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What does a documentary about young females going into the pornography industry have to do with how you parent your adolescent? More than you want to admit.

Have you noticed the world our adolescents are growing up in a world that is becoming commonly pornographic?

Pornographic (def): printed or visual material containing the explicit description or display of sexual organs or activity, intended to stimulate erotic rather than aesthetic or emotional feelings (Merriam Webster Online, 2015). 

 Example:  With the advent of technology and the ability to send images – at the speed of light – to their friends, adolescents send each other sexualized messages or images.  This is known as the phenomenon of “sexting”.  Credible social science studies indicate the frequency of this is anywhere between 40% and 70% among US adolescents.  That’s a lot of kids in your neighborhood, or in class with your adolescent.

Unfortunately, what technology is doing to that already sexually charged adolescent experience is putting it on steroids.

But sexting is now a rather “vanilla” flavor of sexualized behavior, I was recently told by one of the female adolescents I have worked with in the past as a professional counselor.  The chance for impulsive sexual behavior is ever present to any adolescent who is looking at a screen.

As my local technology consultant JR Guthrie says, (he was not referencing this particular topic but his comment is still valid): “Consider the internet an enemy weapons system.”  While he was talking about computer viruses, I am talking about moral viruses.   Regardless of your religious beliefs, moral code, etc., regardless of how upright you believe your adolescent to be, informed parents understand that what was once considered “pornography” is being rapidly de-stigmatized, normalized, and in fact, made “cool”.

Have you noticed how even mainstream news organizations report on things such as which famous person made a sex tape?  Would this ever have been reported in the mainstream media in the past?

We, as parents, cannot afford to stand still and simply cover our mouths in shocked disbelief, nor can we assume that reminding our adolescents (as they mature) that they should “NOT EVER LOOK AT PORNOGRAPHIC IMAGES OR SITES” is enough.  Of course we should tell them that, but how sufficient is that statement?

Consider this:  other male adolescents I have worked with have talked with me about how people his age (boys and girls)can, at any time, go online and see people who live near them who are looking for someone to “hook up” with.  In fact, many dating sites have this mechanism built in, in order to capture the “hook up” crowd.  He tells me you can choose options to express your intentions, and you can choose “hook up” or “date”.

Sexual impulsivity was never better served, the chances for poor judgment never so overwhelmingly great.   Our adolescents have never been more vulnerable than now to being lulled into the delusion that physical intimacy can be an appropriate part of a superficial or casual relationship.

Traditional parenting scare tactics, or fireside chats, or even daily lectures will not protect your adolescent.  Frank discussions will.

Enter the relevance of the recent Netflix documentary: “Hot Girls Wanted”.   I have not seen this documentary (and am not taking a position regarding whether you should watch it or not watch it), but it has been widely discussed among professionals who work with adolescents in my field and in other fields such as sociology.

One person who did watch the movie was Christian Science Monitor (CSM) article writer Kenneth Moorefield, who stated in his article reviewing this documentary (available online), “in the end, I think no film is more dangerous than our silence…”  

This 90-minute documentary chronicles four young women, and as the CSM journalist notes, “they are real young women, not figments of someone’s imagination – as they seek fame and fortune as porn models…”  What Moorefield goes on to poignantly report is, in his words, “The most depressing thing about Hot Girls Wanted is that it shows the entry of its four subjects into the world of pornography not as a slow, painful descent but as a giddy, headfirst dive”.

My adolescent would never consider becoming part of the pornography industry, you say. My response is they don’t have to join the pornographic industry to regularly experience pornography.  Let’s recall how we can define “pornographic”: printed or visual material containing the explicit description or display of sexual organs or activity, intended to stimulate erotic rather than aesthetic or emotional feelings (Merriam Webster Online, 2015). 

This idea of a “giddy, headfirst dive”, strikes a chord with me as far as after having worked with hundreds of adolescents over the past decade as a counselor, one of the most common problems of adolescence is that sense of invincibility infused with impulsive blindness.

Since humans started parenting their children, successfully raising children has always meant brutally honest parenting, and what has always been true is WE MUST FACE THE TRUTH!  To help our kids make good decisions, we need to start from the way they are experiencing the world, and work from that experience so that the values we are trying to impart to our adolescents truly take hold, rather than floating off into the cosmics.  I think parenting these days is a terrifying experience, because there are so many ways in which society is seeking to elicit and manipulate primitive impulses that our adolescents have just begun to feel.

You can decide to be the parent who doesn’t want to talk about this, who believes if you model the right kind of behavior, your adolescent will mimic your behavior and stay “out of trouble”. Meanwhile, from the point of view of a professional like myself, who has worked with hundreds of adolescents over the last 15 years, I would argue that you would be acting like a person who is inside your house with your adolescent on the couch, not wanting to talk about the fire right outside your front door.
Too many parents remain silent on topics such as pornography, never having discussions with their adolescents about what it is, how it degrades people, how it would give you a demented idea of what a relationship is, and how it is inappropriately rationalized in the media.

As Moorefield goes on to point out, several movies make sex trafficking seem like an exotic, foreign evil rather than a banal, universal one (e.g., Taken).  Other movies treat porn and sex addiction as funny, or even romantic (e.g., Pretty Woman).

There is one other topic that needs to be discussed in relation to the dehumanization of sexuality.  This topic specifically relates to the difference between how girls and boys can mature – that is less discussed than it needs to be given it is a powerful psychological dynamic.  This dynamic makes it much easier for adolescent girls to over focus on their physical attributes, which can lead them into wanting to put their bodies on display in provocative manners. And now they have a phone in their hand to do it, RIGHT NOW!

Let’s start from the world of social science research:  there is a body of data that suggests adolescent girls can present as more mature cognitively and verbally (and even psychologically) than their male peers.  This is not always true, but is a trend that has been noted by researchers.

A girl’s greater degree of maturity – mixed in with a much greater degree of attention they may get from males due to their physical attributes – can end up resulting in their having a twisted idea about relationships.  Specifically, girls (AND BOYS) can get the message that what is most important to boys is a girl’s physical attributes, and not her personality, essence, or Being.  This in turn can make females over focus on their external appearance while neglecting the development of their internal self which is composed of the most important elements that will drive her success and constitute her core character:  self-esteem, motivation, drive to succeed, ability to overcome challenges, moral compass, etc.

What happens when this dynamic of girls getting the most attention for their looks hits the “Reality Road” in today’s hormonally driven adolescent experience that is infused with the opportunity to impulsively send sexually toned messages or images?     You have the girls and boys, our girls and boys, who, like the girls chronicled in Hot Girls Wanted, feel that “giddy, headfirst dive” when they realize technology can add to the giddiness.

For you to thoughtfully usher and shepherd your child through the stormy stage of adolescence, you must make sure that your adolescent understands healthy versus unhealthy ways to express the giddiness.

There’s no doubt in my mind there are millions of parents who would never think of having a discussion with their adolescents about pornography.  I am here to tell you that as a psychologist who regularly discusses and listens to what adolescents are really going through, really struggling with, really terrified by, the worst thing you can do is make an adolescent feel like there are particular topics they can never talk with you about.

The reality of an increasingly pornographic world has already arrived.  Are you willing to talk about it?  Your adolescent’s ability to understand how healthy relationships function may depend largely on your ability to have frank discussions with them to help them make this distinction.

Some statistics regarding adolescence who view pornography are as follows: 

–Two-Thirds (66%) of males and more than one-third (39%) of females have seen at least one form of sexually explicit media in the past year.

–In a 2001 study, 70% of 15-17-year-olds in the United States said they had “accidentally” seen pornography on the Internet (Rideout, 2001).

–About one-fourth of 10-17-year-olds said they had experienced unwanted exposures to pictures of naked people or people having sex while online (Mitchel, Finkelhor, & Wolak, 2003).

Here are some more tips for the thoughtful and courageous parents that have read this blog to this point (especially those with daughters): 

No matter how physically attractive a girl is, a consistent message to give them is that their physical attributes will likely give them very limited power.  This is a conversation to start having with them as early as when they are 9 or 10. The more attractive a girl is considered (using whatever criteria are currently in vogue), the more chance there is for that girl to get the message that is their external looks that are the most important thing about her.  After all, many pretty girls constantly get the comment, “She is so pretty.”  Repeatedly hearing that on a daily basis over months and years can make a girl feel more like a doll that a person who has something MORE VALUABLE THAT HER LOOKS (the same thing can happen to boys).
This can create a superficial narcissism, where the girl defines herself as the Pretty Girl.

For girls to repeatedly hear how pretty they are (even if it is true) can twist their mind into believing using their prettiness is the best way to try and influence others or “get ahead” in life.  She begins put too much emphasis on “makeup”, rather than the developmental tasks of “making under” – developing what is inside.  Parents, do not contribute to the Pretty Girl Syndrome, make sure you always focus on giving them the message that what is most important is their character.

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Dr. Thomas (Tom) Brunner is a Tucson based psychologist and published expert who has a 20 year track record of clinical excellence, scientific research, teaching, publications, awards and podcast interviews.  He is the senior author of a psychological measure adapted into 14 languages worldwide, and has written over 250 blogs, many of them have gone viral.  He is revolutionizing the field of career guidance with his fresh and trademarked approach that is spreading like wildfire. Sign up here to be notified of soon to be published book, Find Your Real Me: Career Guidance Making You Truly Free.