Habits are a funny part of the human experience.
As humans we all experience habitual cycles that, either positively or negatively, affect our lifestyles and interactions with the world. One such example of this is from a radio interview I recently found while driving. The man being interviewed found that every day at 3:30pm he would get an unavoidable craving. His mouth would salivate, and his brain would be filled with the image of one thing: A chocolate chip cookie. So, the man would get up from his desk and head for the cafeteria to buy a chocolate chip cookie. He would purchase it, and join a table of his colleagues who had also decided to purchase an afternoon snack.
How should he go about breaking this habit?
Should he use willpower to overcome the chocolaty beast? Should he substitute the sugary cookie for a sweet apple or orange? The problem with this tactic of immediately looking for the perfect solution, is that you may not fully understand the problem.
We are all aware that habits are created through a repetitive schedule over time, but what we may not notice is that habits are often caused by a subconscious stimulus or show a subconscious desire. I believe that it is this subconscious desire that is the fuel of our habits, addictions, and repetitive struggles.
Back to the story.
The man decided he wanted to better understand why this habit had formed, and so, he began recording facts about his day. Did he feel stressed at 3:30 every day? Did he become tired? Was his stomach grumbling and in need of food? The more he recorded the details of his day, the more he noticed one similarity between all the days: The table of colleagues. He realized that what his subconscious was craving was community, conversation and time with friends, not a cookie. The cookie was simply a tool to get him out of his cubicle and into the cafeteria. His body was not craving nutrients, but instead conversation.
Although this story can help us with many of the habits we face, I believe that this is a crucial story for anyone dealing with the habit/addiction of pornography.
Maybe pornography is the proverbial chocolate chip cookie of the story, and is the start of a deeper understanding of ourselves, our students, and the challenges facing our society.
The current stats provided by Hope for the Sold show us that 90% of boys and 60% of girls are exposed to porn before the age of 18. With the increase in availability, it is no question that our students are being exposed to pornography earlier, but why is pornography such a powerful force in our society and in the lives of our students?
When discussing the area of pornography in our society, many bring the opinion that “it’s normal to be curious” or “puberty brings sexual desires that need to be satisfied”, but is this the root issue facing our students? When students are encountering increasingly more hardcore pornographic content by the age of 12, are they simply curious or seeking to satisfy a newly found sexual desire? While this may be the case for some, I do not think this is the overarching problem facing our youth. Just like in the story, we need to take a step back before seeking a solution to the problem of students viewing pornography, and instead seek to understand the subconscious desires that fuel this habit. Is the overarching, habit-fuelling problem sex? I think not.
According to the Globe and Mail, 30,000 high school students were surveyed in Canada, and the results are staggering: 90% say they feel overwhelmed, 50% feel hopeless, 63% feel very lonely, 9.5% had suicidal thoughts, and 1.3% have attempted suicide. In the age of the Global-Village, where humans are more connected than every before in history through electronics, students are increasingly feeling more pressures, are dealing with more stress, and are feeling less connected than every before.
For many, pornography is a distortion being used to falsely combat the feelings of loneliness, broken family situations, low-self esteem and other root issues facing our students. Pornography is something you can control, it is something that is always available, and it falsely distorts the intimacy of sex to trick users into thinking that the areas of intimacy, affection, and stability in relationships are being provided for. For many, porn is a false sense of intimacy. Thinking of my own journey, and the journeys of many close friends, I am reminded of how many porn addictions are not fueled by a desire for sex, but instead by an insecurity, or area that is lacking in a person’s life. This could be a feeling of low-self esteem, a difficulty in accepting love from others, a feeling of loneliness, and others. Our students are going to porn like the chocolate chip cookie when they really need something far different. We think it’s filling our desires, but really it’s a side-effect of a far bigger subconscious desire. The man bought a cookie but really needed conversation; Our students are running to porn but really need unconditional, consistent relationships. For many, this is the true problem behind their porn consumption.
So what now? What does this post mean for me, a Youth Worker?
This is an increased calling to build a youth ministry culture of unconditional, consistent relationships.
Unconditional meaning void of pressures or unhealthy standards to attain; a true reflection of Christ-like love. Consistency meaning a relationship that will be there when they need it, and relationships being the support structure that our teens need to build healthy lives, and encounter Christ.
Second, I think this is a calling to seek out the long road of recover for our students facing addictions. Are they fighting the addiction, or are they fighting the underlying issue? The last thing we want our students to do is be fighting the wrong thing, and creating a cyclical pattern of failed attempts to change. It happens! You feel awful for looking at it, but the feeling won’t go away until you look at it, which makes you feel worse, pushing you right back to the paradoxical source of both your pain and false sense of healing. Let’s put our energy, and their energy towards the root of the issue.
Third, this is a calling to intentionally dissect our habits, and subconscious desires, to properly care for our own soul. Aren’t you and I just as broken as the youth we minister to?
Porn is the cookie, not the solution.
Stephen D. Kennedy is the Family & Youth Pastor at Grace Community Church in Guelph, Canada. Stephen received his BTh in Youth Ministry from Emmanuel Bible College, and is currently pursuing a Masters of Theological Studies at the University of Waterloo and Conrad Grebel. You can connect with Stephen on Instagram @STEVETHEYOUTHGUY and are always welcome to connect with him on any topic! Drop a message, he’d love to hear from you.