Billie Eilish, Howard Stern, pornography

Billie Eilish shared with Howard Stern that early porn use "destroyed" her brain.

In the internet age, parents have to talk to their kids about pornography. If parents don't, someone else will, and that someone else will more than likely be a peer or peers who don't really know what they're talking about.

But talking to kids about porn can be tricky. The when, how and how much questions are hard to navigate. Parents might worry about saying too much, too soon or too little, too late. Research shows that it's not uncommon for kids to see pornography online, either intentionally or unintentionally, and the age at which some kids are first exposed is far younger than parents might think. However uncomfortable parents might be about it, the conversation needs to start early.

Thanks to singer Billie Eilish's openness about her own porn experiences, parents now have an especially opportune "in" to bring up the subject with their kids. She recently shared with Howard Stern that consuming porn at a young age "destroyed" her brain, and that as a woman, she finds porn "a disgrace."


"I used to watch a lot of porn, to be honest," she told Stern. "I started watching porn when I was like 11. I think it really destroyed my brain, and I feel incredibly devastated that I was exposed to so much porn."

Part of the problem with porn is that so much of it depicts violence and aggression and the objectification of women. Eilish told Stern that she frequently watched violent porn, and the first few times she had sex, she didn't say "no" to things that were "not good" because she thought that's what she was supposed to find attractive.

Another problem with porn is that is gives kids unrealistic portrayals of what sex is like as well as unrealistic images of people's bodies.

"I'm so angry that porn is so loved, and I'm so angry at myself for thinking that it was okay," she said. "The way that vaginas look in porn is f—king crazy. No vaginas look like that. Women's bodies don't look like that. We don't come like that."

Hearing someone like Billie Eilish say things like this is refreshing. Eilish, 19, came onto the music scene at 14 and made it big at 17. She's attracted fans of all ages, but much of her fanbase is young, which makes her an ideal bridge between generation smartphone and the parents who didn't grow up with pornography constantly accessible at their fingertips.

If parents aren't sure where to start the conversation about porn, start here. "Hey, you know the singer Billie Eilish? Here's what she says about her experiences with porn." It's a good opportunity to ask kids what they hear in their social life, what they think, what questions they have. For kids who might think their parents are old or out of touch, hearing a young, hip celebrity drop such wisdom from a place of experience may lend some credibility to the "why you should avoid porn" lessons parents are trying to teach.

And again, it is vital that parents teach it. Dr. Michael Flood of Queensland University of Technology shared research on the negative impact of porn use on young people, including:

- shifting sexual interests, behaviors and expectations, which can impact relationships

- lowering men's relationship satisfaction and leading to coercion in sexual acts

- teaching sexist and sexually objectifying understandings of gender and sexuality

- increased violent behavior, sexually aggressive behavior and sexual harrassment, especially from men toward women

Ideally, discussions about porn are a part of larger, ongoing conversations about sex kids start having with parents at a young age. Children are curious, and answering their questions matter-of-factly (and without embarrassment, which for some parents might take some practice) provides a solid foundation for frank conversations about sex as kids get older.

Kids may not always want to talk to their parents about sex as they go through adolescence and puberty, but if they don't learn from you, they're going to learn from somewhere. It may never dawn on kids that their parents have a lot more experience with sex than their peers do, so the more we normalize talking with them about sex in healthy ways, the less (hopefully) they'll seek out answers from unreliable sources like peers and pornography.

Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

True

Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

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