“Mom, I just couldn’t stop clicking”

A mom recently contacted me because her 11-year-old son had been looking at porn. She didn’t know what to do and needed to talk to someone. Just the week before, Julie [name changed] was having a conversation with her 18-year-old son about life. At one point in his teenage years, he had struggled a little with looking at porn, and they were talking about that during this particular conversation. The older son is doing really well and has some protections in place to keep him pure.

Julie didn’t know her 11-year-old son heard the conversation and the word “pornography,” a word he didn’t understand. Jason [name changed] did what many digital natives do when looking for answers–he went to Google and typed in the word “pornography.” This happened on Friday.

Fast forward to Sunday. Jason was using the computer in the home’s small office, when his teenage sister walks in on him, catching a glimpse of the screen before he minimizes it. His sister immediately goes to Julie (mom), who is crushed by the prospect of her sweet, little boy looking at porn. Dad has left for a business trip and won’t be home until Tuesday night.

She calmed down a bit, and on Monday, had a grace-filled, loving conversation with Jason. While Julie was talking to Jason, he said something that she didn’t understand, “Mom, I just couldn’t stop clicking. It was like I wasn’t in control anymore.”

When Julie heard this, she began to question a lot of things about her parenting. How could he just keep clicking? He knew it was wrong! This is a Christian home! He knows better.

couldn't stop clicking

The Brain Is Wired for Sex

Now we’re on Tuesday. I began to encourage Julie for how well she handled the situation with Jason. I’ve spoken to many broken, emotional mothers who just don’t know how to talk to their kids after something like this happens, but Julie did fabulously.

Next, I began to unwind Jason’s comment about feeling like he wasn’t in control.

The truth is, Jason was right.

And, I bet millions of girls, boys, women, and men know exactly what he’s talking about. Clicking for hours, skipping a whole night’s sleep, unaware of the passage of time, hyper-focused on a screen that is flooding your brain with a toxic excitement that cannot be contained.

The brain is wired for sexual stimulation. Nothing fires up the brain’s reward center like sexual arousal. That first image causes a release of dopamine, a chemical that causes intense focus, as well as unwavering motivation, energy, and goal-directed behavior. And guess what? That dopamine feels great. It makes you want to, “go, go, go!”

Related: Neuroscience Speaks: How Using Porn Destroys Your Willpower

That’s where the prefrontal cortex is supposed to play a key role. It’s that part of the brain responsible for our willpower, regulating our behavior, and making decisions based on wisdom and morals. But, in an 11-year-old boy, those prefrontal lobes aren’t quite as developed as they might be in an adult. Additionally, with the unnaturally high doses of dopamine being fired off during a porn fix, dopamine receptors break down, causing the prefrontal lobes to weaken.

Normally, the prefrontal lobes are there to exercise “executive control” over our urges. But when this region is weakened by continual porn use, willpower is eroded and there is nothing to stop the craving for pornography. As a result, the person experiences not just an urge, but an intense need. Literally, a slave to the porn, unable to stop the clicks.

Related: 5 Reasons Porn Impacts Kids More than Adults

4 Myths About Our Kids and Porn

There are a few takeaways from this story because it’s a very common tale being played out in homes all over the world today. Julie, like many good moms, believed a few myths that are worth unwinding here.

1. My child is a good kid and wouldn’t do that.
As Julie discovered, Jason’s three day binge on porn really didn’t have anything to do with him being a good or bad boy. He acted on a curiosity, and neurology did the rest. Probably the biggest takeaway here is that Jason had not been given any education about the word “pornography.” He didn’t have any tools to know what to do when he saw porn. It’s not a matter of if a kid will see porn, but when. The appendices of Parenting the Internet Generation have age-specific conversation guides for talking to kids about tech and tough subjects. FREE.

2. If my child saw it, he or she would just look away.
Again, he or she might want to turn away, but the urge is strong. And the enemy swoops in quickly to whisper, “just one more click won’t hurt anyone,” and that’s a killer. Again, remember the neurology lesson above. For anyone who has battled against this addiction, they can attest to the paralyzing urge to keep clicking.

3. The measures I have in place are good enough.
With guilt in her voice, Julie admitted that when they purchased a new computer last December, they didn’t take the step to install any accountability or filtering on the device. This was a crushing realization for her–that mom and dad were mostly to blame for Jason’s discoveries. There is no such thing as passive parenting in the digital age. Open windows to the internet must be guarded. Covenant Eyes is an internet guard that can help create an internet-safer home.

4. This is only a boy issue.
This has never been entirely true, but it is increasingly more false in the digital age. As more boys learn from porn that girls are sexual objects to be conquered, girls are responding by becoming more like the porn they see so that boys will “like” and notice them.

Google never rests, and so neither can we! In the digital age, parents must be observant, engaged, and informed. We can teach our kids how to use technology wisely, but it takes hard work. You can do it! Download Parenting the Internet Generation today to take an important step to parenting well in the digital age.