How Porn Addiction Hurts

Porn AddictionI was watching my son’s baseball game the other day and happened to overhear an exchange between two parents and their two sons that compelled me to write this post.

The two boys were joking and laughing with one another through out the game. One of the boys joked with his mother sitting near by and goaded her to ask the other boy why he had been grounded from his smart phone. The second boys father walked up and jokingly gave the reason by saying, “somebody likes the P-O-R-N a little too much”. The father, his son, and the other boy laughed and continued on with their activities.

I began to think through some of what I had been learning from the book Wired for intimacy: How pornography hijacks the male brain written by William M. Struthers. I missed my opportunity to share with this father how pornography hurts his son. But, will share with you now what I have learned about the impact of pornography on boys.

Porn Addiction Corrupts Intimacy

We all, boys included have a built in need for connection with other people. We are driven to seek relationship, closeness and safety with those we love. Pornography corrupts this desire by making intimacy all about the physical act of sex rather than vulnerability, and emotional connection. Struthers states it this way,

“pornography corrupts the ability to be intimate. It pulls consumers and producers in with the promise of intimacy, but fails to deliver the connection between two human beings”.

Sex is a part of deep intimacy but it is not the whole picture. Pornography promises the connection that boys long for but delivers shame, guilt, secrecy and pain.

Porn Addiction Consumes the Brain

New brain research demonstrates that experience changes the brain. The viewing of pornography and the subsequent acting out is no different. The more pornography is consumed the greater the impact it has on the brain. Again Struthers describes it well by saying,

“As men [boys] fall deeper into the mental habit of fixating on these images, the exposure to them creates neural pathways. Like a path is created in the woods with each successive hiker, so do the neural paths set the course for the next time an erotic image is viewed… with each lingering stare, pornography deepens a Grand Canyon-like gorge in the brain through which images of women are destined to flow”.

The more pornography that is consumed and the younger the age of exposure the more significant the impact will be on the brain.

Thankfully brain research also demonstrates that the brain is plastic. This means that it changes through out the entire course of ones life. So, the neuro-pathways developed in response to viewing pornography can be rewritten over the course of life. So what can you do to help your son?

 

What Can Parents Do?

Build Emotional Mastery

For those dealing with porn addiction the viewing of pornography and sexual acting out often become the primary way they deal with stress and overwhelming emotions. They never learned how to adaptively regulate emotions and pornography has become the only strategy that works.

“emotional mastery is important because it teaches boys how to regulate and control their feelings. As a father pushes and challenges, he offers an opportunity for his son to experience these human emotions in a safe place.” (pg. 141)

 Connect in Relationship

As stated before we all need connection to other people for survival. Struthers says that the depth of porn addiction is correlated with a boys unmet emotional and relational needs. If you are concerned that your son is addicted to porn it may be tempting to avoid discussing it or to distance yourself from him in anger. What he needs however is more connection with you. His needs for connection and intimacy will never be met through pornography. Those needs are only met in genuine connection with you or other loved ones. Move toward your son in relationship communicate compassion and love in the midst of your heart break.

Get Help

It can be difficult to reach out for help when struggling with pornography. Our culture tends to view porn addiction as one of the things that cannot be talked about. Reach out to trusted friends, a pastor or professional counselor to walk with you and your son through the struggle.

If you, your son, or someone you know struggles with porn addiction and you are ready to get help please call me at 217-231-1413 and I will help you build the emotional mastery and connection you both need.

Learn more from William Struthers by Watching this Helpful Video.

Boys and Mindfulness

Mindfulness is paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the moment, without judgment Jon Kabat-Zinn“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally”                   -Jon Kabat-Zinn

Mindfulness is all the rage these days. It seems like teachers, parents, news personalities, and especially counselors are talking about how mindfulness helps to reduce stress, anxiety, and depression. (I wrote about other ways to help you son Here)

I am one of those counselors that talk about mindfulness.  Not only that, I regularly teach it to those that I am counseling. It appears to me that many people think about mindfulness in a rather narrow context. When I ask people about it they tend to describe sitting calming, taking deep breaths, having their eyes closed, and thinking about something intently.

I don’t think this works very well for boys, however. Telling a boy that the best way to reduce stress is to sit as still as possible, take deep breaths, and think really hard seems more like cruel and unusual punishment than helpful. It is for this reason that when I am teaching boys about mindfulness I refer to it as being “in the zone”.  When we practice it in session I use active and engaging activities. Here are a few ways to practice mindfulness that will speak to the heart of your son:

Target shooting or Hunting

I do not know of any activity that requires more mindfulness than target shooting or hunting. This activity requires incredible focus, regulation of breathing, management of emotion, and the ability to block out distractions. Your son will learn to breath smoothly and slowly squeeze the trigger in order to minimize barrel movement. He will realize that noticing and managing his heartbeat enables him to regulate his level of excitement and therefore his accuracy. The novelty of the experience will create a sense of being present in the moment enhancing his ability to block out distractions.

A Wilderness Scavenger Hunt

Take your son to a state park or hiking trail.  Provide him with a list of natural objects (leaf, smooth rock, black rock, deer antlers etc.).  Then hike through the woods on a mission to find each of the objects. This activity will have him fully engrossed in the moment.   He will actively notice the tiny details of all that is happening around him. Be sure to include noises and smells on the list. These objects will encourage him to use all of his senses in the scavenger hunt and will enhance those abilities in other contexts.

These are only a few examples of ways that you could actively engage your son in the development of mindfulness. No matter which activity you choose, the purpose is to be fully engaged (no electronics), use all five senses, and participate without judgment. Don’t worry about if you are doing it right or good, hitting the target, or finding all of the objects. Enjoy the moment with your son, connect in relationship, and move away from distraction, anxiety and depression. (Here is another post about connecting with your son)

How to Teach Emotional Intelligence to Your Son

What is the most important thing you hope to teach your son before he turns 18? Many parents focus on skills like, driving a car, spending money wisely, working hard, or study habits. But, research seems to show that teaching our sons emotional intelligence may be the most important thing we do.

In 2003 researchers at Yale University studied a group of college age students and found that as emotional intelligence goes up so do positive relationships with others. These researchers also found that the ability for a person to manage their own emotions is closely related to positive interactions with others.

The same group of researchers later discovered that Lower levels of EI are associated with adolescent risk taking behaviors like use of illegal drugs, consumption of alcohol, and deviant behavior.

So, what is emotional intelligence? There is some disagreement about the exact definition but the one that I find most helpful can be summarized like this:

Emotional Intelligence is,

  1. The ability to Perceive Emotions
  2. The ability to Utilize emotions to facilitate thought
  3. The ability to Understand emotions
  4. The ability to Regulate emotions of self and others

So, What are some ways that parents can help their son to learn emotional intelligence? Here are my thoughts

  1. Focus on Connection

The research about how children develop emotional intelligence shows that it is passed on through connection with parents. Those parents that use an authoritative parenting style (balance between control and empathy) have children with higher levels of emotional intelligence. Sometimes our fast paced culture encourages parents to get their children involved in activities that will enhance their brains and build their resume. What research shows, however, is that it is “us” that matter, the time spent connecting over low cost activities enhance our children’s lives. So, build connection with your son by using the basic listening skills (I wrote about them here). Play their favorite board game one evening a week. Schedule them to cook dinner for the family one night and help them through the process. Spend a few minutes talking about the day before shutting off their bedroom light for the night.

  1. Focus on Perception of Emotions

Help your son to understand that other people’s behavior is a clue to all that is happening on the inside. Your son can learn about how to interpret facial expression, body language, tone of voice, and other communication from you. You can help him to accurately perceive emotions by guessing at what you think he is feeling and expressing it verbally (ex. You are angry) if you are correct he feels heard and now has a word for what he was just feeling on the inside. If you are incorrect he can tell you and therefore clarify his feelings for himself and for you. It is also very helpful when you verbalize what you are feeling in the moment with your child. If you have lost your keys you might say, “I am really starting to get frustrated” when you experience a setback at work you might say, “I am disappointed that…” The bottom line is; help him to perceive his own feelings by verbalizing them for him and then discussing it, help him to perceive what others are feeling by sharing your feelings in the moment.

  1. Focus on Managing Emotions of Self

Again, the best way to help your son learn to manage his emotions is to be good at managing yours. Modeling appropriate emotional reactions to normal and difficult situations shows him exactly how to do it. For younger children games like red light/green light are helpful. Older children can learn skills like belly breathing, mindfulness, and relaxation techniques. Additionally, the way you listen can be a very powerful way to co-regulate your child, which enables them to learn to regulate emotions by experiencing the process with you. (read about it here).

Emotional intelligence is one of the most important skills that a boy can learn. You can help him to learn it by focusing on connection, perception of emotions, and managing emotions of the self.

Check out this video to hear some more about boys and their emotions.

What are some other ways you have found to help increase your sons Emotional Intelligence?

How To Raise Self-Reliant Kids

My wife and I were rushing the kids out the door for school this morning and one of my worst parenting fears was “triggered”. While all his siblings were climbing into the car, one of my sons came stumbling out of the laundry room. His backpack was haphazardly draped over his shoulder, crumbs were strewn across the front of his shirt, and his hair was uncombed, “I can’t find my shoes” he said.

This may not seem scary to you, but for me this brings up fears of a son that cannot care for himself, irresponsibility, lack of initiative, and laziness. I saw images of a grown man living in my basement playing video games with orange chee-to stained fingers. These are the things of nightmares!! I have been encountering these moments more and more lately as my boys grow into the preteen years. They are changing, developing their own unique personalities and ways of acting in the world. I love to see this, but it also creates fear.   I am beginning to realize that I cannot control the outcomes of their life. I could be the best parent in the world and yet there will be struggles, difficulties, and challenges. In fact, Alfred Adler believed that the behavioral struggles for many children occur in direct relation to their parents value system. So, if you strongly value cleanliness, you will likely struggle the most with your child that has difficulty keeping his room clean. If you value kindness, your child’s misbehavior may manifest itself as disrespect and selfishness. I value responsibility and personal initiative. So, the behaviors that bother me most are lack of responsibility and forgetfulness. These behaviors push a button in me and I begin to imagine the worst possible outcome. I feel responsible for his lost shoes, I feel responsible for his future self, growing up to live in my basement. I start to respond in ways that are less than helpful for the current situation. Some times, this looks like me running around looking for his shoes, huffing and puffing about where they are SUPPOSED to be or threatening to leave the house with out him. Unfortunately, this behavior communicates to him “you are not responsible, so I (your father) must take responsibility for you”. Of course this is the exact opposite of what I want to communicate, which is, “you are responsible, you can handle this and I am here to help”. So, what can I do to avoid this train wreck?

First of all, I need to stay calm and stop indulging my worst fear images. The images of 10 years down the road are irrational and unhelpful. Instead I need to exercise patience, acknowledge my fears, and give him some time to find his shoes. I don’t have to find them, I can brainstorm possible solutions, but he is the best person to hunt them down (they did come off his feet after-all). I recently read a book by Ben Sasse entitled “The Vanishing American Adult: Our coming-of-age crisis and how to rebuild a culture of self-reliance” this book offered five practical ways that parents can help their children to build self-reliance they are

  1. Flee age segregation
  2. Embrace work pain
  3. Consume less
  4. Travel to see
  5. Build a book shelf

Check out this video I made to share some of my thoughts about these ideas.

What do you think? will these things work to build self-reliance in the next generation? Leave a comment below

5 Ways to Listen So Your Son Feels Heard

5 Ways to listen So YourExpress Empathy

  1. Listen to your sons statements
  2. Go within & Check, “How would I be feeling if were him?”
  3. Express your understanding through an empathy statement of

“You feel______________because _________________

It sounds like you feel…

I sense you feel…

As I listen to you, I am aware of how ___________you must be feeling.

In other words, you feel…

I am imagining how intensely you must feel…

Summarize His Experience

This whole situation can then be summed up to…

You seem to be saying most of the time you feel…

You recall this happening at least three times then.

These are the options you currently see open to you…

Paraphrase His Meaning

You don’t think he’s very competent…

You feel your parents would be upset if…

You wonder what will happen in the future

So it’s a question of clarifying your role in your relationship

Prompt Him to Say More

Non-verbal prompts:

Nods, Hand gestures, eye contact, leaning in

Single Words or Phrases:

Never?

And then?

And for your part?

Statements:

I am not sure what you mean by “the worst”

It’s not clear to me which option you prefer.

I am unable to get a clear idea of the importance of this to you.

Use Open Ended Questions

How does this impact your school work?

How have you handled situations like this before?

In what other situations have you experienced similar feelings?

5 WAYS TO HELP YOUR SON WITH ANGER

5 ways to help your son WithI regularly encounter families that are struggling to assist a pre-teen or teenage son with managing his anger. I have encountered it so often that I have made the focus of my practice working with adolescent males. The unfortunate thing about anger is that it often gets a bad rap. Yes, sometimes anger is expressed through violence, aggression, or harsh words. However, in other situations anger can be a powerful motivating force that moves your son to take action against an injustice. I have memories of being angry about a good friend being bullied on the play ground, this anger moved me to protect and stand up for this friend. Some boys are moved to anger when they see a friend that is hungry or struggling in school. My point is that not all anger is unhelpful, but when you find yourself not knowing what to do in the face of an angry son here are five things that might help.

Validate his feelings

Anger is a very powerful emotion. Many times anger is expressed on the outside when on the inside he is feeling sadness. Acknowledging your sons anger helps him to feel heard and can actually decrease the intensity of its expression. When you say, “you are really angry about this” it communicates to your son that you understand him therefore he can decrease the expression of the anger because you recognize it.

Listen without judgment

Validating feelings begins by listening and seeking to understand his perspective without judgment. The temptation is to correct misperceptions or misunderstandings however this is not helpful. Correcting perceptual mistakes only communicates that you don’t understand HIS perspective. When your son realizes that you “get it” from his perspective the anger will decrease and you become an ally in the problem solving process. When you are his ally in problem solving you can ask questions that provoke thought and reflection encouraging him to find conclusions and solutions to his own problems.

Give YOURSELF a Timeout

Sometimes the hardest thing about having a son that expresses lots of anger is managing your feelings in the moment. Sons can say hurtful things, your fears may be triggered, or you may be afraid for your family’s safety. In this situation, give YOURSELF a timeout. The issue does not have to be resolved right now, give your son some space (as long as everyone is safe) this space allows for all parties to calm down, think things through and make better decisions. After sufficient time has passed reconnect with your son, apologize for any mistakes you made and start over by using suggestions 1 and 2 from this list.

Practice Self-regulation

Large expressions of anger are a clue to you about how “powerfully” your son is feeling his anger. Sometimes, he will have a difficult time calming down, or keeping his “bottle from bursting”. These times of feeling out of control are normal for a boy that is still learning to self-regulate. You can help him to learn to self-regulate by modeling calmness, using controlled breathing, and practicing mindfulness (more on this in future posts).  You can also talk to your son about how his brain helps with regulation.  Watch this video from Dan Siegel to learn more.

Set Limits

One of the major challenges parents encounter in the face of their sons anger is maintaining family limits when things get really heated. It is important that you calmly, and consistently set limits on behavior in the home. These calm and consistent limits allow your son to know “how far he can go” in expressing himself. He will push up against them and test them but when you calmly maintain the expectation it feels safe and comforting to him. Sometimes, these limits are broken in such cases it is important to refer to suggestion 3 and give YOURSELF a time out before calmly talking to your son about what will happen next. Giving time for all parties to calm down is a very helpful thing.Five ways to help your son with Anger

So what do you think, what have you found to be successful when helping your son to manage his anger? Leave a comment below

The Three Biggest Challenges of Christian Fatherhood

Fathering is not something that perfect men do, but something that perfects the man.I recently read a report on the “State of Biblical Fatherhood”. This report was based on a survey that Manhood Journey asked members of their online community to complete. The survey received responses from 274 fathers most of whom are Christians. Although this survey was not conducted as a scientific research endeavor it does offer some interesting insights into the minds and hearts of these Christian fathers. I find myself relating to these fathers and I think that many others will as well.  The report identifies the three most common challenges that Christian fathers report as they navigate life as a father.

Challenge # 1 Dads feel like they are failures

44% of the fathers made comments that aligned with the theme of feeling like a failure.   One participant stated,

“As a father struggling with this for over 4 months I feel like I have failed God as a Man, a Father, a Dad, a Husband and a leader of the family”

Wow! This is tough stuff no one wants to feel like a failure in all the major relational areas of life. It appears that Christian fathers are overwhelmed with the gravity of the role and do not feel equipped.

Challenge # 2 Dads want to be more intentional

42% of the Christian fathers surveyed made comments that fit under the theme of “I’d like to be more intentional”. These fathers struggled with issues like having enough energy after work to be engaged with their kids, marital problems, setting a good example, and battling outside influences.

One father said it like this,

“The decision between good-better-best is the dilemma. That is my SINGLE biggest challenge as a father right now.”

There are so many things calling for our attention and the attention of our families. Sports, music, culture, and friends are all calling for time and energy and in many instances these things are calling us away from worship and discipleship. Fathers are struggling to balance these demands and to be the one in the house that sets the limit and priority of Christ first.

Challenge # 3 Dads struggle with Disciplining and training

Although coming in a distant third, a significant number of Christian fathers (14%) identified disciplining and training as the biggest challenge they face as a father.

One participant remarked,

“Trying to raise them in a world of expectation and entitlement, I used to think it was just my kids but have realized it’s our world mentality…”

Our culture is saturated with material possessions and our families are bombarded with messages designed to create a sense of NEED in us. It can be incredibly difficult to set boundaries and expressions of discipline in this context.

Another participant stated it this way; “I have one child who has been a handful for years. He makes really poor decisions, but never owns up to it.”

I am so thankful for this report because it verbalizes experiences that I have had as a father myself. Not only that, many of the fathers I work with have expressed similar concerns and struggles.  This report includes some helpful ideas on how to move forward if you are experiencing one of these challenges. Here they are:

  1. Admit your mistakes and ask for forgiveness, frequently
  2. Stop trying to “be God” to your children, instead reflect His Character.
  3. Stop trying to compare yourself to the “perfect” dads around you, they’re a mirage.
  4. Learn how to say no.
  5. Shelve non-family-centric hobbies when the kids are young.
  6. Keep at it, and stop checking daily results.
  7. Get with other guys.
  8. Take advantage of great Christian parenting resources
    1. Parenting by the book John Rosemond)
    2. Shepherding a Child’s Heart (Ted Tripp)

If you would like to download a copy of the full report go HERE

What are your greatest struggles as a Father? Leave a comment below.

5 Ways to Connect With Your Son

Parenting is all about connecting with your children.  Sometimes we want to make it about obedience, education, success or love.  But, really all of those things follow from connection.  If you are connected to your son he will obey you.  Connection with your son increases his chance at success in school, relationships and work.  The ultimate measure of success is how one fairs in relationships and your son learns to “do” relationships through connection with you.  Your son experiences love in connection with you.  Sometimes this busy life we lead can get in the way of connecting with our sons.  There are sports to go to, meetings to attend, homework to do, and sleep to be had.  Well here are five incredibly simple ways to connect with your son that take no more than 1 hour of your day. Try just one of them this week, see what happens when you focus on connection rather than parenting.

What others ways have you found to connect with your son? Leave some suggestions below

5 Ways to connect with-2