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Protect our children from porn addiction

 

Sat in a café, a week or so ago, I listened to a disturbing conversation, which spoke to a mistake I made that took some years to unravel – and I hope I now have – and hurt both my sons.

It was a matter of technology.

The conversation in hand was my youngest son, now nearly 16, talking to his uncle, in ‘lad talk’, laughing, telling him how he got exposed to pornography at the age of 11!

Literally, I was horrified, most of all at my own blind spot, which opened that journey for both my boys. The starting point was my purchase of iPads for them. They both had iPads before I did. They wanted them more, valued them more, and were wowed to get them, each at 11 and 12.

But what I didn’t do, and didn’t even know how to do, was block what are known as malicious websites on their browsers.

Now debate rages about porn and its effects on minds young and old, and, on this, I will take a personal stand and say, unashamedly, that I am ‘old school’ on porn. I happen to believe it does a great deal of damage to people’s views of other human beings, objectifies them, undermines the ability to develop genuine and ordinary intimacy with others, and is a thorough destroyer of respect, normality and perspectives.

But for all those who don’t happen to view porn the same way, science has now delivered definitive results showing that it, anyway, ruins lives.

Porn produces what is called a dopamine surge, which in layman’s terms, means it’s thrilling. The surge is as great as street drugs that regularly kill people, with cocaine and heroine often named as equivalent ‘buzzes’.

That makes porn addictive. Viewers get hooked. You can reach for the literature yourself, but it has emerged as one of the big addictions of our ‘connected’ era.

However, it’s worse than just being hooked, for we humans aren’t built to be constantly thrilled, meaning the cycle of repeated dopamine surges does something to our entire physiology. For, dopamine is, if you like, the ‘happiness’ chemical in our brain, which is filled with ‘dopamine receptors’.

When someone becomes addicted to thrills, those receptors start to get less sensitive. In fact, they can become pretty much destroyed. The consequence is that ordinary satisfactions, exercise, humour, eating convivial meals together, many things that normally add to our happiness, just don’t any more.

Thus, porn addicts become depressed, less engaged in all other activities: and that’s just a matter of scientific measurement, not a softer thing like the horrible array of impacts on their marriages and long-term relationships.

As it is, porn did not arrive with the internet. My brother sat telling my son that, in his era, boys bought magazines and handed them round class as big wows. But the scale and nature of the exposure has undoubtedly ramped up in our online world.

Thus, no matter the time you spend with your pre-adolescent and adolescent kids discussing matters like respect, and intimacy, their capacity to get derailed is far greater today than it ever was.

You cannot stop them accessing friend’s devices or close every doorway. But there isn’t a doubt in my mind I should have had family shields on every device in my own home.

In this, there’s no need for me to re-parade the how, where technology writers have done it better. One of the best articles I have (now) found is on: https://www.wintips.org/block-porn-sites-in-web-browsers-and-network-devices/.

In fact, very few of our ISPs in Kenya seem to offer home settings – mine certainly doesn’t – and, as that article warns, plug-ins are easily got around by tech savvy teenagers. But software exists that is DNS-based that competently blocks all these sites.

Of course, in the millennials journey to adulthood, learning to live a good life not marred by the potential addictions of our digital world is a part of their challenge.

But never let another mother hand over an open iPad to an 11-year-old without better sight of the scale of boyhood curiosity, and the potentially life-damaging impact of that.

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