Introducing Lexa Dell. Conner, Lexa, and Melanie interact with readers on Facebook over at the Kindling book page.
For those who are interested, there is now an official Kindling page on Facebook. Conner, Lexa, and Melanie all check in periodically and would love to interact with you. Here's the link: Kindling Facebook Page
I'm sitting here on the back deck of Mockingbird Cottage. The breeze is rustling the trees in the woods. The birds are singing. The grass is cut, day lilies and gladiolas are blooming. And, someone forgot to invite the humidity to the party, which is the best thing of all--and pretty rare in TN. At times like this, my mind turns to--showtunes. Of course. Is there anyone among us who doesn't have that reaction?
At any rate, it's a sublimely, almost achingly, beautiful morning. I'd like to thank Messrs. Rodgers and Hammerstein for writing the great anthem of lovely summer mornings!
I hope your mornings are beautiful and peaceful. Here is Hugh Jacksman (yes, THAT Hugh Jackman) with the quintessential song for summer mornings.
I had a nice surprise when I woke up this morning--another nice review of The Kindling by someone I don't know. "Braden Bell skillfully develops the magical realism in Middle School Magic: The Kindling, coherently with enough action to keep the reader glued to the pages."
Read the whole review here.
We interrupt the sober discussion of the well-being and healthy development of adolescents to announce that the first press run of The Kindling has arrived in the publisher's warehouse!
This means they'll start trickling out to bookstores eventually. It also means that they are being shipped to bradenbell.com as I write!
Which means in just a few days, I will have my copies! The question, of course, is whether you will have yours :) And if you answer that question in the negative, well, that's your choice of course. Free country and all that. But, if you want to get your copy quickly--and cheaply--I have made arrangements for that. All you have to do is go to this link here.
So, before I get into the meat of today's post, for those just tuning in after the weekend, I wanted to let you know that Chapter Three of The Kindling is up here. And, for my blogging friends, I'm happy to announce a pre-order special--you can get the book for $9.99 plus shipping! More details here. (Incidentally, this book has NOTHING at all to do with today's post in case you just stop by randomly).
Now on to today's post. I debated whether or not to post this. Normally, I try to keep things fairly cheerful and light around here. This is a sensitive, highly-charged subject and I'm not really anxious to start a flap. I learned from the response to my book, The Road Show (which dealt with porn addiction) that we do not have a cultural consensus about whether porn is good, neutral, or a serious problem. Pornography is a hot-button subject because it touches on people's views about morality, religion, sexuality, politics and other very fraught topics. If, after reading this post, you want to disagree with me or another commenter, that's fine. But please be civil.
I've been watching and observing kids now for 25 years now, and I've seen some things in the last few years that worry me and I think we, as parents and teachers, give this some more attention.
I ask you to put aside your preconceived notions for a few minutes. I'm not going to argue about the larger issues here. I'm not talking about what adults do, nor am I proposing legislation. I'm not even talking about morality. For now, let's think about porn and how it might impact adolescents and what parents should know and do.
Some parents I know seem to be totally unaware or unconcerned about their child's potential to access porn. Others I know are uneasy with it, have the sense that it's wrong, or at least distasteful--something that isn't really a good idea. But, don't have a strong feeling about why
it's not a good idea
Of course, there are any number of reasons people might object--from religious grounds to more secular ones.
Essentially I want to make the non-religious case for why I think parents ought to be concerned about porn. Far, far, far more concerned than most parents seem to be. I should note that I am not the only person raising this alarm. A recent article on CNN by two psychologists made this case and got a lot of press. You can read it here.
My case is grounded in what I have observed about child development. Let me begin with a few general points about some of the things that teens are dealing with at this time in their lives.
To begin with, most teens are working out patterns of relating to people that will be with them for the rest of their lives. This is a huge part of adolescence and the social skills and patterns set now will be their default setting for the rest of their lives.
Most teens are also defining their identities--who they see themselves as being, who they want to become, and what they want to do. This includes their sexual identities.
They are starting to learn, for the most part, that good things in life come with work. They begin to understand that if they want a good part in the play or a good spot on the team or good grades, they have to make some effort. This is something that many teens struggle with. They know this logically, but it is not something that is habitual or instinctive yet.
Most adolescents think the world revolves around them. They are incredibly egocentric. They have a difficult time controlling their impulses. Delayed gratification is something they are starting to understand in concept, but it is not an easy lesson and takes years and years and a great deal of experience.
They struggle, by and large, to deal with tumultuous, hormone-driven emotions and desires. They have to learn to use intellect and reason to control their immediate wants. This is true as many of them start to think about eating more healthy foods, about exercising, about controlling their tempers and so on.
It seems to me that in every way listed, porn is going to send them exactly the wrong message at exactly the wrong time and is going to actually get in the way, either overtly or in more subtle ways, of their healthy development.
We need to understand that most kids have been exposed to pornographic images on the web by the time they are 13, with some reporting it as young as 10. I read all kinds of statistics about how many kids have been exposed to porn and saw anywhere between 42% to 90%. I imagine this is the kind of thing that is difficult to track accurately--but if you have kids, chances are pretty good that they have been exposed to porn at some point. From conversations I've heard over the years, if they have a smartphone, or friends with smartphones, I'd say that it's more likely than not.Even if your child has not accessed it, the chances are high that their peers have, which means that they will probably have heard about it.
I would add that this is not a problem for boys only. While it is certainly more prevalent among them, there seems to be a rise in girls accessing porn as well. (I say that based on my own observation, things I hear from other teachers and parents, and things I hear students discussing, not on the basis of any empirical evidence.) I'm using the male pronoun "he" in this because boys are the most prevalent users, but we need to give some careful thought to girls and how they are involved.
One of the things I've learned as a teacher is that children know far, far more about this kind of thing than parents (and often teachers) would ever imagine. I think most parents would be truly shocked if they knew what kinds of things their children have heard at school, in the locker room, at parties, and so on.
So, why is this a big deal?
It's probably a good point here to acknowledge that there have always been magazines and pictures that cater to this impulse. But the internet has made this kind of stuff far, far more accessible that it ever has been before. There are no limits now--both in terms of quantity and extremity of content. In fact some researchers posit that online porn is different because there are no limits. It is endless and on-demand actually ends up causing a sense of gorging that can eventually rewire the brain and prevent a man from being able to desire or engage in normal physical relations.
I also think that the ability to access porn has allowed kids to get it at younger and younger ages--ages at which they are probably going to be more susceptible to being more influenced by what they see.
Consider all of the developmental benchmarks I mentioned earlier--the things that adolescents are struggling to learn. And then consider how porn might effect those.
Think about how it effects a boy who is figuring out social relationships to be accessing porn. How is that inevitably going to make him think about girls? Will he value them as friends and companions? Will he see them as peers? Will he even be able to see them as people, or will he think of them as objects? Will he able to interact with them in a normal way--as a co-worker or friend?
Here's another question. Will he even want to go hang out with friends or be with families? What is more exciting? Sitting and looking at porn in his room is going to have a lot more dopamine-induced excitement than going out with people and learning how to socialize. Why would he ever want to go do normal things we've typically done--date and dance and hang-out?
Think of the fact that porn conforms to an adolescent's demands. It is what and where and how he wants it. That reason, more than perhaps any other, is problematic. At this most formative time in their lives, adolescents involved with porn will learn that they can have everything exactly the way they want it. That is not a recipe for healthy relationships.
In addition, adolescents are not good at setting boundaries. I suppose one could argue that a responsible adult can view porn in moderation, like social drinking. I happen to disagree with that, but I can grant the point. But teenagers are not like that. They do not self-regulate or set boundaries--especially as young adolescents--the age they are when they are first exposed to porn. They will not generally say, "Okay, time to do homework. I need to turn the porn off now."
It is well documented that porn has an effect of desensitizing those who view it. They need greater doses of increasingly hard-core stuff to get the same excitement. If someone starts viewing this at 12 (or younger) that means by the time he's 18 he may be immersed in truly ugly and offensive things. He may also lose the ability to have a normal, loving relationship with a real woman. There is an article that discusses some recent research here.
Now, let's assume that I am a blithering idiot and that porn is no big deal. Let's assume that there will be no deleterious effects at all. The kid slavers over his iPhone under his covers during puberty and then grows up and lead a happy, normal life.
I don't buy that, but I'll just grant it for the sake of argument. Assuming that's true, let me ask you this: Is anyone going to make a serious case that porn is important? That it is so critical to healthy development that not having access to it will cause harm?
So, worst case scenario, a kid doesn't consume porn as an adolescent. What's he or she lost? I would argue, nothing. They've actually probably gained a few hours of time to be with family and friends or do homework or get some exercise.
The point is this: I think there are lots of reasons to avoid porn, serious reasons with major implications. But if I'm wrong, and it's not all that harmful, then nothing important is lost.
The next question becomes: what can a parent do about it? There are no easy answers. You can get various software and apps that monitor your child's phone use, filters for home computers, and so on. I think these are all logical steps. But they are incomplete at best. In today's world, a kid who wants to access porn is going to be able to find a way.
I think this is where teaching comes in. Talking. Telling them it's wrong, explaining why it's harmful. Telling them you expect them not to get involved in it. Following up. Spot-checking. All the stuff that parents have historically done. It might also mean limiting some access for a time. I don't know. I don't have all the answers, or even very many.
But I do know it starts with a conversation--with parents who make it clear that this is not okay behavior and then work to help protect their kids. It starts with parents talking to other parents and supporting each other. Establishing some boundaries that will not be subject to change by conventional wisdom, pop culture, or simple lack of vigilance.
Good news! I'm happy to announce that The Kindling is now available for pre-order. I'm even happier to announce that I can get a discount for you. Instead of $14.99, I can get it for $9.99 (plus shipping).
It still won't be released until July 10th, but if you want to pre-order it, I'll get it to you just as soon as it comes out. You can order via PayPal with the button below.
The second trailer for The Kindling--introducing Melanie Stephens.
As I have mentioned before, I was pretty much a wreck as an adolescent. In just about every way I was a mess. To the extent that I am now a productive member of society, I have to give my parents a great deal of credit. I posted the Monday after Mother's Day about what she had done to bless my life as an adolescent (and beyond). Today, I want to do the same with my father.
1. Dad provided a core, a rock-solid foundation for me. His absolute adherence to his moral code and faith provided an example for me when I needed it. I never doubted whether he was honest and had integrity. I never doubted that he was faithful to my mother. He wasn't perfect--and that's the great thing he taught me. You don't have to be perfect to be good.
2. Dad loved my mom. There was never a question in our minds about where Dad's first loyalties were directed. Mom came first always. I never heard my dad criticize my mom or fight with her. I know they had disagreements, but they discussed them alone and quietly. I do remember once that my dad made a sort of sarcastic joke about a meal mom made. It wasn't all that bad even, but it wasn't very kind. As soon as he said it, he looked mortified and he apologized to us, taking great pains to help us realize how wrong he'd been. I learned a lot from that moment. I grew up knowing that there was nothing that would bring retribution so swiftly and surely as being disrespectful of my mother. It's hard to overstate the security that my dad brought to our family because of this. I remember being shocked once at a friend's house when I heard his dad belittle his mother. I just didn't know that happened. At our house it didn't.
3. Dad insisted on unflinching honesty with himself--and with us. I think this is one of the greatest things anyone ever gave me. As I see the sadness people inflict on their own lives because they are self-deceptive, I'm so grateful my dad refused to do this. If I ever wanted to do something, and it wasn't for the right reasons, or I was deceiving myself, dad wouldn't let me get away with it. He allowed me to make stupid decisions, but he didn't allow me to make them based on being dishonest with myself about my motivations. This is such a gift, and one I think adolescents need.
4. Dad loved me enough to push me to be my best. He didn't accept my natural tendency toward laziness and taking the easy way out. He insisted I try things before refusing them. He made me do things I didn't want to do even though I stormed and raged. This has blessed my life in so many ways. Turns out that a lot of life is doing things you don't like. So learning it while I was young was a good thing.
5. Dad was my teacher. He taught me all the time--about life, about God, about the physical world--about everything.
6. Dad loved me enough to be my parent. Not my peer, not my buddy, not my advisor. He was my father. He corrected me when I was wrong and encouraged me when I was right.
7. Dad tried and tried and tried. I was the first child. It takes a while to learn to be a parent. Dad always tried new ideas. If something didn't work, he'd try something else. He was always trying to be better, to do better.
8. Dad gave up his life for his family. In a literal, if quiet way. He had a job he hated for 20 years because he wanted to provide a good life for his family. It ruined his health, but he got up and did it every single day. I admire that so much. He didn't have a lot of hobbies or outside interests. He took care of his family and he served in his church.
9. Dad loved me. In so many ways and on so many occasions, he showed me loved me. He wasn't afraid to say that, but he also showed me over and over.
As I said above, Dad wasn't perfect. He's the first to acknowledge that. But again, you don't have to be a perfect parent to be a good parent. Dad did the best he could--and I think it was pretty good. I'm very grateful he was at the helm during my tempestuous teen years. And I hope I can be
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Thoughts about raising and teaching adolescents. You can read the complete series here. (What in the world are Middle School Mondays?) Click here.
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