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.
If you have been wondering what our Director of Child & Adolescent Services, Clair Mellenthin, LCSW, RPT-S has been up to, here are a few of her recent TV segments and magazine articles to catch up on!
The Red Flags of Child Abuse – Fresh Living KUTV
Spring Clean Your Soul – Fresh Living KUTV
I Became a More Peaceful Parent Using These 4 Strategies – Hilary Thompson – MOTHERLY
Though we live in a time where therapy is more widely utilized, and less stigma exists than in years past, I still hear from individuals who are very apprehensive about seeking out psychotherapy. Many of the clients that come in to meet with me, admit they have wrestled for years with the decision to come in before “finally reaching a breaking point.” On the tail end, it is common for me, as a therapist, to hear a client near the end of treatment say, “I wish I had done this years ago!”
I think part of the reason people are apprehensive to come to therapy is that they think if they go to therapy, something must be wrong with them. They must be flawed in some way or they should be able to figure out their problems “on their own.” We give very unreasonable expectations to ourselves regarding mental, emotional, and social health, that we don’t necessarily assign to medical health. This is why, I have developed an analogy I find very useful to squash the stigma of therapy. Here it is…
Everyone needs to go to the dentist. We all get tarter build up on our teeth and lack the tools, ability, or vision to reach and clean all the spots on our own. Most people go to the dentist for just a cleaning now and again, some for minor cavities, and far fewer for an abscessed tooth or root canal. If we avoid the dentist and the cleanings, then we are more likely to get a cavity, and more likely to need that root canal.
Well my friends, therapy is the exact same way. Most people benefit from therapy for the day to day grime that builds up in our personal lives and relationships, the things we all deal with like marital disagreements, parent-child conflict, grief and loss, and major life transitions. Some of us however, do need an extraction at times and therapy is equipped for depression, anxieties, trauma and all other kinds of struggles.
The reason I like this analogy is because I have yet to meet anyone who feels shame for needing to go to the dentist for a cleaning, however people attending therapy are frequently dripping in shame unnecessarily. I reassure them that I am just here to aid in their cleaning with my big lamp and some tools they may not have at home.
If you have been considering therapy as a tool that may help your family, don’t hesitate! Schedule your cleaning today 😉
Perhaps you are one of those individuals who are constantly asking themselves the question, should I do this now or later? If your answer to this question is usually later you may have created a habit which can lead to undue stress, anxiety, guilt and shame in your life. It has been said that, “Every day spent procrastinating is another day spent worrying about that thing. Do it now, and move on with your life.”
In his book “Wait: The Art and Science of delay,” San Diego University professor Frank Partnoy provides another perspective on procrastination, he states, “Procrastination is just a universal state of being for humans. We will always have more things to do than we can possibly do, so we will always be imposing some sort of unwarranted delay on some tasks. The question is not whether we are procrastinating, it is whether we are procrastinating well.”
Procrastination has been referred to as an active process where one chooses to do something else instead of the task that you know you should be doing. You may find that procrastination is not working well for you because avoidance doesn’t erase anxiety it just delays it. If you are telling yourself that the reason why you procrastinate is because your are disorganized, apathetic or lazy, most likely you are telling yourself an untruth. Smart individuals are often procrastinators.
For some individuals procrastination can be symptomatic of a psychological disorder. Procrastination has been linked to depression, low self esteem, irrational behavior, anxiety and neurological disorders such as Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. If you are finding that procrastination is impairing your quality of life consider seeking professional help from a mental health provider at Wasatch Family Therapy.
The #MeToo hashtag (and the subsequent exposing of many high-profile figures as sexual predators) has given us as a society a lot to grapple with. From a Latter-day Saint perspective, some are questioning how appropriate it is for bishops to be talking about sexual matters with young people (particularly girls). I recently sat down with hosts Peggy Fletcher Stack and David Noyce, and former LDS bishop Richard Ostler to talk about these critical issues for the Mormon Land Podcast. Here are some highlights from our discussion:
Why does this type of conversation take place in the first place? Why does the Church ask about sexuality at all? Part of our faith regulates sexual behavior, so there needs to be some questioning about that. Typically, bishops ask to what extent an individual is following the last of chastity for two reasons: the first is to grant a temple recommend (which requires a worthiness interview to determine whether the person is living the standards). The second is a general meeting that the bishop has with the youth about once a year to see how he/she is doing. What we may need to re-examine is the nature and the manner that these questions are asked in; how much detail is appropriate? How do we differentiate between issues like pornography usage, masturbation, or other sexual acts? What about cases of sexual abuse? All these nuances are important to consider in this very delicate subject of discussing sexuality with children.
Are you crafty? Do you enjoy sewing or making elaborate designs to adorn your house or entertain your children? I’ll admit that craftiness is not really my thing; I prefer musical expression and writing, but everyone has different creative outlets, and for some, crafts are enjoyable and fun!
A recent LDSLiving.com, “What to Do When You’re Overwhelmed at Church,” ended with a simple survey. It asked one question: Have you ever experienced spiritual fatigue or burnout? Over 1,900 people took the online survey, and a whopping 95 percent said that they had experienced burnout.
I recently spoke with Ethan Millard and Alex Kirry of KSL’s NewsRadio Nightside Project about what parents can do if they discover that their child is viewing porn.
Pornography is a loaded topic: the easy accessibility of it combined with a curiosity about and interest in bodies and sexuality that children naturally have can lead to problems and questions. We’ve all heard the horror stories of how porn addiction can lead to broken families and destroyed lives. It’s quite a task to speak to your children about these issues and can be even more emotionally daunting if they’re already involved in it in some way. Here are some strategies for how to handle a situation in which your son or daughter is viewing pornography: