Have 'The Third Talk' to protect your kids from porn, predators on the internet

9December 2021

For MJ, a gift of an iPod Touch when she was 9 was the gateway to a debilitating addiction to pornography.

Now 18, she said the addiction at such a young age left her with an eating disorder as she compared herself to the women twice her age that she saw on screen.

“I spent a lot of time in a cycle of guilt and self-hatred because of the images I was seeing,” MJ says in a video for local nonprofit The Third Talk, which aims to help parents address the sensitive topic with their children. “This is an addiction that is so isolating that will leave you feeling so broken that you don’t think you can recover.”

John Van Arnam, founder of The Third Talk, said MJ isn’t alone.

“It’s very hard for parents to understand that they’ll see their little, their little daughter or their little son out in the front yard playing and the thought of them at 8, 9 or 10 years old coming inside, going upstairs and bringing up explicit, sexually explicit material on a laptop or a phone or an iPad, just seems almost impossible to, to wrap their head around.”

A 2019 study shows that 93% of boys and 68% of girls have seen sexually explicit content before graduating high school, Van Arnam said.

“There is no cavalry. It is up to you, and you need to address this with your young person at a very early age,” Van Arnam said.

The recent pandemic also had more children in front of computers, which aided in an increase in internet-based sex crimes against children. Van Arnam said the State Bureau of Investigation reached out to him to join a task force to deal with the issue.

“We’ve seen a huge increase in what we call ‘cyber tips’ that come from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children,” said Kevin Roughton, a special agent with the NC State Bureau of Investigation and the the NC Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force.

In 2019, there were 4,930 cyber tips to the SBI. Tips increased to more than 9,300 last year, as more children were online due to the pandemic.

“It became significantly easier for the worst of the worst of our society because kids were online,” Van Arnam said.

Roughton said the SBI and The Third Talk found common ground on helping to protect children from online predators.

“When children and young people are exposed to pornography at such a young age it can tend to normalize that type of behavior to where then they may begin engaging in that, or see that as a normal type of engagement in their online activities, which creates an increase in internet crimes against children,” Roughton said.

The NCSBI teamed up with The Third Talk and the state Department of Public Instruction to create a short video to bring awareness of the dangers of sexually explicit content online. It was sent to principals in middle schools and high schools across the state.

The topic remains timely, as cyber tip numbers continue to rise, Roughton said. November was the highest month ever for cyber tips with more than 1,400. By the end of this year, the state projects that it will have received more than 12,000 cyber tips.

“Most people believe that cyber tips occur in the deep, dark crevices of the internet, but in actuality, just this year in 2021, nearly half of our tips have come from Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat,” Roughton said.

Roughton said that these apps have the perception of being safe, with many parents using them as well.

“While it’s not a dangerous platform in and of itself, there are significant dangers there, and parents need to be aware of it, and they need to educate their kids on it,” Roughton said.

Van Arnam has a degree in psychology from Syracuse University. He said that young people viewing sexually explicit content can lead to health issues, including aggression, depression, loneliness, intimate partner violence, dating violence, even assault.

“This is not a boys will be boys, girls will be girls kind of thing. This is causing brain trauma,” he said. “It acts like a stimulant. So this is very, very similar to a young person putting hard drugs into their body.”

For Donovan, the addiction started when he was 12 years old through one of his favorite video games.

“For the next seven years, I went through something that I would never wish on anyone,” he said in a video recorded for The Third Talk.

Now 21, Donovan said he is speaking out because sexually explicit content, “so warps our perception of each other that we don’t even know how to treat women anymore.”

Van Arnam has also been a regular speaker at DPI’s annual conferences for school administrators.

“On the average, our 14-, 15-, 16- and 17-year-olds are watching seven videos a day every day. So if you think about that volume of content and what it does emotionally and physically and psychologically to a young person, this is not just something that’s nice to have. This is something that parents really need to get a hold of, jump on and talk with them,” he said.

Van Arnam said parents should bring up the topic in a casual setting and focus on listening.

“The number one most important thing that parents can do is talk to their children about it. We know how uncomfortable that is. That’s why we created the parents’ guide,” Van Arnam said. “In a nutshell, just ask the question, ‘Have you ever seen this content or have you seen this content on a school bus or have you seen this content at a sleepover?’ And then also don’t freak out about the answers. One of the things that will drive a child to denial and sitting back and saying, ‘no, thank you,’ is a mom or a dad getting very upset about the answers that they hear.”

Van Arnam said parents need to remain calm and listen to their children without judgement or getting too upset about what they hear.

“What always happens is, there some sort of story that takes place, and then you just see the shame, drifting off of their shoulders as they’re telling the story,” Van Arnam said.

Van Arnam also suggests talking to other parents about the issue.

“If parents can begin to talk to each other and take the shame of, ‘I’m a bad parent, or I’ve done something wrong,’ out of the equation, we can then change the way our young people are growing up,” Van Arman said. “We, as parents, have a responsibility to protect our kids from dangers that we know about and dangers that we don’t know about. And this is certainly one that we all should know about.”

The Third Talk offers a parents’ guide online to help caregivers begin the conversation with their children. It is available for $19.95.

This post was originally published on this site

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