A majority of teenagers believe that “not recycling” ranks as worse on the immorality scale than viewing porn. That’s one of the findings from the Barna Research Group’s recent survey on the subject. 

Much has been written about the “pornification” of popular culture. And with good reason. TV commercials for Axe deodorant and Victoria’s Secret are the equivalent of soft-core porn. The on-air antics of Miley Cyrus, once a “good girl” teen idol, are beyond raunchy. It’s difficult to find a television sitcom or drama these days where sex isn’t a plot line or a laugh line. Sex is everywhere. So it should be no surprise that teens have a no-big-deal, morally indifferent attitude about pornography.

But can we really lay it off on the culture? Teens who think that failing to recycle is wrong have been taught that from Kindergarten on up. Schools aren’t going to tell kids that viewing pornography is immoral or wrong or bad for them. So why aren’t parents doing it?

According to the internet safety organization Enough is Enough, the largest group of viewers of online pornography is children between the ages of 12 and 17. The average age of first exposure to internet porn is estimated to be 11. Many studies show that children first come across pornography online accidentally.

Here’s what parents need to know. Young people who are exposed to pornographic images at a formative stage of their growth as sexual beings will often come to see sexuality as completely disconnected from relationships, and certainly disconnected from any spiritual context. That’s according to Dr. Jill Manning, a therapist who works with teenagers, and author of “What’s the Big Deal About Pornography? A Guide for the Internet Generation.” In her experience, young people often first turn to pornography for sexual information.  What they end up getting is misinformation because, as Manning puts it, “there are so many lies inherent in pornographic material about bodies, about relationships, about gender, about sexual response. It’s all one big fat lie.” 

But pornography doesn’t just misinform, it can harm. The images young people see can have a lasting negative and even traumatic impact on the brain and the psychological well-being of children and teens. Studies have indicated that during certain periods of childhood, the brain undergoes a kind of programming for sexual orientation. It becomes “hardwired” for what the person will be aroused by. So exposure to unhealthy sexual norms in the form of pornography has the potential to permanently imprint sexual deviance on a child’s brain.

So what can parents do? James Dirksen has worked in the field of pornography-filtering technology, and has served on the Internet Safety Council for Enough is Enough.  He’s also a father.  He believes parents must let their children know that there are dangerous and inappropriate things on the internet. He also believes in laying down rules, one of which should be that kids tell their parents if they come across something online that makes them feel uncomfortable. Communication is key. 

Parents also need to get educated about technology that they can use to help protect their kids. There are filtering programs, monitoring software and ways to block chat rooms.  Concerned parents can check out filtering software at American Family Online (www.AFO.net) and EIE’s “Internet Safety 101” program at www.enough.org

Pornography is just a click away on a child’s computer or smartphone. If parents don’t impress upon children the dangers and yes, the immorality of it, who will?