Thursday, September 28, 2017

Pornography Prevention Program: Stage 2

I already mentioned Stage 1 of teaching children about pornography. There are some great books out there with some wonderful helps, one being "Good Pictures, Bad Pictures" by Kristen Jensen. She also helped the LDS Church put out a film for children to help them know what to do if they encounter pornography. You can view it here.

Let's move to stage 2, which is probably going to start around ages 6-8 (depending on your child and their circumstances).

Stage 2: Sexual Intimacy is a Positive Part of Heavenly Father's Plan
Between the ages of 6-8 years old, children are ready to know the facts about sexual intimacy. You've already set the stage by teaching them about their bodies. They know that a body is an essential part of Heavenly Father's plan. They know how most of the parts of their body function. Now, they can know the purpose of their genitals (beyond waste management) and how sexual intimacy fits into Heavenly Father's plan for creating strong families and for creating bodies for other spirits. 

There are many stories of children being exposed to sex or pornography at young ages. Electronic devices are exposing children to much more than just inappropriate 2-dimensional pictures. Even if a child has been made aware of staying away from inappropriate pictures, they also need to know about videos, music, books, and other media. 

Children also struggle to be able to apply the knowledge they've learned in one setting to another (see Jean Piaget's Stages of Cognitive Development). For example, a child who knows to not look at inappropriate pictures may not realize that a video on YouTube is also inappropriate. The actors may be clothed, but stimulating inappropriate emotions or feelings through their actions. Another example is that a child may be able to tell you they should keep their body covered and that they shouldn't look at other people without clothes. Yet, this same child may also "play doctor" with a friend or relative without clothing. They don't apply their knowledge of not looking at others without clothes to their play. Children need guidance to help them apply what they are learning to a variety of situations. 

Often, parents want to instill the dangers of pornography so much that the negativity associated with pornography spills over into sexual intimacy in general. Sex becomes something dark, rather than the light Heavenly Father intends it to be for a marital couple. If you discuss sexual intimacy, what it is and the reasons for it, along with pornography, children are more likely to understand the reasons why pornography is so dangerous without those negative feelings for pornography affecting their view of sexuality. 

Children at this age need pornography defined in more detailed terms. We know all about trying to keep our kids safe on the internet, but the best filter is an "internal filter" (Linda S. Reeves). To have an effective internal filter, here are things kids need to know in this stage:
  • Connect sexual intimacy and pornography! Pornography is all about stimulating sexual feelings, not just pictures of people with little or no clothing.
  • Continue discussing avoiding pictures of people with little or no clothing, but they also need to know that sexual acts or descriptions of sexual acts in videos, books, music, and other media are also pornography.  Again, to truly understand this, they need to know the definition of sexual intimacy. 
  • Teach that pornography can make them feel uncomfortable, as it can in all stages, even if it interests them.
  • Teach them how to repent, often. 
  • Most of all, teach them that you are willing to talk to them about anything, including sex and pornography. 
  • Sexual intimacy is a positive part of Heavenly Father's plan, along with being sacred. Teach them the difference between sacred and secret. 

Friday, September 22, 2017

Pornography Prevention Program: Stage 1

I recently had a conversation with a friend about her son. She felt that she and her husband had done a good job teaching their son about respect for bodies and the dangers of pornography. Yet, she discovered her son had been involved in an inappropriate activity with another child and stopped only after he learned the definition of sexual intimacy. As we talked, we both realized something very important. Her first discussion with her son about the actual definition of sexual intimacy was 11 years old, yet she felt she had been teaching him about pornography for longer than that. She realized that in teaching him about pornography, she had missed teaching him about sexual intimacy. There was a huge gap in her Pornography Prevention Program. Most, if not all, parents I talk to understand the importance of teaching children about the dangers of pornography. However, many of these same parents are uncomfortable talking to their children about sexual intimacy. This seems ironic because the definition of pornography is, "erotic behavior intended to cause sexual excitement" (Merriam-Webster online). The one crucial thing we often miss when teaching children about pornography is that it cannot be separated from teaching children about sexual intimacy. If we are defining pornography for our children, we also have to define sexual intimacy and how it fits into Heavenly Father's plan. I find that this teaching occurs in 3 stages as children mature. Over the next few weeks, I'll be posting the three stages of teaching children about pornography. 

Stage 1: The Body is A Temple
This seems to be the stage parents are most comfortable teaching. This is also the stage in which most parents remain in their efforts to teach children about pornography. Young children should learn correct names for all body parts and that all parts of their body are good, including the genitals. They also learn the functions of most of their body parts.  The body is a house, or temple, for our spirit while on Earth. Gaining a body is an essential part of Heavenly Father's plan. While children are preschoolers and in the early elementary school years, gaining a respect for their body and others' bodies is a beginning for understanding sex and pornography. They learn to keep their body private from others and that they should allow others to keep their bodies private. This helps them understand why some pictures are inappropriate to view. 

At this age, from birth through about 7-8 years old: 

  • pornography is defined in more broad terms, such as not looking at pictures of other people without clothing. The term pornography may not even enter vocabulary yet.
  • teach correct body part names and functions (of most body parts, not genital functions beyond releasing waste)
  • encourage privacy (like closing doors when changing, going to the bathroom, and so forth)
  • talk positively about every body part
  • teach the importance of the family in Heavenly Father's Plan

This information may seem pretty obvious. Yet, it's a critical beginning for children's proper understanding of pornography. Just don't get stuck here. Next week, we'll move on to Stage 2, usually ages 7 or 8 to puberty. 

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Why View Pornography After Marriage?

Our 11-year-old son is beginning to transition from reading the Friend magazine to reading the New Era. He was reading an older issue we had at the house one day from February 2017.  You can view the article he was reading here.

He came and asked:
K: "Mom, why would people look at pornography after they are married?"
Me: "Wow, that's an excellent question. I'd like to answer that one with your dad. Can we wait to answer that until tonight when he's home?"
K: "Sure."
Me: "Can you tell me where this question is coming from?"
K: "Yea. I was reading this article about a father who viewed pornography. I just don't know why a married adult would want to look at pornography when he has sex with his wife."

I spent the day thinking about the best way to explain this concept to an 11-year-old. I took the main idea about feeling/thinking brain from the book, "Good Pictures, Bad Pictures." Then, I sat in the shower and stewed over how to explain this. I talked with my husband a little when he got home. This is what we came up with and our conversation with our son.

I had him ask his question again, then dived in to the conversation.

Me: "So, I was talking to dad about this. Do you know a little about how the brain works? Do you remember that video we watched about pornography that the church put out about your thinking brain and your feeling brain?' (You can see the video, What Should I Do When I See Pornography?)
K: "Yeah."
Me: "So, in your brain you have all sorts of different pathways. So, you have a thought and it goes from one part of your brain to another, like your brain is constantly moving and connecting ideas. Or, a thought can create a feeling. So, there are these little pathways in your brain and I'm not going to give you technical terms because that's a lot to remember, so I'm just going to say this is a pathway in your brain. (This picture shows my "pathways" using Qwirkle blocks upside down.) So, Heavenly Father has given us the desire to have sexual experiences, right?
K: "Yeah."
Me: "We know why? Is that correct?"
K: "Yeah, for babies and bonding."

M: "So, we're not going to talk about sex for babies right now because your question focuses on desire and bonding. I'm going to put this Lego guy here (the bottom boy). We'll say this is your sexual desire. We have a connection from your sexual desire to the actual experience you are having. Bonding is a chemical reaction in your brain. When you bond with someone you connect with that person and that's called bonding. So, when we talk about sex being a bonding experience in a marriage between a man and a woman it means that there are these chemicals that are released in the brain that allow you to feel a connection with that person. Those chemicals are released during those experiences. So, there's a pathway in your brain that goes from the desire (Lego man) to the thing you are bonding with (Lego girl). Does that make sense?"
K: "Yeah."
Me: "So, when you view pornography, we're going to make a pathway that goes off this way. Pornography you usually view with a screen, so I'm going to put this little Lego screen right here. What happens is you have your sexual desire right here and you are moving off this path, having a bonding experience with a spouse, to bonding with a screen or a picture. If you are viewing pornography before you get married then you can get used to this track (pointing to the pathway to the screen). Have you ever had the experience at school where you have to write a date in your planner and the year changes, what happens when you get to January 1st?
K: "You have to write a new year?"
M: "Do you find yourself still writing 2017 instead of 2018 without thinking?
K: "Yeah."
Me: "I do too. That's because it's a habit and your brain pathway has been trained to write 2017 for 12 whole months. You have to consciously think about writing the new year. What happens in your brain with sexual experiences is that if you keep using this pathway for sexual experiences, whether it's a screen or pictures or videos, things like that, then your brain wants to go this way (again, pointing to the path to the screen). So, even after you are married and able to have this kind of bonding experience (pointing to the path to the Lego girl), your brain is still trying to go this way because it's so used to going this way. Because of that, you can still be married and have a hard time with pornography.
K: "Oh. I see."

Me: "Now, even people after they get married may have something pornographic introduced to them. Our brains like new stuff, so if something pornographic is seen, your brain is seeing something new and wants to look at it. So, even though this pathway is available to you (pointing to the path to the Lego girl), you may find your brain going off on this path (pointing to the path to the screen). Does that make sense?
K: "Yeah."
Me: "So, it's better before you are married to not even have this pathway because the habit to take that path is hard to break. And, after you are married you have to be careful about what you allow yourself to watch and see because this path is easy to form since the brain likes new things. That's why we're teaching you about pornography now so you don't have to worry about fighting to stay on the right path in your brain. Right now and during puberty your brain is going to be used to just having that desire, and when you are married you get that bonding experience and build that pathway and connection to your spouse. You're not trying to fight it going off on a different pathway. It just stays here because that's the path it knows. 
Dad: "It's one of those things that people say is hard to give up because males especially are visual. They like images, pictures. Girls are more emotional. They like the touchy, feely stuff. It's one of those things that once you view pornography it's really hard to stop. 
Me: "It rewires the way your brain thinks, so this pathway doesn't even have to be there if you never start viewing it (pointing to screen path). You told me that one time you saw images when you were looking up information from that Brandon Mull book about "naked agony" that you couldn't get them out of your head."
K: "Yes!"
Me: "That's because your brain wanted to start going on this pathway. It immediately wanted to start going on this pathway. That's why I was glad you told me about it because we could work on ways to stay off that track before your brain get too used it. We can push it out of the way. You can keep on this pathway (to Lego girl) so your desire stays right here until you're ready to have those bonding experiences in marriage. Do you have any questions?
K: "No."
Me: "Well, if you have any questions later, you can always come ask. Did we fully answer your question?"
K: "Yeah."
Dad: "Notice in the article that it says this girl's dad wasn't a bad man (referring to the article he read that stimulated this question). He was a good man. This is just a challenge that he has."
Me: "And he was trying to do what's right. And that's why we have repentance."
Dad: "That's true, and if you ever have this issue with what you're seeing don't beat yourself up. You can always ask Heavenly Father for help and He will help you. It's just better not to get into it at all. It's just everywhere."
Me: "Yeah. It's good to talk about it and let us know when you do see things because we can help you."
Dad: "Yes. We love you."