- - Sunday, July 8, 2012

Culture challenge of the week: Summer porn

Summer. The word conjures images of leisure and entertainment.

Mom sitting by the pool, book in hand, as children splash around with friends. Or a weekend trip to the beach or the theater to avoid the blistering heat. Even the inevitable summer boredom sparks opportunities to rediscover wholesome family fun, with board games, water fights and homemade popsicles filling the hours.

“Summer” connotes a break from maddening schedules and a chance for new adventures. These days, however, those new adventures may include something else — porn.

With time on their hands and their parents at work, many young adolescents will be tempted to explore the electronic smut that’s a click away — on their phones, TVs and computers. The temptation lurks year-round but becomes magnified when summer’s unstructured time also is unsupervised. Curiosity drives many preteens and teens to forbidden venues, and too much “alone time” makes it possible. Even the purest child is at risk — a few innocent clicks, and memory-searing depravity fills the screen.

What makes matters worse — far worse than when my own children were little — is that porn has overflowed the old boundaries of seedy websites and back-alley “adult” bookstores. It’s everywhere. Music, magazines and movies reference porn stars as if they are next-door neighbors. Grocery checkouts thrust steamy book covers and smutty celebrity magazines in front of unwilling eyes. And, perhaps most insidious of all, porn use, porn stars and porn-style sex have become staples of comedic dialogue everywhere.

Pity the child raised on a steady diet of pop culture, where the message is that “everyone” is into porn.

Previous generations certainly struggled with porn, but it was harder to get, was not so depraved and carried a stigma. Users would have felt ashamed if their neighbors — or mom — knew what they viewed in private.

Not anymore.

Rampant pornography has steeped this generation in porn and desensitized it to porn’s degradation. Gone are the centuries-old distinctions about what’s natural — or perverted. Nothing’s unnatural today, and nothing shocks because porn depicts it all. If, as some analysts think, children are first exposed to porn at age 11 — or even younger — then more and more of our children are unquestioningly absorbing the visual message that women are sexual objects who expect men to treat them vilely.

And if your children have had few or no conversations with you — their parents — about sex in all its beauty and porn in all its ugliness, the porn culture’s messages may stick hard and fast before you realize it.

How to save your family: The pre-emptive strike

Communicate. Talk with your children about porn’s gross substitution of raw sex for loving, committed intimacy. Stress purity, not simply as not having sex but as a positive virtue that makes a person better, stronger and more pleasing to God and others. Explain that purity is cultivated by what they watch as well as what they do. Talk often, encourage questions and be warm.

Set boundaries and rules about Internet use with your children. Don’t relax because it’s summer. Make clear not only what sites are allowed but also with whom your children are allowed to surf the Web. Too often an acquaintance’s query, “Hey, have you seen this?” leads to trouble one click later.

Use parental controls. While not perfect, today’s controls are simple to use and better than nothing. (In this arena, the United Kingdom has leapt ahead, offering Internet services that require a systematic opt-in for pornography access.)

Supervise. Keep the computer in a public place where others easily see the screen. Even if you’re home with your children during the summer months, make sure parents are home when your children visit friends. Preteens and teens rattling around an empty house with only movies, video games or computer chats for company will find trouble all too easily.

Give good example. Don’t read the trashy, semipornographic novels that pass for beach reading. Select wholesome movies and TV shows — even for yourselves.

Perhaps most important, cultivate family time. The more time you spend together as a family, the better your chances of honest, open relationships with your children. And though every relationship is a work in progress, you and your spouse give invaluable witness to healthy sexuality in the context of marriage.

Rebecca Hagelin can be reached at rebecca@howtosaveyourfamily.com.

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