CHILDHOOD: by Marie-Claire HernandezNews Weekly
Children at risk from internet pornography
, September 4, 2010
The appearance of the Sex Party during Australia's recent elections was regarded by many as a novelty. Few would be aware that the Sex Party is a creation of the pornography industry. Mary-Claire Hernandez is former president of Family and Society in Mexico. This address was given to the World Congress of Families in Holland last year.The greatest threat to the family from addiction to internet pornography is not only the disintegration of the family, but of society itself. Many cases have been documented of the break-up of a marriage as a result of the addiction to pornography of one of the spouses.
Several other threats to the family such as the increase in domestic violence and crime have also been attributed to addiction to pornography - and addiction to pornography today is to pornography on the internet.
However, the increasingly real threat of this "tsunami" of personal, family and social breakdown may not be just the result of adult addiction to internet pornography, but to our children's and teenagers' addiction to internet pornography as well.
We need to understand why children from normal, healthy homes can become addicted to this "new drug of the millennium", and how traditional values can help correct the problem.Dehumanisation
Our experience is that minors' exposure to inappropriate material or behaviour can affect both the family and the school community. To quote parts of an article printed in the British Guardian
newspaper (June 24, 2009): "School inspectors investigating an increase in exclusions from primary schools have discovered 'worrying' levels of sexual behaviour among very young children. An inquiry into schools that have repeatedly suspended pupils as young as four has unearthed high incidences of children touching other children inappropriately and using sexually graphic language as well as swearing, attacking staff and throwing furniture. ...
"The inquiry, published today, followed figures released in parliament at the end of last year which revealed that more than 4,000 children under the age of five were excluded from school or nursery in 2007, the majority for violence against other children or a member of staff. ...
"It reported headteachers struggling to get psychological help for vulnerable children. When headteachers contacted social services because they were worried about children's sexualised behaviour, they were often turned away. One headteacher was told a child would 'grow out of it'. The inspectors reported high levels of 'trauma', such as family breakdown, and domestic violence."
This is conclusive evidence of the symptoms shown by minors addicted to online porn, or as victims of peer addicts. A study in Mexico concluded that the longer time children spent on the internet, the greater the aggression shown towards others. It also concluded that the children at greater risk of addiction to online porn were the ones who spent more hours on the internet.
Unfortunately, the sexual exploitation of minors, which may be the reason for the rise in sexualised behaviour of children, has existed for a long time. I believe nevertheless that the increase in sexualised behaviour in children is closely related to the misuse of new communications technology. It is important however to emphasise the term "misuse".
The internet itself is not bad and can be satisfactorily used to benefit the family. I would like to promote the concept of "cyber socialisation", which is using new technologies to improve communication and well-being within the family - texting and e-mailing family members allows for little humorous quips between family members, improved communications and better relationships. Someone in the family always misses the proverbial note on the fridge door, now there is no excuse!
New communication technologies in themselves are surely a reflection of the grandeur of Creation, a response to the biblical "go forth and have dominion over the earth", a mirror image of God's greatness expressed in human intelligence.
At the celebration of the 10th anniversary of the United Nation's Year of the Family, I attended a panel on special education at the Doha Conference and marvelled at the case of a young Qatari girl who had lost her eyesight at the age of 12. At that point, thanks to the advances in communication technologies, she was studying for her master's degree in the United States. When I went up to meet her father, a Qatari farmer, I was awe-inspired by the wonders of technology, especially the advances in software for the visually handicapped.
At the same time I was filled with sadness at the thought of so many of our kids and teens who were being "handicapped" by the very same technology that had given a little blind girl her "electronic eyes". They were losing the light of their inner being. If the eyes are the window to the heart, then what enters through the eyes can also destroy what's in the heart.Symptoms of addiction
The threat to the family from their children's exposure to inappropriate material online is a serious matter of concern. In Mexico we have seen cases of 10-year-old children suffering from addiction to pornography on the internet - note that these are children who are even too young to have sexually developed physically. Although it used to be true that addiction to porn mostly affected males, with internet porn, there are now cases of girls becoming addicted.
Why has this addiction overpowered kids and teens, who are emotionally normal and stable for their age, without serious problems at school or without problems of family breakdown or social instability, children who don't pose the risk factors that would make them vulnerable to other addictions or abuse?
The first reaction from children coming across porn on the internet is one of disgust and rejection, which is closely taken over by curiosity and viewing. They are victims of exposure to porn at an age when sexual curiosity is natural.
Pornography is the commercial exploitation of a natural curiosity. What they see is a far cry from the goodness and beauty of sex. The most sublime and the lowest aspects of human nature may be found in the expression of our sexuality. Pornography creates addiction like any other drug. The sexual images create a chemical reaction in the brain by releasing the hormone epinephrine into the bloodstream. This effect also occurs when the same images are stored in the brain to be recalled later.
The earlier the exposure, the greater the risk of addiction. Unlike porn films or magazines, the internet has no limits. It is accessible at any time of day or night, 24/7. It is also free for kids. They can surf the internet for hours looking at porn without paying a penny. It's a bit like having drugs in the kitchen cupboard for school lunch boxes. Children become easy prey, and once the addiction takes hold, it quickly converts to a loss of freedom. Sooner or later, addiction makes them dependent on the sensation, and enslaves them, becoming the centre of their thoughts and acts.
The symptoms of addiction may manifest themselves as depression, isolation, problems of concentration, mood changes, loss of hope and/or feelings or threats of suicide. A child or teen addicted to online porn is sad and lonely. They fear the loss of love from loved ones if discovered; therefore, it is difficult for them to ask for help. The child addict tends to act out what he has seen since it overwhelms his whole being. When the child feels the need to act out what he has seen, there is a greater danger of abuse with peers or children younger. Suicidal tendencies are more prevalent in the younger child.
Addiction in teens manifests itself in fantasies, self-abuse or prostitution. Addictive sexual behaviour lacks intimacy. The sex addict is totally egocentric and cannot achieve intimacy because obsession with his own needs overrides the needs of others. Therefore, addiction leads to the search for intensity rather than intimacy.
One report says: "Bit by bit, addicts intensify their behaviour going through moderate stages to others that go beyond what they themselves could have imagined, including doing things that weeks or months before would have disgusted them."
All addictions are a public health and safety issue. Addiction to online porn among kids and teens is silent, invasive and destructive. The threat to the family from this addiction to online pornography, due to its frequency and intensity, is comparable to a kind of "cyber swine flu pandemic", but worse of all, due to its silent nature, that could go, and is going, undetected and unattended.
The slogan being used currently in public health and safety campaigns in Mexico, "Your health is in your hands", could be no more adequately applied to this swine flu of the internet.
Adults are often unaware of the problem experienced by children and teenagers around them with the consequent lack of professionals adequately trained to help young addicts. Although addiction of a behavioural nature has not yet been included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders [DSM-IV]
the manual published by the American Psychiatric Association that covers all mental health disorders , it is expected that these new behavioural types of addiction related to new communication technologies will be published in the new DSM-V
as the emergence of a new clinical disorder.
This type of addiction can only be cured by adequate therapy to help the addict regain his or her sexual health and well-being. More research is definitely needed into the type of professional therapy. We have seen kids in therapy improving their self-esteem, but not overcoming the addiction due to incorrect therapy. It must be approached as therapy for an addiction, similar to therapy for other addictions.Parents and values
The quality of family life depends on the values we practise ourselves and instil in our children by our example. This is also true in relation to the threat to the family with the new communication technologies. We need to teach our children from the first time they connect to live their lives "online" with the same values we teach them to live their lives "offline".
How can a harmonious balance be achieved between the harm and the benefit of the internet as a major source of information, communication and socialisation for children and teenagers?
It is similar to the way we teach the value of our sexuality in the home, by first telling our children of the goodness, beauty and truth of our sexuality, but then making sure they understand the risks and dangers.
Sex education in families must teach young people to know and understand moral values as a necessary and precious guarantee for personal and responsible growth in human sexuality, with positive results for the family and society and in particular, the self-fulfilment of the individual person.
For young people today, there is a real danger online that they do not understand how to protect their sexuality because they are unaware of the value of purity. This is due to the bombardment of a mass attitude towards the intimacy of sexuality, a society that has taken away the intimacy of sexuality to proportions of enormous intensity and mass diffusion, which confuses young people in the care of the goodness, intimacy and beauty of their sexuality. At no time can the goodness and beauty of sexuality be separated from its truth.
The truth of the sexuality of all beings, both rational and animal, lies in the respect for the laws of nature. Purity acts as the bodyguard for our sexuality since it protects us against harm from others. Parents need to talk to their children without fear about the guidelines of purity, as lack of understanding of this virtue will also make it difficult for kids and teens to understand and live religious values.Treatment
In the same way that we can fight physical illness through prevention by taking precautions, or with appropriate medical therapy to restore our health, this is also applicable to sexual health damaged by over-exposure among minors to age-inappropriate material online, or to addiction to porn online.
On an optimistic note, we know that the sexual health of a child or teenager addicted to this new drug of the millennium can be successfully restored by adequate therapy, love and understanding on the part of the parents, or self-help steps. In the cases we have seen in Mexico, those who have received help, have fully recovered from their addiction, and have learnt to benefit from all the advantages of new communication technologies while avoiding the risks.