“Every school bus in America is a Triple-X theater because of mobile devices.”

That jolting thought was offered at a talk May 7 by author Kristen Jenson, a nationally known expert on talking to kids about the dangers of pornography. Access to porn has grown exponentially with the 2007 introduction of the iPhone and 2010 rollout of the iPad, she said.

That has led to problems including an increase in child-on-child sex abuse, and a 1,000% increase in erectile dysfunction in those aged 18-40 in the last 15 years. One in 10 visitors to major porn sites is aged 10 or under, she said.

The internet is awash in porn, with 12 new porn videos uploaded every minute, she said. It is inevitable that children will be exposed to it.

Although it’s a difficult conversation, Jenson said parents should talk to their kids about avoiding porn as soon as the child has access to a device. “My plea is please talk to your kids,” she said.

Pornography can become addictive, she said, and she’s seen countless families destroyed by that addiction.

Jenson described getting a call about eight years ago from a friend who discovered her 17-year-old son had molested his younger male and female siblings. He was addicted to porn.

The horrible news sparked a drive in Jenson to do something about porn addiction in children. Since then, she has written two books, titled “Good Pictures Bad Pictures,” for talking to kids about rejecting porn. One is aimed at ages 3-7, and the other at ages 7-11.

More information can be found at her website, ProtectYoungMinds.org.

Her talk was the third in a four-part series sponsored by YouthThink, a local group that works to reduce risky behavior in children.

Jenson told of another mom who was babysitting for a 10-year-old boy, and the boy molested her own seven-year-old daughter in the bathroom, acting out degrading porn scenes he’d discovered online. One study found the largest perpetrator group in sex abuse cases were males aged 11-15.

She offered parents a step-by-step plan for how to help their kids reject pornography.

The main steps are giving them a definition of porn, the reasons it may be harmful, and a plan for what to do if they come across it.

She said the necessary foundation for protecting a child from porn is to have a strong, loving relationship with the child. That means telling the child you love them, you still love them even if they make a mistake, and that you will always love them, no matter what.

Prevention science shows that when children have a trusting relationship with an adult who models healthy behavior, it helps protect them against risky behaviors.

Rules and boundaries are critical to enforce, meaning parents need to monitor children and impose consequences when needed.

If a parent finds their child has looked at porn, freaking out is the wrong answer, she said. That makes the child feel shame, and just lets them know they need to be more secretive about their porn use.

She recounted one boy saying of his parents, “They could not take my world, so I’m protecting them” by not telling them.

She suggested viewing porn as the common enemy that the parent and child will fight together.

Key steps for parents include giving an age-appropriate definition of porn—such as that it is pictures of people with little or no clothing on and it focuses on the private areas of the body that would be covered with a swimsuit.

She told parents to teach their kids to have a plan when they see porn. Kids should turn away from the picture, go find a trusted adult and tell them what they saw. Tell children to never keep bad pictures secret.

She used the acronym CAN DO, which stands for “closing eyes” when porn is seen, “always” tell an adult, “name” it as porn when you see it, to train the brain to reject it, “distract” yourself with something else, and “order” the thinking brain to be the boss.

She said porn “creates shocking, very strong memories and they keep popping up in your mind.” The brain will keep trying to replay the image, and that’s where distraction comes into play, because it creates a new neural connection in the brain away from the porn image. Over time, the image fades, and that theory has been tested, she said.

She urged parents to talk to their kids about sex, and to start early. She encouraged giving correct names for body parts, and explaining slang terms, so the child doesn’t research it himself and find porn.

“You need to be the expert on sex for your child and not have Google be the expert on sex,” she said. “Parents are competing with the porn industry for the sexual health of their children.”

“Show how porn tells lies,” she said, in that it portrays sex as violent, degrading and objectifying of bodies, whereas healthy sex, by contrast, is a way to build a connection with someone you love, trust and are committed to.

She said porn can serve purposes for children, the most common being addressing curiosity about sex and alleviating stress and emotional distress. It also is used to normalize the trauma of their own sex abuse, or to rebel against their parents.

She urged parents to create emotional strength in the child, by modeling healthy ways to deal with negative emotions. Healthy relationships are the best way to put on the brakes in the brain against the use of porn, she said.

Also key is technical stewardship, which includes learning the basics of parental controls and filters for each device, game or app the child uses. She said the most common way kids interact with the internet is via apps, and filters can’t follow those.

She said, “There’s so much porn on social media, so much porn on snapchat.”

She encouraged parents to get snapchat accounts. “It’s not just a cute little place to take pictures now. It’s a full-on live streaming video platform and people are taking advantage of it.”

She said the images she’s seen on snapchat are “soul-crushing.”

She described the brain process that produces addiction. The brain is wired to seek pleasure and avoid pain. First, a pleasurable memory is created by some action, such as watching porn or gambling. Then, to avoid pain, the brain creates a craving for that pleasure. As people increasingly turn to whatever is pleasurable, neural pathways are created and strengthened, training the brain to repeatedly seek out the pleasurable thing.

The prefrontal cortex is the part of the brain that provides the “brakes” on behavior, she said.

Unlike cars, where brakes wear out with use, the brakes in the brain grow stronger with use.

But MRIs of porn-addicted brains show that the prefrontal cortex, the “brakes” of the brain, have shrunk due to lack of use, as is true with any other addiction.

But people can re-wire their brain to overcome addiction, she said. One boy, who’d started looking at porn at age 12 and wanted to quit at 15, gave up the internet, certain movies and TV shows, his email, and his privacy by allowing his bedroom door to stay open. He started with small goals and was able to overcome his addiction, although Jenson said he would likely always struggle with it and “will have to go through life with blinders on a little bit.”

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