Contributed by Paul Loosemore, MA, PCLC, and writer for Addiction Hope.
No parent wants to discover and deal with pornography addiction in their teen. Yet, it is increasingly common. Pornographic exposure is skyrocketing and our culture is pushing sex everywhere. A hormonal body with a curious brain is primed to be enticed.
The signs below are common with pornography addiction in young people, but keep in mind they aren’t all definitive proof.
Identifying Signs And Symptoms Of Pornography Addiction In Teens:
Depression and Loss of Interests: When a young person is exposed to the challenges of life, they need to cope. Often, they are under-resourced to do so emotionally – partly because their brain is still forming, and teenagers usually come into contact with many challenges. Porn is a dopamine volcano that can boost a teen out of a funk. It is overwhelming and exciting to the brain, and it can quickly be associated with feeling better. Further, it is part of the nature of curiosity and exploration of sexuality – except that it is a lie that can consume them.
Sadly, depression sets in when we become beholden to a shameful, secretive and brain chemistry-altering stimulus. Seeking this stimulus, keeping it hidden and managing nagging shame can consume a teen. Depression naturally lowers enjoyment in other things teens may have liked and makes them more susceptible to return to porn. Video game addiction also functions in a similar manner and often co-occurs with pornography use.
Lying, Stealing and Secrets: If a teen has increased the number of lies they tell and the secrets they hide, it is worth noting! People often assume these are natural actions of teenagers who are “finding their way.” This is true to some extent, yet if we take a step back, we can usually trust our internal sense of when this is growing into a problem. Further, if you have any money or cards stolen, passwords changed, the “password reset email” (when you didn’t activate it) etc., you shouldn’t blindly look the other way.
Shame is the best friend of lying, stealing and secrets. Don’t expect a quick or easy confession, and don’t press hard for one! This is more likely to make the teen go further into hiding.
Extended Late Nights
Yes, teens often stay up late, but if this falls into an unhealthy pattern, it is likely serving some purpose. It is important that your teen can account for their actions and use of time.
Debilitating Pursuit of Immediate Gratification: Again, this is common among teens, but it should be monitored. If your teen can’t move away from pleasure-seeking behavior, this either is causing them problems, or it will. A relentless search that negates the necessary tasks of growing up (school, chores, sleep, relationships, etc.) is a sign of something wrong.
Technology Obsession: The previous point ties in with technology obsession. Teens with unfiltered and unmonitored access to internet-enabled devices are at great risk. Technology (including games) can quickly become addictive, and an inability to not use it is problematic. It is important to monitor device history and downloads. You will quickly discover if inappropriate content is being accessed, or deleted or covered up (especially if history is consistently missing).
You must get familiar with the technology your teens are using – including websites, apps, devices, etc.
How To Approach Your Teenager
Firstly, if you have evidence of pornography use, it is likely you don’t know the entire story.
If you have evidence, the first thing to do is check that it didn’t come from someone else in the home – seriously. Then, bring the evidence to your teen at a time they are most likely to engage with you (if this is never, then make your best decision). You should non-judgmentally let them know what you found. Ask them about it, without venom, tears, accusation or anything else! Be calm and genuine.
You need to be safe for them to move toward, and you need to deal with your own emotions, Don’t put that burden onto the teen. Wait on their response and gently bring it back around to the question if they sidetrack.
Express how you care about them and want the best for them. Let them know what you think they might be feeling (shame, fear, anger) and acknowledge that you “get that” and it makes sense. Reassure them you aren’t judging them and are willing to walk with them in their experience.
Listen, listen, listen if they are talking! When appropriate, move to explain the myth of pornography – that is normal that they would enjoy it, and that you disagree with their continued use of it and why. Your values should be communicated, as should the support you will give to your teen. The safer you become, the more they are likely to share.
If you suspect something, follow the same steps as above. Start by initiating a conversation about porn from a sexually exploitative viewpoint (such as a sexualized billboard or ludicrous movie scene). Start with something like, “You know… as I saw X, it made me wonder about how all this over-sexualized stuff is impacting you?” Don’t be condescending, fake or make accusations. Do, however, get to a pornography discussion. They will more likely respect straight talk!
Key Points To Remember With Teens In General:
- Start an ongoing, age-appropriate conversation about sex early. The child is more likely to be responsive and find you safe. Teach them. It is your responsibility as a parent.
- Place boundaries and safeguards. Explain them as appropriate.
- Make space for hard conversations when you least want them – and when they most want them!
- Connect with your teen in other ways. This is critical.
- Talk about sex and process your struggles with your partner. You need to know where you stand and have strong starting place.
- Get expert help if you need it.
- “Unshame” them. Normalize sexuality and help them make sense of it all.
- Do not ignore your gut feelings on these issues.
Community Discussion: Share Your Thoughts Below
What steps have been taken within your home to protect your family from internet pornography? Please use the comment section to share your experience.
About the author: Written by Paul Loosemore, MA, PLPC. Paul works as a mental health counselor, and consults with those who wish to recover from sexual addiction. He is the founder of www.stopsexualaddiction.com.
The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of addictions. These are not necessarily the views of Addiction Hope, but an effort to offer a wider discussion of various issues.