Teens and Technology: Pornography Addiction

If you have a child that you are concerned may have a problem with pornography, here is information that can help.

The Warning Signs:

  • Have you noticed your son or daughter spending increasingly excessive amounts of time on the internet as well as increasing their demand for privacy or isolation?
  • Have you noticed a drop in grades at school, a decrease in their care of household responsibilities, or a decrease in overall hygiene?
  • Maybe you have noticed irregular mood swings, increased irritability, or changes in sleep patterns?
  • Or, maybe you have found evidence of pornography on their hard drive or web browser history?
  • If you have taken steps to limit internet access, like not allowing a computer in their room, you may have noticed what seems like disproportionate amounts of anger or depression in reaction to these limits and boundaries?

If you answered, “Yes” to several of these questions, it is possible that your teen or pre-teen is looking at pornography and may have developed a compulsive or addictive pattern of behavior around it.

Pornography Can Be a Big Problem, Here’s Why:

It is important to understand that, apart from any moral objections or concerns one might have, repeated and prolonged viewing of pornography by teens and pre-teens can have very real, long lasting, and detrimental psychological effects. Repeated exposure to pornography literally changes brain chemistry and sets up an addictive cycle that can become deeply hardwired. These brain changes can have a strong negative impact on personality, making young people more irritable and self-centered, as well as encouraging instant gratification and a sense of craving that puts one at greater risk for future addictions.

In addition, because prolonged pornography use creates unhealthy and unrealistic expectations for sexuality and encourages the objectification of the gender of interest, it negatively impacts one’s ability to make and maintain healthy relationships.

Pornography also puts your child at a legal risk for sex offending if he or she is viewing underage content, even if they themselves are underage. Also, depending on the age of exposure and the intensity of the content, pornography has been shown to produce symptoms similar to that of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in children.

This is the bad news. The good news is that help is available.

Pornography Addiction Recovery Counseling

It can be very hard to be a parent in this day in age. It is hard to talk to your child about their potential pornography use and the dangers of the internet. If you do suspect there is a problem, it can also be very challenging to set limits and boundaries around internet access and screen time. Many parents experience a sense of futility when trying to stem the tide of technology use. The argument parents often encounter is, “He/she can use their computer/phone whenever they want, why can’t I?”

Much of the technology teens use today is quite new, and we have not as a society fully comprehended the potential hazards. Perhaps because of this, the culture around technology use seems to be one of unlimited access through more and more devices. Which only puts your child at greater risk. This is where counseling comes in.

A therapist can play a vital role in the healthy development of a teenager, because they fulfill a role that we have lost as a culture; a role that parents cannot be expected to play. When it comes to counseling teens, I like to think of the role of a therapist as an expertly trained mentor; as someone they can talk to in confidence, someone who isn’t going to get them in trouble or judge them, and someone who can expertly guide them toward healthy choices and development.

With pornography addiction it is important to find a psychotherapist trained specifically to work with behavioral addictions in teens. A qualified professional can help you and your family assess if there is in fact a problem with pornography, help you further understand the effects of its use, and help your son or daughter overcome this challenging addiction.

Understanding the Problem

If you are like most parents, it’s hard to even consider the idea that your child may be viewing, let alone addicted to, pornography. However, given the potential consequences it is important to take this possibility seriously. There are also some compelling statistics to consider when assessing this possibility.

A Quiet Epidemic

The pornography business is a massive industry; in the U.S. alone, it pulls in 12 billion annually, which is nearly double the revenue of ABC, NBC, and CBS combined. Today 25% of all daily online searches are being used to find pornography; the average age of first exposure is now 11 years old, and the largest consumer group for pornography is now individuals between the ages of 12 and 17. It is also likely that statistics on the use of pornography by teens is very conservative. With the rise of smartphones and other internet ready mobile devices, it is likely that pornography use among teens has quietly reached epidemic proportions.

With this information, it is difficult to deny or ignore the very real possibility that your teen, or even pre-teen, has access to pornographic images, is viewing them, and is experiencing negative impacts from this behavior.

Understanding the Effects of Pornography

The effects of long-term pornography use are just now beginning to be studied and understood in adults. It is likely that for teens the effects are more extreme and more detrimental in there impact, simply because their brains are still growing at a rapid rate and are thus more malleable.

The two most inherently powerful stimuli for the brain are sex and food. Because viewing pornography directly activities the brain’s pleasure/reward circuit, easy access to an unlimited amount of pornographic images quickly overloads the brain with the neurotransmitter dopamine. This can over time create both an increased sense of craving and a decrease in the amount of pleasure and satisfaction derived from other activities. To understand more about the brain changes please read my article titled Pornography Addiction 101.

Perhaps you have some concerns about therapy?

I think my teen could use some expert support, but I’m not sure if I have the money right now. 

When considering if now is the right time to get support for your son or daughter it is important to remember that their health and wellbeing is on the line, and that waiting could make the problem worse. I like to think of counseling for teens as an investment in their future. Because addiction to pornography can lead to a host of other problems, such as future addictions, poor grades, low self-esteem, and painful unfulfilling relationships, it is important to treat the addiction as soon as possible; in doing so you save your child from potential future pain and suffering. Also, your financial investment now will most likely pay off by avoiding potential future expenses related to the effects of an unchecked addiction.

If you are still uncertain, it can be helpful to know that your initial consultation is 100% risk free. This means that if you bring your son or daughter to see me and, either they don’t feel it is a good fit, or I assess that he or she is not suffering from addiction to pornography and counseling is not needed, you will not be billed.

My teen swears that they are not looking at pornography and that it’s not a problem.

No matter what your son or daughter says, what is important is that if you believe there might be a problem. If you have noticed warning signs, such as the ones listed above, or simply have a gut feeling that something is up, it is important to bring them to a mental health professional that can assess for behavioral addictions in teens.

If your child refuses to come to therapy this can both be a sign that they have something they want to hide and that there may even be a deeper problem going on. You may want to share with them that counseling is a confidential relationship and that what they share with me will not be shared with parents (accept in cases of intent to harm self or other and abuse). You can also explain that the first visit is simply an initial consultation where they get to meet me and decide if therapy might be able to help and if I am a good fit for them as a counselor.

I’m afraid that bringing my teen to therapy will make our relationship even worse. 

Sometimes things have to get worse before they get better. If your teen does not want to go to therapy it is important that you remember that you are in charge and must do what you feel is best. This can sometimes at first create an increased strain on you and your teen’s relationship. However, it is important to remember that you have their best interest in mind and that the long term goal is not only addiction treatment, but more harmony in the home. A good relationship with your teen is ultimately the best tool for the prevention of mental health issues. I also provide family counseling sessions, if the relationship between you and your teen becomes a stumbling block on the road to recovery.

We have sought out help in the past but it didn’t work.

If you have gone to a counselor in the past but did not see improvement, it is likely that they were not specifically trained in the treatment of pornography addiction in young people. Because pornography addiction presents a unique set of challenges, such as intense guilt and shame and skewed perceptions of reality, it is very important that your counselor is aware of these challenges and trained in their treatment.

Treatment

I have specialized in working with teens since 2004 and have been well trained in the assessment and treatment of behavioral addictions, specifically pornography addiction. I have seen time and time again teenagers realize, perhaps for the first time, the harm that is being done and what is at stake, and then become motivated to make a change. My therapeutic approach contains no moral judgment and simply focuses on the potential risks of their actions and seeks to shift the behavior and address any underlying issues that may have lead them toward a behavioral addiction in the first place. If your son or daughter is open to meeting me and giving counseling a try, it is very likely that counseling well greatly help them overcome this challenge. If you live in Colorado but not in the Boulder area, Skype sessions are also available.

Resources

If you want to begin understanding the science behind Pornography addiction I recommend the online video Your Brain on Porn: How Internet Porn Affects the Brain. Additionally the Fortify Web Recovery program is a very good start for your teenage son or daughter and is something I often recommend to keep teens on the road to recovery outside of the office. Take this self-assessment and find out if you are addicted to porn.

Don’t Wait

If you suspect that your son or daughter is struggling with addictive or compulsive behavior around pornography, I encourage you not to wait to get support. Please contact me to schedule your initial consultation.

Also, please feel free to contact me with any questions or concerns regarding the treatment of pornography addiction in teens.

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