Archive of ‘Technology’ category

Talking to Adolescents About Porn

Often I am consulting clinically about how best to handle screen time expectations and tech boundaries in terms of both consumption and content. Online pornography is a subset of media that consistently comes up, not only with adults and couples I work with but also with parents and teens. Often, parents regard this topic with fear or uncertainty, so I wanted to share some resources to help create empowered and open communication around media and porn literacy. This feels ever-important during a time where curricula and state law seem to be pushing censorship or shame.

A cultural inevitability 

Our culture is still clumsily navigating the rapid proliferation of readily available and seemingly unavoidable online pornography, which now comprises approximately 1/10 of internet content. Studies show kids are exposed to online pornography at an average age of around 13, and over 40% the initial exposure was accidental. That said, exposure can happen much earlier. Generally, parents tend to address issues around puberty and sexuality around age 13. The assumption here is that sex and sexual issues do not need to be addressed until puberty. Yet, puberty happens more frequently between the ages of 10-12, and sexual consideration and curiosity do not operate like a light switch directly aligned with puberty–it’s a continuum aligned with human developmental stages and begins, in some ways as early as 4 years of age.

Why talking to your preteen or teen about porn is important

Though any sort of sex talk can feel taboo or be awkward, talking about pornography is part of a healthy sex-positive environment and creates an open field of engagement with your child. It is notable that there is a negative assumption that educating adolescents about sex might unintentionally push them to have sex earlier, yet this is statistically untrue. The earlier you can include positive and shame-free sex discussions and education in your home, the better. Based on the lack of porn literacy taught within school settings, the onus is tending to fall on parents and therapists to have these discussions when/if they arise. And knowing 70% of youth either happen upon (scrolling), or seek out online pornography (for education), this is more of a when.

Studies also indicate that, particularly for cis-hetero males, early exposure to porn may be correlated to a desire to seek power over women. Thus, having open conversations about the types of sexual engagements that are depicted in mainstream porn can impact not only a sex-positive attitude but also may deepen relational awareness and connection.

Replacement as Sex Ed

Unfortunately, only 30 states in the U.S. are required to teach sex ed at all, 13 of which are science-based. About 20 of these 30 states still operate under the outmoded abstinence-only model. Interestingly but not surprisingly, the states which lack an affirmative and science-based sexual education model, are also the states with the highest amount of teen pregnancy, and the inverse is true: sex ed that is comprehensive and empirical significantly decreases teen pregnancy.

Based on the dearth of comprehensive and media-literate education and considering the ease with which porn can be located on a device, adolescents are often attempting to educate themselves and their peers using this very easily accessible “resource.”

One of the issues with this, particularly with the absence of other forms of education, is that porn is by nature performative, and often non-consent-driven. This mainstream content easily creates the assumption that this is how sex goes. This type of pornographic content, however, excludes the awkward, messy, real, and autonomous versions of sex. It also tends to be geared more toward cis, hetoronormative, and at times violent, depictions of sex, excluding more diverse and inclusive images of sex. Finally, it outsources imagination, which is core and vital to human life, particularly at this age, to the churn of consumeristic drives of The Algorithm. 

Awareness about this stage

On top of porn’s availability and adolescents’ burgeoning sexual awareness and desire, the stage of adolescence is a marked time for black and white thinking (based on the brain’s development), and it is a wrought time for repetition-compulsion. Adolescents, our greatest nihilists, are beholden to their stage of life which is all about transformation and initiation. Richard Frankel, a Jungian psychoanalyst notes, “without guidance, left on their own, adolescents’ attempts at initiation take on an extreme character” (1999, p. 61). Frankel continues regarding adolescent exploratory methods:

Like the repetition of a symptom after the experience of trauma, the compulsion to repeat these events, be it drug and alcohol use, acts of violence, or discriminant sex, may be better understood not under the rubric of the psychology of addiction, but as failed attempts at initiation that leaves one in a state of yearning for a kind of deliverance that never seems to quite manifest itself. (p. 61)

Our culture, one without much initiation or ritual, operates via dopamine pump: check the email, check again; I liked that substance, I want more; this construct creates this emotion, repeat, repeat, repeat. Rather than allowing a substance or experiences to signify an initiation, they instead become literalized as a threshold itself, with which to carry over newly initiated vision or life stages. Herein, our culture, under which auspices our adolescents are trained, simply craves and acquires more. After the initial experience of a new substance-construct, whether it is alcohol, pornography, a violent event, or a combination, Frankel notes that the “extremity of behavior may lead an adolescent to the threshold of an initiatory door. However, without the proper structures in place, he cannot pass through it” (p. 61). 

In a word: education and cultural, or subcultural, consciousness begets awareness and can help guard against these black and white compulsions.

When/If this topic arises, here are some tips for having that conversation with your kid:

As porn is designed as a means-to-an-end, it mostly misses out on modeling consent. Consent is a must, and training around this can happen as early as 1 year of age. This begins by including permission when wanting to touch or embrace. “Let’s ask Kendell if she’d like a hug to say bye today!” And later can include teaching around body autonomy, and honoring one’s ‘gut’ feelings.

Later, teaching enthusiastic consent, about actual sexual experiences is important. This can happen in middle school if appropriate for your child.

Don’t freak out!

While I would argue pornography is not always a great first exposure to sex, it is common that it is the first brush. The more you can handle this topic with active listening, the better the setup for sex-positive communication between parent and adolescent. Also, discussing porn as a thing that exists can help your child decide how they’d like to interact (or not) with it if it comes up in a peer setting.

No shame!

Sexual curiosity and education-seeking are part of development, and as noted, made more seductive due to our cultural lack of comprehensive education. Generally speaking, when adolescents, who already naturally feel ‘on stage’ incur feelings of outer shame, they shut down. It’s on you to mitigate your fear/upset as a parent, and model and encourage an open line of conversation for your kid.

An opportunity to set boundaries and agreements

Aim for solutions rather than reactive consequences. Part of this education can be teaching kids and teens that porn exists as entertainment and is not meant to be educational. 

Within this, negotiations around screen time or media blocks, particularly for younger ages might be appropriate to help them have lesser access. Though it might feel uncomfortable, asking open-ended questions (where, how, when) rather than possibly accusatory why questions, can help aid in creating discussions that point to the purpose of the search. For instance, if your adolescent was simply curious, more education may be the key. If it was peer pressure, it’s a perfect opportunity to discuss consent (even about media consumption). And, if they accidentally were exposed and feel ashamed or traumatized, it can be a great time to normalize the instance and seek greater awareness of their tech habits, solo and in-situ.

There’s no one way to handle this intricacy-laden and, for some, discomforting topic. But hopefully, this, and the resources listed below are a helpful start!


For parents:

Is the Porn Brain our new Sex Educator by sex educator Yana Tallon-Hicks

Sex Positive Families is a platform that offers a variety of resources to support these talks

Six Minute Sex Ed – podcast on various topucs

How to Talk to Your Kids about Pornography

For adolescents

Yes to consent– a platform offering podcasts that cover myriad topics around tech, consent and porn.

Let’s Talk About It

Wait, What?

Earlier resources for younger kids

Yes! No!: A first conversation about consent

5 Signs Your Child May Be Addicted to Technology

Should I be concerned about my child’s screen time?

This is a question I hear frequently. The COVID pandemic caused a significant increase in the amount of time our children spend online each day, and many parents have concerns about their child’s technology use.  In today’s world, it would be nearly impossible to avoid screens entirely (and most people would not want to!), but when is it too much?  At what point should we start to worry about the effects of those hours our kids spend online?

There is No Escaping Technology

Between television, YouTube videos, games like Minecraft and Roblox, virtual communication platforms like Discord, and social media apps like Instagram and TikTok, kids are completely saturated with virtual media.  Even when parents are able to help kids abstain from certain types of technology, the enmeshment of tech into schools, paired with social pressures, makes limiting tech an extremely challenging task.

You Are Not Wrong to Be Afraid

Research on the effects of technology use on the developing brain is not lacking.  There are numerous studies that have returned potentially problematic, even downright concerning results.  A 2019 study that looked at brain scans of preschoolers found that children who used screens longer than the recommended (1 hour per day) had lower levels of development in their white matter – a key area in the development of language, literacy, and cognitive skills.

View that study here.

Additionally, the CDC found that the suicide rate for kids ages 10-14 doubled from 2007-2014 which happened to be the same time that social media use skyrocketed.

But how can parents know how much screen time is appropriate and when to be concerned?

5 Warning Signs that Your Child May be Addicted to Technology

  1. School work is suffering. This one can be tricky to recognize due to the overwhelming challenges the pandemic brought to school aged kids during the most recent academic year.  Take notice if your child’s change in academic performance directly coincides with increased tech use.
  2. Loss of interest in other activities.  If your child once loved playing soccer or creating art, but has lost interest and replaced that passion with a desire for screen time, some intervention may be necessary.
  3. Uncharacteristic aggression when interrupted from screen time. If you notice your child snapping, yelling, or showing uncharacteristic signs of anger when they are interrupted or asked to conclude their tech use, pay attention.
  4. Choosing to spend time online over spending time with friends or family. If your child is turning down social invitations in favor of spending more time online, there may be cause for concern.
  5. Neglecting basic needs or personal hygiene.  If you notice your child failing to care for their own basic needs (getting less sleep, skipping meals), or abandoning personal hygiene such as showering and brushing their teeth due to a preoccupation with screen time, it might be time to take action.

I think my child may be addicted to technology- what do I do now?

The good news is that technology addiction is treatable!  Children’s brains are malleable and interrupting troublesome habits now can help your child to strengthen new neural connections.  Early intervention can set a foundation that will help children learns skills to balance technology use in the future.

There are many strategies to treat mild to severe technology addiction in children and teens.  The first step would be to have a trained therapist assess your child for technology addiction. The National Institute for Digital Health and Wellness has a list of local providers trained to help your child manage technology issues.  There you can also find helpful articles on technology use and its effects on the developing brain.

If you are concerned, or unsure if your child may be struggling to balance their relationship with screens, ask a professional!  These times are difficult to navigate, and you are not alone.  There is plenty of support out there to help you and your child learn skills to manage technology use.

Want to learn more?

“Glow Kids” by Nicholas Kardaras is a great place to start to learn about the effects of technology on kids today.

“Reset Your Child’s Brain” by Victoria L. Dunkley MD has some wonderful guidance on at home interventions for tech addiction

Why Aren’t They Ready Yet?? The Stages of Change.

Have you ever been frustrated when you know somebody needs to change something in their life, but they just can’t seem to understand it the way you do? It could be anything from working on physical health, to drug addiction, to a quasi-bad habit that needs to be broken. The other person just doesn’t see how bad things are and that they need to change! What this COULD mean is that you and the other person are at different stages of change.

What are the Stages of Change?

The Stages of Change as discussed in this blog come from Motivational Interviewing, which is a type of therapy that can either be practiced independently or in conjunction with other therapeutic modalities. Here are the stages:

1. Precontemplation Stage

In this stage, someone would not even realize that there is something worth changing. They wouldn’t think they have a problem, and they wouldn’t be contemplating any change. They could be in denial, they could be back at square one after trying a change and giving up, they could be told by folks that they need to change/have a problem but they say “I’m the exception” or “That’ll never be me” statements. 

An example: Jonah smokes a pack of cigarettes a day, and his friends tell him they are worried about his long term health. Jonah responds to his friends “I’m not worried about it. It’s just a pack and I could stop any time I want to! Other people get cancer, but it doesn’t run in my family and it won’t happen to me!”

2. Contemplation Stage

This stage is when someone knows they want to make a change, and they begin weighing their options. Here, therapists and friends will often hear this person express ambivalence about making the change, fear talk, and “I would, but…” statements. 

An example: Mel has been having stomach problems with her anxiety for a few months and knows that a trip to the doctor would likely help her figure out ways to feel better. She is afraid that they may have to run invasive tests or change her diet, which give her even more anxiety and make her stomach issues worse. She has talked to her partner about her stomach issues and has said many times, “I should make that doctor’s appointment soon, but I’m just too busy with school to take a day off!”

3. Preparation Stage

Here, folks will start to get ready to make a change, or they may make small steps toward the change. This could be the point at which we hear someone say “I’m about to start doing ___” as they get ready to make their change. They may start sampling their new lifestyle, or dipping their toe in to test the waters, but haven’t taken any formal action toward the change. 

An example: Jess has become aware of the fact that social media consumption exacerbates her depression and anxiety. She decided that deleting her social media apps off of her phone will be a big step to helping her mental health. She recently posted to her friends that she will be deleting her apps and will be much harder to reach soon. She gave them her other contact information so they can still text and facetime, without the obligation to see everything that has been giving her FOMO and anxiety. The apps are still on her phone for the time being, and she is mentally preparing for the day next week that she will delete them. 

4. Action Stage

A person in this stage is actively trying to make their change happen. This is often where the bulk of therapy work occurs, as our clients have taken steps to call our office and schedule a session, sit with a therapist and discuss their concerns. It is possible to get to the Action stage multiple times (like, with a pesky New Years’ Resolution) only to revert to an earlier stage a few times over. 

An example: Evan started going to the gym Monday through Thursday after work, made an accountability buddy at the gym, and is loving it! He used to go to the gym about once or twice a year, and recently became fed up with his sedentary lifestyle. He is really trying to find ways to keep his gym habit sustainable this time. 

5. Maintenance Stage

This is the stage that we would aim to be in for the longest amount of time. Maintenance is the goal of making a change; we want to maintain our change over time. A person in this stage has become proficient at their action stage and is looking to maintain the change. 

An example: Ori calls himself a “recovering anger-holic.” He grew up with enormous difficulty with expressing his emotions, and often would have angry outbursts. When he became engaged to Amber in his thirties, she asked him to go to therapy for his anger. In this way, Amber helped Ori move from stage 1 through stage 4. He worked with his therapist to express his feelings in healthier ways, manage his anger, and grow his support network. Ori and Amber participated in couples therapy a few times over the years (especially when Ori’s anger looked like it was relapsing), but now that they are in their fifties, they hardly need outside help. He can still be triggered into what used to be fits of anger, but now are fits of coping and emotional expression. Amber knows all of his most reliable coping skills and they use code-words when he really needs to go cool off and take a walk. 

6. Relapse Stage

A relapse is when an individual returns to a previous stage for any amount of time. It is common, when making a change, to be tempted to return to the pre-change lifestyle. It is important during a relapse temptation to seek support and try not to relapse. A relapse could be small or large, and it doesn’t mean you or your treatment failed. After a relapse, an individual could return straight to maintenance, or it may require a return to an earlier stage. It is possible to return to precontemplation after a relapse, as someone could say “oh that wasn’t as bad as I remembered” and be enveloped once again with their pre-change lifestyle.  

An example: Ellee realized she had a gaming addiction when she was 22. After the challenge of quitting video games and seeking help, she maintains an abstinence from video games as a 28 year old. She recently relapsed when a new group of friends had a housewarming party for their friend. She didn’t know that there would be a console with the expectation to play some party games over drinks, and she had gone home afterward and continued a game-watching binge on Twitch. Ellee felt guilty and embarrassed the next day when she realized what she had done. She called her dad (her “biggest supporter”) the next day to tell him what happened, and told her therapist about it in their next session. She made a plan to tell the new group of friends how they can support her and why she has to stay away from video games. They worked together to make a plan to have console nights without her, and include her for other activities instead. It was her third ever relapse, and she commented in therapy that the aftercare seems to “get easier every time” when she relapses. She will easily get back into her maintenance stage, as she does not own any platforms that allow for her previous video game habits, and she has now blocked Twitch on her laptop to prevent another similar relapse. 

Fun Facts

Fun Fact 1: Someone can bounce around to various stages many times before coming to their “final” maintenance stage. Even then, relapses may occur and require a re-do of some earlier stages before returning to maintenance. 

Fun Fact 2: It can be extremely frustrating when you are at a different stage of change from a loved one with a change that needs to be made. These stages can be discussed with your therapist, and you and your loved one can come to a decision about how best to proceed together in sessions. 

If you are ready to talk about making a change in your life, reach out to us at [email protected] or 512-298-3381. 

(The Stages of Change discussed in this blog are taken from Prochaska and DiClemente’s 1983 Stages of Change Model, and the book Motivational Interviewing, Third Edition: Helping People Change by Miller and Rollnick)

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