Surrounded By Mates & Lonely

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I hadn’t seen this particular friend of mine for about 2 years.  We’d been friends as kids and lost touch, but reconnected when I ended up at his school in year 11.  We helped each other through some significant moments in life. We were groomsman at each others weddings.  But some changes in our lives across the years meant our paths didn’t cross much anymore.

We met at the pub to catch up.  It had been two years but we talked about marriage and parenthood, work and family; about the real things happening in our lives.  Because that’s what friends do, especially old ones.

That night my friend commented how refreshing it was to talk openly and honestly.  He noted that he and his best mate from high school see each other all the time, but they don’t talk.  Sure, they talk about work and family, but it all stays pretty superficial. They’re the best of mates, and friends in the sense that they would do anything to help each other, but this friendship can be lonely.  Blocked by the inability to speak about the deep issues and challenges of life. It’s the classic Australian male to male relationship. Mates, but with a side of loneliness.

I’ve seen the breeding ground of this kind of relationship in teenagers.  The boys have a culture that stunts the growth of deep and abiding friendship.  The relationships are marked by banter and insults, a giant spitting contest in a never-ending game of one-upmanship.

These guys laugh and joke, they play sport, they muck around.  They occasionally change who the whipping boy is this month and maintain a constant verbal stacks-on on the poor guy who is just too easy to denigrate.

And then something happens.  One of the boys gets interested in a girl.  And for the first time in his life, he discovers friendship.  Sure, she’s beautiful and she likes him and that is in and of itself alluring.  But he discovers that he can bare his soul to another human and experience acceptance.  He’s vulnerable, but safe. And so what does he do? He dogs the boys. He abandons them.  He realises that this relationship is so much richer and deeper and better than any he has had before...so why go back?

In no time the relationship deepens to the point that the girl becomes his world. His only friend.  And although some can make that situation work, for most, it ends in disaster. He smothers the girl.  Or she’s not as invested as him and things get out of balance. The relationship ends and he is crushed.  He knows he wants the relationship, the friendship, but he doesn’t know how to make it work; this is his first attempt at deep friendship.  But the worst is yet to come.

With his only friendship gone, this boy heads back, tail between his legs, to the boys.  He feels like the lotto winner who squandered it. He’s heading back to the place that never produced the friendship he enjoyed, because, where else can he go?

And so he returns to this large group of very lonely boys.  To the soundtrack of so much laughter; pretend joy that masks the emptiness.  And the banter doesn’t just happen at school, it’s online. There’s no break. Which only serves to make the loneliness more acute.

There’s something scary about a group of 17 year old boys trying to solve the problems of 17 year old boys.  But the idea of a 17 year old boy trying to navigate the world alone is far, far worse.

And this trend of friendlessness only worsens over time.  In fact, loneliness among middle-aged men has been a focus of articles in the New York Times, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe and The Atlantic.

In Australia, we live in a time where the leading cause of death for people from 2014-1016 between the ages of 15-44 was suicide, accounting for 21% of deaths.  And the rates of suicide are higher among men than women. It seems to me that there are many men who could do with friends.

But it’s not simply suicide.  It’s overall health and wellbeing that is affected.

The Harvard Study of Adult Development has been running for nearly 80 years.  The leader of the study, Robert Waldinger, pointed out in the study that loneliness has the equivalent impact on a person as alcoholism and smoking.  Healthy relationships led to better outcomes in mental health and brain health.

So here’s the issue.  Deep and healthy relationships are significant factors in overall health.  And many of the young men in our country lack those deep and important friendships.  So what do we do?

Well, let me have a stab at some things that could help.

The first is education.  We need our young people to value relationships over things, and people over stuff.  We need to impress upon young people the value of thinking ahead in terms of relationships, and not just in terms of academic achievement or career.  We need to redefine success. We need to recapture the reality that we are relational beings; without them we wither. There are no guarantees that we will be heard, but we have to start somewhere.

And perhaps one of the biggest points of danger is the potential dangers of the smartphone. Don’t get me wrong - technology can be an incredible tool for building and sustaining friendship. They’ve made us safer and also more lonely.  So often I see young people sitting with each other, all on their phones.  Friendships are forged in face to face conversation. They take time and commitment.  We need to switch off a little more and put our phones and screens away if we want deeper and richer friendships.  

We also need to model healthy friendships.  Young men need to see what male friendship looks like - especially heterosexual young men.  Older men need to show younger men the value of their friendships, to share how they were created and how they’ve helped.  We live in a world that can’t imagine a deep and intimate friendship that isn’t sexual. And this reality is a key reason as to why men don’t have this type of relationship.

Lastly, we need to embrace and champion courage.  Courage to be vulnerable and open. Courage to reach out to people in friendship.  Courage to admit we’re lonely. No relationship is completely safe. They all carry risk.  And as our society becomes increasingly focused on the individual, a friendship that looks to the needs of others will become increasingly counter-cultural.

There’s no shortage of spaces in our young people’s’ lives for these relationships to build. If we teach them about healthy relationships, model them and put our screens down for a moment, we may be able to help some young men.  

Surely it can’t hurt.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Can Porn Exposure Lead to Child Abuse?​​​​​​​

There’s this old phrase: monkey see, monkey do.  I see it in my kids all the time.  They are often shining examples of the worst of their parents.  Their angry responses mirror ours, they use the same phrases as us, they’re like us in miniature. Monkey see, monkey do.  

But what if it turns out that this ‘monkey see, monkey do’ can also be the case when children are exposed to pornography.

Some research came out earlier this year from Gemma McKibbin who works at the University of Melbourne.  

McKibbin looked at 14 cases of child abuse carried out by children.  She found that for children who commit acts of sexual abuse, pornography was a significant factor in 12 out of the 14 cases looked at in the study.  3 child abusers directly related their abuse to porn.  One of the 3 main points of prevention was to help young people manage their pornography consumption.

Porn harms kids.  In some cases, it is a factor in children becoming abusive.  It harms the abuser, who then harms the abused.  And sexually abuse does not harm in isolated ways.  For individuals and families, it’s not so much a pebble in the pond as it is an earthquake under the sea.

As people discuss and research the impact of pornography on young people, conservatives are often accused of being inflammatory.  They argue that porn is the cause of all evils and ills in the world.  So let’s be clear.  Here’s what this research isn’t saying.  It isn’t saying that everyone who watches porn will become sexually abusive: that would be an absurd and clearly unbackable claim.  Rather, it’s saying in the bulk of cases where children sexually abuse other children pornography is at the least a significant factor, and at worst a causative factor.

McKibbin isn’t alone in her research.  The late Freda Briggs also pointed out the alarming and growing rates of child sexual abuse perpetrated by children.

So what are we doing to protect our kids from pornography? 

We’re often giving them a phone, a laptop, a tablet. We’re assuming because they’re good kids that they won’t get up to mischief. We’re sticking our heads in the sand.

In the article linked above, McKibbin noted that “The access that young people are having to pornography, as well as our collective ‘turning a blind eye,’ is akin to a kind of cultural grooming of children”.

Maybe we can start by opening our eyes.  By rethinking the access to technology we give our kids.  By taking responsibility as parents and calling on our schools and government to help us raise and protect our kids from the clear harm that pornography can cause.

The New Sex Educator On The Market

The porn industry is branching out. Diversifying, if you will. Pornhub, the world’s biggest porn site, is now attempting to offer actual sex education.

With all the voices out there saying that porn is a terrible sexual educator, some within the industry have tried to have a go a sexual education.  PornHub launched an online sexual wellness centre that gives a range of sexual and relationship advice.  You can read about it at the Guardian here.

As nice as it is to consider that the good people at Pornhub are wanting to give a more realistic depiction of sex and help their viewers out, the fact that they are doing so raises a number of concerns.

Firstly, pornographers are targeting minors.  Surely that’s an issue.  Young people are a big market for pornographers, but seeing as the content is illegal for minors to view, that they’re targeting them is a problem.

More than that, pornographers don’t care about the sexual health of their viewers.  They care about money.  Sure, they know a bit about sex; they’ve seen more than their fair share.  But they probably shouldn’t be trusted to give advice on sexual health when they’re making money, in many instances, from a distorted view of sex.

By creating videos designed to give an education to young people, these porn sites are also acknowledging that porn is a bad sexual educator.  They’re admitting the charge that so many have made.

In light of this, there are a few options for parents and schools.

We could do nothing and hope that young people don’t get their sex education from porn.  We could all leave sex education to Pornhub and trust that they have the best interests of our kids in mind.  Sound good?

So if that doesn’t sound like a great option, parents and schools could work together to begin a more honest conversation about sex.  Parents need to take the lead, but schools can go beyond sex education that is simply about plumbing. Sex education needs to answer the questions young people are asking, so that they don’t feel the need to head to PornHub for their education.  In fact, if this were happening, when they went to porn they’d be able to see what a poor educator it is.

Parents, are you having that conversation with your kids?  Are you creating an environment where they can ask you difficult and even confronting questions?  If no one loves your kids more than you do, then you are the best person to teach them about sex.  

As to schools, I often have people comment and say that schools should stick to teaching Maths and English.  That they shouldn’t take the place of parents.  Schools absolutely should teach the basics and not try to be parents.  But to say that schools should do nothing is to ignore the fact that they are so often dealing with inappropriate sexual behaviour.  Schools deal with behaviours shaped by porn.  It may be sexting, teen pregnancy or habitual porn use that leads to declining academic results.  And so to say they shouldn’t talk about it is like telling a doctor to just treat symptoms and ignore the cause.

We can do sexual education better than pornographers.  So take a deep breath, and start the conversation today.

 

Where Do You Hide Your Stash?

I grew up in the 90’s.  Boy and girl bands reigned supreme.  Pants were baggy.  'Hey Hey It’s Saturday' was a TV staple.  And for me, the 90’s were pretty much internet free.

Those were the days! There were trees to climb and bikes to ride.  No social media.  Screen time was either playing my Super Nintendo or watching something we had taped on VHS.  Disconnection from technology meant connection with real people. 

How the world has changed.

In the 90’s, there were two main cliches when it came to a stash of porn.  

The first was that your Dad had his own private collection hidden under his mattress.  Kids would find their Dad’s magazines and then attempt to hide them surreptitiously in exactly the same way their Dad did.

The other cliche was a stash in the bush.  Boys would explore the bush and have their own cubby houses or hiding spots in there.  Whatever they got their hands on would go there.  

For many, this kind of thing became a rite of passage.  A coming of age.  Or at the least, a common experience of growing and discovering the adult world of nudity and sex.

But in terms of its impact, it had nothing on what is going on today.

With the rise of the internet and smart devices, the world of porn has changed.  Playboy no longer has a nude centrefold. Dad’s no longer have a stash under their bed.  Boys no longer steal their Dad’s magazine and stash them in the bush.

They carry their stash with them at all times.  It’s in their pocket.  It’s on their phone.  It’s on their laptop.  

Whether it be a stash of photos or videos hidden on a device or simply accessing porn via a browser, porn is anonymously accessible in a way it has never been before.  Browsing history is deleted in a flash.

In the 90’s, mums could get overwhelmed if they accidentally found their child’s stash.  These days, parents can be prone to conclude that because there is no physical stash, there must be no stash at all.

Parents, it would be wise to talk to your kids about this.  Ask them the hard questions in a loving way.  Talk with them about technology and its dangers.  Keep a careful eye on their use of devices.  Encourage openness.

We can’t go back to the 90’s...nor would most of us want to.  But we can be aware of what the changes mean for our kids and the porn-filled world in which we live.

The Not So Innocent Tumblr

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Tumblr is one of the biggest social media platforms on the net.  Over half a billion users monthly.  144 billion posts.  120,000 new users each day.  53 million posts per day.  Sure, it's no Facebook (but none of the other social media platforms are), but it’s still a big deal.

I’ll be honest - I’m not a user.  But I’ve heard from students that I teach that they like it.  They can share whatever they like on it, and they essentially create their own blog and interact with others’ blogs.

An article on cnet.com recently highlighted an Italian study that looked at how much porn is on Tumblr, and how many people are seeing it, either intentionally or unintentionally.  They looked at 130 million users and 7 billion posts; a huge sample size.

Here’s what the study found:

“Adult content has become so pervasive that more than one in four people on the site will end up seeing porn without even looking for it, according to the study. Tumblr didn't respond to requests for comment.
Only 0.1 percent of accounts on the Yahoo-owned social network are producing porn content, but 22 percent of the site's users follow, like or reblog content from those accounts. Because of those shares, another 28.5 percent of people on Tumblr are unintentionally exposed to porn, according to the study.”

That’s over half of Tumblr users either following porn or being exposed unintentionally.

They also found that:

"Men and women under 25 on Tumblr are following porn at about the same rate, according to the study, but as users get older a gap appears."

So, if you’re a parent and your child is on Tumblr, chat to them about the kinds of things that pop up on their dashboard.  Don’t assume that this is simply a male problem.  With half of the users on Tumblr seeing porn, this isn’t something to be ignored.  And if you’ve got younger children, think carefully about what social media you’re going to allow them to use.