It is safe to say everyone has heard–“screens are addictive.”
It wasn’t that many years ago we read about the big tech guys like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates admit to their strict policy of limited to no personal screen use in their own homes, by their own children. One article presents saddening statistics:
“Research has found that an eighth-grader’s risk for depression jumps 27% when he or she frequently uses social media. Kids who use their phones for at least three hours a day are much more likely to be suicidal. And recent research has found the teen suicide rate in the US now eclipses the homicide rate, with smartphones as the driving force.”
And suicide is just one piece of the problem pie. Add to that the apps allowing our children access to people all over the world, the ones designed to automatically delete messages within 24 hours or less, and those which allow children to secretly have conversations–it is no wonder Mr. Gates didn’t allow his own children to get a smartphone until the ripe old age of fourteen, compared to the average age of children now, ten.
So what does all of this have to do with awareness and prevention of child sexual abuse and assault in terms of social media, pornography, and the need our kids most certainly have to connect?
Let’s consider a few ponder-worthy thoughts:
Research shows the human brain does not complete development until between our twenties to thirties. About the age of twenty-five. Yet we hand over access to the entire world to our children, on average, at the age of ten.
‘Stranger Danger’ is truly more of an issue on the internet. Social media opens up a plethora of ways for predators to access information about our children in order to more easily locate them. You do not have to look far to see it could, in fact, happen to us. And it can begin simply with a friendly conversation between young ladies, leading to a nightmare written for movies, as you see in this article.
94% of ALL CHILDREN will see porn by the time they hit their fourteenth birthday. Here we read the average age for first-time porn exposure is reported as early as eight and as “old” as eleven. Pornography today is more violent and more accessible than ever. The XXX video stores from decades ago are in the palm of our kids’ hands, and the material would make porn stars of old blush. It is now one of the most reported addictions. Imagine what an addiction fed from the age of eight creates in a someday grown man–the unrealistic expectations, the pressure on his wife, the dangers of him becoming a sexual offender, to name a few.
Sexting has become a joke, and videoing sexual assaults has become the norm. The common message told to our young ladies from the get-go is that sexy is the only beautiful. When sexy is the only beautiful, sexting becomes the obvious expectation. Sexual innuendos and soft porn, really, are on many ads including the ones trying to sell our daughters panties and bras–and their young minds store away the image of the 20-something airbrushed, provocatively-posed model as a reference to whom they should emulate, arched-back in barely anything, because THAT is what they’re being told is beautiful. And our young men who see it? What will they expect from our daughters? Nothing less. And the pressure is on–to communicate through sexting. Or to make little of a violent crime that follows a young person all the days of their lives. No more are the days of sex being sacred–it’s a game where they all become pawns and the cost is dissociating from the reality of human relationships. Empathy is lost.
The comparison game is non-stop and more fierce than ever because of social media. Our children’s need for acceptance can easily spin out of control when they’re always connected to seeing the highlight reels of their friends who seem to have the perfect body, perfect family, perfect boyfriend–and this makes them vulnerable to posting, sending, and sharing photos and videos that could follow them the rest of their lives, but even worse, cause them to be exploited or sexually assaulted, or even become a victim of human trafficking. Even here, in this town.
We were ALL made for human connection–in all areas of life you will find humans connecting with humans–which makes us relational beings. But what if all this technology has become just a cheap substitute, and what if us parents are really the ones who have set the precedent? We are from the generations who remember life before the internet, before smartphones, before social media–and while all three of these offer wonderful benefits, I often ponder if those benefits outweigh the risks. Among the risks: a loss of intimate and meaningful relationships for the trade-out of generic, instant-gratification connections. And in turn, we lose the connections with those closest to us.
What if our kids’ addictions, or propensity for such addictions, to their devices is really because they just want to be closer and better known by whom they would be closest–their parents?
So what can we do to fight the war for our kids’ minds and hearts?
First, decide to do something. As always, start somewhere. One small change to start can fuel a fire to bring major change in the way your family views and behaves with technology. Again, I highly recommend purchasing for less than $10 the Teacher Kit from themamabeareffect.org which contains an array of helpful resources. The Conversations That Matter card for teens is one of the items included in the Teacher Kit and is a super simple way to sit down and chat, allowing it to help you lead the conversation or ask questions.
Here are some things I sometimes forget (especially when I am tired of parenting):
- We as parents do not need permission from our children to be parents.
- Our children actually thrive within boundaries, and it is never too late (though they may push against them).
- It is absolutely okay if our children get mad at us (if they don’t at some point, are we even really parenting? HA!).
- We survived many years without the use of smartphones, many of us EVEN DUMBPHONES, and they will too. Delayed gratification will serve them well.
- It is not our job to make our kids’ lives easy. What does that teach them? If they lose their phone for a week as punishment or because it fell in a toilet, they can figure out how to improvise in order to communicate and receive information.
- It is totally acceptable for us as parents to have a reason or a rule our children do not understand (remember the brain completes development about the age of 25).
- Those with whom they connect on their phones will never be as important as the relationships they experience in their own home, and none of those on their phone will keep their safety and best interest at front and center.
- It is perfectly fine for our children to accuse us of being overprotective–if you are acting within reason, you are not required to justify your efforts to protect.
Social Media Help Ideas:
- Do not be afraid to set boundaries, such as no devices in the bedroom or bathroom, only in common areas.
- Use a parental monitoring-friendly app. You can tell them you are doing so, but again, you are not required to–it is YOUR job as a parent to keep them safe, even from themselves.
- Set app timers with password protections so their time on social media is limited. This should encourage them to spend their time on there wisely.
- Talk to them about the quality of their posting and interactions–have conversations about some standard questions they should ask themselves before posting or sharing. For example: Is this post encouraging, educational, inspiring, or helpful? Does this picture capture true beauty, or is it sexy, flaunting, or foolish–would my parents approve? Would I be embarrassed if my teacher saw this? Is my comment or message meant to build someone else up, or are my motives to tear them down or elevate myself? Is this a conversation that would be best had OFF of social media, face to face or over the phone, to prevent misunderstandings? Is this post or picture really just an effort to get attention or is it to brag or boast?
- Talk to your kids about how often they check the LIKES or VIEWS on their posts–and help them to understand their value is not found in how many likes or views they get.
- Help your children and teens understand appropriate messaging on social media–never the self-deleting type (what good are they, NONE); establish what expectations you have for messaging with the opposite sex; discuss the dangers of sending nude, provocative, or even just inappropriate pictures and videos. Make sure they understand ANY photos or videos sent, received, or distributed of minors that are explicit (make sure they know the definition of explicit) in any nature IS AGAINST THE LAW, and at this point in the justice system, more easily and seriously punishable.
Pornography Help Ideas:
- Have the conversation with your older kids about sex (more about that in another post), which should help to lay a firm foundation for being able to discuss pornography. Make sure they understand the definition of addiction, and that pornography can most certainly become an addiction. Here are some helpful resources.
- Not only can pornography become a severe and life-dominating addiction, but it also will absolutely affect their relationships. Help them to understand the negative impact these images and videos will have on their expectations of their future significant other or spouse.
- Help them to understand most pornographic material is violent, and not a true reflection of a loving relationship like marriage, where sex is to be a gift. Pornography takes what was created for good between husband and wife, and makes it evil, sick, and even dangerous.
- The three points above are geared more towards older children and teens, but that doesn’t mean our younger children cannot learn about pornography in an age-appropriate way. And as studies have shown, if YOU aren’t teaching them about pornography and sex, pornography most likely is. There is a great book called Good Pictures, Bad Pictures for older children, and they even have a Junior Version for ages 3-6. These are important regardless, but especially if you have older children as well. It is not uncommon for a teen to have a porn attraction or addiction and the younger sibling be exposed to it, either on purpose to harm them or inadvertently.
The Need to Connect:
It is hard enough these days to truly connect, even with those living under the same roof because of how full we tend to pack our schedules. Weeks will pass before we even consider the last time we really had a meaningful conversation. I feel the weight of it like every parent.
I have read so many articles about the time spent with screens in our faces and the negative impact it has on our relationships. The message it delivers to the average person we are face to face with (like our friend or co-worker) is that of distraction, disinterest, and disengagement. If it sends that message to our peers, imagine the message it sends to those looking to us for leadership, example, acceptance, and engagement.
When we as parents numb ourselves in our weary hours of the day with a screen as we scroll and like and comment, we cannot expect our children to do any differently. The danger there is that while emulating you, they lack the ability to make as wise of choices as the parent. They see you “connecting” on social media and their natural understanding is that they too can connect. Can they foster meaningful relationships on social media? YES! But they are at a much higher risk to fall into the trap of unhealthy, dangerous, and even illegal activity that can lead them to deal with issues their brains developmentally are not capable of handling. Face to face relationships for youth and teens are hard enough, putting a screen between them creates such barriers they do not even understand.
As we connect more with our children, we can have meaningful and necessary conversations that not only prepare them for dealing with the issues they may face, but also build a relationship of trust.
We want them to understand:
- nothing they could ever do would ever cause us to love them less, no matter how angry they may believe we will get
- we will fight for them, even if it means we have to fight THEM for them
- we will believe them if someone harms them or threatens to cause them harm
- there is always room for forgiveness and grace, even if they have to endure consequences for poor choices
- no matter what, nothing is worth hiding and truth always equals freedom
Let us ALL be the main connection our children experience– if we press in now, chances are that they will lean in later.
As always, I am happy to help you feel more comfortable having these conversations. Feel free to contact me with any questions!
Emily is a wife, a homeschooling mama bear of two, Board Secretary and Events Coordinator for Journey to Heal Ministries, and an advocate for complete health–mind, body, and spirit. Emily is a survivor of child sexual abuse, but has also walked the journey of parent of a young survivor, which has helped her to find her passion in leading others to hope and healing from past sexual trauma, as well as educate and equip families and the community to raise awareness and prevention. On most days, when not taxiing children to homeschool classes, you’ll find Emily in workout clothes with dirty hair and no make-up, creating all things healthy in her kitchen. You can find her on Facebook at Emily-Carl Parker and Instagram at @homeschoolplexusmama and @thewholewellnesscommunity