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What's New Under the Sun? Kids (and Adults) and Social Media, Part II

Counting Your Blessings also means protecting them — sometimes from the dangers that lurk in our own homes

I always say that when God wants to drive home a point, He makes sure I hear it from several sources. This happens to me so routinely, I have to wonder if God knows I'm just so dense that I won’t learn it any other way ...

This week, while serving as a greeter at a theater audition, I listened as a friend sang “Count Your Blessings.” Later, she told me that she was singing it for me.

“How sweet,” I thought, but I really didn’t get it, yet.

Two days later, someone else commented: even when it’s difficult, we need to “count our blessings."

As I was “recounting” the conversations to yet another friend, she laughed: “My morning devotion was all about ‘counting your blessings,’ and I felt like I was supposed to tell you that, but I just hadn’t yet …”

I pulled out my guitar and sang “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing,” on the spot. Sometimes we just need to be reminded of what’s important.

Children are, perhaps, the greatest blessing life can hold, and if we make a point to count our blessings, then we must also protect those blessings. Opening a dialogue about social media is part of that protection.

One week before I was scheduled to begin this series, my pastor gave a message on — you guessed it — social media, as part of his “Back to
School” series. (God calling? You’d better believe I picked up!)

What Pastor Jon said that day resonated with me, and I found myself taking fast-and-furious notes in my phone. (Hooray for techie-tools — so glad my church has a handle on the tools of the time!)

Since that day, I’ve done a bit more research and talking to parents. The issues surrounding the Internet/social media are so vast — how could I ever do the topic justice?

Perhaps together we can scratch the surface. My goal is not to shock or frighten or cast stones. I just want us to do all we can to protect our babies — from the time they are very young.

The average age for children to be exposed to Internet porn is 11. Some sources I found said 8. Most exposure is not “soft-porn." Gone are the days of hiding out in the dug-out of the local ball field to sneak a still-shot-peak at a Playboy Centerfold. That same dugout now holds the allure of an explicit video: replete with the fluidity of humans in motion, intensely intimate (physically, anyway) and in living color. Accessed from an iPad. Or a phone.

And there they are: images implanted in our babies’ brains. Burned there forever.

If you think I’m being dramatic, do your own research.

Find out about the visual cues porn sends to the lateral geniculate nucleus (LGN— the primary relay center for information received from the retina). Look into the science behind how signals are relayed to the visual cortex in the occipital lobe.

You won’t have to dig too deep into the science of brain function and human bonding until you uncover facts about dopamine and oxytocin. How porn works against true, human sexual-bonding. We bond to what we focus our “mind’s eye” upon during sexual stimulation (for women) and ejaculation (men).

Especially for men, viewing porn creates neural pathways that lead to a desire for more porn — bonding to the visual images instead of a truly-in-the-flesh-human. A man viewing a nude woman typically looks more at her body and less at her face, which is fine if it leads to healthy, real-life intercourse where humans naturally bond face-to-face as part of the process. The picture of our partner’s face is then implanted into our mind’s eye, and we become more and more attracted to that person.

Porn hurts the viewer, because he/she is less able to bond to a real person. It hurts the gender “viewed” because all members of that gender subconsciously become objectified — reduced to a mere part of a whole — backside, breasts, legs, stomach. These are all parts of the whole of one who has a face — and a mind, and a spirit.

No one wants porn carving these “pathways” into an 11-year-old’s brain —especially once we know how it could affect his ability to bond with a future spouse.

What about your brain? Are you, as a parent, willing to protect it as you would your child’s?

We must be proactive. Intentional. Vigiliant.

The dangers lurk in our own homes.

Talk to your kids.

I’m not advocating stealing a child’s innocence, but in this cultural climate, it’s better to open the dialogue than to assume a child knows nothing and be wrong. The latter is just too dangerously consequential.

Talk to Your Child:

As a conversation starter, ask your child: Have you ever received a message with “spam” (or ads, or “other stuff”) that made you uncomfortable? (Explain “spam” as unwanted words or pictures — things that don’t seem quite right.) If your child hasn’t seen anything concerning, he/she will likely not know what you’re talking about. But if there is recognition in his eyes, you should ask more questions. 

  • Start your query broad and general. Get a gauge on what your child knows. Ask: “What did you see?” and “Who do you think should be looking at that? Anyone?”
  • Listen to the response. She may have seen nothing more than one of those gross, before-and-after-belly fat pics (and really, who isn’t uncomfortable with those?) But if your child has viewed porn, it’s paramount that you talk about what seemed “wrong” about those images, and viewing them, and what the converse — something good and right and pure and between just two people, for no one else to see, might “look” like. Consider attending a counseling session together, with a licensed, professional counselor or pastor.
  • Communicate the dangers of pornography without instilling a sense of shame or blame in a child. Children who have viewed porn are victims. Period. It is a parent’s responsibility to help a child heal from and move past that place of victimization.
  • Protect your home with a filtering system such as Net Nanny.
  • Consider keeping TVs, computers and wireless devices out of children's rooms.
  • Start healthy dialogue about sexuality early in life. (Check out “The Growth Chart’s” series, THE TALK, for some tips!) Cultivating open,
    ongoing discussions about sex (from birth on, as issues come up) makes addressing serious issues just one more part of the talk.

The roots of these issues are not new. (Think of David, Upright
King of Israel, standing on his rooftop, viewing a stranger bathing. Was he was the only one in ancient times who ever got tripped up in something like that?) Sure, the issues manifest differently, today, and are, perhaps, more in-your-face, although, when I consider other biblical examples (think: “temple prostitutes” — I’m not so sure …) truly, “there is nothing new under the sun.”

It has always been human nature to have curiosities and longings. These are not wrong. On the contrary, it is good to acknowledge that we’re made that way and that these can lead us to a very good place, in the right timing. How we act on our longings shapes our integrity and impacts our future.

These are the truths we need to impart as we Count our Blessings, especially the ones we gave birth to.

Next week, we’ll discuss a very real temptation in our teen’s lives, because a picture is worth — no, it can trump — a thousand words (or letters — even straight A’s). Nothing can taint a teen’s future quicker than sexting. The week after that, you’ll be required to take a parent-quiz on text-acronyms.  

BTWBO? Ofc! (Let’s just agree NOT to send pics of that. LOL.)  CYO! ;-)

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