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What Porn Does to Teen Brains and How to Keep It Off Their Devices


Yes - another terrific article that is worth reposting! This is from Julie Jargon at the Wall Street Journal. We certainly cannot have enough expertise around this all-important issue and access to x-rated content and our children. Tech tips and how-to program your phone are at the end of article!


In the pre-internet days, teens stashed Playboy magazines under their beds or sneaked peeks at late-night movies on cable. Pornography was in limited supply, even for the most curious kids. The world is different now. Many parents have expressed their concerns about how easily kids find porn online. Indiana University researchers, following a study last year, estimate that 80% of U.S. teens have seen it. Many kids in the U.S. have seen porn by age 10.


What distinguishes online porn from those stashed magazines is that, as with so many other digital enticements, an endless supply is available, anytime. Imagine a 24-hour candy store where kids could gorge on sugar, without parents there to stop them. That would be bad for their bodies. So what can such readily available porn do to kids' brains? While there's plenty to say about ways porn can affect the development of relationships and sexuality, this is a more focused look at children's brain chemistry. Research shows that younger people's brains are more wired for pleasure than adults, with higher spikes of the feel-good neurotransmitter dopamine released in anticipation of enjoyable activities. Because of this, many researchers believe young people are more vulnerable to compulsive porn use, which can lead to unrealistic views on sex. Singer Billie Eilish, now 20, has spoken out about a porn habit that began at age 11, saying, "I think it really destroyed my brain."


Psychologists say it's important to talk to kids about porn without making them feel ashamed. Some exposure can be a natural part of development, they say, and porn shouldn't be shunned in a way that creates a taboo. They do, however, recommend using tech guardrails to reduce the chances that younger kids see things they're not ready to see.


The brain on porn

Valerie Voon, a psychiatry professor at the University of Cambridge, conducted the first major study of porn's impact on the brain in 2014. She and several colleagues scanned the brains of young men who had reported having compulsive porn habits. When shown pornographic images, the men's brain activity mirrored that of drug addicts who were shown photos of drugs. Researchers saw the reward-processing areas of the brain were more active in men with compulsive porn habits than in young men from a control group viewing the same material.


This kind of research always poses a chicken-or-egg question that scientists can't yet answer: Did excessive porn use cause these brain changes, or did these young men have traits that predisposed them to compulsive porn use?


You can argue that the brain's reward centers light up in anticipation of anything enjoyable - whether it's an ice cream cone, a videogame or sexual images. Dr. Voon's study controlled for that by showing the men images of money and exciting sports such as skydiving. Their brains didn't light up as much with those.


For legal and ethical reasons, researchers can't generally perform brain scans on people under 18 nor can they show them porn, but they can extrapolate how findings in young adults might apply to adolescents. The younger the participants in Dr. Boons study showed greater activity in the reward centers of the brain than the older participants when shown porn. Those who had compulsive porn habits reported having first viewed online porn at age 13, compared with members of the control group, who had first seen it at 17. The brain's emotional center develops faster than the part of the brain that controls impulse. A review of the research on internet porn's impact on adolescents, conducted by researchers at several universities, concluded that this disparity helps explain why teens lack the maturity to "suppress sexual cravings, thoughts, and behaviors elicited by pornographic content."


Nicole Prause, a research scientist at the University of California, Los Angeles, and a licensed psychologist, said she's more concerned about what parents and authority figures tell kids about porn. She recently surveyed young adult men who had been in porn-abstinence programs and relapsed. Nearly 30% of the 228 respondents reported feeling suicidal afterward; many more said they felt shame because of the societal messages about porn being bad. "If we shut down conversations and say, "Don't watch porn, and if you do, it's an addiction and it will rot your brain,' that's terrifying, " she said. "It's some of the messaging that's making it worse."


Common Sense Media, a nonprofit that rates kids' digital media, is planning to survey teens about when they're first exposed to porn, how often they view porn and how their parents talk to them about porn. The organization plans to release its findings late this year.


Use Tech to Block Porn

There are ways to filter porn and other types of content from home networks using a Wi-Fi router or a device such as Circle. Apps like Canopy and Bark can help by blocking explicit images of filtering content, for a cost. First, Start by restricting content with the built-in tools on your kids' devices.


Apple: iPhone, iPad and iPod TouchOn the child's device, go to settings, then select "Screen Time." Create a passcode so only you can change your settings. Next, choose "Content & Privacy Restrictions." From there, turn on restrictions, then choose "Content Restrictions." Selecting "limit adult websites" will restrict porn and other potentially inappropriate web content. Selecting "allowed wesites only" requires a list, which are the only sites your child can visit. (There is a prefilled list that includes PBS Kids and Disney).


In "Content Restrictions," you can also make age-appropriate designations for movies and shows, and choose whether to allow explicit books, music, podcasts and news. Most of this applies to Apple-controlled media apps, however. Netflix, Disney+, Spotify and other streaming apps have their own means for setting age-appropriate content. To use your own Apple device to set the content restrictions on all of your children's Apple devices, set up Family Sharing and then find their names in your own Screen Time settings.


Google: Chromebooks and Android phones and tablets, plus AmazonGoogle's Family Link app for Android and iOS allows parents to create and manage Google accounts for children under 13. It will help you set content restrictions on key apps on Android and Chromebooks, starting with the Chrome browser. You can also use it to block or allow specific sites.


Parents can also approve or block apps their kids want to download from the Google Play Store, by going to the store app and selecting Settings > Family > Parental controls.


A recent update to the main Google app makes it easier for people with Android devices to filter porn from search. In the app settings, look for Hide explicit results.


Amazon Fire tablets, which run a modified version of Android, can be limited to age-appropriate content and websites by going to Settings > Parental controls on the device. You can also create an Amazon Kids child profile and control it from the parents dashboard.


Hope this article helps!




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