Adolescent addiction: When pornography strikes early
And the sooner the intervention begins, the better. That is why parents should be engaging in deep and potentially difficult conversations with their children about healthy sexuality, says Tim McOmber, clinical mental health counselor at Aspen, a counseling center in American Fork. If they notice something is amiss with their child, they should be willing to seek help.
"We don't just say, 'Hey, the child got a cut, it's not deep, we don't need to do anything about it,' says McOmber. "You treat it, to prevent the infection from coming or getting worse."
Red flags include attitude shifts, like a calm child becoming one ridden with anxiety, or a social child who now prefers to be alone all the time. Parents should be concerned if adolescents become extremely guarded of personal property or don't want parents to touch their backpack, jump drives, computers, phones or gaming systems, said Shawn Brooks, executive director of Oxbow Academy.
Brooks encourages parents to sit down with teens and establish rules and responsibilities — prior to the technology arriving, if possible. One of his key rules is that Internet-enabled devices do not belong in bedrooms. Adolescence can be complicated enough without adding pornography to the mix.
"(With puberty) and the release of estrogen and testosterone, it jacks you up," says Brooks. "Then throw in a data package or a smartphone and it's like Russian roulette but all the chambers have bullets."
The students file in silently to the auditorium, staring at the signs on the stage, "Become a Fighter: Change Begins with One. Fight the New Drug."
When everyone is seated, Todd Blaquiere bounds up on stage. He asks a few ice-breaking questions to loosen up the sixth- and seventh-grade students at Sandy's Eastmont Middle School, attending their annual Red Ribbon Week anti-drug assembly.
Blaquiere, Fight the New Drug's director of marketing, dives into a kid-friendly discussion of dopamine, the brain's reward pathway and how drugs alter that pathway by making the user crave drugs more than anything else.
He explains that with prolonged drug use, the brain's frontal lobes — or decision areas — shrink, making future correct decisions even harder.
And then, about halfway through the presentation, Blaquiere adds a new dimension.
"Pornography can harm your brain like a drug," he says. "Not all addictions come from chemicals you put into your body."
A small ripple of surprise rolls through the auditorium as the students digest this new information.
"I didn't know there were other addictions beyond chemical," says 12-year-old Eli Schott as he waits to sign the "Fighter Pledge" banner after the assembly. "It's a big surprise that porn is an addiction."
For the last two years, Fight the New Drug has shared the same message across the U.S and Canada.
"As a 7-year-old gets not just exposed, but develops a compulsion to viewing hard-core, violent pornography, what is that doing to their attitudes and perceptions toward women, love and what intimacy look like?" Olsen asks. "It's really kind of messing our society up."
This year, Fight the New Drug will conduct about 80 assemblies, plus meetings with parents and church groups.
They're trying to channel, rather than suppress, normal youthful rebellion by pointing it toward the pornography industry.
"Teens are ready to talk about this," Olsen says. "They're anxious for truth. So we just talk to them in a very real way and approach them as a peer, rather than an authoritative lecture. We approach it as a public health issue. It's harming ourselves, it's harming our relationships and our society as a whole."
"Porn is never going to go away," Olsen finishes. "The objective of our campaign is not to decrease porn, but to decrease demand through education."
For additional resources, see the six sites below:
Nofap.org — a forum-style website where individuals who have committed to abstain from pornography and masturbation for a period of time can talk about their experiences and engage in challenges to help them recover. A sister website of the reddit NoFap community.
Overcomingpornography.org — a resource provided by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to help addicted individuals or hurt family members rely on the Atonement of Jesus Christ to overcome and heal from the damage caused by pornography addictions.
Yourbrainrebalanced.com — a forum-style website that allows individuals to share their stories of working to overcome pornography addiction and porn-inducted erectile dysfunction, both as a way to gain strength and to inspire others.
PoSARC.com — Partners of Sex Addicts Resource Center offers information and resources to help promote recovery for both addicts and the people who love them.
Teens.drugabuse.gov — The National Institute on Drug Abuse’s teen-focused website teaches adolescents how their brains work and how drugs affect them.
Nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/the-teen-brain-still-under-construction/teen-brain.pdf — This publication from the National Institute of Mental Health teaches parents and teens about the adolescent brain; how it develops, how it changes and how it’s different from an adult’s brain.
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