When Callie (not her real name) discovered that her 11-year-old son had been viewing sexually explicit DVDs, she was horrified. She never imagined a pre-adolescent child, especially one as fun-loving and innocent as her son, would want to view such material.
Quickly, she obtained resources to help her discuss the issue with her son, then asked a family friend to have an engaging talk with him to help him sort through the issue.
In a recent WhyKnow forum on sexual addiction, Dr. Douglas Weiss, an expert on the subject, said that exposure to pornography, early sexual activity and even excessive television viewing can set adolescent brains up for addictive behavior later.
Repetitive actions, thoughts, visual and verbal cues literally form new passageways in the brain, he said. Once these pathways are developed, it is very difficult to stop the behavior. This is why habits are almost impossible to break without diligent, consistent effort.
Understanding the emotional and mental development of a child can help in protecting children. Many adults don’t realize that even a preschool child will look at visual stimuli of a sexual nature with interest.
This is why adult intervention is of the utmost importance. With the advent of the Internet, the pornography industry has hit an all-time high. Sadly, children who are often doing innocent Web searches become victimized by what they accidentally stumble upon. Some statistics say that 80 percent to 90 percent of children have viewed pornography at least once online. The average age for a first-time view is 11.
Dr. Weiss reminds his audiences that regular television watching can have a profound effect on teenagers. Images in childhood become imprinted on the brain and can powerfully influence adult behaviors. The average American adolescent will view 14,000 sexual references on TV per year.
Shows where dating and sexual activity are displayed in a cavalier fashion are also building pathways for the same behaviors, while pruning out pathways for modesty, restraint and delayed gratification. His challenge to teens is, “What do you want in your brain 30 years from now?”
Children are wired to learn, and their brains are like sponges; they absorb everything around them. Just as a child will mimic a parent cooking, gardening or taking care of infants, children who view inappropriate content are at risk of acting out inappropriately. “When pornography is viewed,” states Dr. Weiss, “powerful chemicals are released; the brain locks in the image and can retrieve it through fantasy at any time to promote arousal. This is why marriage is so good for healthy sexuality, it causes you to imprint on your own spouse.”
Look for these warning signs in your child:
* Inappropriate sexual behavior such as sending pictures of himself or herself electronically, or premature sexual activity.
* Shame, guilt.
* Depersonalization of others, poor social boundaries.
What can parents do to better protect their children? They can carefully monitor television watching in the home. They can keep pornography out of the home, by putting filters on their Internet, phones, and televisions. (Try NetNanny, CyberControl, Cleanhomemovies.com).
The entire household can spend time together in positive activities such as games, family movies, sports, eating together, etc. as a positive outlet. Talk to your children about healthy sexuality and more: growing up, the value of their bodies, how to manage their drives, and how to respect themselves and others.
If you have discovered that your child has viewed or has been viewing pornography, act firmly and lovingly without shaming him or her. Let them know that what they viewed was not good for them and that you will help and support them by getting them immediate treatment. For resources in your teen’s school, visit whyknow.org. For treatment options, see a local counselor or log onto www.sexaddict.com.