Last week, Kevin brought up some great points regarding pornography’s impact on the brain. As Kevin highlighted, most kids today believe that viewing pornography is no big deal—that what they watch online will have little impact on their offline relationships and lives. Sadly, many parents also believe this myth or the myth that their kids are too young or too smart to seek out or encounter pornography online. As a result of these common misconceptions, we receive a heartbreaking number of emails from parents whose children have become addicted to online pornography. By the time these parents realize what’s going on, it’s often extremely difficult to reverse the damage.
But why, you might ask, is pornography so devastating to a young brain? Today we’ll look at two more reasons you, as a parent, should do everything in your capacity to protect your child from exposure to pornography. (See our resources and pornography parent tips to find out how.)
For one, the images can never be erased. I don’t know about you, but I still remember the first pornographic image I was exposed to. For many individuals that I have worked with, they can call to mind the pornographic images and videos that they saw in their youth much more easily than any other type of image, video or information. Studies have shown that young children are drawn to information that is visible and concrete, unfamiliar, dramatic and even scary. As Dr. Diane Levine and Dr. Jean Kilbourne explain in their book, So Sexy So Soon, “This helps explain why [children] are so easily seduced by violent actions and sexy physical appearances (large breasts, scanty clothing], as well as actual sexy behaviors… Because children tend to focus on the most dramatic and salient aspects of how things look, they are especially susceptible to the sexual images around them. Big breasts on view, scantily clad bodies and sexy body movements are not part of the everyday life experiences of most children, which is why they grab a child’s attention. The more dramatic and extreme the images, the more likely they are to attract the child.”
Second, the prefrontal cortex is not fully developed until a person reaches their mid- to late-twenties. The prefrontal cortex is the last part of our brain to develop, and it controls our attention span, our ability to reason, control impulse and emotion, and to distinguish fantasy from reality. Some have called the prefrontal cortex the “CEO” of the brain because of its critical role in helping us make wise choices in life.
When a young person is exposed to pornography, they lack the mental capability to discern the porn myth from the realities of healthy sex. As a result, when children are exposed to pornography, they are also much more likely to develop a life pattern that relies on pornography, setting the stage for a full-blown pornography addiction as a teenager and as an adult. Children and teenagers literally lack much of the mental functioning required to control their impulses, and as a result can develop a strong emotional and psychological connection with pornography.
Later this week, we’ll take a look at how pornography’s impact on the brain is similar to the impact of hard drugs—adding to the growing number of scholars who believe that pornography can be highly addictive, especially to children.