Archive for October, 2013

Pornography and Your Teen’s Brain

By the time most  children reach the age of 11, statistics show that more than likely they have already been exposed to some form of pornography.  While most exposures occur through emails, social media, or ads on the internet, many kids easily access pornographic images, movies and programs through the television.  With over 372 million pornographic webpages available through the Internet, it is abundant and readily available to children and teenagers with very little effort.  Because of the impossibility of being able to completely shield kids from ever seeing pornographic pictures or movies, more than ever before parents must be aware of its impact and begin to effectively address this problem.

Through the years  many have debated, downplayed, or even dismissed the possibility that pornography could negatively effect an individual and/or their relationships with others.  But as God continues to allow scientists to understand more and more about the human brain, we are now able to gain a clearer and more accurate picture of the negative impact that pornography has on the mind. Because the brain is involved in everything we do, whatever impacts the brain also greatly influences other areas in a person’s life.

Using fMRIs and other investigative measures, researchers are able to identify the powerful combination of sexual hormones and other neurotransmitters released while an individual views pornographic images.  These are very similar to the sequence that occurs in the brain when a person experiences heightened excitement and pleasure from substances like heroine and cocaine.  Because the brain is designed to record and remember pleasurable encounters, the individual begins to crave more encounters hoping to replicate the euphoric experience once again.  Similar to other addictive cycles, however, the brain slowly begins to become less satisfied unless the new experience is more intense, stimulating or thrilling than the one before.  Over time this neural pathway in the brain becomes reinforced and preferred which  leads a person to greatly desire this activity over others.  This is how the vicious addictive cycle slowly begins to control the heart and mind.

Aside from the research that is revealing how and why the brain becomes quickly addicted to pornography,  there is another critical dilemma that must be mentioned as well.  When an individual is watching any activity, specialized cells in the brain called mirror neurons store behavioral or motor  information that is later accessed to be able to mimic the previously observed behavior.   Because pornography offers the brain a perverted, immoral and often violent representation of sex and sexuality, this will now be a major part of the template the viewer will access and use  to powerfully shape and influence his/her own behaviors and attitudes related to attachments, sexuality, the purpose of sex, the value of women, and the nature of intimate relationships.  If this still doesn’t shock you or cause your heart to sink, consider this.  The largest consumers of internet pornography are between the ages of 12 and 17 years of age.  Think of the millions of pre-teens and teens whose brains have begun to daily crave pornography and whose minds now have a gravely skewed,  immoral and perverted imprint for sex and sexuality in relationships.

What I find most interesting about the vast majority of the research, documentaries and articles is that, for the most part, these inquiries are not being conducted by Christians or a moral majority who are intent on proving a point.  Instead, most of the neuro-scientific research, reports and documentaries are being completed by scientists, social scientists and journalists who are interested in understanding what may be lurking behind the exploding interest in pornography.  Pornography is a multi-billion dollar business worldwide ($57 billion)  with revenues in the US alone exceeding those of  ABC, NBC and CBS combined ($12 billion, with $3 billion solely from child pornography).  While it is difficult to gather sound statistics regarding the numbers of individuals who are reportedly addicted to pornography, the negative impact of  pornography is now being substantiated by an abundance of  research.  I am certain there isn’t a marriage therapist or pastor who wouldn’t agree that pornography is overwhelmingly linked to the problems and ultimate demise of many, many marriages and families, both in and out of the church community.

A few decades ago scientists were also very helpful in clearly pinpointing the effects of drug and alcohol use on the brain and the body.  In response to this information millions of dollars began to be poured into prevention programs to educate and deter kids and teens from using drugs and alcohol.  Proactive parents didn’t wait for their kids to hear this information from their local DARE program.  Instead, they knew this was ultimately their responsibility to have planned and spontaneous conversations with their kids about the risks and consequences of drug use.  While this problem may seem very different, the grave impact on the brain, body and quality of life also exists with regard to the problem of pornography.  Preventive and educational programs may never be implemented in the public school systems,  but if they ever are I am quite certain they will be not presented from a biblical world view.

Parents, I implore you to begin this critical conversation with your kids and keep it going throughout their adolescence and young adulthood.  Yes, we can safeguard our homes to make it difficult for our kids to access pornographic images through social media or other outlets.  That will never be sufficient.  We must have consistent and directed dialogue with both our sons and daughters to protect them and their future families from the serious impact that pornography has on the brain of both the young and the old. Regularly, take the the time to teach your teens that…

  • pornography can actually change their brain, increasing their desire for more and leaving behind a neurological template about sex and sexuality that is distorted, perverted and in complete opposition to God’s plan. 
  • pornography, like every other perversion, is one more byproduct of sinful man living in a fallen world.  (Romans 5:12; I Corinthians 6:18-20)
  • they were created in God’s image, which means they will always have a deep yearning for intimacy in relationships. This desire stems from a deeper desire to know and be known.  (Genesis 1:26)
  •  their sin nature will lure them away from God’s design for anything, including sex. (Galatians 5:16-21)
  • they are in a spiritual battle every day against an Enemy who desires to destroy their body, heart, mind, and soul and that pornography is one of the many ways he is attempting to do that.  (Ephesians 6:11-17)
  • God is faithful to convict His children when they are tempted and will always provide them with a way of escape if they yield to Him. (I Corinthians 10:13)
  • pornography offers only a  false sense of intimacy, which always leads to increased emptiness, loneliness, guilt and shame.
  • if they do succumb to the temptation to view or even participate in pornography, they are not neurologically doomed and God can set them free from their addiction but they must confess their sin and consistently yield to God and His plan for their life.  (I John 1:9)
  • they will never be fully satisfied when they seek anything apart from God and His will for their life. (John 4:13-15; Philippians 4:19)

 

I don’t know about the teens in your life,  but mine need to hear things repeatedly so they can wrestle, debate and hopefully absorb what is being said to them.  In order for teenagers to truly assimilate these and other related biblical truths, one conversation will just not cut it.  We must engage in ongoing conversation about this and equip our kids to resist the temptation to minimize and/or engage in pornographic activities.

The truths about pornography and its destructive effect on the mind, body, heart, and soul are not being taught in their school.  Most of your teen’s peers are ignorant of these truths and for many different reasons most churches tend to avoid discussion about this problem as well.  So, who will tell your sons and daughters about God’s perfect plan for life, for intimacy, for relationships?  Who will fight for their minds and hearts so that they can be shielded from the devastating effect of pornography?  

Pray, ask the Lord for guidance, for opportunity, for spiritual insight and for compassion as you take the initiative to begin a conversation with your teen about a toxic problem that is daily impacting the brain of millions of young people and as a result destroying lives, marriages and families around the globe.

For other helpful articles on this topic, click on the links below. 

http://www.familysafemedia.com/pornography_statistics.html

http://www.focusonthefamily.com/parenting/sexuality/when_children_use_pornography.aspx

http://www.equip.org/articles/the-effects-of-porn-on-the-male-brain-3/

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2432591/Porn-pernicious-threat-facing-children-today-By-ex-lads-mag-editor-MARTIN-DAUBNEY.html

Raising Teens Might Prompt You To Run For The Hills!

Everybody has their ‘thing’.  You know the something you run toward when life is difficult, stressful, exhausting.  And even if you habitually run to the Lord when you’re weary, your ‘thing’ will always remain a close second.  My thing is the mountains.  When I am feeling pecked at by kids, beaten down by the daily grind, and sucked dry by stressors of all sorts, the urge to get in the car and drive away from my troubles toward the nearby peaks, often consumes me.  It’s no wonder most of my closest friends also share the same ‘thing’.  Sometimes, we feed each other’s desire to run to those hills and desperately look through our weekly appointments and demands to quickly find a “free” day to be set free.

The mountains somehow invite my soul to begin breathing more rhythmically, peacefully once again.  And if I meander down a perfect trail-the kind that runs along a creek, through dense forests of trees changing colors-where a rock and a view await me at the finish, then for just a moment I often feel as if I have literally ascended into heaven.  There is nothing like it.  On the rock at the top I find deep rest.  Whether the skies are full of clouds or beholding the deepest blues, soaking in the marvelous beauty somehow soothes places I didn’t even know were aching.  Here, I calmly reflect and reconsider what really matters down below.   I never want to leave that rock once I sit down.  More often than not, I stay a little too long, think a bit too hard and wonder a tad too much.   Eventually, the stuff from the valley begins to find its way back into my mind and beckons me to mosey back down the trail and head home.

Like a child who collects stones during a nature walk, I often wish I could bring that enormous boulder with a magnificent view at the top home with me as well.  Then when this tired mama needed her ‘thing’, I could step out into my backyard and find relief by just sitting on my huge rock.  I truly think my husband and my teenagers would want me to have this as well.   As I continue to amble down the trail persistently pondering the impossibility of lugging a huge rock home with me, a whisper in my spirit reminds me of  THE Rock that dwells within.  Jesus, the Cornerstone, has provided me with the precious, indispensable foundation upon which God has made me a new Creation. Because of Christ, I am daily walking on a path that leads to the most incredible view that exists at the Summit.  While I spend my days on the trail leading homeward, the Rock that is my God invites me to sit, stand, rest, gaze, wonder and hide in Him along the way.   Like the Israelites whose daily needs were satisfied by the rock, my Rock daily refuels me by His Spirit and His word.   I too, can find refuge in my Rock when life is full of trouble just like David who experienced God’s safety and security by hiding in the rocks.  And when the forecast for today is foggy and the visibility is low, my Rock bids me to cling to Him until the haze wears off and I can see life around me once again.

In all honesty, raising teenagers has increased my desire to run off to the mountains more often.  Somehow I am sure that the trail that runs beside the creek that meanders up the mountain leading to that rock with a limitless view will definitely give me what I need for the day.  How thankful I am that it in actuality it is His creation that reminds me so deeply of what I can only find in Him.  As a mother of teens, a counselor of teens and a friend who is passionate about encouraging others to love teens well,  how blessed I am to know that whatever we face today,  He is our present help, our firm foundation, our fortress, our  deliverer, our dwelling place and so much more.

The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge,
my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.  I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised,
and I am saved from my enemies. In my distress I called upon the Lord; to my God I cried for help.

Psalm 18:2-3, 6

When A Teen is Hurting

Skinned knees.  Bee stings.  Bicycle wrecks.  Sibling spats.  These are just a few of the many circumstances that compel a child to seek out their mom and dad for comfort and relief.  But as kids enter the teen years the struggles they face will often take more than a band-aid, a hug and a few simple words of reassurance or redirection.  Before teens reach adulthood, most will likely encounter broken relationships, academic challenges, friendship problems, personal failures, sudden losses and bouts of loneliness.  Anyone of these can emotionally pummel even the most resilient and well-adjusted teen.  Yet there are other teens who will seemingly glide through problems like these with little fallout.

Regardless, of how teens handle pain parents must be ready to walk beside their teens as they face the varied storms that frequently rise up during the teen years.   Most of the challenges a teen faces will not require the help of a professional counselor.  But unfortunately many parents initially doubt their own ability to help their teens when they are emotionally hurting.  As a licensed counselor I certainly believe that seeking professional help is in order when a teen is quickly decompensating, engaging in dangerous or life-threatening behaviors or unresponsive to a parent’s efforts to walk beside them and help them.   Otherwise, parents must remember and trust that God placed them in the best position to help their kids when pain comes their way.  Just as He guides the Christian counselor who surrenders each client before Him, so too will He offer wisdom, direction and insight to a parent who regularly yields their teen and the tough stuff they encounter to Him as well.

Yes, I know.  Dealing with the depth and complexity of problems that kids are dealing with these days can certainly be a daunting task.  Not only that, a teen’s emotional displays can compel any sane parent to suddenly become emotionally unstable as well.  Nonetheless, a parent’s willingness to enter in, stick beside, and commit to see a teen through life’s challenges will accomplish far more than any paid professional could do for a teen or their family.  Why?  Because whether they say it or show it or ever disclose it, most teens want their parents to be the one who guides them to the other side when the waters become rough.  So roll up your sleeves, take a deep breath and soak up a few tips that may help you as you personally counsel your son or daughter through impending storms.

Enter In:  Sometimes parents forget that teens are still comforted by their parent’s presence when they get hurt.  Teens still lack key emotional and relational skills necessary to cope with big problems.    Entering in does not mean you own the problem, fix the problem or rescue them from the problem.   Instead, it means you remain face forward in your relationship with your teen and commit to check in, be available and offer guidance as you walk beside a teen who is hurting

Remain emotionally and spiritually anchored: If you are standing on a slippery rock, the last thing you reach for is something that is not tightly tethered or firmly planted.  Sadly, that is what many teens have available to them when they are in distress.  Commit to remain a parent who is emotionally and spiritually firm so that you can give them the security they desire.   This means that you consciously separate yourself from their problem and remain a separate individual.  A spiritually anchored parent is praying, seeking God’s wisdom and strength and remains confident of His provision to help them see their teen through.  Your ability to remain emotionally safe, calm and confident in the Lord regardless of the crisis will be one of the most powerful testimonies you can offer your teen about living in Christ.

Actively Listen: Listening well requires an enormous amount of patience, impulse control and emotional energy.  When you actively listen you are not only tuning into both the spoken and unspoken expressions coming from a teen but as a believer you are inviting God to speak to you in the midst of  your conversation.  Discover what lies beneath their words.  What is the focus of their emotion/ pain?  What do they long for?  What do they want/need and what are they doing to get those needs met.  Is there a deeper struggle going on?  As you listen ask clarifying questions that will help you and your teen begin to uncover some of these bigger problems.

Teach:  When emotions are regulated, allow these difficulties to be opportunities to teach your teen.  They need to know how to effectively manage emotions, solve problems and most of all seek the Lord in the midst of their pain.  Counselors use presenting problems as a way of assessing deficits and strengths.  Do the same.  Through it all your own ability to model all of these to your teen will offer the most powerful instruction.

Look Beyond: Be a hope giver.  Most teens have difficulty seeing beyond today’s problems.  When parents can’t see past their teen’s emotional struggles, they can actually thicken the emotional quick sand in their midst.  Offering hope does not mean making false or trite promises.  Instead, it is an opportunity to demonstrate confidence in the Lord and his ability to rescue, resolve and relieve as we lean into Him.

Counseling your teens can be one of the most difficult yet rewarding tasks as a parent.  In Proverbs 4 Solomon tells how his father David encouraged him to seek wisdom when he was a young man.  The Christ-centered instruction and counsel you have to offer your teen offer them far more than anything the world can give them.  May we lean into Him as we love well, lead well and listen well to the teens in our midst.

My son, give attention to my words; Incline your ear to my sayings. Do not let them depart from your sight; Keep them in the midst of your heart.  For they are life to those who find them and health to all their body. Watch over your heart with all diligence, For from it flow the springs of life.  Proverbs 4:20-27

STAND CORRECTED: Why our posture as a parent really matters

Do you ever casually check yourself out as you walk by a window?  Come on now, be honest.  I think we all do the occasional check over to make sure our hair, face or clothes are looking acceptable.  Recently, while strolling from one end of a shopping plaza to the other, I took a moment to coolly turn my head to the left so that I could get a quick glimpse of myself.  I think a little ‘eek’ actually slipped out when I caught sight of my image!  No, my hair wasn’t sticking up and my clothes weren’t revealing anything.  And, thankfully my face did not seem to have any glaring makeup hitches either.  What grabbed my attention was my horrible posture!  My frame looked like it belonged to a weary, elderly woman with her shoulders hunched forward and her head aimed downward.  “Wow, could that be what I look like all the time?” I thought to myself?  Determined to fix my unattractive posture, I quickly adjusted my spine, rolled my shoulders back, lifted up my head and continued walking.   I’m not going to lie.  I did check myself out several more times on this particular stroll, just to make sure that I was maintaining my corrected posture.

When I returned home I decided to do a little research to help me continue to address this potentially chronic problem.   Like any mom looking for help with a medical condition, I went straight to the internet where I read some helpful tips on maintaining good posture.  One of the first pictures that appeared showed silhouettes of common posture profiles.

Immediately, I recognized the stance I had seen in my reflection earlier that day. Eager to make sure that I would remain in the “correct” position at all times, I made a list of exercises I could begin to do that would help strengthen my core.  As I read about the relationship between the core and posture problems, the Lord allowed me to see a powerful parallel between our physical posture and our parenting posture.   Each of the spinal postures seemed to be readily associated with parenting styles I had seen in myself and others over the years.  Even though correcting our physical posture prevents many problems down the road, our posture as parents impacts not only ourselves but also our entire family.

We live in a world where sadly there are too many parents whose parenting posture is indeed a hollow posture.  They are spiritually empty inside and in many ways do not know who they really are as an individual.  They may appear grounded but they parent from a perspective that wavers and changes from day to day or mood to mood.   As a counselor, when a parent like this is resistant to inviting God into their life, they are difficult to guide.  Any tips, strategies or insight offered become nothing more than pieces of debris floating within them rather than buoys or principles anchored in God and His word.   As a parent of teens, this parent is often open to everything and anything and allows the wisdom and trends of the day to be their primary guide.  They are, as Paul describes in Ephesians 4:14,  “tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine”.  A hollow parenting posture will negatively affect the moral and spiritual foundation that is best constructed in an individual during their childhood and adolescent years.

Other parents have more of a slumping posture.  This parent has a relationship with God but is often unwilling to allow that relationship to be applied to everyday life and the  battles we face as parents.  They have difficulty leaning into the Lord and instead rely more on the opinions of others when it comes to raising their teenager.  As a result their stance is not always firm; it’s actually quite slumpy.  Slumping parents are easily manipulated and their kids and their friends recognize this as well.  These parents may “correct” their posture for short periods of time but all too often slip back and slump when the demands around them become unbearable.  These parents lack the internal security and confidence that comes from continuously depending upon the Lord for their guidance, strength and support.   They long for the quick opinions they can receive from  peers, publications and even parenting experts instead of the slow brewing wisdom that comes through prayer and spending time in God’s Word.  As a result slumping parents often appear anxious or restless as their internal insecurity is not grounded in God and His spirit within them.   Kids and teens whose parents slump quite a bit often grasp at things outside of themselves as they strive to experience resolution and peace within.

The parent with a military posture is determined to never appear like a slumping parent.  This parent is often over controlling, rigid and takes great pride in having complete command of the ship they call “home”.  The members of this vessel know who is boss and make sure they never rock the boat.  This parent responds to the ups and downs of the teen years by tightening up security measures and punishing anyone who crosses the line.  While this might seem to be just what adolescents need, the heart behind a parent with a military posture is one of fear.   In fact, their internal stance differs little from the parent with the slumping posture.  They spend inordinate amounts of time making sure that they are doing everything right yet often do that at the expense of maintaining a healthy relationship with their teenager.  When this parent hits the unpredictable or stormy waters of adolescence, they are often easily angered and even bitter that their perfect parenting posture did not prevent the mess they face.  Too often parents with a military posture forget that God is the captain of their ship and surrendering to His perfect plan in all things (even parenting teens) is the only way to make it through the storms we will face.

Finally, there is the parent with the rounded posture.  As you can see in the image above, this parent appears to be physically giving up.  This parent may have a relationship with God but appears to live life more like the hollow parent.   I meet many rounded parents in my counseling practice.  Some are spiritually going through the motions of walking with the Lord, but in reality they are going around and around the same battles and problems again and again.   As a result their hope is diminishing and their hidden feelings of despair are often quite high.   Sometimes these parents have faced repeated struggles that have led to feelings of disillusionment and disappointment in their walks with God.  They circle Him, looking for hope but often resist the deep healing connection that He desires to have with them.  When their kids act out during the adolescent years, these parents are often so weary and hopeless as they view their kids’ problems as one more thing that has gone awry.   Unfortunately, many parents with rounded postures unintentionally detach themselves from their kids during the teen years to shield themselves from more discomfort.  Sadly, these teens will often be left to navigate themselves on their own because of premature emotional and/or physical abandonment.

All four of these postures clearly differ from the corrected posture or better yet, “correcting” parent.  From a biblical perspective, this parent would be considered a shepherd.  They are grounded in the Lord and define themselves as an individual and as a parent by standards set forth in His word.  This parent is not perfect and knows that.  As a result they regularly seek out the help and wisdom to raise their teenagers that can only come from personal time spent with their God.  A parent with a corrected posture knows that there is nothing like the dwelling place of the Lord and firmly believes

 The Lord God is a sun and shield;
The Lord gives grace and glory;
No good thing does He withhold from those who walk
uprightly.
How blessed is the man who trusts in You
. Ps. 84:11-12

Parents who shepherd their teens walk uprightly and rely on the Great Shepherd to daily correct, lead, guide, strengthen and sustain them in their role as a parent.

Parenting teenagers can certainly challenges the posture we carry throughout the day.  For many of us, this season of life jumps into our lives before many of us are really ready for it.  It seemed that yesterday we were changing diapers and organizing play dates while today we are guiding our teens as they deal with their own messes while they are dating!   If we don’t take a moment to catch a glimpse of who we have become as a mom or dad during this season of parenting, we might be very startled and even caught off guard by our current parenting posture.   Take time to use the mirror of God’s word to determine what kind of mom or dad or adult friend you are in your relationship with your teenager.   Allow Him to regularly adjust your posture and strengthen your core so that you can become the shepherding parent you were created to be.

 

 

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