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Thursday, April 13, 2017

"Discerning Truth: Teaching Our Children About Pornography" by Catherine Humpherys

In the recent March 18-19 District Conference in the Shanghai International District of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the adults attending a Saturday afternoon session heard an inspired presentation from Catherine Humpherys on how parents can help their children cope with the problem of pornography. With her kind permission, I'm sharing her talk here.

Discerning Truth: Teaching Our Children About Pornography

by Catherine Humpherys, Shanghai, China, March 18, 2017

Not very long ago, the discussion around pornography was how to avoid it: computers in a common living space and making sure you have the right filters. Today, it is no longer about if my child will see pornography, but when will my child see pornography and what choice will they make in that moment?

My wish for each of you, no matter the age of your children or even if you have no children at all, is for you to be prepared to address this important topic with the children and youth in your lives.

With this goal in mind, I want to first educate each of you about pornography, before we discuss how we educate our children.

In 2 Nephi 2:26 we are taught that knowledge of good and evil frees us: “And the Messiah cometh in the fullness of time, that he may redeem the children of men from the fall. And because that they are redeemed from the fall they have become free forever, knowing good from evil; to act for themselves and not to be acted upon…” again in Heleman 14: 30, 31 “…for behold, ye are free; ye are permitted to act for yourselves; for behold, God hath given unto you a knowledge and he hath made you free.”

In our search for knowledge there are two primary questions I think we must wrestle with when it comes to pornography:
  1. Why is pornography evil? In this question, I do not use the world evil lightly. Pornography is evil, but can we articulate why? And most importantly, can we articulate why to our children?
  2. Why do so many of us get caught in its trap?
So, why is pornography evil? Let me give you three reasons:

First, it inhibits, and in some extreme cases completely annihilates, the ability to form a mature, intimate relationship with another person. Research as found that frequent use of porn is associated with greater cynicism about love, less trust in romantic partners, and the feeling that marriage is confining. The ability to engage in an adult intimate relationship and to even have the desire to engage in such a relationship is the foundation for a healthy marital relationship. Doctrinally we know that a successful marriage is necessary for our spiritual progression.

Second, it destroys our ability to see the divinity within ourselves and the divinity in those around us. Research has found that male and female viewers of pornography experience higher rates of anxiety, body-image issues, poor self-image, insecurity, and depression. In a nutshell: we begin to hate ourselves when we look at pornography. Pornography also teaches that a person’s value is based on their appearance and the pleasure they can provide. It also teaches viewers that it is okay to hurt someone

Third, it quickly becomes addictive. Pornography isn’t the brownie on the counter calling your name. It is the heroin in the syringe. Our brains become neurologically dependent on pornographic images to maintain a feeling of normal.

If pornography is so evil, why oh why then, do so many of us (even in this room today) get caught in its trap? Of course, one obvious reason is that it is made to be attractive. Pornography manipulates our God given desire to be sexual. I think, though, that there is also another reason our youth are having such a hard time looking away. Perhaps we as parents and the community are not giving them the knowledge they need to discern truth; to see what pornography really is.

In a letter from the first presidency in 1991, parents are advised to “teach their children the sacred nature of procreative powers and instill in them a desire to be chaste in thought and deed. A correct understanding of the divinely appointed roles of men and women will fortify all against sinful practices.”

So what knowledge do we need to give our children and youth that will give them the freedom to choose wisely when they are exposed to pornography?

First, we must teach our children that our homes are safe places to reveal themselves and to ask questions without feeling ashamed. Too often the topic of pornography and sexuality is avoided or only addressed once during “the talk”. This way of relating to the subject creates an atmosphere of shame. A clear, nonverbal message is sent that these topics make us uncomfortable and should be avoided.

We learn from the story of the Garden of Eden, however, that shame leads us to hide ourselves from God (Genesis 3: 8). We don’t want to create an atmosphere of shame that will lead our children to hide from us, or look to other sources for information.

Here are some tips on creating an open atmosphere free from shame:
  • We teach our small children that their bodies are wonderful: we hug, kiss, and tickle them. We teach them correct terms for all their body parts.
  •  By age 8 we teach our children the basics of reproduction, that it is a gift from God that allows us to create life just as he does in the responsible setting of marriage. It is a gift from God that allows us to show our deep love for a spouse, and for our spouse to show us deep love in return.
  •  Between the ages of 10-12, before puberty, we help our children anticipate the attraction they will begin feeling for others. This is good and exciting; it means they are on the road to adulthood. These feelings are important for wanting to choose a marriage partner when they are older.
  • 12+ we teach our children about puberty and how to date, the family rules for dating, etc.
When we are consistently and proactively dialoging and education our children about their bodies in these ways, we teach our children that we can handle these conversations and that they are okay.

Now, how do we address pornography specifically? We teach our children about pornography by age 8. Why? The average age of exposure is 9 or 10 years old. This falls naturally in with the age to teach reproduction. Many of the items I will now list can be found in the book Good Pictures Bad Pictures by Jenson and Poyner.

Our children must know the following:
  1. Pornography is pictures, videos, or cartoons of naked people
  2. Pornography tricks our brains: It tricks a part of our brain called the feeling brain. The feeling brain helps us fall in love when we are adults. Our feeling brain wants to look at these pictures because it doesn’t know they aren’t real.
  3. Pornography hurts our brains: looking at pornography will make it harder to love someone real someday.
  4. When they see pornography they need to label it “that’s pornography”
  5. They should look away
  6. They should tell a trusted adult what they have seen
  7. If the pictures come back in their minds they can distract themselves by doing something they enjoy or singing a song.
  8. Let them know if they feel like they have already been tricked by pornography and are having a hard time not looking at more pictures that they should tell an adult! Together we can figure out how to keep their brain safe!
I believe that as we recognize the important role as mentors and educators in our children’s lives, we will feel more empowered and have less fear. I know that as we pray to apply the knowledge we gain that the Lord will guide as in all things as he as promised.

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