Some Parents are Blind To Teen Pornography Addiction

Some Parents are Blind When it Comes to Teen Pornography Addiction

Because of my work with ScreenStrong, and my own experience with my oldest son, Adam, I’ve had a lot of parents over to my house, and we’ve discussed many common teen behaviors. I’ve started to see that parents can be blind when it comes to teen pornography Addiction.  I once had a mom sitting in my kitchen who had six children — four of them boys.  She’d just gotten them smartphones. I remember asking her if she was worried about them stumbling into content they shouldn’t be seeing — mainly pornography. 

I’ll never forget the look on her face when she said, “Melanie, there is just no way my boys are going to stumble upon pornography, and even if they did, they would never watch it.”

Adam overheard this conversation from the other room, and he interrupted us, “Ma’am, I just have to tell you that you’ve got a huge blind spot if you think your teenage boys are going to be able to resist the porn that they find or have already found on their brand-new phones.”

I recently had Smith Alley on our ScreenStrong Families Podcast, and he said the same things. Smith accidently stumbled upon pornography on a device at a young age. At that time, he put the screen down and walked away, but the image was burned into his mind.

“I was nine years old when I was exposed to pornography unintentionally. My parents had talked to us about pornography when we were really young and what to do when we saw it. I got out of the situation fairly quickly, I turned off the tablet that I was on, but I think shame drove me to not tell anyone about it.  About a year and a half later, I was in middle school and things were hard and I was dealing with hormones and friend drama and I remember getting into social media. Because of social media I was constantly comparing myself to everyone. I was really insecure about my body and then I got involved in pornography again. Because of the way I felt about myself, pornography was a fake sort of love that I felt was the only love I was worthy of. And the chemical release and the feelings it made me feel were the only things that I felt worthy of.”

Parents are often in the dark when it comes to screen use

Like many parents, Smith’s parents had no idea about his pornography addiction. He learned to hide it well.

About his family and hiding his growing pornography addiction, Smith says, “I have an amazing family, but I continued to keep them at a distance because I was afraid of them finding out. At age ten and a half, I got pretty heavily involved in pornography, and by age thirteen or fourteen, I was viewing pornography anywhere from four to six times a day. I was in a terrible spot mentally. I was super depressed, but I was always good at putting a mask on. Even though I wasn’t the normal happy kid I had been before this, I was really good at faking it. I was always trying to throw my parents off the path of what was happening. I remember knowing all the ways to get through loopholes and get behind my parents backs and through the technology restrictions that they had. I was super good at that stuff. At that point I had kind of given up and everything that I did was to numb myself. So, I’d spend a lot of time on social media just numbing myself but then that made me feel worse. Then I’d spend a lot of time on video games and doing stuff like that just trying to escape reality in any way that I could. As I continued to do all this stuff, my mental state just got worse and worse and worse.”

From his own experience, Smith shares that changes in his behavior may have been clues for his parents that something was amiss. “I was always a super happy kid, smiley, but then as I was going through these struggles, a lot of that changed. I was super contentious.” He continues, “You know that’s kind of a stage parents write off. I think that looking back on my story, behavior contention, is not who I am at my center, that’s not who I am. I’m loving, and I love my family with all my heart. I think my parents always knew that there was something wrong, they just didn’t know what it was. You have to know that when your kid is acting like that, there’s something wrong. I think that our biggest mistake as a family is we just ignored that gut feeling.”

At ScreenStrong, we always say if you have a gut feeling your kids are addicted to their screens, they are. By the time most parents get that gut feeling that something is wrong, the problem is usually well-rooted, especially when it comes to pornography addiction. This is where the term “parental blind spots” comes in. Parents just don’t realize how blind they are to their children’s screen problems. And by the time they begin to realize it, just like Smith’s parents, it can be too late. 

How Can Parents Prevent Teen Pornography Addiction?

After hearing Smith’s story, parents may find themselves wondering what they can do to stop pornography addiction before it begins. There is a lot of advice out there to parents on how to have conversations about pornography, and how to set screen use limits. Continued conversations with our children are important, but we cannot rely solely on conversations to change behavior.

In our interview, Smith recalls, “I had probably over 25 talks with my parents about pornography while I was viewing pornography. All the time, I told them no, that I’d seen it a few times but had always turned off the computer. I was viewing pornography 3-4 times a day at that point. We have to remember that our kids are ashamed of this thing. We need to make it so they feel safe talking to us about it. But I also think if we feel that all we have to do is have a conversation, we are deeply wrong in that sense. You have to talk the talk, but you also have to walk the walk. And so, have the conversation, but also do other things.”

Smith is seventeen now, and he devotes his time to helping other young people recognize and recover from their own pornography addictions. Smith recommends delaying smartphones for young people or using a talk and text only option such as Gabb Wireless. Having phones that are not Wi-Fi enabled eliminates the risk that kids will access media that is harmful to them. 

Another tool parents can use to protect their children from harmful media is a good relationship.  Parents that spend more time with their children will notice behavioral changes more quickly than parents who are not as connected with their children. Children who trust their parents are more likely to share their struggles and concerns with their parents, although, parents must be careful not to put too much faith in the idea that children will be honest about pornography exposure and addiction. For many kids, it’s a difficult topic to be completely honest about. 

Finally, parents must set firm limits for their children surrounding screen use. I believe that parents are the only thing standing between the entire world and everything that is in it — both good and bad — and their young children. Smith echoes this sentiment when he says, “the first thing you need to ask yourself is, am I getting this device or giving them this access because I want to be their friend or because I’m trying to be their parent?”  This is a great question for all parents to ask themselves when considering allowing a child to use any device. Is this tool going to make my child the best he or she can be? If the answer is not a solid yes, then the device should be delayed.

Smith Alley is a brilliant young man with a lot to say to teens and parents alike. If you are concerned about your child’s screen use, join our ScreenStrong Families Group for parents who are serious about eliminating screen conflicts in their home. You can also learn more about The ScreenStrong Challenge, dive into our stats and research, and listen to our ScreenStrong Families Podcast.