By Amy Pieterse
Many parents will read this title and immediately not want to read the article – it is a scary thought to believe our children would be exposed to such a thing. In today’s world, with our technology – they are. Parent’s knowledge about what pornography exposure does to a child’s brain and development is vital. With this knowledge a parent can become aware of exposure and counteract the negative effects.
Cell phones, tablets, social media, the internet, these are all easy access points for our children and teenagers to come into contact with pornographic material. This contact may be accidental when they are researching for a school project, finding songs on YouTube or even speaking with friends. Many of us believe that if a teenager sees this type of content by accident then they would not want to seek it out again. This belief can be misleading. If we look at the way a teenager’s brain is developing we can start to see why a pornography addiction is so easy to acquire.
Research into the teenage brain has shown that at this point in their development the brain is highly focused on the reward and pleasure circuit. This circuit is mainly activated by a neurotransmitter called dopamine. The brains of teenagers are more sensitive to dopamine than an adult’s brain. Pornography will result in a flood of dopamine which will trigger a ‘high’ in the reward and pleasure circuit of the brain. This flood may be the beginning of an addiction as the teenager feels the need to experience the ‘high’ again. If they access pornography again to feel the same high they may end up in actually rewiring their brain (as the neural plasticity in their brain is still so active) to crave pornography. This type of addiction is as serious as a drug or alcohol addiction.
A younger child’s brain (10 years old and up) can have the same reaction. The other reaction it may have is one of disgust, fear and anxiety. These emotions and floods of relevant neurotransmitters will also have a negative effect on the developing brain.
Moving away from the biological damage pornography exposure may have, we can move to the emotional and psychological damage. Pornography is often not realistic, perverse and often shows negative ideals and attitudes towards people such as women, homosexuals, etc. These are all internalised by our children and teenagers. The results are negatively affected identity development with a focus on promiscuous behaviour, an unrealistic understanding and expectation of sexual relations, difficulty creating meaningful and healthy romantic relationships. These effects will last for the rest of that child’s life. They will battle to maintain healthy marriages, they will be more likely to be unfaithful and have multiple causal sexual partners. Their attitudes about sex, their partners and women are also negatively affected.
These are all things that parents do not wish their children to go through; so what can they do? Honesty and communication is important between parents and their children. Age appropriate sex education is important to make sure that our children receive a positive and healthy understanding. Encouraging children to ask their parents questions about these topics will also be helpful, this should mean that if a child accidentally is exposed they feel comfortable to tell their parents and speak about it. When a child is given a device that can access the internet they need to be warned about the dangers. Checking in with them and putting in parental control settings can also be advantageous. If a child is exposed to pornography the negative effects can be counteracted by positive and healthy education to ensure they have understood what they have seen.