EDITOR’S NOTE — Across the nation, children and teens are plagued by a host of escalating tragedies. In this series, we look at several issues facing America’s endangered youth and offer ways you and your church can help care for the next generation. For more stories in this series, click here.
Today’s adolescents are bombarded by accidental and intentional exposure to pornography through reportedly more than 42 million websites. The average child reportedly first views pornography by age 11.
Before turning 18, more than 93 percent of boys and 62 percent of girls have been exposed to graphic images of sex acts, sexual bondage, bestiality, child pornography, incest and same-sex intercourse on websites, file-share services, social media, video games and sites and apps used for hookups or dating.
In most cases, it’s all free, easy to access via smartphone and available within seconds. And only three percent of pornographic websites require age verification.
Sadly, with more than 40 million Americans regularly visiting porn websites, almost 80 percent of accidental exposure to internet porn among kids happens at home.
Internet pornography is a growing and profitable industry in the United States today, generating between $15 billion and $97 billion a year.
And many experts predict that addiction to cybersex — any form of sexual expression accessed through the internet — will be the next massive mental health struggle.
Changing young people’s brains
Exposure to internet pornography and cybersex activities reportedly change an adolescent’s brain chemistry in damaging ways. It can negatively impact his or her ability to function on multiple levels — intellectual, emotional and social.
Engaging in these activities stimulates the reward and pleasure centers of the brain like drugs and can lead to addiction. That can affect a young person’s spiritual life too — it can bring on spiritual attack, shame, guilt and self-hatred and distance him or her from Christ at a crucial time of spiritual development.
Pornography sends negative messages about sex that can harm a teenager’s ability to form healthy relationships. Through these messages, young people learn that loving, respectful relationships aren’t important and that aggressive sexual behavior and violence against women is normal. Teens also develop unhealthy views about gender roles and are more often impacted by mental health issues, including lower self-esteem, emotional distress, poorer body image, increased loneliness and suicidal thoughts.
When the brain is continually desensitized by pornography, the viewer must consume more porn and in more extreme forms to achieve the same feelings. Research shows that young people often feel pressured to imitate porn, believing that pornography is a realistic depiction of sex, according to Fight the New Drug, an organization focused on raising awareness of the negative effects of porn.
How churches can respond
Churches can help protect their young people from the negative effects of pornography and cybersex.
Here are some suggestions:
- From the pulpit and through Bible studies for youth, preach and teach members a positive biblical sexuality, that sex is a good gift from God within a monogamous marriage between a man and a woman.
- Educate the congregation, making members aware of the problems of pornography and cybersex activities and how they adversely affect the church’s Christian adolescents.
- Train the church’s youth pastors and workers to deal with teens struggling with porn and cybersex addictions. In one recent study, 70 percent of Christian youth pastors reported that they have had at least one teen come to them for help in dealing with pornography in the past 12 months.
- Invite speakers from community agencies to address the problems with parents, grandparents and teens.
- Have Christian counselors available to speak with and counsel teens.
- Create support groups for teens (and for parents of teens) to openly and honestly talk about their struggles.
- Give both parents and teens supportive resources to find help on an individual basis.
Resources to combat pornography addiction
- Focus on the Family: focusonthefamily.com/family-qa/parent-wants-to-help-teen-who-struggles-with-pornography
- Fight the New Drug: fightthenewdrug.org
- Covenant Eyes: covenanteyes.com/2014/04/15/porn-pocket/
- Human Life International: hli.org/resources/christian-porn-addiction/
- Biblical Counseling Coalition: biblicalcounselingcoalition.org/2016/03/07/counseling-teens-hooked-on-porn/
- Desiring God: desiringgod.org/articles/hope-and-help-for-the-porn-addict
- Covenant Eyes: covenanteyes.com/2013/11/08/when-your-son-is-looking-at-porn-resources-for-christian-parents/
- CrossWalk: crosswalk.com/family/parenting/unplugging-pornography-helping-your-teen-escape-the-trap-11600384.html