Jonathon van Maren

From the front lines of the culture wars

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Lots of parents accuse me of being 'alarmist,' but the numbers don't lie. What your kids are watching is much worse than you think.

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Chances are your teen is looking at porn. But it’s worse than that.

Jonathon van Maren Jonathon van Maren Follow Jonathon

I live in a quiet subdivision in rural Ontario. I mean very quiet—all summer long, I rarely saw any kids outside biking or playing street hockey or running flimsy lemonade stands or just roughhousing around. Then, the day school started, I was shocked when I left my house in the morning and I saw kids everywhere, backpacks in tow, heading to bus stops and walking to the nearby school. This many kids live in my neighborhood? I thought to myself. Where were they all summer?

There are a number of possible answers, of course. Some were probably on vacation. Some were probably shipped off to camp by their parents. But many of them were likely inside the house, glued to screens. One recent Canadian overview found that, “10- to 16-year-olds in Canada get an average of 6 hours and 37 minutes of screen time per day. The largest source of screen time is television (2 hours and 39 min) followed by computers (2 hours and 7 min) and video games (1 hour and 51 min).”

I’ve met more teens than I can count whose first exposure to porn—and not just “normal” porn but dark, violent porn that in 2014 is now mainstream—was at the ages of ten or eleven. 

The problems apparent in these numbers go far beyond stunted creativity, childhood obesity, and, I would argue, the fact that these children are being deprived of a childhood by zoning out in front of screens. The problem is that many, many of these children will end up finding and looking at pornography. That pornography will shape the way they view sex as they grow older. Those views will shape how they treat themselves and others. Keep in mind that the average boy, for example, is first exposed to pornography at the age of eleven.

I speak on sex and pornography in high schools quite often, and every time I do I’m faced with a dilemma: The adults in the room are likely to be shocked, horrified, and upset when I confront the students with the reality of what online porn is and why it is so dangerous. However, the teenagers for the most part are not even remotely shocked. Most of them have seen the things I’m talking about. Increasingly, and chillingly, they have even been coerced or pressured into trying the dark perversions they see unfolding on their iPad, computer, and smartphone screens. It’s gotten to the point where I’m relieved when teenagers are shocked by one of my presentations—it means that they’ve heard the information in time to avoid the clutching webs of the Internet porn industry.

I’m quite often accused of being an alarmist by adults and church leaders who can’t quite believe just how pervasive porn use and porn exposure is among the very young. I’m often told that this is the reason that having a presentation on pornography would be “too controversial.” Quite frankly, I wish they were right. But consider just a few of these statistics:

35% of teen boys say they have viewed pornographic videos “more times than they can count.”

15% of boys and 9% of girls have seen child pornography.

32% of boys and 18% of girls have seen bestiality online.

39% of boys and 23% of girls have seen sexual bondage online.

83% of boys and 57% of girls have seen group sex online.

I’ve met more teens than I can count whose first exposure to porn—and not just “normal” porn but dark, violent porn that in 2014 is now mainstream—was at the ages of ten or eleven. I’ve met parents who tell me how relieved they are that their children never had a porn problem, when I’ve spoken to their children and I know that their children did, in fact, struggle with porn. After one presentation, I even had an anonymous letter sent to me by a wife and mother who revealed that throughout my presentation on pornography, she felt relieved that her husband would never look at such things. She found out a short time later that he had been looking at pornography for a long time.

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It is not alarmist to say that this problem is everywhere. It’s a grim fact.

Last week I spoke at a high school conference for Christian schools. One of the things I like to do to show the teachers and other adults just how essential it is to provide teens with the truth about pornography is to hold an open forum—let the students write down any and all questions they have about the topic and submit them to be answered. Every time, teachers are shocked by what the students are asking as they realize just how far this menace has spread and how badly it has infected our schools.

At the last conference, for example, I had a fourteen-year-old girl ask me what girls should do when their boyfriends pressure them into anal sex (hugely popular in mainstream porn right now.) I had teen boys asking me how to deal with their masturbation problems. I was asked why porn sites were so addicting. I was asked by one girl why so many boys were demanding oral sex. And I was even asked questions about bestiality in porn, questions I even had a hard time believing teens of that age could be asking.

With access to the Internet everywhere, it is not simply enough to filter the Internet in our homes and install accountability software on our electronic devices, although all of these steps are absolutely essential. In today’s day and age, where kids and teens are going to find porn if they want to or if they’re curious, they have to be spoken to honestly about what pornography is and why it will destroy their minds, their relationships, and their souls. They need to know why so much of what they see in porn is dark and evil, and why these things have no place in the context of a loving relationship.

I read a column from Anthony Esolen called “What they will never know” a few years back, and he beautifully highlights what the teens of today are being robbed of: “Our teenagers who know so much about the mechanics of copulation miss the sweetness of simple humanity.  People used to sing merrily about holding a girl’s hand while walking home from the dance—holding a hand.  With that touch, they knew the thrill, perhaps for the first time, of being deemed worthy of love.  What is it like, to be a boy or a girl who could be made dizzyingly happy by so simple a touch?  We will never know.”

The porn plague has spread far and dizzyingly fast. But if we talk to teens openly, and show them not only why the darkness of pornography is so dangerous but why the alternative of healthy human sexuality is so beautiful, then this generation will still have a chance. It is up to us to provide that chance.

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Jonathon van Maren

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Jonathon Van Maren is a public speaker, writer, and pro-life activist. His commentary has been translated into more than eight languages and published widely online as well as print newspapers such as the Jewish Independent, the National Post, the Hamilton Spectator and others. He has received an award for combating anti-Semitism in print from the Jewish organization B’nai Brith. His commentary has been featured on CTV Primetime, Global News, EWTN, and the CBC as well as dozens of radio stations and news outlets in Canada and the United States.

He speaks on a wide variety of cultural topics across North America at universities, high schools, churches, and other functions. Some of these topics include abortion, pornography, the Sexual Revolution, and euthanasia. Jonathon holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree in history from Simon Fraser University, and is the communications director for the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform.

Jonathon’s first book, The Culture War, was released in 2016.

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