Porn and social media. Nowadays these two are almost synonymous. We’re all aware of it but no one is talking about it.
Correction… we are constantly talking about it, but not how it affects things like dating, the opposite sex, and even our own self-worth. Working with teenagers you can’t go five minutes into a session without the subject of self-worth coming up; and more often than not, when you dig a little deeper with them you begin to find out just how much this topic is being impacted by things like social media.
I spend a lot of time with teens, both as a therapist and in ministry. I recently sat down with many of the teens I interact with ranging in age from 15-19. I asked them how social media and porn are connected, and how both of these have affected how they view dating and sex and their own self worth. I thought it might be helpful to share what I found out.
Across the board each of them refer to social media (especially Instagram) as “just another more socially acceptable form of porn”. For many of the guys I talked with, they admit it sets unrealistic expectations on how sex happens, and with social media it has given them a sense of “entitlement”. For example, one 16 year old I talked with told me:
“If a girl is willing to post certain pictures, it sets an expectation of what she’ll be willing to do, how far she’ll go, what she expects or thinks is ok to happen between us, and that I should expect to get that cuz she’s putting that out there. When this doesn’t happen, we sometimes will push boundaries out of frustration to get what we want.”
When I asked girls about what is being put out there on social media, the majority of them say that they “Feel the need to compare/compete with what other girls are putting out there”. In digging more into what drove that thought, each of them admitted that the question’s underneath are
“Will this get me noticed? Will this help me standout from the other girls?”
Social media and porn have become the standard for how to treat the opposite sex. Relationships are no longer the end goal-- hooking up is.
The hard truth is, no one is teaching teens how to pursue or be pursued, or what that even means regarding their self-worth. There are few talks about what healthy sexuality and healthy boundaries in dating are and how things like social media and porn can distort the lines.
So how do we as parents, counselors, youth leaders and mentors handle this topic with our teens? I asked that very question to the teens I work with and here is what they said:
Don’t React out of Fear.
Understand that you can’t completely stop our exposure to porn or social media- even if we aren’t looking for it, it finds us--- When you freak out this makes us feel stressed and guilty and shameful and want to shut down.
No one asks us our perspective about what’s out there and how we think it impacts us and other teens our age.
Don’t ask tons of questions or Talk AT us.
Find a balance; asking questions from a place of being curious and really just wanting to understand. We get that there are things you need to tell us, but we are more willing to listen if we feel like we’re being heard first. For example- instead of just telling us what NOT to do, pose scenarios for us and let us play them out (i.e. “What might happen if you were to push the boundaries or let your boundaries be pushed?”).
If we post something on Instagram or Twitter or send something on Snapchat that you consider inappropriate- don’t assume you know what our intentions were. Even if it is the worst case scenario, ASK. Ask us why we felt like posting that, ASK how the stuff I’m seeing on social media makes me think about things like sex, and dating and even myself. Separate what we do or what is out there, with who we are.
Tell us about who you are, the stuff you faced when you were our age and why you did or didn’t make certain choices. Most of the time it feels like there is a wall up where our parents never did anything wrong and see us as doing all the wrong things.
While many of these teens don’t say it to you, each one of them in my counseling room have expressed in one way or another their struggle with their own self- worth. Too often we jump to ONLY talking about safe sex or abstinence etc… and while these are important topics to discuss, what isn’t being talked about enough is teaching them about self-worth, value and identity. These are imperative values in the midst of a broken world where they are constantly having to fight against feeling insecure and insignificant.
Keep loving your kids, show them grace, talk to them, and show them every day their value and worth. More than anything this is what they will hold on to in the end.