Is Your Child’s Porn Habit Really an Addiction?
By Courtney Cagle
At what point does a habit become an addiction? This is a question that many of you probably have had. My best friend starting looking at pornography 18 years ago when he was only 11 years old, and he didn’t realize it was a true addiction until about year ago. Many people, like my friend live with an addiction for years. Meanwhile, they are in denial or don’t recognize what it truly means to have an addiction.
What is a Habit?
A habit is a behavior that occurs automatically. It’s something that a person does over and over again. People form these habits and tend to keep them throughout their lifetime. People form positive and negative habits. Most don’t often notice their own habits, but may notice other people’s habits and find them annoying. Positive habits can be wonderful, but negative habits can lead to a lifelong addiction (Admin, 2011).
What is an Addiction?
Addiction occurs when a habit has changed the neural pathways in the brain. At this point, it feels impossible to stop repeating the negative behavior. Many people have a hard time identifying the difference between a habit and an addiction, but a good way to discover it is to try and stop the behavior. If your child is unable to stop a certain behavior, this is a good sign that it has passed the point of a habit and has turned into an addiction.
Addictions can sometimes be used as an escape or coping mechanism because of stress, loneliness, anxiety, or other difficulties. Addictions usually affect relationships and the addict’s behavior. Functioning at work or in a relationship becomes difficult and sometimes impossible (Admin, 2011).
Pornography’s Effect on the Brain
So, how does this apply to pornography? Pornography affects the brain in a similar way as a drug. The brain has a reward center and our brain can’t tell the difference between receiving a real, healthy reward and drugs. Addictive substances activate the reward center which results in dopamine (pleasure chemicals) being released. The cravings get stronger as more dopamine is released into the brain, and the consumer wants more and more of the drug (How Porn Affects The Brain Like A Drug, 2017), (Alexander & Mehrdad, 2016).
Pornography does the same thing. The brain releases more dopamine when introduced to new sexual stimuli. There is a huge variety of new pornographic images on the internet that consumers can view. If the image they are currently viewing no longer stimulates the viewer, there is always something different and more titillating to click on. Pornography addiction is progressive. Many individuals begin looking at gateway images like anime porn, which lead to scantily clad women, which lead to nude women, which lead to sex between a man and a woman, and so on.
If the pornography habit isn’t caught early, the viewer can begin craving content more frequently, or will often turn to more hard-core, dehumanizing porn in order to release the amount of dopamine needed to satisfy them sexually. This makes it more difficult to quit and can result in withdrawal symptoms that are similar to drug withdrawal symptoms (How Porn Affects The Brain Like A Drug, 2017), (Alexander & Mehrdad, 2016).
So, how can you tell if your child has a habit or an addiction to pornography?
Here are some questions you can ask your son or daughter if you have discovered they are looking at porn, to help determine if they have a pornography addiction.
- Does viewing pornography have a negative effect on your daily happiness?
- Do you put yourself in situations where it is easier to view porn?
- When you aren’t looking at pornography on a daily or weekly basis, does it result in withdrawal symptoms like stress, anger, depression, or anxiety?
- Do you try to hide your pornography use from your parents or others?
- Have you tried multiple times, unsuccessfully, to stop looking at pornography on your own?
- Have you noticed pornography affecting your schooling, specifically how well you do in school or your desire to try?
- Have you noticed pornography affecting your personal relationships negatively by making you more distant or closed off?
- Have you noticed an increase in the amount of pornography used over the past six months? Over the past year?
- How often do you view porn? Is it daily, weekly, monthly?
- Do you ever feel like your porn use is out of control?
If your son or daughter answered yes to any of these questions, they might have a pornography addiction (Habit vs. Addiction: 4 Questions To Determine The Difference, 2017), (Pornography Addiction and Treatment, 2018), (Alexander & Mehrdad, 2016). If you are uncomfortable asking these questions, here are some signs you can look for to see if your son or daughter has been looking a pornography:
- Does your son or daughter hide their phone from you or try to be secretive about it?
- Have you seen questionable websites on your browser history?
- Is your son or daughter uninterested in activities they used to love?
- Does your son or daughter seem more depressed, stressed, or anxious?
- Is your son or daughter more withdrawn than usual?
- Does your son or daughter hide away in their room often?
These things in and of themselves don’t necessarily mean that your child has a pornography problem, but when coupled together, they could indicate a pornography habit or addiction.
There is Hope
If your child has a pornography habit or addiction, there is still hope! Don’t ever give up on your kids. They are never past the point of no return. They can overcome this and they need your help. The first stage of pornography addiction is early exposure (McConnell & Campbell, 1996). It usually starts at a young age and that’s where you come in.
Here are 5 things you can do can help your child with early exposure to pornography:
- Be Calm and Don’t Overreact
You may feel hurt or betrayed. You may feel like you don’t even know who your child is, but don’t express this to them! You may have these feelings inside, but it doesn’t benefit anyone to let them all out. It will only hurt your child. Think of how they are feeling and respond with love and compassion (Hawks, 2017).
- Don’t Use Shame
Your child already feels shame as a result of what they’ve done. Making them feel more shame won’t create open communication and won’t help with their problem. It will only make them feel worse. Let them know you appreciate their openness and their trust in you (Hawks, 2017).
- Be Someone They Can Come To
Let your child know that they can come to do when they slip up. Having someone to report to and to share this information with can help in the process of overcoming it. If they are held responsible by sharing it, it can help them to be more determined and will also help them know they have your support and love.
- Discover the Underlying Issue
Those who have a pornography problem usually have something in their life that drives them to view it. It could be depression, stress, anxiety, or other problems in their life. Sit down and talk to your child to determine what that is and how you can help them solve that problem. Overcoming the underlying issue will help with overcoming pornography.
- Come Up With a Plan:
Children need to have a plan after they are exposed to pornography. If they make a plan, it will be easier to discuss information with you (Hawks, 2017). Our book, How to Talk to Your Kids About Pornography, discusses ways to help your kids with their pornography struggle.
Some of the ways discussed in the book include:
- Building a foundation of trust
- Creating a home of openness
- Creating a plan to R-U-N Plan if exposed to porn
- Exploring treatment options if it’s become an addiction
- Exploring alternate, healthy behaviors
- Creating a positive reinforcement system
If you are ready to tackle this tough topic, check out How to Talk to Your Kids About Pornography, available here.
Pornography addiction is a very difficult addiction to overcome, but it is possible. Unlike those struggling with alcohol or drug addiction, those addicted to porn can’t avoid all situations where there pornography will be present–because it is everywhere. It’s all over the internet, on advertisements, and on television. If your daughter or son if struggling, you must be loving, supportive, and use whatever resources you can to help them overcome this. For more information on how you can help your kids overcome addiction, look at this article called How Parents Can Help Children Overcome Porn Addiction.
Educate and Empower Kids has TONS of great resources to help you with this tough topic:
Find all of our books here.
Courtney Cagle is a senior at Brigham Young University-Idaho graduating in Marriage and Family Studies. She loves kids and wants to help create a safe environment for all children to learn and grow.
There are affiliate links in the blog post. When you use them to make purchases, we thank you for supporting Educate and Empower Kids!
Alexander, D., & Mehrdad, J. (2016). How to talk to your kids about pornography. United States: Educate & Empower Kids.
(2011, January 22). Difference Between Habit and Addiction|Habit vs Addiction. Retrieved May 16, 2018, from https://www.differencebetween.com/difference-between-habit-and-addiction/
Habit vs. Addiction: 4 Questions To Determine The Difference. (2017, June 14). Retrieved May 16, 2018, from https://journeypureriver.com/habit-vs-addiction-4-questions-determine-difference/
Hawks, H. (2017, October 26). My Daughter, the Porn Addict: Four Tips to Help Your Child Through A Porn Addiction. Retrieved May 16, 2018, from https://educateempowerkids.org/daughter-porn-addict-four-tips-help-child-porn-addiction
How Porn Affects The Brain Like A Drug. (2017, August 23). Retrieved May 16, 2018, from https://fightthenewdrug.org/how-porn-affects-the-brain-like-a-drug/
McConnell, G., & Campbell, K. (1996). The Stages of Pornography Addiction. Retrieved May 16, 2018, from https://www.focusonthefamily.com/marriage/divorce-and-infidelity/pornography-and-virtual-infidelity/stages-of-porn-addiction
Pornography Addiction and Treatment. (2018). Retrieved May 16, 2018, from https://www.recoveryconnection.com/addiction-resources/other-addictions/pornography/