Saturday, May 11, 2013
Hypersexualization of Teens via Media Bibliography
Blue Ribbon Symposium PLUS -- updated 4-29-13
American Psychological Association, Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls. (2010). Report of the APA task force on the sexualization of girls. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/pi/women/programs/girls/report-full.pdf
Anderson, C. (n.d.). Readings & resources related to countering demand:
Normalization of sexual harm, the sexually toxic environment & impact of pornography. Sensibilities, Inc: Minneapolis, MN.
Anderson, C., & Cooper, S. (2011). Countering harmful social trends: Actions to prevent the impact from normalization of sexual harm & child sexual exploitation. Sensibilities, Inc: Minneapolis, MN.
Anderson, C. (2012). The impact of pornography on children, youth, & culture. NEARI Press: Holyoke, MA.
Attwood, F. (2005). What do people do with porn? Qualitative research into the consumption, use and experience of pornography and other sexually explicit media. Sexuality and Culture, 9(2), 65-86. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s12119-005-1008-7
Baumgartner, S. E., Valkenburg, P. M., & Peter, J. (2010). Unwanted online sexual solicitation and risky sexual online behavior across the lifespan. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 31(6), 439-447. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.appdev.2010.07.005
Baumgartner, S. E., Valkenburg, P. M., & Peter, J. (2010). Assessing causality in the relationship between adolescents’ risky sexual online behavior and their perceptions of this behavior , Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 39(10), 1226-1239. doi:10.1007/s10964-010-9512-y
Bonino, S., Ciairano, S., Rabaglietti, E., & Cattelino, E. (2006). Use of pornography and self-reported engagement in sexual violence among adolescents, European Journal of Developmental Psychology, 3(3), 265-288. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/17405620600562359
Braun-Courville, D. K., & Rojas, M. (2009). Exposure to sexually explicit websites and adolescent sexual attitudes and behaviors. Journal of Adolescent Health, 45, 156-162. doi:10.1016/j.jadohealth.2008.12.004
++Brown, J. D., Halpern, C. T., & L'Engle, K. L. (2005). Mass media as a
sexual super peer for early maturing girls. Journal of Adolescent Health,
Brown, J., & L’Engle, K. (2009). X-rated: Sexual attitudes and behaviors associated with U.S. early adolescents’ exposure to sexually explicit media. Communication Research, 36(1), 129-151. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0093650208326465
Collins, R. L., Martino, S. C., & Shaw, R. (2011, April). Influence of new media on adolescent sexual health: Evidence and opportunities. Santa Monica, CA: Rand. Retrieved from http://www.rand.org/pubs/working_papers/WR761.html
Edell, D., Brown, L. M., & Tolman, D. (in press). Embodying sexualization: When theory meets practice in intergenerational feminist activism. Feminist Theory.
Jensen, R., & Okrina, D. (2004, July). Pornography and sexual violence. Retrieved from http://www.vawnet.org/sexual-violence/print-document.php?doc_id=418&find_type=web_desc_AR
Malamuth, N. (1996). Sexually explicit media, gender differences and evolutionary theory. Journal of Communication, 46 (3), 8-31. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1460-2466.1996.tb01486.x
Malamuth, N., Addison, T., & Koss, M. (2000). Pornography and sexual aggression: Are there reliable effects and can we understand them? Annual Review of Sex Research, 11, 26-91. Retrieved from http://www.tandf.co.uk/journals/spissue/hjsr-si.asp
Malamuth, N. (2001). Pornography. In N. J. Smelser & P. B. Baltes (Ed.) International Encyclopedia of Social and Behavioral Sciences, (Vol.17, pp. 11816-11821). Elsevier: Amsterdam, NY.
Malamuth, N. M., & Huppin, M. (2005). Pornography and teenagers: The importance of individual differences. Adolescent Medicine Clinic, 16(2). 315-326. doi:10.1016/j.admecli.2005.02.004
Maltz, W. (2009, November/December). Out of the shadows. The Psychotherapy Networker. Retrieved from http://www.psychotherapynetworker.org/magazine/recentissues/694-out-of-the-shadow?start=6
Martino, S. C., Collins, R. L., Elliott, M. N., Strachman, A., Kanouse, D. E., & Berry, S. H. (2006). Exposure to degrading versus nondegrading music lyrics and sexual behavior among youth. Pediatrics, 118(2), e430-e441. http://dx.doi.org/10.1542/peds.2006-0131
Mulligan, C. (Interviewer) & Maltz, W. (Interviewee). (2012, February 9). The Impact of Cyber Porn on Teens [Interview transcript]. Retrieved from The Cyber Addiction Recovery Center Web site: http://cybersolutionstoday.blogspot.com/2012/02/interview-with-wendy-maltz-lcsw-impact.html
National Coalition to Prevent Child Sexual Abuse and Exploitation. (2011). The impact of pornography on children and youth. Retrieved from http://www.preventtogether.org/Resources/Documents/Impact_of_Porn_on_Youth_9.pdf
Owens, E. W., Behun, R. J., Manning, J. C., & Reid, R. C. (2012). The impact of internet pornography on adolescents: A review of the research, sexual addiction & compulsivity. The Journal of Treatment & Prevention, 19(1-2), 99-122. doi:10.1080/10720162.2012.660431
Papadopoulos, L. (2010, February). Sexualization of young people review [PDF document]. Retrieved from http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/+/http:/www.homeoffice.gov.uk/documents/Sexualisation-of-young-people2835.pdf?view=Binary
Peter, J., & Valkenburg, P. M. (2006). Adolescents’ exposure to sexually explicit material on the internet. Communication Research, 33(2), 178-204. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0093650205285369
Peter, J., & Valkenburg, P. M. (2006). Adolescents’ exposure to sexually explicit online material and recreational attitudes toward sex. Journal of Communication, 56, 639-660. doi:10.1111/j.1460-2466.2006.00313.x
Peter, J., & Valkenburg, P. M. (2008, October). Adolescents’ exposure to sexually explicit material, sexual uncertainty, and attitudes toward uncommitted sexual exploration: Is there a link? Communication Research, 35(5), October 579-601. doi:10.1177/0093650208321754
Peter, J., & Valkenburg, P. M. (2008). Adolescents' exposure to sexually explicit internet material and sexual preoccupancy: A three-wave panel study. Media Psychology, 11(2), 207-234. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/15213260801994238
Peter, J., & Valkenburg, P. M. (2009). Adolescents’ exposure to sexually explicit internet material and notions of women as sex objects: Assessing causality and underlying processes. Journal of Communication, 59, 407-433. doi:10.1111/j.1460-2466.2009.01422.x
Peter, J., & Valkenburg, P. M. (2010). Adolescents' use of sexually explicit internet material and sexual uncertainty: The role of involvement and gender. Communication Monographs, 77(3), 357-375. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/03637751.2010.498791
Peter, J., & Valkenburg, P. M. (2010). Process underlying the effects of adolescents’ use of sexually explicit internet material: The role of perceived realism. Communication Research, 37(3), 375-399. doi:10.1177/0093650210362464
Peter, J., & Valkenburg, P. M. (2011). The use of sexually explicit internet material and its antecedents: A longitudinal comparison of adolescents and adults. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 40(5), 1015-1025. doi:10.1007/s10508-010-9644-x
Peter, J., & Valkenburg, P. M. (2011). The influence of sexually explicit internet material and peers on stereotypical beliefs about women’s sexual roles: Similarities and differences between adolescents and adults. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, & Social Networking, 14(9), 511-517. http://dx.doi.org/10.1089/cyber.2010.0189
Peter, J., & Valkenburg, P. M. (2011). The influence of sexually explicit internet material on sexual risk behavior: A comparison of adolescents and adults. Journal of Health Communication, 16(7), 750-765. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10810730.2011.551996
Renold, E., & Ringrose, J. (2011). Schizoid subjectivities? Retheorizing teen girls’ sexual cultures in an era of ‘sexualization.’ Journal of Sociology, 47(4), 389-409. doi:10.1177/1440783311420792
Ross, C. C. (2012). Overexposed and under-prepared: The effects of early exposure to sexual content. Psychology Today. Retrieved from http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/real-healing/201208/overexposed-and-under-prepared-the-effects-early-exposure-sexual-content
Sabina, C., Wolak, J., & Finkelhor, D. (2008). Rapid communication: The nature and dynamics of internet pornography exposure for youth. CyberPsychology & Behavior, 11(6). doi:10.1089/cpb.2007.0179
Strasburger, V. C., Jordan, A. B., & Donnerstein, E. (2010, April). Health effects of media on children and adolescents. Pediatrics, 125(4), 756-767. doi:10.1542/peds.2009-2563
Valkenburg, P. M. & Peter, J. (2013). The differential susceptibility to media effects model. Journal of Communication, 62(2), 221-243. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/jcom.12024
Valkenberg, P. M., & Peter, J. (2013). Five challenges for the future of media-effects research. International Journal of Communication, 7, 197–215. Retrieved from http://ijoc.org/ojs/index.php/ijoc/article/view/1962/849
Wallmyr, G., & Welin, C. (2006). Young people, pornography, and sexuality: Sources and attitudes. The Journal of School Nursing, 22(5), 290-295. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/10598405060220050801
West, C.M. (2008 ). Still on the auction block: The (s)exploitation of black adolescent girls in rap(e) music and hip-hop culture. In Olfman, S. (Ed.) The Sexualization of Childhood, (Ch. 7, pp. 90-102). Praeger: Westport, CT.
Wolak, J., Mitchell, K., & Finkelhor, D. (2007). Unwanted and wanted exposure to online pornography in a national sample of youth internet users. Pediatrics, 119(2), 247-257. doi:10.1542/peds.2006-1891
Wright, P. J. (2011). Mass media effect on youth sexual behavior: Assessing the claim for causality. Communication Yearbook, 35, 343-386.
++Ybarra, M. L., & Mitchell, K. J. (2005). Exposure to internet pornography
among children and adolescents: a national survey. *Cyberpsychology &
Behavior, 8*(5), 473-486. doi: 10.1089/cpb.2005.8.473
++Ybarra, M. L., Mitchell, K. J., Hamburger, M., Diener-West, M., & Leaf, P.
J. (2011). X-rated material and perpetration of sexually aggressive
behavior among children and adolescents: is there a link? *Aggressive
Behavior, 37*(1), 1-18. doi: 10.1002/ab.20367
Zillman, D. (2000). Influence of unrestrained access to erotica on adolescents’ and young adults’ dispositions toward sexuality. Journal of Adolescent Health, 27(2), 41-44. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S1054-139X(00)00137-3
Monday, April 29, 2013
I have recently completed the first teen focused clinical workbook on cyber porn addiction. Below you will find a chapter that discusses the way that youth who are exposed to cyber porn can have a reaction identical to youth who have been sexually molested by a offline perpetrator.
Cyber Sexual Trauma
If you find you are struggling on a day-to-day basis with maintaining your sobriety, and you frequently go through relapses, this does not mean that you cannot learn how to establish sobriety and healthy sexuality.
There is a sub group of cyber porn addicted teens for whom maintaining ongoing sobriety is very challenging because they have experienced a trauma similar, if not identical to, the trauma of being sexually molested by a real person. The intensity of the images and sounds delivered through cyber pornography websites can overwhelm a teen and create the experience of being sexually molested.
The fact of the matter is that no child or teen is ready socially, emotionally, and physically for what they see and hear through cyber porn websites. Research shows early exposure to sexually explicit material is traumatic and leads to significant problems with peer relationships, family relationships, school achievement and, of course, healthy sexual development.
Children and teens now have access to “hard core” pornographic material that is produced with an adult audience in mind -- such as fetish porn, bondage and domination porn, bestiality/sex with animals and sex combined with acts of violence -- and repeated exposure to these types of pornography often results in sexual trauma.
When you watch “hard core” cyber pornography, it is likely that you experience a confusing combination of feelings: pleasure, excitement, happiness, sadness, anger love/attachment, fear, embarrassment, guilt, and shame. These feelings are very difficult to organize and understand, especially the mixture of fear and pleasure and love/attachment and violence.
As you are no doubt well aware, the vast majority of the children and teens who access cyber pornography do not discuss this confusing combination of feelings with adults because they are fearful of being punished for accessing pornography.
Most children and teens that have been repeatedly exposed to cyber porn feel deep shame about their behavior. They believe that they have behaved badly by looking at porn and that must be bad and damaged at their core for looking at porn. The combination of feeling shame (“I am a bad”) with fearing punishment (“I will be punished because I am bad”) leads children and teens to go to great lengths to keep their relationship to cyber porn a secret from the adults who could offer help.
Precisely because children and teens feel ashamed and believe that they are bad and damaged for looking at porn, they want to stop their behavior. Unfortunately, as we learned in the section on the arousal template, once you have looked at pornography over and over again, the only kind of stimulation that creates excitement and pleasure is pornography. The arousal template becomes a “porn template” -- which leads children and teens to seek out pornography despite obvious negative consequences.
According to experts in the field of child sexual abuse, children and teens who have sustained multiple sexual traumas typically reenact their traumas behaviorally – which means they either reenact the sexual behavior they have seen in cyber porn with another child/teen or they pursue porn that is increasingly violent, degrading, and abusive.
After a child or teen has been traumatized multiple times through exposure to cyber pornography, they replay or reenact the trauma until and unless an adult in their environment is able to recognize what is happening. However, because children and teens experience shame and guilt about their relationship to cyber porn, they maintain their secret and hide their trauma from parents, caregivers, and mentors.
Children and teens rarely spontaneously discuss their fears and traumas with adults who could offer help and they have little insight into the relationship between what they do, what they feel and what has happened to them.
It is important to understand that children and teens who have been the victim of person-to-person sexual abuse have problems with trust, empathy, setting healthy boundaries, and perspective taking.
Sexually traumatized children and teens also have difficulty regulating and labeling emotions and have difficulty communicating emotions. They may also suffer from sleep disturbance, eating disorders, oppositional behavior, and over compliance with rules and behavioral norms.
The child or teen who has been sexually abused may also engage in self-destructive behaviors and aggression towards others.
In an effort to cope with the sexual trauma, children and teens learn to dissociate. Disassociation is an unconscious mental process in which painful and difficult memories are split off from conscious awareness. Disassociation is a way to mentally “check out.” Abuse victims often say that they didn't feel what was happening during a molestation because they were “floating outside” of their bodies.
The problem with using disassociation as a defense against the pain created through sexual abuse is that the images, sounds, and sensations of abuse eventually intrude into consciousness as flashbacks or fragmented memories of the abuse of experience. In other words, disassociation temporarily blocks painful and confusing memories, but ultimately does not help the person understand and resolve what happened in the abuse.
Due to the intensity of cyber pornography -- particularly the strange and forbidden behaviors displayed in child, fetish, and violent porn – sexual arousal patterns develop that serve to reinforce an interlocking series of distorted beliefs about sex: women are sex objects, sex is separate from connection and intimacy, sex is for personal satisfaction, and no one is ever exploited or injured in sexual relationships, including women and children.
The person who masturbates to cyber pornography experiences powerful and ongoing reinforcement that “porn sex is the best sex” and this message comes to determine their sexual interests and fantasies -- which leads to a preoccupation with cyber pornography.
What is most important to understand here is if you find that you are repeatedly relapsing, you may be suffering from cyber sexual trauma and you may have developed what Wendy Maltz calls a “sexual abuse mindset.”
Wendy Maltz, in her book The Sexual Healing Journey, explains that victims of sexual abuse have a specific way of thinking that is made up of five false ideas about sex: 1) sex is uncontrollable 2) sex is hurtful 3) sex is a commodity/for sale
4)sex is secretive, and 5) sex has no moral boundaries.
Just as is the case with an actual sexual offender, the cyber pornography industry does not consider the moral implications of posting violent and perverse sexual images on the Internet. And, just as is the case with the actual sex offender, the pornography industry does not think about how their actions will affect adults, families, communities, and the health and safety of children and teens.
Wendy Maltz explains that connecting moral neglect with sex creates many problems for survivors of sexual abuse. Survivors may withdraw from sex, fearing it will lead them to abusive or shameful behavior.
Alternatively, survivors may act out sexually in inappropriate and hurtful ways without seeing the potential damage of their actions. And, tragically, survivors of sexual abuse may spend their lives creating abusive sexual fantasies and exposing themselves to degrading and violent pornography, thinking that these types of activities represent sex when they are actually extensions and replays of sexual abuse.
If you continue to relapse, it is likely you are the victim of cyber sexual abuse and your sexual acting out is part of a destructive abuse cycle: 1) you are preoccupied with feelings of pleasure, excitement, and fear that cyber pornography stimulates 2) you then search cyberspace for images and videos that fit within your “porn arousal template” 3) you then re-enact your trauma by masturbating pornographic material 4) you then feel overwhelmed and confused by the images, sounds and messages of the pornographic material 5) you then feel ashamed and guilty about your behavior and promise to end your relationship with porn, and 6) you then experience preoccupation with cyber porn and initiate a search for new and more stimulating, exciting, and abusive porn.
If the above description of cyber sexual trauma feels familiar to you, you will need help from a mental health professional that understands the impact of cyber porn on child and adolescent sexual development. As was the case when we discussed how to cope effectively with triggers and relapses, the key to overcoming cyber sexual trauma is to reach out to an adult and break the silence (secret) by explaining your journey through cyber pornography.
That is to say, in order to move forward you need to make sense of what happened to you by allowing yourself to be fully and completely honest. It is only by telling your story that you will come to understand that you are a victim of cyber sexual trauma and that you are not to blame nor are you a person who is “bad” or somehow damaged.
Due to feelings of shame and guilt, you may say to yourself that you will be judged and criticized and that no one will want to help you because you are bad and damaged.
Fortunately, just the opposite is true. Once you are able to communicate what happened with your relationship to cyber pornography, including the way in which you feel traumatized, you will be able to get the appropriate kind of assistance and support -- and you will be able to begin the process of healing from the trauma perpetrated by the cyber pornography industry.
Sunday, April 7, 2013
Excerpt from the Preface to the first clinical workbook for teen cyber porn addicts by Christopher Mulligan
This workbook is written for teens (13 to 18) that have developed an addiction to cyber pornography. Although the psychiatric community has yet to recognize addiction to cyber pornography as representing a distinct or formal diagnostic category, it is evident to mental health professionals that there are teens that have developed a relationship to cyber pornography that is similar, if not identical to, adult cyber porn addiction.
Because teens typically believe they need to conceal their cyber pornography consumption due to fear of punishment from their parents/caregivers and other adults, it is very difficult to establish the prevalence of cyber porn addiction in teens. Teens are very reluctant to discuss their use of cyber porn with anyone, much less agree to engage in a formal study where they would openly discuss their porn consumption.
Additionally, due to the fact that teens are minors, there are obvious legal and ethical barriers to conducting research on adolescent exposure to cyber pornography.
With this said, there is ample research on adult online sexual behavior, including cyber pornography. For example, 12% of the websites on the Internet are pornographic, which represents approximately 24.5 million websites in all.
In anonymous surveys, 10% of adult males who view cyber pornography self-identify as cyber porn addicts and 20% acknowledge accessing pornography at work. In a study of 800 college students from six different college campuses in the United States, 20% of the students acknowledged viewing pornography every day.
Research has established that 43% of all Internet users view porn with 35 to 44-year-old males being the largest consumers of. Statistics also show approximately 40,000,000 Americans are regular visitors to porn sites and that 70% of men age 18 to 24 visit porn weekly. It has also been established that 25% of all search engine requests are pornography related -- which amounts to approximately 68 million requests per day. Research has also established that approximately 30% of all Internet downloads are pornographic.
Research on cyber porn consumption has established that 34% of Internet users have experienced unwanted exposure to pornography, either through pop-up ads, misdirected links, or e-mails. Sadly, the average age at which a child first sees pornography is 11 years old and 75% of children and teens remember their first exposure as negative.100,000 websites are devoted strictly to child pornography and the United States is the top producer of pornographic webpages -- almost 250,000,000 pages or 89% of the worldwide market. We know that sex is the number one topic for Internet searches and that 70% of Internet traffic occurs during the 9 to 5 workday or the period of time children are in school.
Given what is known about adult use of cyber pornography, particularly research that is focused on problematic use or addiction, there is no reason to believe that teens -- with equal access and exposure to cyber pornography -- would have fewer problems regulating their online sexual behavior. On the contrary, due to the normal challenges related to teen sexual development -- particularly the process whereby teen’s learn to manage their sexual drives and desires to experience safety, intimacy, and pleasure -- there is every reason to believe that teens are addicted to cyber pornography at a rate similar to, if not in excess of, adults.
As is the case with adults, teens I have worked with report developing a preoccupation with cyber pornography within 3 to 5 exposures. Teens have also told me that once exposed to cyber pornography, they quickly 1) were unable to control their online sexual behavior; 2)experienced a persistent desire to be online searching for porn; 3) developed tolerance; 4) experienced withdrawal symptoms, and; 5) experienced negative consequences such as social isolation, withdrawal from physical activities, ignoring family relationships, and ignoring school related responsibilities.
Additionally, as research has established with adult cybersex and cyber porn addicts, it is the perspective of this workbook that teens participate in online sexual behavior, particularly pornography, to cope with painful emotional states related to complex off-line problems (e.g., loneliness, rejection by peers of the opposite sex, chronic depression, chronic social anxiety, attention deficit problems, and social communication deficits/autism spectrum disorder).
Thursday, March 28, 2013
CYBER ADDICTION RECOVERY CENTER
Wilderness Adventures for “Tech” Dependent-Addicted Kids and Teens
Christopher Mulligan LCSW is offering therapeutic activities in our local-natural surroundings designed to help children and teens break the destructive cycle of compulsive internet use and video gaming. Children/teens will participate in outdoor activities that are organized to develop self-awareness, empathy, physical skills, communication skills, respect, trust in self and others, self-regulation skills, and psychological and physical courage.
In order to create new and adaptive behaviors “tech” dependent/addicted children and teens must get “unplugged” from their home environment. Participating in outdoor activities is one of the most effective ways to create accurate self- awareness of the negative consequences of compulsive use of technology and develop social motivation, social skills, and new recreational interests.
Sample of Adventures:
Adventure 1: Day Hike
Adventure 2: Bike riding
Adventure 3: Pool and Beach Swimming
Adventure 4: Rock climbing
Adventure 5: Kayaking
Adventure 6: Surfing/boogie boarding
Adventure 7: Roller blading/Scooter riding
Adventure 8: Park day (relay races and capture the flag)
Adventure Groups will meet one day per week from 9am to 4pm (your choice of Wednesday/Friday/Saturday).
For more information, contact Christopher Mulligan LCSW at 855-735-4357 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Monday, March 18, 2013
If an adult recognizes that he has developed a problem controlling his online sexual behavior, if he believes he has crossed the line from enjoying cyber pornography to feeling he is addicted, there are therapeutic options available. There are a wide variety of self-help books, 12 step meetings, outpatient counseling programs, as well as residential rehabilitation programs.
If, on the other hand, you are a teenager who has lost control of your online sexual behavior, particularly viewing cyber pornography, there are very few treatment options. In the greater Los Angeles area, for example, there are no programs specifically designed for teenagers who have developed an addiction to online or cyber pornography - whether outpatient or residential. In fact, if you need inpatient rehab, you need to go to Utah.
Additionally, there is no self-help book written for teens --nor are there 12 step meeting that are organized for teens with cyber pornography addiction. If you survey Amazon for books written for teens facing cyber pornography addiction, you will not find a single resource. However, there are multiple resources for adults, including workbooks that follow established and proven treatment programs.
Why is this the case? Why have mental health professionals and addiction specialists stayed away from teens who are struggling with their online sexual behavior? There are many reasons. At the top of the list is working with teens is far more complex than working with adults because teens come to therapy with parents. Parents need to be part of the therapeutic process – which means therapists have to incorporate family therapy and family therapy means working with siblings. In comparison, working with adults does not require the involvement of any family member – which makes treatment less complicated.
Another reason teens are left out of the current treatment programs, is the availability and intensity of online sexual content, particularly cyber pornography, has gotten out in front of most parents, mental health professionals, addiction specialists, and sex educators.
Although research shows that teens are accessing cyber pornography and are encountering significant problems controlling their behavior, there is a lack of awareness on the part of adults who are in a position to provide help to teens. This absence of awareness is not due to a lack of concern, but rather due to the absence of awareness of the type of sexual content that is now readily available online to children and teens.
In other words, the vast majority of adults, even those who focus their careers on understanding child and adolescent sexual behavior, are unaware of the scope and intensity of sexual stimulation that is now part of the daily lives of children and teens through the Internet.
The fact that children and teens now possess Wi-Fi enabled devices, whether a smart phone, tablet, or laptop, has allowed children and teens to surf the Internet anywhere and find pornographic websites that most adults do not know exist. Most adults would struggle to believe the type of porn is now available without cost as children and teens “click” their way through cyberspace. In short, there is a high degree of ignorance on the part of adults about how Internet enabled devices are being used by children and teens to access sexually explicit, violent, and perverse images and videos.
Christopher Mulligan LCSW
CHRISTOPHER MULLIGAN LCSW
This Loss of Self-Reflection in a Networked Life
I can vividly recall lying in my bed at night, during middle school, thinking through the events of the day, scrolling through images and pieces of conversations. I recall enjoying this time alone, in the dark. I recall thinking, contemplating, remembering up until the point I drifted off into sleep. There was something deeply relaxing and fulfilling about this private time. It was in the quiet of the night that I could consider ideas, question feelings, let loose fantasies in complete privacy. I had the opportunity to work out and work through embarrassing encounters with friends, confusion about my feelings, wonder about a possible romantic partner, or fantasize about playing alongside Jerry West, wearing Laker purple and gold.
For many 21st century teens, the quiet of lying in bed is interrupted by the sound of a text coming through their smart phone or the sound of an instant message arriving on their laptop or desktop. Today's youth are “networked “at all times of the day and night. Many teens experience fear, even panic, if they are separated from their web of contacts/friends within their smart phone, Facebook page, or e-mail list.
The constant opportunity for communication seems to have the unfortunate consequence of decreasing opportunities to be alone and, in the experience of being alone, the expansion of self-awareness. The process of being in a contemplative state, a focused state of personal reflection about one's identity, is diminished by always being tethered electronically to one's peer group (and or family).
It is the expectation of today's youth (and adults, for that matter) they will be able to reach peers twenty four hours a day, seven days a week. The expectation of connection seems to have created an aversion to being alone, simply because being alone is so unfamiliar. Rather than see periods of quiet as opportunities for recharging, contemplation and reflection, quiet is experienced as alien and, because it is alien, as uncertain and frightening.
In William Deresiewicz’s essay “The End of Solitude,” he writes: “So we live exclusively in relation to others, and what disappears from our lives is solitude. Technology is taking away our privacy and our concentration, but it is also taking away our ability to be alone.” He goes on to say: “Young people today seem to have no desire for solitude, have never heard of it, can't imagine why it would be worth having. In fact, their use of technology -- or, to be fair, our use of technology -- seems to involve a constant effort to stave off the possibility of solitude, a continuous attempt, as we sit alone at our computers, to maintain the imaginative presence of others.”
The implication of this essay is the more teens try to keep aloneness at a distance, the less they will be able to deal with being alone and the more terrifying aloneness will become. Because of this fear the “I generation” may lose the ability to be still or idle and, therefore, the capacity for solitude. And if solitude is gone, what exactly does this loss involve? What is at stake? Well, the ability for introspection, the capacity to examine the self, to discover hidden or nascent parts of the self. Deresiewicz writes: “But no real excellence, personal or social, artistic, philosophical, scientific or moral, can arise without solitude.”
As Sherry Turkle points out in her book Alone Together, in addition to the fear of being alone and the loss of the opportunity for contemplation, when today's youth experience an uncomfortable feeling, they can fire off multiple texts immediately to gain support and validation. According to Turkle, the teen of today has little time or patience to sift or sort through their feelings. As feelings emerge, their first response is to reach out and share the feeling, achieving clarification and validation through a peers’ “texted” response. Turkle says one can make the case that for today's youth a feeling isn't truly “real” until it is communicated – which means texted or posted.
Another important dimension of today's youth is the messages that are sent via text or Facebook, must be brief and tailored for the consumption of an audience -- not for one' private consumption or process of reflection. Through this type of writing, it seems fair to suggest the self is reduced and diminished. Whenever teens begin to write, they “size up” their thoughts in terms length of “text” or “post” and public perception. They do not have the luxury of time to first rehearse what they want to say, to investigate their own private ideas and feelings, precisely because technology requires immediate, synchronous, communication.
The “always on” and constantly networked youth has little need or capacity to contemplate their lives because they are never truly alone. And, when they do express themselves, they are focused on tailoring and revising their thoughts with an audience in mind. The reality is, this type of communication decreases and, perhaps erodes, the circuitry in the brain responsible for self-reflection and contemplation.
It has been noted by Gary Small, M.D., that the high-tech revolution places teens in what he calls a “state of continuous partial attention.” This means teens are constantly keeping tabs on multiple activities without fully focusing on any one subject/activity/person at a time. Small says continuous partial attention ultimately places teens’ brains in a heightened state of stress, precisely because they do not have the time to reflect, contemplate, or make thoughtful decisions. They exist in an “alert state,” always waiting for a new contact or new information to come in through whatever technological device they are using.
Small argues the teenager’s brain was not made to maintain this kind of connection for extended periods. He warns that after endless hours of digital connectivity, the brain begins to strain. In this stressed state, the brain secretes cortisol and adrenaline, which can eventually lead to impaired cognition and altered mood, such as depression. Small also suggests a much more disturbing possibility: the fully networked brain may be permanently rewired, thus ending the capacity for contemplation, reflection, solitary moments.
As I write this blog, I am conscious of the obvious nostalgia, perhaps even romanticizing, a time long gone by. Perhaps the networked teen will experience an evolution in thinking and communication, rather than a regression or loss. Perhaps my concern for the loss of time for quiet contemplation minimizes the extraordinary opportunities for connection afforded through the technological modes of communication. Perhaps so.
But, I doubt it. One of the most important tasks of adolescents and young adulthood is the development of self-awareness. Self-awareness evolves through quiet moments of contemplation. Self-awareness grows through confusion and uncertainty about one's own thoughts, ideas, values, and feelings. If we can “text” a feeling before we are clear about what feeling we are having, we are deprived of the opportunity to deeply experience feelings, to turn them inside out, to connect our feelings and life choices.
So, what is the solution, if the networked teen is being deprived of the opportunity to develop self-awareness? Should parents step in and require teens to turn off their phones and computers? Should parents require teens to spend time journaling, reading, drawing, or having face-to-face conversations? Assuming parents did take on this responsibility, this mission to save the capacity for self-reflection and self-awareness, would any teen listen? Probably not.
Herein lies a fundamental decision in parenting today's “networked” youth: should the opportunity for deep reflection and contemplation be a requirement of family life? And, if so, what would this mean? What would it look like?
The 21st century, technologically savvy and connected teen, needs stewardship and guidance from his/her parent. Parents need to set firm and compassionate limits on access to technology. Reading, drawing, journaling, travel, exercise, outings, and face-to-face communication need to be priorities for the family.
Then the questions arises: is today's “networked” parent, who is very likely as engaged and as distracted by technology as their teen, truly interested in preserving contemplation, reflection, self-awareness, and above all moments of solitude and quiet?
Sadly, it may very well be that the power of multiple technological connections through multiple types of media have overwhelmed parental priorities, and thus parents do not have the time, the patience, the endurance, to fight the good fight, to hold onto the value of contemplation, self-reflection, and above all, self-knowledge.
Perhaps the best course of action is for parents to unplug from their network life a day or two a week and, in so doing, invite their children into experiences of a contemplative, interconnected, quiet life.
I will give it a try and get back to you… Via another blog, of course.
Christopher Mulligan LCSW
Saturday, March 16, 2013
When an adult thinks about porn they usually reference their experience with Playboy or Penthouse or maybe a DVD of soft core porn. The type of porn that is now available via cyber space is so intense and overstimulating that it actually rewires our brain - producing an increasing need to experience more and more cyber porn that pushes the envelope beyond the strange and perverse. How about Japanese anime porn? An alien tentacle monster having sex with a teen dressed in a school girl outfit? Parents need to be proactive and understand that meaningful limits need to set precisely because there are no limits to cyber porn.