Today’s kids are immersed in media. More than ever before, tweens and teens are watching, reading, listening, creating, and communicating throughout their entire day. It’s become harder to distinguish between screen time and just … time. The Common Sense Census found that American teens average about nine hours of media per day and tweens about six per day. This doesn’t include time spent doing homework on a computer or tablet or reading books for school.
Parents should feel empowered to set limits on screens of all sizes. Devices are a huge part of screen time, and kids need support in establishing balance and setting limits. Depending on your family, these rules can be as simple as “no phones at the dinner table” or “no texting after 9 p.m.”
Encourage your kids to be creative, responsible consumers, not just passive users. Media can be incredibly productive, educational, and empowering. Helping younger kids find great content and get access to quality books, complex movies, challenging games, and safe apps and websites fosters a positive relationship with media.
Help kids understand the effects of multitasking. Our research shows tweens and teens think multitasking has no impact on the quality of their homework. As parents, we know that helping kids stay focused will only strengthen interpersonal skills and school performance. Encourage them to manage one task at a time, shutting down social media while working online for homework or engaging in conversation.
Talk the talk, walk the walk. Lead by example by putting your own devices away during family time. Parent role-modeling shows kids the behavior and values you want in your home. Kids will be more open and willing participants when the house rules apply to you, too.
When it comes to screen time, every family will have different amounts of time that they think is “enough.” What’s important is giving it some thought, creating age-appropriate limits (with built-in flexibility for special circumstances), making media choices you’re comfortable with, and modeling responsible screen limits for your kids. Try these age-based guidelines to create screen rules that stick.
Preschoolers. There are lots of great TV shows, apps, games, and websites geared for this age. But too much time spent in front of a screen can interfere with activities that are essential for growing brains and bodies.
Go for quality and age-appropriateness. Not everything for preschoolers needs to be a so-called “brain-builder,” but there’s a difference between mindless and mindfulentertainment. Our reviews can steer you toward titles that help preschoolers work on developmental skills like sharing, cooperation, and emotional intelligence.
Sit with them, and enjoy the discovery process. There will always be moments when you need to rely on the TV or an app to distract your preschooler while you get something done. But as much as you can, enjoy media together. Little hands and developing brains really benefit from your company (and guidance!).
Begin setting limits when kids are little. Habits get ingrained early, so try to establish clear screen-time rules when your kids are young. For games, apps, and websites, you may need to set a timer. For TV, just say “one show.”
Elementary and Middle Schoolers. At this age, kids love TV shows, games, movies, and online videos. They begin to explore more and hear about new shows and games from friends. Because they can access these things by themselves, it’s crucial to continue to supervise their activities and help them stick to your rules.
Start with an endpoint. Use whatever tools you have — your DVR, Netflix, OnDemand — to pre-record shows, cue them up, or plan ahead to watch at a specific time. That way, one show won’t flow into the other, and you can avoid commercials. If your kids are into YouTube, search for age-appropriate videos, and add them to a playlist to watch later. Because most games don’t have built-in endings (and are, in fact, designed to make kids play as long as possible), set a timer or some other cue that says “time to stop.”
Help them balance their day. Kids this age need guidance from you on a daily plan that includes a little bit of time for everything. And staying involved works: Kids whose parents make an effort to limit media use spend less time with media than their peers do, according to a 2010 Kaiser Family Foundation study. Use the American Academy of Pediatrics’ worksheets to create a family media plan.
Practice what you preach. It’s tempting to keep reaching for your phone to check email, texts, Facebook, or the news. But your kids will be the first to call you out for not “walking the talk.” Plus, they’ll pick up habits from you. Model the media behavior that you want your kids to emulate.
Help them make quality choices. You still have a say in what they see, hear, and play. Put in your two cents about the importance of quality shows, games, and movies.
Crack down on multitasking. High school kids who’ve discovered texting, IM, Facebook, and music tend to do them all at once — especially when they’re supposed to be doing mundane tasks like homework. But a University of Michigan study found that humans are terrible multitaskers and that the practice actually reduces the ability to concentrate and focus.
Find ways to say “yes.” Look for movies they can watch. Find games you’re OK with. If your teens ask to see something you don’t approve of, help them find alternatives.
Covenant Eyes users might think, “What does this mean for my struggle with porn? How should we approach this diagnosis?” These are important questions that I want to help you think thoroughly about.
What Is Compulsive Sexual Behavior Disorder?
If you care to read the official definition for CSBD, here it is. These types of definitions can be technical, but they’re important to understand:
“Compulsive sexual behavior disorder is characterized by a persistent pattern of failure to control intense repetitive sexual impulses or urges, resulting in repetitive sexual behavior over an extended period (e.g., six months or more) that causes marked distress or impairment in personal, family, social, educational, occupational or other important areas of functioning.”
What are the implications of this that we can clearly affirm?
There are good expressions of sexual behavior and bad expressions of sexual behavior. The ICD would say healthy and unhealthy. Christians would add holy and unholy. Healthiness and holiness are not competing concepts, and both should be considered important in this conversation.
Sexual behavior has the propensity to be ensnaring and can disrupt many areas of life. This is aligned with the Christian view that sin has a predatory intent to destroy people’s lives.
For a habit to become enslaving, an extended period of repetition is required. This is common sense.
Pornography is not a victimless activity; many people are negatively affected. This counters one of the most common lies in our culture about the innocence of viewing pornography.
There is hope for change. The entire point of placing diagnoses in the ICD is that these diagnoses represent experiences for which some degree of freedom or relief is possible.
Why Was CSBD Included as a Diagnosis?
While it may get a little nerdy, to evaluate the inclusion of CSBD in this diagnostic structure we also need to consider why this diagnosis was added.
“Although this category resembles that of substance dependence, it is included in the ICD‐11 impulse control disorders section in recognition of the lack of definitive information on whether the processes involved in the development and maintenance of the disorder are equivalent to those observed in substance use disorders and behavioral addictions. Its inclusion in the ICD‐11 will help to address unmet needs of treatment seeking patients, as well as possibly reducing the shame and guilt that distressed individuals associate with seeking help.”
So to summarize:
Researchers are unsure if CSBD has the same physiological features as substance dependence. Uncertainty on this point is why they don’t use the more common label of sexual addiction to describe this experience.
A large number of people struggle with compulsive sexual behavior. Diagnoses are included in the ICD when it becomes common enough that clinicians see an increase in prevalence for an experience.
The official diagnosis makes it easier for these individuals to be reimbursed for counseling. Insurance companies require a diagnostic code to reimburse for services, which made it difficult for individuals to receive counseling. Adding a diagnosis to the ICD is as much about third party reimbursement as it about discovering something new.
It allows for better research on compulsive sexual behavior. Research helps us to differentiate speculation from empirically verifiable approaches to working with a given life struggle. This kind of research should enrich both professional and lay-based care strategies.
Does This New Recognition Present Any Concerns?
Sexual behavioral can get out of control. When it does, lots of people are affected, and WHO wants insurance companies to reimburse for counseling. If we want people to be free from destructive sexual behavior, this all seems fine. But are there any reasons to be cautious with this new label?
When a pattern of behavior receives a diagnostic label, it often creates an external locus of control. Diagnostic labels lead us to think something is happening to us rather than being done by us. There is some concern that this label could reinforce a sense of passivity towards change and a lack of ownership for one’s choices.
The moral nature of the activity can be lost with a label. Too often we fail to realize that something can be both unhealthy and immoral. We treat it as an either-or instead of a both-and. There is some concern that this diagnostic label could distract from the role of repentance in change.
Also, we often assume the remedy for a diagnosis will be medicinal. Again, this doesn’t need to be either-or. The remedy for diabetes involves both insulin and exercise. If there is a medicine that can help with impulse control, we should be happy. But regardless, the fruit of the Spirit known as “self-control” will be required in both taking the medicine as prescribed and other behavioral choices towards righteous living.
How Should We Approach This New Diagnosis?
The answer to this question will vary from person to person. Diagnostic labels are a tool. Any tool can be used for good purposes. In contrast, any tool can also be used for destructive purposes. The problem with tools is usually not with the tool, but with how a given individual utilizes that tool.
If you serve as an ally for someone who comes across this new diagnosis, affirm the following:
Your friend is not alone in their struggle. This can help alleviate some of the stigma associated with sexual sin.
Sexual activity has an enslaving tendency. If someone fights a bear and loses, we don’t call them weak. It’s the nature of the bear to be stronger. When someone engages sexual sin and becomes enslaved, it doesn’t mean they’re uniquely weak. It means it’s the nature of this activity to be enslaving.
Even secular health experts (meaning, those without the bias of Christian morals) want individuals enslaved to sexual activity to have access to help in the pursuit of freedom. Appealing to secular experts helps reveal the frustration point, “I only need to change because I’m a Christian and God’s hung up about sex,”which is not true.
If you serve as an ally for someone who comes across this new diagnosis, caution the following:
Your choices matter. A label can explain why change is hard; it is not a reason to quit trying.
Abstinence and repentance are not the same thing. A secular counselor would just want you to stop engaging in self-destructive behavior (abstinence). God invites you to a restored relationship with Him (repentance).
No amount of science will make change easy. But the work is worth it. If there is anything we can learn from science to make our efforts at change more effective, we will. But just like science has taught us a great deal about dieting, those advances in science haven’t made losing weight easy. Peer support and wise choices are still the central elements to change. So, let’s keep going together.
If you are interested in history of diagnostics, I would recommend Allen Frances’ book Saving Normal. Dr. Frances is a psychiatrist who loves his profession but is concerned about overmedicating normal physical struggles. Here is a brief excerpt from his book and few reflections to whet your appetite to read more.
HELICOPTER PARENTING: FROM GOOD INTENTIONS TO POOR OUTCOMES
Do you stand over your child’s shoulder when they do their homework? Do you find yourself directing your kids’ every move? “Pick up this, clean up that, sit up straight, finish your homework, study hard, say thank you.” Do you spend a good chunk of your day obsessing about your children’s success, like will they make the sports team or school play, and will they get into the top-notch college you (yes, you!) always dreamed of?
I hate to break it to you, but you may be a helicopter parent—a term which is commonly used but also has a basis in research on specific parenting behaviors and their effects on children.
Most parents want the very best for their children, and so they’ll go to great lengths to be wonderful providers and protectors. The deep love and care that parents have for their children can even push parents to, well, be a bit over-the-top. And helicopter parents are known to be overly protective and involved in their children’s lives.
The term paints a picture of a parent who hovers over their children, always on alert, and who swoops in to rescue them at the first sign of trouble or disappointment. The term was first coined in 1990 by Foster Cline and Jim Fay in their book, Parenting with Love and Logic, and it gained relevance with college admissions staff who noticed how parents of prospective students were inserting themselves in the admissions process.
Helicopter parenting can be defined by three types of behaviors that parents exemplify:
First, information seeking behaviors include knowing your children’s daily schedule and where they are at all times, helping them make decisions, and being informed about grades and other accomplishments.
Second, direct intervention means jumping into conflicts with kids’ roommates, friends, romantic partners, and even bosses.
Third, autonomy limiting is when students think their parents are preventing them from making their own mistakes, controlling their lives for them, and failing to support their decisions.
We all want to love our children as much as possible and protect them from the dangers in our society. We live in an increasingly competitive world and want to give our kids every advantage possible. But if we over-parent and smother them, it can backfire big time. A collection of research in recent years shows a connection between helicopter parenting and mental health issues like anxiety and depression as children get older and try to make it on their own.
The negative impacts of helicopter parenting
In 2010, a study by researcher Neil Montgomery, a psychologist at Keene State College in New Hampshire, found that overprotective parents might have a lasting impact on their child’s personality by prolonging childhood and adolescence. Approximately 300 college freshmen were surveyed about their level of agreement with statements regarding their parents’ involvement in their lives. The results showed that 10 percent of the participants had helicopter parents. The research also revealed that students with helicopter parents tended to be less open to new ideas and actions, and were more vulnerable, anxious, dependent, and self-conscious.
A 2016 study from the National University of Singapore published in the Journal of Personality indicated that children with intrusive parents who had high expectations for academic performance, or who overreacted when they made a mistake, tend to be more self-critical, anxious, or depressed. The researchers termed this as “maladaptive perfectionism,” or a tendency in children of helicopter parents to be afraid of making mistakes and to blame themselves for not being perfect. This happens because the parents are essentially—whether by their words or actions—indicating to their kids that what they do is never good enough.
Another 2016 study evaluated questionnaires about parenting completed by 377 students from a Midwestern university. Students responded to statements about the type of parents they have, how often they communicate with their parents, and how much their parents intrude in their lives. The students also completed a number of tests to discern their decision-making skills, academic performance, and symptoms of anxiety and depression. Results showed that higher overall helicopter parenting scores were associated with stronger symptoms of anxiety and depression.
According to that study, helicopter parenting “was also associated with poorer functioning in emotional functioning, decision making, and academic functioning. Parents’ information-seeking behaviors, when done in absences of other [helicopter parenting] behaviors, were associated with better decision making and academic functioning.”
In addition, the journal Cognitive Therapy and Researchpublished research in 2017 suggesting that helicopter parenting can trigger anxiety in kids who already struggle with some social issues. A group of children and their parents were asked to complete as many puzzles as possible in a 10-minute time period. Parents were allowed to help their children, but not encouraged to do so.
Researchers noted that the parents of children with social issues touched the puzzles more often than the other parents did. Though they were not critical or negative, they stepped in even when their children did not ask for help. Researchers think this indicates that parents of socially anxious children may perceive challenges to be more threatening than the child thinks they are. Over time, this can diminish a child’s ability to succeed on their own and potentially increase anxiety.
So how does all this hovering cause mental health problems in our children?
First of all, helicopter parents are communicating to their children in subtle (or not-so-subtle) ways that they won’t be safe unless mom or dad is there looking out for them. When these children have to go off on their own, they are not prepared to meet daily challenges. This inability to find creative solutions and make decisions on their own can cause a great deal of worry since their protector is no longer around to help them.
Because these children were never taught the skills to function independently, and because they may have been held to unattainable or even “perfectionist” standards, children of helicopter parents can experience anxiety, depression, a lack of confidence, and low self-esteem. Another issue is that if these kids have never experienced failure, they can develop an overwhelming fear of failure and of disappointing others. Finally, if we don’t let our children have the freedom to learn about the world and discover their purpose and what makes them happy, they will struggle to find happiness and live a balanced life—all impacting their mental health.
What we can do to break the helicopter habit
All parents know that parenting is not easy. Having children and raising them presents innumerable challenges and surprises, but also immense joy and connection. Now that we know that overparenting only leads to more problems for our kids, we can make the following adjustments in our parenting approach:
Support your children’s growth and independence by listening to them, and not always pushing your desires on them.
Don’t try to help your children escape consequences for their actions unless you believe those consequences are unfair or life-altering.
Don’t raise your child to expect to be treated differently than other children.
Encourage your children to solve their own problems by asking them to come up with creative solutions.
Teach your children to speak up for themselves in a respectful manner.
Understand and accept your children’s weaknesses and strengths, and help them to use their strengths to achieve their own goals.
Parents should, of course, do the best they can for their kids. Impulses to involve ourselves in our children’s’ lives often come from a sense of duty, and of unconditional love. We can harness those desires to give the most we can to our kids by resisting helicopter parenting, which can lead to poor outcomes in adulthood.
Instead, try letting your children discover themselves—their weaknesses, strengths, their goals and dreams. You can help them succeed, but you should also let them fail. Teach them how to try again. Learning what failure means, how it feels, and how to bounce back is an important part of becoming independent in our world.
10 WAYS YOUR KIDS COULD SEE PORN WITHOUT YOU KNOWING
“Are you excited for school to start?!”
As a kid, I would dread that question. I never wanted summer to end! Of course, now that I’m a parent, I find myself asking that question.
For a kid, back-to-school is about the buzzing excitement of a new adventure. It’s shopping for new clothes and school supplies, seeing friends again after a long summer apart, and getting to know new teachers, classrooms, and subjects.
For the parents, it’s the longed-for reality of a quiet house and the return of a regular schedule. Our days are spent on work routines, chores, or errands, while our kids are out-of-sight-out-of-mind. Our evening schedules fill up with activities and the pace of life increases. In all the commotion of a new school year, it’s easy to overlook some of the basic precautions we would (and should) normally take to keep our kids safe.
As you prepare your child to head back to school, here are ten potential “danger zones” where your kids could encounter mature or inappropriate content.
It’s the second most popular search engine after Google and one of the easiest ways for our kids to consume content such as video game walk-throughs, music videos, and movie trailers. But, the platform also contains a boatload of content that you may consider inappropriate for your children.
Some of the biggest dangers on YouTube are the suggested videos displayed after each video view. Clicking from one enticing video to the next can become a downhill slide from innocent to explicit content..
Kids love Instagram. In fact, some of them practically live there, documenting and sharing each moment of their lives with their group of friends. The image-based nature of the platform appeals to young people, but that nature combined with a lack of oversight on the part of Instagram can result in easily accessible porn.
This is another social media platform that kids spend a lot of time on. The large number of photo filters make it fun to share pictures and videos with friends. Unfortunately, this platform also hosts a volume of adult content, and there is very little enforcement by Snapchat to keep underage users from seeing it.
The “instant picture” feature of Snapchat can also be dangerous for young children. When a picture is sent or received, it can only be viewed for up to ten seconds; then, it disappears forever. This makes it easy to send inappropriate pictures and videos without the fear of being caught.
4. Google Images
Searching Google for images and videos can be a quick, convenient way to research a topic for school or entertainment. But, it’s important to remember that the search results can (and often will) contain mature content when Google SafeSearch has not been activated.
This is another way that kids might encounter the “rabbit hole” effect, where clicking on one enticing image reveals a list of other suggested images, which can become increasingly graphic in nature.
5. Personal Devices
Many kids have their own phones and tablets. It can be a great way to stay connected with your child and a fun source of entertainment for them.
However, it’s important for parents to remember that it’s our job to teach our children how to behave in a healthy, responsible manner, and that includes the use of their personal devices. Take the time to research and set up the available parental controls on your kid’s device. Also, using Screen Accountability software can promote honest, grace-filled conversations with our kids about how they use their devices.
When their devices are properly protected, you’ll have the peace of mind that comes from knowing your kids are safe, and they can feel free to have fun without you hovering over their shoulder.
6. School Laptops or Tablets
Many schools now offer students the opportunity to take home a school device, such as a laptop or iPad. It’s a great way to make sure all students have access to technology. Schools tend to lock these devices down so that students aren’t able to abuse them, but if you’re a parent, you know that kids can be resourceful. It’s always a good idea to have a basic understanding of the protections in place on your child’s school device.
7. Library Computers
Public libraries are a great way for people with limited internet access to get online for free. Most schools will also have a computer lab available for students to do research online. These are public places, but that doesn’t always stop a determined young person from searching out inappropriate content.
8. Your Devices
Do your kids know the password to access your phone, tablet, or laptop? Do you allow them to use your devices unsupervised?
If your kids are using your devices, you should consider implementing the same protections you would use on their devices. Otherwise, lock them out. They can still pick up your phone in a emergency and dial 911 without unlocking it.
9. A Friend’s House
It’s a basic rule of parenting that most of us do instinctively: know who your kids’ friends are and know their parents.
But, have you considered asking those parents how they are protecting their kids’ devices? Are the kids left unsupervised with their devices? Do they have their phone or laptop in their bedroom behind closed doors?
10. A Friend’s Device
You can’t be everywhere at once. No parent can. Maybe you trust the level of supervision at your child’s friend’s house, but what about at school? Or at the mall?
It’s a good idea to talk to your kids about using their friend’s devices and let them know you still expect responsible behavior, even when you’re not there to see it.
So, what can you do?
With the ease of access to media of all kinds via internet-connected devices, it can be overwhelming as a parent to try and keep up. Here are a few suggestions to help you keep your kids a little safer.
Pay attention. Know where your kids are, who they are spending time with, and what they are doing together. Just knowing you’re paying attention can often dissuade kids from acting out when they’re tempted.
Have conversations. Be a sounding board for your kids. Listen more than you talk. Let them know they can come to you with any problem, and they won’t be judged or condemned. Talk openly about things like pornography and why it can be so enticing and harmful. It’s important to maintain your authority, but you can do so in a way that encourages open communication and trust rather than secrecy.
Use technology to your advantage. Tech is often the problem, but it can also be the solution. Screen Accountability and Filtering software, such as Covenant Eyes, can help facilitate conversations with your child about how to use their devices safely and avoid online temptations. That’s the goal, after all: teach them how to stay safe.
Back-to-school is a good time to remind ourselves that our aim is not to put our kids in cages, but to raise them up into healthy, responsible adults who know how to navigate this digital world with integrity.
Take it from a middle school teacher and mom: Kids need to
manage their online activities — and parents need to help them do it.
This article is part of Common Sense
Media’s Parent Voices series, which provides a platform for opinions about
parenting in the digital age. All ideas expressed are the writer’s own.
Last year Fortnite invaded
my middle school classroom — as I believe it did to middle school classrooms
across the country. Students who were usually on task and high-performing were
nodding off and “forgetting”
to do their homework. The morning conversations about how late they stayed up or
who was the last man
standing became part of our early morning check-ins. Then the
phone calls with parents started: Over several months, I had numerous telephone
and after-school meetings with parents concerned about their kids’ performance.
When I brought up screen time,
there were a range of reactions. Some parents seemed oblivious as
to what their children were doing after hours, some didn’t know how to rein in
screen time, and some thought they had it all under control — but clearly did
I get it. I’m not just a teacher: I’m
a mom who struggles with screen time, too. I spent last summer trying
to keep my own middle school daughter unplugged in the rural English
countryside. After the first week, when the iPad started appearing little by
little, I tried to use my own advice — “However much you read
is how much screen time you get” — and reasoning, “Make sure you
balance your learning games with your other games.” But then I’d hear my
daughter yelling at a friend who’d just left her online game, and I’d feel like
I’d lost the battle.
The thing is, I’m not anti-screen.
I’ve seen technology bring some amazing teaching
momentsto my classroom — and to my own life. One student, whom I
could never get to write a complete sentence on paper, wrote the most heartfelt
poem about how he “nearly won” in Fortnite.
It became his breakthrough,
and he hasn’t stopped writing since. Other kids made parallels to the dystopian books they
were reading and wrote very poignant compare-and-contrast papers to prove their
points. And, far away from her friends in the United States, my daughter was
able to stay in touch with her friends online, keep herself occupied with Roblox,
and feel a part of pop culture by watching every Miranda Sings video
Those breakthrough moments of
connection, creativity, and critical thinking are what I strive for as a
teacher and a mother. What it tells me is that however parents handle the
management of their kids’ screen time, it really does have to be a balance. And
knowing middle school kids as well as I do, I know that they aren’t always able
to shut downFortnite or YouTube without the
guidance and support of their
parents. I’ve also discovered that tech is never going to be a
one-size-fits-all thing. What works for some kids will not work for others.
Finding what is best for your family can involve a bit of trial and error.
These are the strategies that worked
for many of my parents last year and that I’m sure I will be trying with my
middle schooler this year:
Be present. Know
what your child is playing and when. That seems simple, but it is so important.
So many of my parents last year had no idea that their child was staying up
until all hours in the morning playing games. I heard more than once, “I
have never had to worry about their screen use. They have been so good up until
now.” I remind them that this is middle school, they are not bad kids, and
they are just testing the boundaries — so set them!
Control the Wi-Fi. I touched base with some of my parents after their children made
improvements in class, and I found that they had put in place simple household
internet controls. The kids had passwords to access the internet, and the
parents put a time limit on when the password could be used. Please note that a
few of my tech-savvy kids confided that they were able to “override”
Remove the temptation. Some families took all screens out of the children’s
bedrooms and stored cellphones in a locked charging box until morning. This
might seem extreme, but I know for at least one of my students this worked. He
was struggling socially and trying so hard to fit in with a certain crowd. He
later acknowledged that he needed help — beyond the gaming community.
Parental-control apps. I’ve had students tell their parents that they have online
homework to do and then end up playing a game instead. Parental-control apps
can help, but it takes some research to find the right one for your needs. Making
the homework space at the dining room table or another central location can
make it easier to keep an eye on kids, too.
need downtime. I have these hormonal, opinionated, stressed-out middle
schoolers for two hours a day, and I push them. I know that the other teachers
at my school also carry high expectations. Finding time to completely unplug is
important. One parent told me today that they have a hard rule of no screen
time except for homework on weekdays, and the way to lose weekend play time is
by breaking that rule. I personally allow weekday screen time, but I reserve
the right to change my mind.
HOW TO TALK TO KIDS ABOUT VIOLENCE, CRIME, AND WAR
Exposure to graphic images, distressing information, and horrific
headlines can affect kids’ overall well-being.
shootings. Nuclear weapons. A robbery at your local corner store. Where do you
start when you have to explain this stuff to your kids? Today, issues involving
violence, crime, and war — whether they’re in popular shows, video games,
books, or news coverage — reach even the youngest kids. And with wall-to-wall
TV coverage, constant social media updates, streaming services that broadcast
age-inappropriate content any time of day, plus the internet itself, you have
to have a plan for discussing even the worst of the worst in a way that’s
age-appropriate, that helps kids understand, and that doesn’t cause more harm.
Don’t bring it up —
unless you think they know something. There’s no reason
to bring up school shootings, terrorist attacks, threats of war, or the like
with young kids. If you suspect they do know something — for example, you hear
them talking about it during their play — you can ask them about it and see if
it’s something that needs further discussion.
Affirm that your
family’s safe. In the case of scary news, such as wilderness fires
— even if you’re a little rattled — it’s important for young children to know
they’re safe, their family is OK, and someone is taking care of the problem.
Hugs and snuggles do wonders, too.
Simplify complex ideas
— and move on. Abstract ideas can complicate matters and may even
scare young kids. Use concrete terms and familiar references your kid will
understand, and try not to overexplain. About a mass shooting, say, “A man
who was very, very confused and angry took a gun and shot people. The police
are working to make sure people are safe.”
“real” and “pretend.” Young kids have rich
fantasy lives and mix up make-believe and reality. They may ask you if a scary
story is really true. Be honest, but don’t belabor a point.
Wait and see. Unless they
ask, you know they were exposed, or you think they know something, don’t feel
you have to discuss horrific news or explain heinous crimes such as rape,
beheadings, dismemberment, and drug-fueled rampages (especially to kids in the
younger end of this age range or who are sensitive). If kids show signs of
distress by acting anxious, regressing, or exhibiting some other tip-off that
something’s amiss — for example, they’re reluctant to go to school after the
latest school shooting — approach them and invite them to talk.
Talk … and listen. Older tweens hear about
issues related to violence, crime, and war on social media, YouTube, TV, and movies —
not always reliable sources for facts. Try to get a sense of what your kids
know before launching into an explanation, since you don’t want to distress
them further or open up a whole new can of worms. Feel them out by asking,
“What did you hear?,” “Where did you hear that?,”
“What do you know about it?,” and “What do you think about
Be honest and direct. Tweens can find out what
they want to know from different sources, and you want the truth to come from you. It’s
not necessary to go into extreme detail. About a family who held their kids
hostage, you can say, “The kids suffered many different kinds of abuse.
But they were rescued, and their parents were arrested. Often in cases of child
abuse, the parents are very sick with mental illness or other issues.”
in news and media. Talk to kids about how media outlets — including news agencies,
TV shows, movie companies, and game developers — use extreme subjects to get attention, whether it’s in
the form of clicks, viewership, or ticket sales. Share the old
newsroom adage, “If it bleeds, it leads,” and talk about why we may
be drawn to outrageous human behavior. This helps kids think critically about
the relative importance of issues, the words and images used to attract an
audience, and their own media choices.
Explain context and
offer perspective. With your life experience, knowledge, and wisdom, you can
explain the various circumstances around certain issues. This is the process
that gives things meaning and clarity — and it’s important for kids to be able
to make sense of negative and unpleasant things, too. To work through the
powerful emotions that images of beatings, blood, and human suffering can bring
up, kids have to learn to distance themselves from horrific events, understand
the underlying causes, and perhaps get involved in meaningful ways to make things
better, such as diplomacy and education.
Get them talking. High school years can be
tough, as teens start rejecting their parents’ ideas, becoming concerned with
what friends think, and developing their own voice. This separation can be
especially difficult when traumatic events occur or when you know they’re
interacting with mature media. To continue the kinds of conversations you had
when they were younger — and stay connected and relevant — resist the urge to
lecture and instead ask their opinions about things. Encourage them to support
their ideas with legitimate news sources, not just repeat what others have said. Say,
“We may not always agree, but I’m curious to hear what you have to
Accept their sources,
but expand their horizons. Trending topics capture the headlines, but teens
are just as likely to run across provocative subjects, stories, and characters
on TV and in movies — such as the meth-making chemistry teacher of Breaking
Bad — that get users clicking, viewing, and sharing. Give teens the tools to view information critically,
whether they’re scrolling through Snapchat, Netflix or a free-speech site for
extremists such as 4chan and 8chan. Teach them to question what they see by
asking themselves, “Who made this?,” “Why did they make
it?,” “What’s its point of view?,” “What information isn’t
included?,” and “What would my friends think of this?” These
media-literacy questions help teens evaluate information, think beyond the clickbait headline or funny meme, and
look more deeply into a topic.
My older daughter was less than a week old when the
Sandy Hook school shooting happened. I remember clutching her body to my chest
and watching cable news, horrified by the world I had brought her into. For
days after, I worried about taking her outside our home and into crowded
places. I had a pungent, spiky fear that felt very real in the moment. If
someone could gun down a bunch of 6-year-olds, I thought at the time, the
notion of safety was ephemeral.
Parenting is an ongoing process of learning to
tolerate the idea “that you cannot entirely keep your children safe,” said Dr.
Alexandra Sacks, M.D., a reproductive psychiatrist based in New York City, who
called this struggle the “existential paradox” of parenthood.
I spoke to two psychiatrists and two pediatricians about
how parents — and their children — can deal with increased anxiety and fear in
the aftermath of these shootings.
Understand that a few days of
increased anxiety is normal. “It’s an appropriate response
to a really traumatic event,” said Dr. Pooja Lakshmin, M.D., a clinical
assistant professor of psychiatry at the George Washington University School of
Medicine. If you need more downtime at home in the few days after such
upsetting violence, you should feel empowered to take that space, Dr. Lakshmin
said. And acknowledging your feelings is key — avoiding or pushing them down
won’t make them go away.
Reach out to parent friends. Connecting with your community to talk through fears can help, Dr.
Lakshmin said. That’s particularly true for parents of color or those from
religious minorities, who may feel especially acute anxiety in this moment
because of the white extremist ideology of
many recent mass shooters.
Try to stick to your routine. “Every time a shooting happens, our sense of reality falls apart,”
Dr. Lakshmin said. “The world you thought you were living in is not the world
you’re actually in.” So trying to maintain your routine keeps you tethered to
your day-to-day life. Overcoming your fears by taking your kids to the park, to
the store or to camp as planned can help to keep the anxiety from overwhelming
Channel anxiety into action. Finding a way to contribute in the aftermath of a tragedy, whether
by volunteering with organizations that work to prevent mass shootings or by
helping a community affected, can help redirect your fears, Dr. Sacks
said. The El Paso Times published
recommendations for its community, as did the Dayton Daily News.
Step away from the news. If you find that reading or viewing the details of violent events
is triggering your anxiety, try to edit your media diet, Dr. Sacks said. “I do
hear from parents that they can be drawn to catastrophic things that happen
with children in the news,” she said. “It’s incredibly painful to them, but
they feel a pull toward these stories in their empathy and identification.”
It’s helpful to minimize kids’ exposure to news as well,
said Dr. Jackie Douge, M.D., a pediatrician based in Maryland and a fellow at
the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Don’t dodge the hard
conversations. If you suspect your kids know about
an incidence of mass violence, you should ask them what they have heard, said
Dr. Nia Heard-Garris, M.D., an attending physician at the Ann and Robert H.
Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago. “You don’t want to give so much
information that you’re introducing trauma yourself,” Dr. Heard-Garris said.
But “you also want them to trust you,” that you’re not hiding difficult things
from them. If you start with what they know, you “can try to address any
misconceptions, or rumors, any anxieties right then and there,” she said.
While “it’s affecting all children” negatively to hear about particular communities singled out for violence, Dr. Heard-Garris said, parents of kids who hear about their religious or racial communities being targeted can send them the following message: “I know there’s a lot of bad stuff happening in the world, but it’s my job as a parent to try to keep you safe.”
Know when to get help. If you find that you’re anxious for more than a week, or if your
sleep, eating or other routines are disrupted, it may be time to talk to a
therapist. “If you’re finding these intrusive thoughts are not controllable and
they become so loud that you’re taking a circuitous route to get to work, or
not letting your kids go to soccer practice, that’s when I would say it’s time
to see a therapist and have a more structured space to unpack these fears,” Dr.
The same goes for your kids — a little additional fear
or anxiety is normal after traumatic events, but if their anxiety is affecting
their relationships, sleep or their behavior at school, talk to your primary
care provider, Dr. Douge said.
Your child’s fears may be triggered again by school
lockdown drills, which millions of children
experience each year, and which may leave kids traumatized. All
you can do with the recurrence of fear is to reassure kids that these tragic
events are still rare, overall, and that their home is a safe place for them to
unpack their worries. Tell them: “Your teachers, your doctor, your pastor or
rabbi, we love and care about you,” Dr. Heard-Garris said, and that home is
“where they have this refuge from this crazy world.”
When you look at pornography, what you end up
seeing is a long line of naked bodies. When you look at pornography for years,
you end up seeing years and years’ worth of long lines of naked bodies.
I do a lot of work with guys who, in their
past, looked at porn for years. They don’t look at porn anymore, but they have
a very hard time controlling where their eyes go when real-life women approach
them. While it seems natural that we should be able to control the physical
movements of our eyes, the connection between exposure to pornography and how
it conditions us should not be such a surprise. It is, in fact, one of the
greatest tragedies caused by porn.
Porn teaches men that women are bodies. I’m
using a broad definition of the word “porn” here. I’m referring to any
seductive display of a woman’s naked body, whether that’s a pornographic video,
a Playboy image, or a scene from Game of Thrones. I’d
even throw in the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition, the
gateway to porn for scores of men, as its seductive photos have created the
same conditioned response: women are bodies.
We know this message
isn’t true, and we’ve seen its tragic consequences in our culture, yet it
continues every time a pornographic image is consumed.
A Hyperbolic Example
Let’s look at a hyperbolic example. A baby boy
is born on an island separated from the human population. All he sees his
entire life are videos and images of nude women either having sex, desiring
sex, or posing seductively.
Then, at age 25, he is placed into the general
human population. How is he going to view the women that he meets and interacts
with every day?
That’s a scary thought, but it shouldn’t be
surprising. He’s going to see women as two-dimensional sets of body parts whose
only purpose for existing is his own sexual gratification. This has nothing to
do with how a woman is dressed, for this will happen regardless of the style or
fashion. Throughout his entire life his eyes have darted straight to her body
parts, so that’s what they will continue to do, because he thinks that’s what a
I say some of this because I’m still shocked
at how secular culture can embrace pornography in all its forms, yet somehow
not see the connection between it and the sexual objectification and abuse of
women in the real world.
But I also say it to set the table for the
real men who are now caught in the trap they have built for themselves over
years of being conditioned by porn. Most of us are at a point where we aren’t
condemning the man who is looking at porn, or who has looked at it in his past,
but are extending a hand of grace and help. But now this man’s physiological
responses to women have been trained to see them as sexual objects and to
subconsciously glance at their body parts as a now-instinctive act of
consumption and gratification.
Can this conditioned response be stopped?
The good news is, it can be. But not without
some intentionality and hard work. For most men it will take more than a sermon
or a lecture to get their eyes to do what their mind and heart want.
The Problem with the Porn Mindset
The foundation of this rewiring process begins
with our approach to how and why we are avoiding pornography in the first
place. If you’ve been told to not look at pornography because it’s bad and
sinful to do it, you might be able to cut out porn from your life, but your
porn mindset is likely to remain. Porn did something to your mind, something
that has to be undone. More than just training yourself to avoid pornography,
you have to rewire your mind from the porn mindset.
The problem with the porn
mindset is it doesn’t see all of a woman (or man), it only
sees their body parts. We all know we are more than body parts.
We all know our mothers, daughters, sisters, and wives are more than body
parts. We know that we are all complex beings. We know that what makes
relationships both rewarding and challenging is that we are complex beings.
Every woman, just like every man, has strengths, weaknesses, stressors,
anxieties, pain, joy, personality, values, and a long list of other attributes
that separate humans from the animals.
for sex doesn’t allow for this. His design for sex is that all of
someone is embraced in a lifetime commitment. When you deal with all of
someone, conflict is sure to come! But the bond of commitment is there to
sustain it. All requires selflessness, which is the definition
of love. Sex and body parts are only one ingredient inside of this recipe, not
something that was designed to be indulged in on their own.
When tempted to lust, the only way to get
beyond the body-part-mindset is to understand that behind every woman’s body is
a full, whole, complex woman. She is a soul. There is a depth and sacredness to
this that I can’t put into words.
If you’re married, you know what I’m saying is
true because you see it every day in your own wife. There may have been a day
when you first met that you only saw her physical attributes, but you now know
she is a much more complex equation than that (praise God). The same is true
for every woman on the planet.
Let the Rewiring Begin
Porn has taught you to
see: BODY. You have to be rewired to see: WOMAN. And to apply what this means. You
look into her eyes because that’s where she is. She is a she,
not a that. She’s not an object to be consumed.
Body parts separated from the person are only
things. God didn’t call you to consume people, taking life away from them, he
called you to bring life to people. This is the foundational
calling of all Christians.
We live on a planet full of human beings.
Full, whole, complex human beings. Porn has taught us that women aren’t fully
human and we’ve been conditioned into believing that lie whenever we consume
them for our selfish gratification.
The path of rewiring means taking the truths
of Scripture and letting them renew our minds (Romans 12:1-2) away from the
lies porn has taught us.
woman is created in God’s image (Genesis 1:27), full of his dignity,
honor, and complexity.
woman is fearfully and wonderfully made, knit together by God himself
woman has a soul.
woman is God’s.
Repeat these truths to yourself daily when you
spend time praying and reading your Bible. Repeat them in prayer all throughout
The next time your eyes want to go toward a
woman’s body, remind yourself of the truth that she is a whole person and all
that means. Look her in the eyes and see her that way.
I’m writing to explain what marriage really means because I remember all too well your fairytale ideology that marriage is about a beautiful wedding, then fast forward to your happily ever after.
With that said, I’m not writing as a warning. I’m writing more as an opportunity—merely think of me as your sponsor – because you’re definitely a hopeless romantic.
Your dreams of a man riding in on a white horse, or a knight in shining armor, are figments of an animated imagination and I just want to take some time to talk to you about what’s real.
I want to let you in on a secret, if you will. A moment in time, to give you a gift, the gift of a second chance.
You are still so young, at only 22 years old. And here you already have a small beautiful child, own your home, and you have a wonderful man who hasn’t quite discovered how great either of you are just yet. You should feel proud and accomplished. I know when I look back I’m definitely proud of you.
Nevertheless, I specifically want to talk about fear. You see, although you survived a lot of abuse and neglect, you’re traumatized. Your traumas have caused significant damage and created a space for constant anxieties to thrive. Anxieties like your fear of being a victim, a fear of someone thinking they can take you away, and other fears, like your fear of intimacy, of getting in trouble or making mistakes, of not knowing enough information or being looked at as incompetent. And mainly, your fear of simply not being good enough to be loved.
I know you. Probably better than anyone really knows you. I know how hard you try to be perfect. I know how hard you work to be accepted. How much you feel you don’t and can’t possibly fit in anywhere, with anyone. And I know you think that if you achieve genuine happiness it means that you have reached the end of your life. But you don’t have to be afraid. I’ve begun to discover that you can be accepted and you are more than lovable.
As I write this, I realize now that you are just starting out on the first path of many that will lead you on a journey into a life that brims with love and hardship, joy and sadness, peace and war, as well as abundance and strife. Your life will be wrought with moments of destitution and incredible successes. And I wouldn’t have you change any of it (except please buy Amazon stock and change your Sam’s Club membership to Costco, trust me, Sam’s Club will fail us). You will learn so much from the experiences that living this life will teach you.
I would also encourage you, as your sponsor, to ditch your unhealthy addictions earlier. You should see life through the eyes of someone who chooses to actually live. Find life in every breath. Leave behind the acts of fear that cause you to bury yourself and hide away all that is great in you.
Now, about the young man you have chosen. He is going to be amazing. You were right to be attracted to his high levels of intelligence, and his cautious, careful approach to tasks. And that great sense of humor. You will laugh every day of your life. He will hold you close when you feel lost and afraid. He will trust your guidance and seek your counsel. He will treasure you.
But it will take some time. You will both have to learn to grow up and embrace the art of communication. You will find an amazing woman, Julie Gottman, who will introduce you to techniques that will enable you to overcome so many marital obstacles. You’ll learn principles about communicating and methods for dealing with conflict that you’ll even align with your body of work. Trust me, these tools will prove invaluable.
Your marriage will become a beacon of hope for couples around the world. But it will take time. Time that can be shortened if you heed many words and remember this letter, starting today, your wedding day. You can be so much more if you start by shedding the heavy, unsightly cloak of fear.
Your story needs to be heard through the ears of faith and not through fear. Fear prematurely ends stories. It changes the narrative and demands surrender. It turns heroes into cowards and strength into weakness. It both clouds and casts judgment. It slowly takes away the essence of who you really are. It highlights scarcity and inflates the balloon of false pride. You are not what you’ve been through. Your truth and destiny lie in the places you will go and the people whose lives you will touch. So continue to go far and shine bright. Dream often. And fear not.
In this letter, I want you to recognize that you are going to have a beautiful family, a legacy of serving others, and a connection to your husband that’s absolutely unbreakable. But your life will really begin when you can begin to see yourself as a whole. Know that life is not just about what you know or have learned, it’s about how well you learn how to live. Do it fearlessly, for there is life in every breath.
So with that said, here are a few things I’ve learned about love and life over the last 23 years of marriage.
Never stop dreaming together Talk openly about your goals for the future, and always support your husband’s dreams. Be curious, creative, and explore your entrepreneurial spirit.
Take better care of your health Eat better and get into a fitness program or routine. Stop complaining and taking your amazing body for granted. Spend less time worrying about how you wish you looked and spend more time loving yourself.
Spend less time yelling You can be heard the loudest in moments of silence.
Enjoy spending time with yourself I didn’t discover this until I was in my forties. I missed all that time just enjoying who I was and dreaming about who I’d be.
Keep your childlike twinkle in your eye It will serve you well and keep you and others laughing. You are funny—stay that way.
Spend more time in the moment with your children They really do grow up fast. Parenting isn’t a race, it’s a journey. It doesn’t end when they’re 18. It will challenge you in different ways, but you’ll never get their little inquisitive minds back, so enjoy it while you can.
Always spend time talking to your husband It gives you both so much life. Have patience for teachable moments and keep laughing, it really is medicine for the heart.
Keep making space for passion and intimacy Keep being intriguing and spontaneous. These moments keep you both connected.
Challenge yourself often Don’t sit in the same place, be different, choose different. Regular is your enemy.
Trust the process Everything good and bad happens for a reason, even when you don’t understand why. Keep believing and trusting in the process. There’s always another side and a way to go through.
Please take these words with you, always. And, I love you.