Often while in public venues I cannot help but notice the number of electronic devices people use. I reflected on the popularity of these devices after a recent interaction with my clinical directors 3-year-old grandson. As I spoke with him he informed me that his mom and dad would not let him have a cell phone. This distressed him because other kids from his school have phones. We laughed about how funny and cute his complaint/statement was. Who is a 3-year-old going to call? Why does a 3-year-old need his own cell phone? Yet, I use my phone for everything, checking emails, social media, camera, calendar, to-do lists, shopping, typing this blog, etc. It seems it is primarily a PDA and secondarily a phone. I need Internet access for most of these functions, and so do kids, who mostly play games on their devices. The amount of accessibility to the Internet is undoubtedly a wonderful evolution. With so many conveniences, did we ever have a time without Google or Amazon? At the same time we have to be aware of the dangers that exist. As I work in treating people recovering from pornography addiction it is clear that the majority of stories are similar: porn addiction has increased with the availability of high speed Internet.
So what about kids? There is currently an increase in teens looking for treatment from Internet, gaming, and pornography addiction. The Internet is completely different now than it was 10-15 years ago. It is much faster, more accessible and available than ever before. The pornography available today is more potent than a Playboy or dirty movie. Its effects on the brain are similar to crack-cocaine in its stimulation and potential for addiction.
When online, kids typically are not looking for trouble. Most kids stumble across a porn site accidentally by mistyping a word, or a kid-friendly YouTube video is not so kid-friendly. The average child will be exposed to pornography between the ages of 9-11 years old. When discussing monitoring of their children’s online access, most parents do not think that their kids are at risk. Others have filters set up on their wireless router, and/or have the passwords to monitor their child’s use. There is no way a parent can completely limit a child’s access to Internet dangers. Kids know more about devices, apps, and could potentially hide whatever they do not want found. The primary form of prevention is communication with kids about what they and their friends are looking at and doing. This will undoubtedly lead to uncomfortability for both the parent and the child. That is to be expected, it is ok to validate that it is uncomfortable. Due to the growing number of young people entering treatment and the increasing production of pornography and hook-up apps, it is important to appreciate the severity of this new epidemic facing our young people. If a kid has already been exposed or had access to pornography he or she is likely consumed with shame and embarrassment, and will probably not want to talk about it. Again, the important thing is to normalize, and be inquisitive, rather than to shame, be critical or punitive. Remember, teens and kids may seem like they are not listening, but they are. Bringing up the topic will create space for dialogue. A parents beliefs, opinions, and concern are important to their kids.