Porn use & teens

Graphic by Corinne Williams, Tennessee Baptist Convention
NASHVILLE (BP) -- The number of searches for Internet pornography exponentially increases every second. If the rapidly changing online "porn ticker" represented increasing stock value, there would be thousands -- possibly millions -- of overnight millionaires. Instead, the ticker reveals an insatiable appetite for sexually explicit content, and a high percentage of those searching are teenagers.

There have been nearly 2.5 billion searches for pornography since the beginning of 2015, according to Covenant Eyes, a company that specializes in Internet accountability and filtering software. The real-time counter can be found at covenanteyes.com/pornstats. The counter is part of the organization's report titled "Pornography Statistics: 250+ Facts, Quotes and Statistics about Pornography Use (2015 Edition)." The full report is available for free download from the site.

According to the report, 79 percent of men 18 to 30 -- and 67 percent of men 31 to 49 -- said they view pornography at least once a month. However, it is incorrect to make the assumption that pornography consumption is a "man's problem."

The report found that 76 percent of women between 18 and 30 viewed pornography once a month and 25 percent of married women say they watch porn at least once a month. In 2008, an estimated three million Americans purchased pornography online, paying an average of $60 per month.

Sadly, the "porn problem" is rapidly escalating among teenagers. A recent study jointly commissioned by Covenant Eyes, Josh McDowell Ministry, and the Barna Group found that 50 percent of teenagers and approximately 75 percent of young adults come across pornography at least monthly.

Amazingly, when asked, both groups consider failing to recycle to be more immoral than viewing pornographic images.

"It is a growing problem and not enough people are talking about it in the church," said Shawn Lowery, youth minister at First Baptist Church in Portland, Tenn. "It is an issue we address with both our teens and our parents, but most parents don't understand the extent of it and aren't equipped to deal with it."

Although most parents would assume their teens aren't affected by pornography, statistically that isn't necessarily so. The Barna study revealed that 8 percent of teens encounter pornography on a daily basis, 21 percent weekly, and 21 percent at least once a month. Not all of this activity is Internet-related.

"Sexting," sending sexually suggestive nude or nearly-nude photos or video via text message, is escalating. Four percent of 12-year-olds, 7 percent of 14- to 17-year-olds, and 9 percent of 13- to 18-year-olds said they've sent such texts. Most might instantly equate pornography with being a "boys being boys" problem, but the Barna report found 56 percent of women ages 13 to 24 "actively seek out porn" at least once a month.

An increasing number of porn searches are done through mobile devices such as smartphones and hand-held tablets. Parents may periodically police these devices but there are a number of "apps" -- applications --that hide content. One such popular app actually appears to be a calculator, but it is passcode protected and serves as a "wallet" where content can be hidden from view. According to a 2012 study done by the organization Tru Research, 71 percent of teens 13 to 17 years old have done something to hide from their parents what they do online.

"This is why it is so important for parents to be constantly engaged with their youth," said Jason Salyer, youth and family minister at East Maryville Baptist Church in Maryville, Tenn. "Parents have to maintain an open line of communication. Parents need to talk to their teens about pornography. Many don't have that conversation with them because they feel their kids might not be ready for it. The truth is, it is out there in their world and it is becoming a real problem.

"Instead of standing at the bottom of a cliff waiting for kids to drive off, parents and churches need to work together to put up a guardrail to keep them from crashing and burning."

Deron Henry, youth pastor at First Baptist Church in Columbia, Tenn., said the place to begin creating that guardrail is with a recognition of the problem, education to know how to address it, and a willingness to openly discuss it.

"I believe a lot of time the issue isn't addressed because there is a stigma to it," he said. "But the truth is we need to create an environment in our homes and churches where we can help our teens get beyond the shame. To do that, we have to be informed.

"A lot of times it isn't being brought up by ministers because we don't want to sound unintelligent," Henry noted. "But we as student pastors need to bring it up, often. Parents need help in this area and together we need to help the kids deal with this issue in a biblical way."

Lowery said the parents of kids in his youth group are always informed in advance of any discussions related to the issue. He said it is important for the pastor to be on board with broaching the subject and even better when he is a part of the conversation. He also recommended dividing the group and having a qualified woman leading a separate conversation with girls.

"I will have some parents who prefer to not have their students present when we have these discussions because they'd prefer to have that conversation in the context of their family," he said. "That's great. I strongly encourage that. The bottom line is that parents need to take the lead with their children and we [ministers] need to support them."

Other suggestions the three youth ministers offered were:

-- Not allowing mobile devices in the room after certain hours and not overnight;

-- Making sure there is some kind of filtering software on devices;

-- Knowing all the passwords to all devices a teenager has;

-- Helping parents have a greater understanding of how their teens use technology;

-- Helping parents stay informed about what's transpiring in the youth culture in and beyond church; and

-- Creating forums for both parents and youth that encourage open lines of communication.

"I think there is too often the perception that since we live in the South and in the Bible Belt that our kids won't be nearly as affected," Henry said.

"The [teen pornography] problem is something we think will happen somewhere else. That's just naive," he said. "It is here and it does hit close to home, and we must address it if we want to help our teens resist its evil."

Chris Turner is director of communications for the Tennessee Baptist Convention. This article appeared in SBC LIFE and is used with permission of the Baptist and Reflector, newsjournal of the Tennessee Baptist Convention.
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