THE NOT-SO-SMART PHONE
Will Cunningham, our Family Ministries pastor, is sharing his wisdom about parenting and relationships on a new blog, Fire at Will. You can read more of his responses on his blog or send him a question.
The other day, a dad approached me in tears, with the words, “My thirteen-year-old has been watching porn on his phone, late at night. It was supposed to be the perfect birthday gift––the phone, that is. Now, I think it’s the worst thing his mom and I could have given him. What do we do now?” As the man sobbed, I tried to console him, but he was still crying when he climbed into his truck and drove away.
Do you hear the sadness in that father’s voice? If you’re like me, it probably causes you to remember your own first exposure to pornography—that miserable material the Bible denounces repeatedly. Because this topic is so deep and personal, I’m going to take the next few posts to talk about:
1 // The link between smartphones and teenage porn addiction,
2 // A possible solution for parents who are willing to go against cultural norms, and
3 // A practical plan for restoring one’s soul after it has been damaged by porn. I believe these entries will contain some of the most useful advice I offer this year—not only for teens but for some of their parents, as well.
A GOOD THING GONE BAD
Before I go any further, however, I should mention I am not “anti-technology”. Wishing the smartphone had never been invented is like wishing God had never made apples. The reason people abuse things is not because those things exist, but because the will to abuse them lies deep in the heart of human beings. I’m thankful for smartphones and have lost count of the number of times my wife’s GPS has led us effortlessly to our destination. However…I do not own one.
I call my flip phone the “iPhone 8”. It has no internet capacities, no apps, no pressure-sensitive home button, no dual lens camera––in fact, it has no bells or whistles at all. Naturally, this makes me the regular recipient of good-natured ribbing from friends and colleagues. Funny thing is, though, when all the laughter dies away, I always detect a faint look of envy in the eyes of the one doing the ribbing–as if he were thinking to himself, “I wonder what it feels like to be free.”
Here, it is important for me to reiterate that the smartphone is not the reason for today’s enormous spike in teenage porn addiction. As I mentioned above, humans abuse things because the will to abuse lies at our core. However, my colleagues who envy my freedom would probably say there is a definite link between the two. And if they had the research to back it up, they would say this link can be found in one word—“dopamine”—the neurotransmitter released in the body every time a new, erotic image is accessed on the internet. Over time, this chemical is responsible for creating a sense of craving. And it is this craving that we refer to as “addiction”.
FACING THE PROBLEM
Speaking of time, it is vital for the reader of this post to understand that in the few minutes it will take him or her to finish reading, the average teenage porn-user can see more nude images than his father or grandfather saw in a lifetime––right on his personal smartphone. And with each surge of dopamine, the craving grows exponentially. That means that in today’s world of porn, addicts become addicts at a much faster rate than they did in the pre-internet days. In fact, the thirteen-year-old boy I mentioned at the beginning of this blog is likely addicted already, and has probably seen a thousand more images since his father came to me in tears. How sad it is when parents think they’ve solved the porn temptation problem by placing the family desktop in the center of their living room––and all the while, their child’s “porn shop” is in a backpack or pants pocket, walking out the door.
In February of 2006, an independent web-tracking company counted some 58 million monthly U.S. visitors to adult sites. A decade later, that number had risen to 107 million. Pornhub, a popular, adult website, reported 2.4 million visitors per hour in 2015 alone. Around the world, people watched a staggering 4,392,486,580 hours of porn on that same site. According to Time magazine, that number represents “twice as long as Homo sapiens has spent on earth.” So, let me be perfectly clear––there is a causal connection between the smartphone and the porn epidemic in teens.
It remains to be seen whether we’ll be smart enough to do something about it.
Follow the next post in Will’s series here.