved my phone at about three in the afternoon. The rest of the day I made a concerted effort to not look at my phone. By the end of the day, I felt more connected to my children, my spouse, and felt better overall. This could have been for numerous reasons, but I account a great deal of it to the decrease in my phone usage.
I recently watched a Ted talk by Collin Kartchner about phone usage/social media and children. It was a wake up reminder that our children need to feel important and loved. At times, our use of technology can leave them feeling unloved. At the very least, it sets a precedent that they will follow when/if they get a phone. When you have a few minutes, I urge you to watch it.
How often do you look at your phone? Is it for mindless things or for work? Obviously our jobs require us to use technology to complete tasks for work. However, do we stay focused on our work and then turn it off? Or does that create an avenue for perusing the internet? I challenge you to leave your phone at home when you go on your next date night. Forget it at a friends house. Turn if off after dinner. Finish your work and then turn off your computer for he night. See if it makes a difference in the way you feel.
A few months ago, I stood on the edge of a 15 foot cliff overhanging the ocean. Several family members had already jumped and were calling to me to join them. This may not seem like a particularly high distance to some, but it was high enough for me to activate an internal battle.
Part of me wanted to jump. The water was clear and beautiful. My family was having a great time in the water below. Part of me was afraid of hurting myself. Internal Family Systems (IFS) is a theory that uses the idea that all of us have internal “parts”, which generally work together, creating the unique individual that we are. When our parts are not fully integrated, we can experience internal battles, which cause difficulty in our ability to function the way we would like.
IFS categorizes our parts as managers, firefighters, exiles, and Self.
Managers act as our protectors. They are manifest as controller, striver, judge, caretaker, passive, pessimist, planner, and self-critic. These managers work to keep things in our lives going smoothly to avoid pain or rejection.
Firefighters are also protectors, but do so in a reactive way, attempting to soothe our exiles through compulsive behaviors, distraction, or rage.
Exiles are the parts of us that hold pain and vulnerability. Our managers push them away to protect the rest of us from having to experience the pain, shame, dependency, neediness, worthlessness, or grief that exiles carry.
Our Self is the core of who we are. Our Self is calm, curious, compassionate, connected, confident, creative, and has clarity. When we are able to look at the world or situations with these eight “C’s” we’re working from our Self. When managers, firefighters or exiles take over we lose our ability act from our true Self.
As I stood on the cliff with my internal battle, I wasn’t able to recognize the various parts involved. Looking back on the experience, it’s much easier to identify the manager that created anxiety, the one that told me “if you jump, you’ll get hurt.” I can also identify the manager who told me that I had better jump to avoid being teased by my family. It was this manager who pushed through and reminded me that the cliff wasn’t that high, the water was clear, and that everyone else had jumped safely.
Often, the internal battles our parts engage in are of more significant consequence than whether we will be teased for not jumping into the ocean. Sometimes our care-taking managers prevent us from setting clear boundaries with others, leading to resentment or exhaustion. Sometimes our firefighters seek to soothe scared exiles by numbing with behaviors or substances that are not in line with our value system. When this happens, our managers beat up on our firefighters, and our firefighters respond by doubling down on their soothing behavior.
When we experience these internal battles, it’s tempting to try to ignore or reject the parts of us that seem to be causing the problems. Instead of ignoring or rejecting (which doesn’t work anyway), we can start a conversation with these parts to examine why they are behaving the way they are. We might discover that our firefighter is pushing us to lash out in anger in an attempt to protect our exiles from having to experience the pain of rejection that we’ve felt before. We might discover a manager who constantly tells us we’re lazy is really just terrified of becoming the thing it was called as a child. Understanding why our parts behave the way they do, we can begin to have some compassion for them. Compassion helps us soothe the internal battles and increase our ability to act as our true Self.
If you recognize some of these kinds of parts within yourself and would like help integrating them, call and schedule a session with Alice today. 801-944-4555.
All of us experience stress. Beginning in childhood, stress is a normal part of daily life. This tension will build until we seek some kind of comfort. In our childhood, we likely sought solace from our parents (picture a toddler who clings to her mother’s leg, branches out to explore, then returns to the security of her parent). As adults we exhibit similar behaviors :we seek out our safe places to help us gain confidence to explore and take risks, or to cope with the stress of life.
If we reach out to a loved one and they understand us, or are “attuned” to our needs, we feel the comfort of human connection. This builds our emotional resilience, or our ability to cope with future stress. These are the foundations of building a secure attachment. Secure attachments increase our ability to tolerate stress and creates a positive cycle, helping us thrive in spite of the challenges life throws our way.
On the other hand, if we reach out and our loved one rejects us in some way, we might feel isolated. Humans are a mighty resilient species, and many individuals are able to find ways to cope despite the lack of a secure attachment figure. Sometimes however, we seek comfort in ways that are not in line with our personal values. Problematic object-focused comfort-seeking strategies can include overeating, social media or pornography use, or drugs or alcohol. When our attempts at comfort-seeking go against our value system, we are likely to feel some shame, which can lead us to continue our problematic comfort-seeking. This creates a negative spiral, which can lead to compulsive behaviors, emotional frailty or rigidity, and insecure attachments as we seek to hide our behaviors from those around us.
Even the most problematic comfort-seeking behavior serves a purpose; if it didn’t, we wouldn’t keep turning to it in spite of the problems it causes in our lives. Understanding the purpose the behavior serves and learning (or relearning) how to form secure attachments to other people are the beginning of overcoming unwanted compulsive behaviors.
If you identify with this pattern of behavior and want to change, schedule an appointment with Alice at 801-944-4555 today. She works with individuals or couples who are seeking healthy ways to cope with stress and heal hurt relationships without shame.