Our house is situated at the opening to a quiet crescent street. Quiet —that is— until school lets out and half the boys in seventh grade can be found running around our yard. When we bought the corner house fourteen years ago I was concerned about the traffic we might get, being at the crossroads. Turns out I love the fact that newcomers to the block think I run an after school program. Being involved in my kids’ lives is one of my greatest joys. Hearing them laugh, play and holler is the icing on the cake. Along with a quiet crescent, the house is situated a stone’s throw away from a fabulous elementary school. The staff is wonderful and the community involvement is high. Really, we lucked out when we set up shop here.

Tonight I dug right into the community spirit by giving a short presentation to the Board members of our Student Community Council. My objective was to spread awareness of pornography as a public health issue —especially as it directly affects our children.
In brief, I explained how viewing pornography releases chemicals to the brain —dopamine, oxytocin, norepinephrine, and serotonin— which are associated with pleasureful experiences, but it does so in dangerously large quantities. It is this over-saturation of chemicals that puts people at risk for developing a dependency on pornography equivalent to that of hard drugs. Without the stimulant, a porn user may feel he or she cannot cope with normal daily stressors and seeks to find ways to access more pornography, more often, and content that is more hard core.

I empathized with my audience of parents and educators that it is emotionally sobering to talk about pornography and children in the same sentence. Yet, if we want our kids to safely navigate their now life essential online existence then we need to be honest with ourselves about the content they could encounter there. Group sex, anal sex and violence towards women, children and vulnerable men are common tropes of the industry. The porn culture is constantly pushing the envelope to normalize the absurd and even the criminal.

It is difficult to imagine the same wonderful seventh graders who are playing capture the flag and grounders in my backyard could even stomach such graphic content. The truth is they can’t.  Yet, the chemical stimulation flooding their brains at the sight of these images is begging them to try to make sense of it. Without a strategy in place before encountering such material, the child will likely not look away —it is like a magnet drawing them in.

80% of children’s unintentional exposure to pornography occurs at home. This may happen through innocent word searches, pop up ads or when playing games, etc. As curiosity is the engine of learning it’s easy to see how a young boy or girl will innocently click to gather more information. Sadly, it may only take a few clicks before a habit develops. The brain will simply crave more and more stimulation.

One in four children has unwanted exposure to inappropriate images online each year. Children absolutely need parents to develop a strategy with them to know what do when this occurs. I believe an honest and age appropriate discussion about pornography is always available. It can be addressed in a variety of suitable situations in the home. Parents should think about creative ways to bring it up in everyday situations. The conversation about pornography should start as soon as children start using the internet. If you are having a tough time getting started, a read aloud book may be the answer. One of my favourites is Good Pictures, Bad Pictures by Kristen Jenson.

I would love to hear your success stories. Send me a note about how you’ve successfully introduced the subject of pornography in conversation with your children, or how you have shared the message that pornography is a public health issue that needs to be addressed in our communities.

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