Good Pictures, Bad Pictures, Kristen Jensen
A friend I really admire lent me a copy of this book recently. Esky and I have read through it and discussed it...and I am a HUGEfan. Before you read any further, know now: I'm anti-porn, period. I know pornography isn't described as "bad pictures" in many households, but rather dubbed as "adult" pictures. We disagree. If yours is a household with a more relaxed approach to this subject (perhaps you consider porn a rite of passage or reasonable hobby that is "an adult's own business") -- those decisions are yours. But this post and book aren't for you.
The book is broken into short chapters or lessons which model how to discuss the subject of pornography with young people. It exists, it is out there, and not talking about it won't make it go away. I know what some of you are thinking -- What?! Esky is wee! Well, arguably yes. Esky is 6.5 years old. But I am a big believer in preparing over repairing. I think with things being as they are -- with so many information sources and screens all around us, it is inevitable that children will be exposed to pornography sometime -- even if the first exposure is to hear a warning about it (I don't want my kids to be the ignorant ones who don't know what this thing is their friends are talking about...). Unfortunately, I think "sometime" will be sooner (younger) than it was for my generation (and I was still only 8 or 9!). I also know that when I am curious about something, or want an answer to a question, I google it. Kids (not only teenagers) do the same, and even moreso with sensitive subjects they'd rather have answered privately. I don't want my kids to receive their answers about sex from internet search results and I want them to know what kind of search results they are likely to produce if they enter scatological and sexual terms (even with filters in place). Suffice to say; waiting for there to be a need to talk about pornography in our home is not my approach. Especially considering the fact that I never reported the first time I encountered porn...to anyone. Well, until recently, when I read this book and I suddenly was talking about all of these memories. My mom knows now.
This book supplies a simplified explanation of how the brain works, using well-thought and memorable analogies. Teaching children they have "two brains" -- a feeling and thinking brain -- assists in explaining the concept of reining in our emotional responses in a range of contexts. When a child wants to lash out over losing a game -- because they feel frustrated, they can learn to become better at tempering that strong emotion and think about the negative consequences of such an outburst. Experience teaches them that other players are unlikely to stick around if they allow their feelings to rule them. Similarly, learning that one may feel drawn to pornography does not make a person bad, and the thinking part of the brain can be called to action, so they can avoid negative consequences that will result. Although it is difficult for a young, developing brain to do this, their capacity to do so increases every time they exercise restraint (every time they choose not to hit when enraged their power to do so again increases). The book never suggests having feelings is a bad thing, in fact, quite the opposite. It covers the concept of attraction (using a magnet metaphor) and explains that attraction is both necessary and good, in appropriate contexts. I was most impressed with the treatment of this topic. I recently viewed this video, wherein the author of Good Pictures, Bad Pictures is acknowledged at the close of the clip for contributing to its production. Given how short it is, the clip is pretty well-executed. HOWEVER -- it includes LDS/Mormon terminology and a religious basis for aversion to "bad pictures." So, if you're one of my readers who likes that -- great -- but if you're not, it may not be for you and your family. The book does not take the same approach. It instead is science-based. The main motivation to avoid bad pictures in the clip is to ensure the companionship of the Holy Ghost (or the Spirit) -- something that may not motivate you and your kin. The clip also may not be framed in terms you would use. The book has space to elaborate, and encourages avoiding addiction and unrealistic expectations / warped ideas as the impetus for staying away from pornography. It describes how pornography has a great potential to result in addiction, and that addiction damages relationships and causes people to lose control due to chemical reactions taking place in their brain.
Esky got it. She really got it. I'm really glad we've opened the dialogue to talk about pornography, and she has an idea of how to react the day she does see something that awakens a natural curiousity in her, but something that also presents grave potential to destroy healthy ideas she has about herself and others and could potentially lead to forming secretive habits, shame, or addiction. I don't want to find my daughter in a closet on an iPad exploring X-rated sites because we didn't have this conversation -- because that's something I believe could happen, if a kid was curious. I am hopeful that having talked about it, Esky knows we can talk about it.
I didn't tell my parents when my friend dragged a box of VHS tapes out from under her parents' bed and put one on for me. I was scared of being told I couldn't go back to my friend's house -- maybe even getting her, me, or her parents into trouble. I have great parents. But this book wasn't published yet. If it had been, they might have read it with me. I wonder if they did, how I might have reacted differently. I think I'm fortunate to have read it.
I can understand some people's hesitation to bring up pornography with their kids at a young age (even if most sources agree both exposure and addiction are coming in statistically between ages 7 and 13). You're right, chances are, your child hasn't been exposed. I really get that; Esky is homeschooled, and her opportunities for exposure are pretty slim. But I can't control everything or watch her everywhere forever, and I don't want her to have no internal response or reference for porn when she sees it the first time. A single scene of violent, derogatory, demeaning, sadistic, unrealistic or sick sex can do a lot of damage. I know for me, I never forget. I want my kids to have healthy ideas about sex...and that means helping them filter out or critically assess any material that is unhealthy. You may think I have been premature in discussing all this with my kid...and that is fine...but as a teacher and parents, I have too much anecdotal evidence to support my decision that now is the perfect time for me to have this conversation.
Lastly, for some, you may learn it wasn't too early at all -- you may give your child/ren the power to name and explain what they've already seen (I hope you're ready to hear it). You may be surprised...