Editor's note: This is second in a seven-part anti-pornography series reported by the LDS Church News staff.
• Part 1: March 3, 2007 — In your family?
• Part 2: March 10, 2007 — Protecting homes from pornography
• Part 3: March 17, 2007 — Young and trapped
• Part 4: March 24, 2007 — Dual relationship with family, fantasy
• Part 5: March 31, 2007 — Finding recovery from porn addiction
• Part 6: April 14, 2007 — Fight to stop porn
• Part 7: April 21, 2007 — Defending the home against pornography
• Special report: Nov. 29, 2003 — The silent sin: enslavement of pornography
· · · · ·
A teenage boy didn't know his family's computer password and had no desire to get around the computer's filtering and tracking system set up by his parents. Still — while downloading music — he found and downloaded pornography. The access piqued his curiosity.
A 13-year old boy lied to his parents and set up an account on a popular Internet chat room. When his parents found the account, they learned their son and his friends had been using vulgar language and discussing the pursuit of sexual activities.
And a 6th grade boy showed no interest in girls or the Internet. Computer filters protected his family against some accidental computer exposure to pornography. Still, when his mother borrowed a piece of his camping equipment, she found hidden animated pornography that he had been regularly viewing.
The stories are so common that to mental health professionals who specialize in sexual addictions they almost seem cliche.
At a time when an estimated 8 to 10 percent of Americans are dealing with compulsive sexual behaviors or addictions, hundreds of bishops and stake presidents list pornography as their No. 1 concern for Church members.
Pornography destroys family relationships, harming personal and spiritual progression. It promotes themes that are degrading and violent and fosters unrealistic expectations for intimacy. "It portrays a fraudulent message about human sexuality that can devastate relationships," said Rory Reid, a licensed therapist, author and program director for the Provo Counseling Center.
In essence, the problem is so prevalent that the examples above came from families where at least one parent is a mental health professional who treats those suffering from sexual addictions.
Teens today "don't have to be seeking very much," said Dan Gray, a licensed clinical social worker and director of the LifeSTAR Network, which specializes in helping Latter-day Saints deal with sexual additions. "All it takes is a couple of clicks of the fingers.... All of a sudden, WHAMO. They are there."
With the invention of the Internet — where pornography is accessible, affordable and can be viewed anonymously — Brother Gray and other professionals have seen an explosion of sexual addictions. And while parents today are immigrants to the computer world, their children are natives.
"The tsunami is coming," said Todd Olson, a licensed clinical social worker and program director of the LifeSTAR network.
Amid this tidal wave of pornography, parents have no choice, he said. "Let's teach our children how to swim."
LDS NOT IMMUNE
Church members aren't immune to the devastation left by the destructive path of pornography. "We suspect that the LDS community is not any different from the rest of society when it comes to prevalence or magnitude of sexual addictions," said Brother Gray.
Research indicates that by their senior year in high school, 100 percent of males have viewed pornography, said Fred M. Riley, commissioner of LDS Family Services. In addition, the average first exposure of males to pornography is age 11.
Mental health professionals agree there are common sense things every family should do to protect their children from pornography exposure.
Computers should be kept in high traffic, open areas of the home. Internet access should be restricted by a password, known by parents only. Filters are helpful in preventing accidental exposure. And tracking systems can help parents know where their children have been on the Internet and can carbon copy e-mails to parents that children send and receive. Children should also learn to go online with a purpose.
"We tell people if they have Internet access in their home they already have pornography in their home," said Brother Gray.
Still, those treating compulsive sexual behaviors say eliminating the Internet from a home entirely is not always helpful.
"I don't advocate getting rid of the Internet; I think it sets up for later relapse," said Jeffrey Robinson, a psychotherapist who holds a Ph.D. in marriage in family therapy.
Kids won't live at home for their entire lives, he noted. "They need to learn to use the Internet responsibly. It is not to be avoided or run away from. It is to be faced head on and used effectively."
Brother Reid agrees, noting that high school and college syllabuses are found online and many college courses require Internet research.
Parents should be aware that children can access the Internet at friends' and relatives' homes. In one case study, for example, parental controls prevented a teenage girl from viewing pornography at home, so she started viewing it at her grandparents' house during Sunday afternoon visits.
Kids need to learn how to use computers and electronics, said Brother Olson. "But we have to monitor them."
He warns against cell phones with Internet access. He has clients who viewed pornography from their phones during school or at church. Computer flashcards are also problematic and should be checked regularly by parents. Using the flashcards, teens can bring and view pornography into the home without ever accessing the Internet.
Professionals also warn parents that kids today can maneuver around filters. Brother Gray remembers attending a meeting where a high school student with a sexual addiction stood up and offered chilling advice: "You parents don't have a clue," the student said. "Whatever you set in place to block me challenges me to beat the system."
Because pornography thrives in dark, secret places where teens learn to lie and deceive, the best defense against the problem is openness and communication, professionals say.
The most important thing Latter-day Saint parents can do for their children is to teach them to feel the Spirit and recognize when it is no longer with them, said Brother Riley.
"How many of us ever train our kids to recognize the Spirit?" he said, quoting Mosiah 3:19 and noting that in putting off the natural man one can become "a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord."
In addition to spiritual protection, Dorothy Maryon, a certified professional counselor, recommends parents help their children learn two important skills.
First, she said, families should help children learn to regulate their emotions and cope with life — with its boredom, loneliness, anger, stress, fatigue and hunger. They should be busy, but also have time to relax, to meditate. Parents can help by providing daily scripture study and prayer.
Second, she said, parents should have regular, age-appropriate conversations with their children about healthy sexuality.
Kids get mixed messages, she said. "They think, 'If I hear that sex is bad and I feel it so strongly, then I am bad.'"
Help them understand that their sexual desires are normal and that this great power should be saved for marriage, she said.
"There has been a tradition in the Church that you might create curiosity if you talk about things," said Brother Robinson. "The time has come where the danger of not talking far outweighs the danger of talking."
Brother Reid said studies report that teens who come from families where sex is not discussed openly "experiment with sex at an earlier age, are more likely to engage in unprotected sex, and have higher rates of teenage pregnancy when compared to teens who come from homes that have a more open climate towards issues of sex."
"Sex becomes this big elephant in the middle of the room and no one talks about it," said Brother Reid.
Many teens, said Sister Maryon, don't even realize the great power of pornography — which, much like a tsunami, will drag them away from things sacred to drown in an ocean of filth.
Today, there are kids raised in very good families who get caught in the tidal wave, she said. "It takes them where they never wanted to go."
Next week: Young single adult males, a population at risk.
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