The research on internet porn and youth: Couldn’t have said it better myself…

…so I won’t :-). This article from the Chicago Tribune pretty much sums up the lack of research regarding whether viewing online porn impacts young people. The quick answer?  We don’t know. Evidence is contradictory, and research is lacking in anything that can lead us to causality (e.g., do sexually “callous” youth look at porn, or does looking at porn make youth more sexually callous?). So, what we’re left with:

  1. Viewing online pornography is very common among young people.
  2. Some studies link viewing online porn to less than desirable characteristics in youth (such as being socially isolated and using substances)
  3. Online pornography is a lot more graphic than the readily-accessible porn of previous generations.
  4. Despite commonality of online porn viewing, young people report being more sexually conservative than in recent years.

In other words, not much and what we do know leaves us confused. But for now, there is no reason to assume that online pornography is harmful to youth overall (could be harmful for some youth, however). Yet there is no evidence that says it’s helpful, either (doubt anyone would ever get funding and permissions to research that concept).

A New Twist on Fighting Bullying

My friend Lauren sent me this link from HuffPo, about a high school student who is taking a rather extreme stance on bullying. Frustrated by the lack of administration response to what she sees as a failure to act in response to complaints about a particular bully in her school, she posted a note to Reddit stating that she would end her life.

This extreme measure seemed to have worked. The publicity from the general media, as well as individuals taking the time to respond to her and the school have apparently caused action. In an addendum to her original post, she writes:

 I feel amazing knowing that even if people dislike me for it, I stood up for my own safety. I have a ton of support- both from you guys and my friends. Thank you everyone who sent an email (they kept mentioning some guy from Montana). There is no need anymore to contact the school or the county about this issue. I will be checking in every morning with the counselor, and she will give me a pass to see her if I ever feel like I’m being harassed over the next few days. You guys made this all happen overnight and sped up the process ten-fold! I don’t think I can say thank you enough for helping me, and everyone else, finally deal with the school cyber bully. I love you, Reddit!!!”

Although this outcome pleases me — follow up to a well-documented bullying complaint, the Reddit poster seemingly no longer suicidal, this scenario leaves me feeling uneasy. Are we to find her actions/statement parallel to a hunger strike? As an attention seeker? Would she really have killed herself to stand up against bullying? Thankfully, we will not know the answer. This time.

What are your thoughts on taking such extreme action?

Teenage insecurities

I am dealing with my own struggles these days, and I find some are exacerbated by social networking. Note how I say that these issues are “exacerbated” not “caused” by social networking. I believe there is a big difference.

A November 2011 article in the Huffington Post brings it home for me. Titled Life is Not a Popularity Contest, it hones in on our desire to have more friends, see and be seen, but at the expense of true connection. Dr. Brene Brown distinguishes this as belonging (what we should aspire towards) vs. fitting in (what we end up doing when we simply collect people into our databases instead of truly getting to know them). Actually, Dr. Brown goes beyond this. She states that it is important to be true to yourself instead of always trying to please others, or at least make them happy. But our fear of being disliked, forgotten, or simply ignored pulls us into this pattern of simply being seen as someone who is nice to be around. Which ultimately harms are own senses of self and authenticity.

Social networking allows us to share and check in with so many people, but not necessarily connect with them. Connecting takes time, vulnerability, and mutuality. “Hoarding” friends, as the HuffPo article discusses, is no way to do that. All it does is fill a void with nothing cleverly disguised as substance. Much in the same way that junk food may fill, but never nourish.

But I don’t think this issue is unique. Back when I was a youth, before social networking, I still felt the need to be a part of something. THE party, the inside joke, the more desirable crowd. This yearning to “fit in” did not surface with Facebook (or even MySpace or Friendster); it’s always been there. Brown argues in her book The Gifts of Imperfection that our need for connection is innate. But social networking makes fitting in easier and easier, which further distances ourselves from real connection.

I remember getting to know people in the true sense of connection when I was in college. The all-night talks in a dorm hallway. Going up to the foothills for the day to just be with others. Those days are long gone for me, but it’s best if I remember them so I do not fall into the trap of collecting rather than connecting. Especially since connection is what I need most right now. So, bring on the walks, the Happy Hours (adults only, please), and silly times. And while I still make “like” your post, I will also try a little harder to realize that doing so does not mean I actually reached out to you that day.


When youth make their own sex ed videos…

Just wanted to share this video, written by youth from Teens PACT (Positive Action and Choices for Teens). Some say it sends the wrong message and promotes sex in its tongue-in-cheek humor. Others think the approach makes it more effective. I haven’t decided. Truth is, nothing like this in isolation makes for effective prevention, but I love the fact that these young people are getting creative in the name of safe sex!