Girls and Sexting

Friends Using Smart Phone While Leaning Against Wall

I am writing to you today from the annual conference of ATSA, the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers.  I come every year to ensure I stay on top of all the latest research and to make sure that the methods we use to treat people at SATS are state of the art and evidence based.

Each year, in addition to traditional talks, there are poster presentations.  Today, Marion Desfachelles, a Ph.D. student at the University of Montreal, presented a poster on her research on girls and sexting.

Because this research is from Canada, I will take a moment to explain how Canadians handle teenage sexting.  Sexting is divided into two categories, Primary and Secondary.  Primary sexting is defined as sending or receiving sexually explicit content in a private context.  Secondary sexting is defined as distributing the image or video to the public.

The Supreme Court of Canada ruled this year that to establish an intimate photo exception to the juvenile pornography laws.  This exception allows “two youths, who engage in lawful sexual activity, to consensually record their own lawful sexual activity as long as that recording is made or possessed for their personal use.”

As most of the research on secondary sexting is focused on boys, Ms. Desfachelles wanted to look at how girls engage in primary or secondary sexting.  To do this, she looked at the arrest records of 27 girls who were arrested or suspected to be involved in cases of juvenile pornography.

What did the study find?  Girls are sometimes the primary sexter and the secondary victim, meaning a girl may have taken an image for a partner but it was then distributed outside the context of that relationship.  Girls also distributed sexual imagery to others.  An interesting finding was that the girls did acknowledge that sending these images would be hurtful to the victims, but the girls thought that the victims of the secondary sexting were responsible for the situation.

The study found three main motivations for secondary sexting.  The most common motivation was that of revenge or hurt.  The other two motivations seen were goodwill and fun, meaning peer pressure.  Boys continue to be most frequently the originators of the secondary sexting, but girls sometimes start the process and definitely participate in the secondary sexting.

We know that there is significant emotional damage to the victim of secondary sexting.  Prevention campaigns often focus on not sexting at all.  The author suggests that, as sexting is becoming a more normative behavior for teens, the prevention efforts be moved to focus on prevention of secondary sexting.

Help teens understand that they should keep something that was sent in the context of a relationship private.  Teach teens about consent and that consent also applies to distribution of images sent with the expectation of privacy.

As always, parents should be talking to their children about sexting.  We also need to expand our discussions about how, if their child does engage in sexting, they can do so in a safe and respectful manner and to understand the risks involved in sending an explicit image to another person.

For more information on the effect of sexting on children, please see my book, The New Age of Sex Education:  How to talk to your teen about cybersex and pornography in the digital age.

Things 8 year olds say: I’ve seen videos of people kissing each other in their private parts

Friends Using Smart Phone While Leaning Against Wall

Sometimes I think I should rename this blog, the parenting chronicles of my amazing friend in North Carolina. I wrote about her experiences before when she shared with me that her eldest daughter was witness to a friend sexting on the school bus at the beginning of the school year. This week, she shared something she overheard while her youngest child, 7, was playing with a neighbor.

My friend, let’s call her Pam to give her some privacy, was outside overseeing her children play with the neighbor children. She overtly acknowledges that she loves these neighbor children. They are very good kids. Their parents are great parents who are active in their lives, in the community and in the church. Pam’s kids love these kids too. As a reminder, Pam is a proactive parent. She talks to her children about all things, including sexuality, sexting, etc. She has filters on her family’s technology as she has children of multiple ages and does not want them accessing inappropriate material in the home. But she also knows that she has little control over what goes on in the homes of their friends or on the technology of her children’s friends.

She relayed the following story: “Yesterday my youngest, who is merely 7 years old, was playing with some neighborhood kids in my side yard….
One of them had a cell phone with her that has a plan and data so she can watch whatever she wants wherever she wants whenever she wants. I heard my child complaining about how she doesn’t have a phone and about how annoyed she is that our internet is completely locked down and they don’t get to surf the web…as she put it. The little girl who had the phone chimed in an
d said she gets to watch whatever she wants. That she found videos of people who kiss each other in their private places. I almost fell over”

Being in possession of emotion regulation skills, Pam did not freak out but made a mental note. She now is going to head over to the neighbor’s house and let them know what she overheard. She is nervous about the conversation because she really likes all parties involved and she doesn’t want any hard feelings between anyone in the relationships.

What lessons do we learn here? Access to the internet should be age appropriate. Young children, like Pam’s child’s 8-year-old friend, should not have unfettered access to the internet. It is simply not age appropriate. Additionally, she should not have unfettered access to the internet without any parental discussion of what she might find. As the girl gets older, in conjunction with good discussions between parents and child, those restrictions can be lessened.

This story brings home what those of us in the field already know. Young children are accidentally exposed to pornography. It happens. And it happens a lot. When I teach, we use the statistic that the average age of first exposure to online pornography is 10. I also always use the proviso that this is old data so the age is likely younger, in this case 8. This child did not intentionally look for pornography. She saw a video of something that she did not understand. She also did not talk to her parents about it. However, she knew that it was to be kept secret.

The moral of this story. Please don’t be in DENIAL. Start talking to your children about this topic early in an age appropriate fashion. Do not let their sex education begin with the accidental viewing of pornography. Do not give young children unfiltered access to the internet. They are not developmentally ready yet! Most of all, BE AWARE and TALK TO YOUR CHILDREN.

To learn more about the effects of cybersex on children and how to talk to your child, order my book: The New Age of Sex Education:  How to Talk to your Teen about Cybersex and Pornography in the Digital Age.

Sexting in 8th Grade – Part II

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Last week I shared the story of my long time friend’s experience with her child early in the school year.  Her 5th grader watching her 8th grade friend sexting on the bus.  As you might imagine, the story does not end there.  After the initial conversation with her daughter (which went amazingly well because she talks to her children about the hard stuff), she is left with the question of “now what?”

The “now what” question is not about what to do with her own child, she will keep up the open communication with her.  The question arises as to what to do with the information she now possesses, that this young girl is sending pictures of herself to boys in the school.

As we continued our conversation, we worked through the options.  My friend’s first option is to do nothing and not tell anyone about the behavior.  This option did not sit well with my friend.  She felt that if this was her child who was sexting on the bus, she would want to know so she can address the behavior.

The next option was to tell an administrator at the school that a child was sexting on the bus.  This option also did not sit too well with my friend.  In telling someone at the school, the girl would possibly end up getting in a lot of trouble.  It also opened up the opportunity for a large scale “sexting scandal” like those we read about in the papers.  My friend is not one to try to make chaos and drama so a large scale investigation and possible scandal were out.

Option number three was to talk to the parents of the girl.  This sounds like a straight forward option, but in talking about this option, we realized it is not as straight forward as it seems.  First, would the parents of the girl be able to hear the news of their child’s behavior without being defensive, in denial or reactionary?  Though my friend knows the parents from the community, she does not know them well enough to gauge what type of reaction they will have to the news.

The other concern in telling the parents, is that they will, inevitably, (we hope) address the sexting behavior with their child.  It will be quite obvious to the girl where the news came from.  My friend feared for the ramifications this might have on her daughter.  Would she be labeled a “snitch?”  Would she be ostracized by this friend or by other kids at the school?  Would there be a social consequence for her daughter for telling her parents what was happening on the bus?  Though as adults, we might not think these are big concerns, they are huge concerns to a child in school, where the social environment is hugely important.  Add to this the fact that my friend’s daughter did not want her to tell the other girl’s parents out of her fear for any of the aforementioned possible consequences.

In the end, my friend decided that she is both a parent and a responsible person.  She would want someone to tell her if her child was sexting.  She also has a real fear for what may happen to the young girl who is sexting and does not want her to experience any long term consequences from her behavior.  She continues to talk to her own child about the entire experience.  Luckily, her daughter is a pretty amazing kid (like her mom) and has already decided to distance herself from the friend because the friend’s behavior makes her uncomfortable.

I share these stories for several reasons.  First, real life accounts are often more powerful than book learning.  Second, I want you all to know that even if you talk to your kids proactively about cybersex, it doesn’t end there.  There will be tricky landscapes to navigate throughout their school career.

Dr. Jennifer Weeks is the founder of Sexual Addiction Treatment Services and the author of The New Age of Sex Education: How to Talk to Your Teen about Cybersex and and Pornography in the Digital Age.

Sexting in 8th Grade

Friends Using Smart Phone While Leaning Against Wall

I have a dear friend who I have known since grade school. She is the mother of three children, the oldest being in 8th grade. Given my profession and her being an all-around fabulous mother, we tend to have conversations about sexuality, pornography, sexting and children.

I recently reposted my blog on Child Pornography Prevention on social media. This was inspired by a local priest being arrested for possession of child pornography. From this, my friend and I had a great conversation I thought I would share (with her permission).

My prevention work focuses more on parents than it does on children. I want parents to start talking to their kids about sex and pornography. Parents tend to not do this. There are many reasons, mostly the fact that it is awkward and embarrassing.

Talking to my oldest daughter about these things is ….hard. For both of us. She is 11. She uses the internet.”

My friend also employs all the tools she can to ensure her children are not unwittingly exposed to pornography online. She and her husband use parental controls but we all know sometimes this is not enough.

We have parental controls. They don’t always work as they should. She goes to kids houses where there are computers, these kids have smart phones etc., not locked down AT ALL….because they have ” good kids ” who wouldn’t bother to look at ” that stuff”

As my friend points out, as a parent, you do what you can in your own home to avoid unwanted exposure to this content, but you don’t know what the parents of your child’s friends are doing. Much of the exposure to pornography is via peers. Just because your house is cybersafe, doesn’t mean that someone else’s house is.

So my friend and her husband have taken the leap and had the uncomfortable conversations with their daughter about sex, cybersex, pornography, sexting and sexualization of others.

We decided we had to go there. The conversation continues because we have opened a door and she now knows we are capable of having these conversations. Is it fun? No. Do I look forward to them? Sure…like I do a root canal….but they are imperative. As are these conversations.”

So what happens when you talk to your child often about sexuality? It becomes more comfortable. They learn that they can safely bring their concerns to you because the topic isn’t taboo and you won’t react badly. They trust you with this information.

The end result of this trust was on display for my friend and her daughter just a few weeks into the school year. My friend’s daughter is in 8th grade.

She has already talked to me THIS school year about her 8th grade friend on the bus sexting.”

Her daughter came to her this year with this concern because they had already talked about these issues. It was a topic that, though still uncomfortable for both of them, was an approachable topic. Her daughter has the knowledge to arm herself in the digital age and to make better choices for herself as she interacts online with her peers.

Education about sexuality and cybersex is imperative in todays’ world. In my friend’s words;

I used to think I was a good enough parent to protect her. I decided to educate her on how to protect herself as well. The education is never ending”

My dear friend ended our conversation with this quote…which is dear to my heart.

“Denial is a powerful bitch.”

I couldn’t agree with her more. Many parents don’t think that their child would sext. They don’t think that their child would look at pornography. I implore you to not be in denial. Sexting on the bus in 8th grade is a reality. If your child is sexting or looking at online pornography, it is not a reflection of your parenting skills. It is a reflection of the age we live in.

Talk to you children, please.

Dr. Weeks is the Author of The New Age of Sex Education:  How to talk to your teen about cybersex and pornography in the digital age.   

Parents are Disconnected from Generation App

Father And Son Using Laptop At Home

Father And Son Using Laptop At Home

The digital world is ever changing and parents frequently have a hard time keeping up with what their children are doing online. Many parents are trying hard to lay down rules and boundaries regarding device use and cybersafety for their children. While these boundaries are wonderful and necessary things when parenting in the digital world, a new study released by the National Cyber Security Alliance reveals that there is a very large “digital disconnect” between parents and their teens regarding teens’ online behavior, their online experiences and how they resolve online issues.

First, an update on how teens are using tech today (as of June 2016 when the study ended). Most teens are accessing digital content on their smartphones (86%). In second place are desktop computers (63%). Teens are spending a lot of time plugged in. The study found that for teens aged 13 to 17, they (62%) spend at least five hours a day plugged in.

Where are they going? Youtube is the place to be, with 91% of teens using Youtube consistently. As for social media apps, Snapchat is the current most popular app with (66%) of teens using this app and a close second is Instagram with 65% of teens using this social media app. Facebook is losing its prominence though 61% of teens surveyed are still using the social media site.

One of the most interesting findings of the survey is that parents think they are creating and enforcing rules around technology usage and cybersafety with their children. However, when their children are asked about these issues (away from mom and dad) there turns out to be a huge disconnect about the rules. For example, 67% of parents say that their child knows that they are to come to them when they experience an online incident that makes them uncomfortable or scared. However, only 32% of teens thought that this was a rule that existed in their family. Teens were much more likely to go to a peer to address the issue than they were their parents.

The study looked at 12 potential tech rules in a family. The difference between the percentage of parents who said a rule exists and their children who agreed was huge. For example, 54% of parents said that their child had to ask permission before downloading a new app or game and only 16% of their teens thought this rule existed. 50% of parents said that their child was required to share their passwords with them while only 16% of their teens reported this rule. Additionally, only 9% of parents said that their household had NO rules about tech while 28% of the teens thought that they had no rules.

These differences show that parents and their teens are not on the same page when it comes to tech use in the household. The good news is that teens still think that their parents are the most important source for online safety and security information.

These differences clearly highlight that though parents think that they may be doing a good job of communicating about tech to their children, the message is getting lost somewhere in translation. Parents need to take an approach to technology that makes it a common part of the household dialogue and conversation with their children. Though you can never make a teen talk to you, demonstrating some tech savvy yourself and talking to your child regularly about their digital world makes the topic commonplace and increases the chances that they will come to you when there is an online issue.

To access the full study, go to file:///C:/Users/Jennifer/Downloads/Keeping_Up_With_Generation_App_Findings_Summary.pdf

Find out how to talk to your teen about cybersex with Dr. Weeks’ new book: The New Age of Sex Education: How to Talk to Your Teen About Cybersex and Pornography in the Digital Age.

Parents Still Don’t Know Enough about Sexting

Friends Using Smart Phone While Leaning Against Wall

The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) in the UK recently published the results of a survey about sexting they conducted this year. They were inspired to find out what parents know about sexting by the enormous number of people who visit their sexting advice webpage.

NSPCC conducted both in person surveys and online questionnaires Here is what they found.

Most parents in the UK (73%) think that sexting is always harmful but only 39% thought that their child would engage in the behavior. Many parents did not know that underage sexting (taking or sending naked pictures) was illegal.

The good news is that most parents would seek out help if they found out their child was sexting. The BAD news is that only half of the parents thought they would be able to find the right support.

Parents are STILL not talking to their children about sexting. This survey showed that only 42% of parents had spoken to their child about sexting once. Unfortunately, 19% of parents had no intention of ever talking to their child about the issue. Parents appeared to be most uncomfortable about conversations relating to sexting and the law.

A positive take away from this survey is that despite the 83% of parents who have never received any information about sexting, and  the 84% of parents who never looked for the information, 50% of the parents did actually want more information. Parents are looking for information about healthy relationships, how to start conversations with their child about sexting as well as how young people experience sexting in their peer group.

As someone who works in this field, it is still discouraging that so many parents have not talked to their child about sexting and it is even more discouraging that they don’t have good information at their fingertips. With news articles about sexting scandals and teens popping up in the news on a daily basis, the denial of parents that their own child might engage in this behavior is alarming.

This survey is the exact reason why I wrote my new book, The New Age of Sex Education: How to Talk to Your Teen About Cybersex and Pornography in the Digital Age. Without knowing it (or taking my cues from the headlines) my book addresses the stated learning needs of these parents. It would be helpful to parents and children alike if schools and communities started to educate parents about these issues on a regular basis, providing parents with the resources they both need and desire.

Click here to purchase The New Age of Sex Education: How to Talk to Your Teen about Cybersex and Pornography in the Digital Age.

Child Pornography Exposure on Chat Roulette

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As my therapy practice continues to be comprised of more and more child pornography offenders, I continue to seek ways to prevent others from becoming exposed to or involved with child pornography.

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of meeting a young man who introduced me to yet another way in which people can be exposed to child pornography. The normal routes for exposure are through peer to peer file sharing programs or TOR sites. The man I met yesterday was exposed to child pornography through the chat app, ChatRoulette.

For those of you who are not familiar with ChatRoulette, it is an app that allows you to interface with another user via your webcam or camera on your phone, tablet, etc. As the Roulette name implies, you have no idea who you are going to be paired up with as there are users of all ages from all over the world on the app. You can interact with the person you are connected to for as long or as short a period of time as you want. We have long known that ChatRoulette is a venue for people to expose themselves online or to interact sexually. Since its inception, there is a pretty good chance that when you go on the app, you will run into someone masturbating on the webcam or engaging in some other sexual act.

In more recent history, ChatRoulette is now being used for other sexual purposes. There are some users who are showing child pornography on their screens. How does this happen? When you connect with a random user, instead of seeing another person, they have their side of the interaction configured so that the entire screen is used to play child pornography videos. As you can’t choose a user, this is truly a random experience and one that most people are not prepared for.

I would call unintended exposure to child pornography a trauma. These are horrific images and you can’t erase them out from your memory. I have had to view these images for court cases and they linger, unwillingly, in your brain for days. This is my reaction when I know what type of images I am going to see. I can only imagine the reaction of a person who has no desire to see these images and unsuspectingly views them on a screen. An even bigger concern is that a young person who is using this app may be exposed to this imagery as well. Even if the images are traumatic for an adult to watch, we can make more sense of them than a child can. Unexpected exposure to child pornography could be even more damaging to a child.

As ChatRoulette engages in random connections, you cannot seek out those who are displaying child pornography. You also can’t avoid them as you don’t know what user is going to show up on your screen next. As with any of these types of apps, they can be fun or they can be dangerous. It is all in the hands of the user. Technically, the app is listed as Mature 17+. However, that doesn’t stop minors from using the app.

As a parent, be aware of what apps your child is using. I would advise that minors not be allowed to use this app due to the potentially graphic sexual exposure from some users. If you do allow your child to use this app, please be sure that you know what they could be seeing. Be prepared to talk to your child about possible exposure before it happens and after it happens.

For more stories like this please go to my blog at www.thenewageofsexeducation.com or www.sexualaddictiontreatmentservices.com

Parental Denial: Yes, Your Child Has Seen Pornography

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Absolute Denial: “No not my child! My son doesn’t look at porn online.” “My daughter would never send a naked picture of herself.”

Very recently a young teenage girl was lured into a meeting with a college man on the messaging app Kik and she was killed. This tragic event has spurned a barrage of news articles and blogs about the dangers of the app Kik and what parents need to know. While these blogs and news articles are helpful, they are a little late.

Moment of honesty. Sometimes I get really upset at parents. Truly, I don’t get angry at parents, I get upset at denial. Kik is not new. Other messaging apps like Kik are not new. Those of us who work in the field and deal with cybersex issues have been talking about Kik and other messaging apps for a really long time. If you read a newspaper or see any online news, you know that these types of apps are all over the news. I find it hard to believe that parents don’t know that these things exist. Unfortunately, many parents are stuck in DENIAL.

Denial is a concept with which anyone who works with addiction or knows an addict is familiar. Addiction author Terrance Gorski identifies 12 types of denial (http://www.tgorski.com/clin_mod/dmc/denial_checklist.htm). An addict in denial won’t admit they have a problem, to themselves or others. Denial is not just a problem of addiction. I see Parental Denial frequently in the work that we do with sex addiction and cybersex issues.

So what do I mean by parental denial. Parental denial is a place that many parents, even aware parents, live when they think about their child’s engagement in cybersex or use of online pornography. I have encountered countless smart, aware, on-top-of-things parents, who categorically deny that their child has seen online pornography, sent a sext, received a sext, or engaged in some type of sexual activity on an app. Because of this denial, parents don’t talk to their children about their digital media use.

When their child gets into the therapy room, we find out that, yes, in fact, they have seen pornography online. Sometimes they are looking at it A LOT. Most of the time we find out that they have been sent a sexual message, though they may not have sent one back. They message all the time on a number of apps, so many in fact, that it is hard for someone over about 16 to keep up. These parents think that because they have smart, responsible, and kind children, these children would not engage in anything related to cybersex. Facts are facts. These may be great, wonderful teens but they are still teens. Teens are subject to peer pressure and the desire to fit in. The teenage brain is not yet fully developed, leaving them at the mercy of impulsiveness and often poor decision making skills.

Wouldn’t it be better if we all worked from the assumption that all teens have been or will be exposed to sexual material in the digital world. That way, it should become a PRIORITY to talk to your children about sex, sexuality and cybersex. If you are open with your child and talk about these issues, you are engaging in the best kind of prevention there is. Openness. Honesty. Acknowledging sexuality as a part of humanness that does not need to be shamed and can be discussed openly.

It upsets me to think of how many parents have become aware of their child’s cybersex engagement through law enforcement or school officials, particularly when it is avoidable. . If parents engage in open discussion with their children, the number of children exposed to scandal, legal charges or even physical harm will surely decrease.

To learn more about talking to your child about cybersex, please go to The New Age of Sex Education.

30 Days of Sex Talks

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30 Days of Sex Talks: Empowering your child with knowledge of sexual intimacy is a series of books for parents created by the organization, Educate and Empower Kids (www.educateempowerkids.org). I found these books while researching my book, The New Age of Sex Education, How to Talk to Your Teen about Cybersex and Pornography. The first thing I did upon reading the books was to email a client and tell her she must buy the books. We had just had a session discussing her own discomfort talking to her son about sexuality.

There are three books in this series. The first book is for ages 3 to 7. The second book is for ages 8 to 11 and the third is for children 12 and over. The books are written in a very user friendly fashion. Each has thirty topics ranging from basics in anatomy to discussions about affection and intimacy. Each talk has a suggestion for how to start a conversation with your child as well as other questions to consider. They also offer some sample dialogues. These are not just sex education books. They focus on all aspects of sexuality and are simply the best books I have seen on this topic for parents.

Ages 3 to 17

Topics for small children do tend to focus on anatomy and body integrity. I love that they bring up forced affection. Forced affection occurs when a child is pressured into some type of physical affection that makes them uncomfortable or that in which they do not wish to engage. For example, “give your Aunt Alice a hug.” Other great topics include teaching about public versus private, respect, bad touch, how to say “No” and love and affection.

Particular to my work, the books also introduce pornography and the internet. Some people may feel that this age group, 3 – 7, is too young to be introduced to the concept of pornography. I believe that we cannot start to talk about these things early enough in an age appropriate manner. When discussing pornography, the authors do so without judgment. It is factual. They also introduce the idea that no one should make them look at pictures that make them uncomfortable (i.e. grooming) and that there are some types of pictures that are not ok to take. These are great topics that can have protective value should the child ever be exposed to an adult trying to sexually groom them.

Ages 8 to 11

The topics change and grow in complexity in the next age range. The topics also build upon those from the earlier age group. Anatomy is reintroduced here, as are the topics of public versus private and relationships. This age group book introduces sexual identity, body image, self esteem and continues to instill protective practices against child sexual abuse.

The topic of masturbation is raised in the book for this age group and is done so without shame or judgment. They do bring up the possibility of addiction but do not infer that if a child masturbates, he or she will become an addict. The same possibility is addressed for pornography, again without inference that if a child sees pornography they are bad or will become an addict.

This age group book also introduces sexting and social media. This is perfectly age appropriate. Research shows us that young children are being exposed to sexting and sexual interaction in apps and webcam based sites.

Ages 12 +

This is the meatiest of the three books, as the child entering his or her teens faces an increasingly complex social world and is, presumably, entering the realm of relationships. This book really does a fabulous job of being real about the sexual issues that a teen faces. Topics include: emotional intimacy, positive aspects of sex, relationship boundaries, consent, shame and guilt, healthy relationships, hook ups and STI’s among other things.

The discussion of pornography for this age group is great. Discussions with the teen about pornography include the potential damage to relationships, objectification and the potential for erectile dysfunction. There is not an assumption that any pornography use is addictive, but that extended use can affect brain chemistry and may lead to addiction. This is what the science tells us. The same concept is applied to masturbation. There are no assumptions made about masturbation, there is a discussion of what happens if it becomes a habit.

The discussion about sexting gets more in depth. The possible legal ramifications are discussed as well as possible social consequences. They are very clear that the social ramifications can include cyberbullying and shaming.

This series of books is smart, accurate and straight forward. There are a lot of things that are not in this book. There is no denial. There is no inferred shame or judgment. There is no influence of any religious belief on the topics.

It is the combination of both what is and what is not in this book series that makes it the best book on the topic I have ever read. Every parent should own them.

For more blogs on similar topics see our site The New Age of Sex Education

Book Review: Good Pictures, Bad Pictures: Porn Proofing Today’s Young Kids

When it comes to resources for parents to help their children address online pornography, there are very few options. Really, for many years there were none. The organization Porn Proof Kids (www.pornproofkids.org) sought to remedy this by publishing the illustrated book Good Pictures, Bad Pictures: Porn Proofing Today’s Young Kids. The target age of the book is not completely clear, but based on the introduction, I would say that it is targeted at an 8-10 year old child. A child much older than this may be too sophisticated for the picture book, though it is a good starting ground for discussion.

There are some really great things about this little book. It is the story of a young boy talking throughout his day with his mother and father about “bad pictures.” The book does a brilliant job of describing in understandable language the concept of addiction, the thinking brain and the feeling brain. Introducing these concepts to children at an early age can be very helpful in teaching them to use their thinking brain to overrule things like impulsivity. The book also does a great job in teaching what it calls the CAN DO plan, a behavioral plan to manage exposure to pornography, which includes telling a trusted adult.

As with anything in print, there are both good things about a book and some things of which I am not a fan. My issue arises because I am acutely aware of the impact of shame on addiction, particularly sex addiction. The authors of the book do devote a small paragraph to this in the introduction, stating that a parent needs to stay calm because “shame and secrecy only increase the power of porn.” Because of my awareness of the impact of shame, I have become incredibly careful in the language I use when working in the sex addiction field. Words, even if unintended, can be shaming. It is my insistence on non-shaming language that causes me to have an issue with Good Pictures, Bad Pictures. It is right there in the title. “Bad” pictures. I understand that the authors had to write in a way that young children would understand. However, if I am a young child and see a pornographic picture and it has been labeled “bad”, what happens to me emotionally if I am excited by that picture? Am I then bad too?

The book likens pornography to rat poison, calling it dangerous. Research studies show us that incidental exposure to pornography is not necessarily dangerous to children. Those children who have problems with online pornography are frequent users. From a sex positive therapeutic stance, pornography is not “bad”. Pornography simply is the depiction of nudity or sexual acts between adults that a child is not prepared to see or process appropriately. Pornography is inappropriate for children. I personally dislike the use of scare tactics that involve shaming language that may make a child feel bad about themselves for having a physiological response to sexual imagery.

Another issue I have with the book is how it talks about the dopamine system in the brain. The book states that pornography “tricks” the brain into turning on powerful feelings. This statement is entirely untrue, the use of the word “trick” here is misleading. Dopamine is released by pleasurable activities (they use ice cream), drugs, or sex. This is not trickery but a biological process. The book also calls the reward center the “attraction center” which is not accurate. Attraction is a multifaceted concept that involves more than brain centers and neurochemistry. I do wish that they were more accurate in their description of these processes.

I feel like I just spent three paragraphs talking about what I don’t like about the book. I will own that these issues come from my background in neuropsychology and an obsessive desire to never shame anyone about sex and sexuality. That being said, the book is really the best resource of its kind that I have seen. It provides a short, readable story for a parent and child to go through together. It provides a clear behavioral plan for a child to follow if they are accidentally exposed to pornography.

The book is best for younger children who perhaps have not been exposed to online pornography yet. The average age of first exposure to online pornography is about ten years old, though this data is old and the age is likely younger. Therefore, the earlier you start talking to your child about sex, pornography and sexuality the better.

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