S07|06 - Empowering Teens: Preventing Pornography Use and Promoting Healthy Screen Habits with Dr. Jennifer Finlayson-FifeSep 11, 2023
Today I interview Dr. Finlayson-Fife as she shares several valuable insights and strategies around raising tech-savvy and well-balanced teens. We delve into the important (and sometimes tricky) topic of pornography prevention in teens and fostering healthy screen habits (for ourselves and for our kids). Join us as we discuss effective approaches to guide your teens towards a more responsible relationship with their digital consumption.
Tune into this conversation with Dr. Jennifer Finlayson-Fife and me. She is an LDS relationship and sexuality coach with a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology. Her teaching and coaching focus on helping LDS individuals and couples achieve greater satisfaction and passion in their emotional and sexual relationships.
In this episode you will:
- Understand the impact of pornography, social media and screen use on the developing brain, future relationships and self-esteem
- Better understand the important of open and honest communication where we create a safe space to have sexual discussions and teaching, even if your childhood home was very different than the atmosphere you are trying to create now
- Understand the importance of balancing boundaries and education without leaning too far into the fear and shame that can so often accompany these conversations
- How to discuss healthy sexuality in a shame-free and sex-positive way by starting with unpacking your own beliefs about sexuality
Connect with Jennifer:
In addition to her private practice, Dr. Finlayson-Fife has created five empowering and highly-reviewed online courses. Each course was designed to give LDS individuals and couples the tools requisite to creating healthier lives and stronger intimate relationships. Dr. Finlayson-Fife also offers many workshops and retreats where she teaches these life-changing principles in person.
Dr. Finlayson-Fife is a frequent guest on LDS-themed podcasts on the subjects of sexuality, relationships, mental health, and faith. She is also the creator and host of Room for Two, a popular sex and intimacy coaching podcast.
Learn more about Dr. Finlayson-FIfe and her work by clicking HERE.
Coaching has changed my own life, and the lives of my clients. More connection, more healing, more harmony, and peace in our most important relationships. It increases confidence in any parenting challenges and helps you be the guide to teach your children the family values that are important to you- in clear ways. If you feel called to integrate this work in a deeper way and become a parenting expert, that’s what I’m here for.
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Crystal The Parenting Coach: Hi, I'm Crystal The Parenting Coach. Parenting is the thing that some of us just expected to know how to do. It's not like other areas of your life where you go to school and get taught, get on the job training, or have mentors to help you, but now you can get that help here.
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On today's episode, you'll hear me interview Dr. Finlayson-Fife. She shares several valuable insights and strategies around raising tech savvy and well-balanced teams.
In this episode – Empowering Teens: Preventing Pornography Use and Promoting Healthy Screen Habits – we will delve into pornography prevention and fostering healthy screen habits, not only for our kids, but also for ourselves. And we'll discuss effective approaches to guide your teens towards a more responsible relationship with their digital consumption.
You'll understand the impact of pornography, social media, and screen use on the developing brain, on our future relationships and on self-esteem. You'll better understand the importance of open and honest communication where we can create a safe space to have sexual discussions in teaching, even if your own childhood home was very different from the atmosphere you're trying to create now.
You'll also understand the importance of balancing boundaries and education without leaning too far into the fear and shame that can so often accompany these conversations. And you'll learn how to discuss healthy sexuality in a shame-free and sex positive way by starting with unpacking your own beliefs about sexuality.
Hi everyone, and welcome to the Parenting Coach Podcast with Crystal. I am excited to bring you kind of a Part 2. We already brought you another whole entire different conversation; and at the very end of that conversation, we talked a little bit about teens and screens.
This is something that I know so many people struggle with and find challenging; and I get a lot of questions asked about this. I have a lot of questions my own self, and so this is what I really wanted to talk about.
So, we welcome back to the podcast, Dr. Jennifer Finlayson-Fife. Thank you for being here again with us.
Dr. Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: Thanks for having me. Yeah, thanks for having me.
Crystal The Parenting Coach: I would like to have a conversation about teens and screens – and also pornography, which I know is kind of a separate issue, but also kind of connected.
The impact of screen use – socially, physically, and on the developing brain
Crystal The Parenting Coach: And so, I think to delve into it first would be, what is happening in our kids' brains when they spend time on screens – or maybe a lot of times on screens on social media, in all the ways?
Dr. Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: Well, I mean, to just start, I'm no expert on this. Meaning I think about it a lot and I think I have something to offer to this conversation, but there's a lot that we don't yet know because of how rapidly technology is advancing and how much the culture of what it is to be an adolescent has shifted far faster than parenting capacity has.
So, I mean, I think it's a tricky time and maybe every parent of every generation recognizes where they're in over their heads. But I think this is especially true for parents now of teenagers.
So, to the question of like, what do we do? What impact does it have?, you know, at a minimum, it's keeping our kids from the experiences they need to grow into self-confident adults.
And what I mean by that is because we live in a comfortable time in terms of security, national secure-- meaning, we're not in a war, right? We're not in an economic depression. We don't have a lot of demands on us psychologically, and we have a lot of comforts and places to escape to, and to just find sort of ease.
We do not grow in ways that we need psychologically to be competent, capable, self-confident adults. And what I mean by that is, especially in adolescents, we need challenge. We need to be pressured into social capacities and in terms of like our own capabilities into situations that ask us to develop.
And so, one of the big challenges that we have is that teenagers, instead of going out and meeting the new people…instead of having the, you know, church group or the school group after school where they are trying to figure out how to be in connection to one another, they can go to the kind of more masked world of screens.
And so, it doesn't develop capacity, but it also means we have very, very isolated kids. Yeah. And so, the feeling of loneliness while being hyperconnected is a very real thing and research points to this, but it's hard on our kids.
Crystal The Parenting Coach: Yeah. I remember my first kind of delve into learning more about technology and what was happening in our brains was like a decade ago; and I read this book called Reclaiming Conversation, which is a lovely book.
And she just-- She doesn't really say a lot about what to do about it – but she just says, "This is what we notice, these are some things we notice."
And the one that stuck out to me the most was how cyber bullying is so different than regular bullying.
So, on the playground you like, say something mean to somebody, or you punch somebody in the face and you immediately might get that kind of hit of, like, feeling good a little bit about yourself…and then you kind of see what it happens on their face. It's like the empathy loop.
And you see, and you notice and you learn; and that natural learning that happens is kind of like disconnected from us when we do that. And we're kind of losing that ability to understand the result that we're creating for somebody else.
Dr. Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: Absolutely. Yeah. Mapping our real impact on another person. Yes, that's right.
Crystal The Parenting Coach: I think even-- And beyond that, how these, kind of, social interactions are being changed. I think there probably is something actually physically happening in our brain too when we're on screens often because my husband and I both work online.
He's only worked online recently for the last couple of years; and the last time he went to the optometrist, they were like, "You have 20/20 vision, it's like more than 20/20…it's like, so good." And this last time he needed glasses. And it was specifically because of the looking at screens close-up for hours.
And I'm like, it's got to be doing something to our brains on a more physical level as well. Even if like what you said, like technology is advancing so quickly, there's not even enough time to put the research and studies of like, the future impact out there.
Dr. Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: Right. There are obviously so many advantages to screens. Like really, my whole profession is largely possible through the digital access that I have, right?
Crystal The Parenting Coach: Yes.
Dr. Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: So, there's many wonderful things about it – but it's just the level with which-- I mean, even just to be out in nature, to be behind a screen all day, the level of stress on the body and psyche – rather than walking out, lying on the grass, walking through trees--
Like we have evolved into people that find our solace and our comfort through being in real connection with others and being connection to the planet. And, you know, we can kind of avoid all that through a screen.
And I think it just has a toll on our physical and mental health, and there's tons of research on that too. You know, social media – it's impact on depression and suicidality and all of these things.
How to promote healthy screen habits without using the fear-based approach
Crystal The Parenting Coach: Anxiety, yeah. Yeah. And I think that-- The reason I wanted to bring this conversation to the podcast is because I think we kind of know that, right?
We've either seen it in research or studies or heard people talk about it, or we've seen it in ourselves or in our own kids – and we could see the change that's happening with them.
For me, it was so obvious. I could see night-and-day differences between my kids when they have-- when they have what I feel like is too much…too much of that screen input.
But I also feel like when you're learning about this and you get out there and start reading more about it, that so much of it is fear-based. It's like, okay, well, just take away your kids' smartphone, or like…don't ever give them a phone or don't let them go on screens.
Or people constantly ask me like, what safeguards to put on computers and devices and whatever. And I'm like, but that's not really the issue, because they're just going to find more ways to get around it. I don't think teaching anything in a fear-based way is the right way to teach it.
So, I'd love to hear your thoughts on that. Like, what do we do when we're like, 'Okay, well, we don't want too many screens, we know that's affecting them – but then what do we do? How do we help them?'
Dr. Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: Well, so there's a-- You're bringing two ideas, and I think they're a little different from each other. There's the one idea of teaching things in a fear-based way. And I agree there is some value, but very limited value in fear-based teaching.
And giving our kids more of an idea of what the goal is, what the objective is, what they're striving towards, why they might want to say no to something because of what they're ultimately trying to create or do is much better than, don't do it or terrible things will happen to you. Right?
So, that's true; and that is essential. But there is also a reality of our kids have access – and social media and advertisers' access to our children is really quite unregulated because the technology has zoomed past any meaningful regulations.
Like before screens, advertisers were not allowed to advertise to children. They weren't allowed to bring sexual imagery, and so on, during certain hours. There was a way in which the government was stepping in and saying, "Look, parents can't manage every single moment that their child is seeing something…and so, we got to do what's good for kids because that's what's good for society."
And we really-- Some states have been trying to do that, but there's very little of that so far. And so, just like looking at Instagram research alone and its impact on the mental health of girls, we're asking too much of parents…to somehow figure out how to help their kids regulate this.
It's a little bit like offering cigarettes to 10-year-olds, and there hasn't yet been the safeguards put in place to help parents be able to do what's good for their children.
So, like, while I agree with you, on the one hand, you don't want to just do fear-based and take everything away because they're living in a digital world. And when you do something fear-based and just take it away…that curiosity, fear, and kind of this desire not to be controlled can often supersede it, and they'll find a way to get around the safeguards or they'll find a way to get what they want.
But on the other hand, you can teach your children just to put it in a different domain for a moment…about the value of eating healthfully, right? And that there's nothing wrong with the fact that they like sweets or junk food.
I mean, that's normal because that's what it keeps us alive. Just like our desire to have the pleasures of screen time or pornography is all very human, but that's different than what's actually good for us.
And we're going to not have junk food around the house, okay? But not because you can't get it when you go to your friend's house, but we're just taking some of the decision-making away because it's ultimately better for you.
And so, I do think there's value in limiting, to the best of your ability, what kids actually have easy access to. Now, of course, kids can get around things, but I think if they're given a loving message around why it would be in their interest to not do that and not given more autonomy than they can handle…now, that's the ideal.
Crystal The Parenting Coach: Yeah. I think that is ideal because I think that so many times, we lean towards the like…well, I don't want to be fear-based about it and everybody else has a cell phone in middle grade. So, let's give our kids cell phones too and not have any restrictions on it is very much like, let's just have junk food around the house and hope that you make--
Dr. Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: Right, because I don't want to shame them about junk food because that's what, a lot of times, people are like, 'Oh, I don't want to be the one family that's--'
And I just don't think the alternative is shaming or fear-based… it can be like, 'No, because-- yeah, no, sure, Cheetos are great - they taste really good, but that's different than a steady diet of Cheetos is good for you.'
Crystal The Parenting Coach: Yes.
Dr. Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: We're not-- We're not going to put them in the house. So, you can be normalizing of it while loving; and loving is, as a parent, I'm going to do what facilitates your development – not interferes with it.
Crystal The Parenting Coach: Yeah. Because my 10-year-old, if they had the choice of what to do that day, would definitely choose 12 hours of Minecraft and eating Doritos every day. Like, who wouldn't choose that? They'd be like, 'Yeah, that's amazing, let's do that.'
Dr. Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: Right. For a 10-year-old mind, perfect choice.
Crystal The Parenting Coach: Exactly.
Dr. Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: Exactly. Exactly. And so, they need a parent that doesn't shame Minecraft and Doritos, but just says, "Hey, after these things are done, sure, you can enjoy an hour of Minecraft and some Doritos…and then we're going to put screens away and move on to something else."
So, that's a way of modeling a healthy relationship, and you model it through holding some limits and some freedoms. Right? You are giving safeguards and guidelines that they will internalize and be more able to sustain within themselves with growing autonomy.
Crystal The Parenting Coach: Yes. Yes. And I think the key there too, that you said is modeling, right? Because a lot of times, when people complain about this to me…and they're like, 'I don't know what to do with my kids,' I'm like, 'Well, what's your relationship with screens? Are you on it?'
And almost every single time, they've been like, 'Oh yeah, it's not great…like, I'm always on my phone.'
Dr. Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: Yes. That's right.
Crystal The Parenting Coach: And so, we can't be like, 'Well, don't ever eat Doritos, but I'm going to eat Doritos all day.'
Dr. Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: Right, exactly.
Crystal The Parenting Coach: That's not going to work either.
Dr. Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: That's right.
Crystal The Parenting Coach: So, I think that's really helpful and a helpful way to view it – to be like, 'Okay, we don't need to be fear-based, but we can also teach them what's happening in their brains and what's going on…and set some boundaries and guidelines there.'
How to deal with the issue of teens accessing pornography
Crystal The Parenting Coach: What about pornography? How do we manage that? Because I feel like that is all just so, just like so pernicious and everywhere, especially now that technology is everywhere.
Dr. Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: Well, it's a very similar kind of conversation because, you know, what we often do is we go to screens, we go to food, we go to pornography, we go to anything when we are feeling anxious or overwhelmed or uncomfortable.
And if we have a steady diet of not tolerating discomfort, we will habitually go to the things that make us feel better in the moment, but make us feel terrible ultimately; and pornography is just one of those things.
So, you know, I'm working on a chapter of a book I'm working on. I do not like it when I feel conceptually stuck. And guess what? Everything else seems more tempting to me…clean the house, do-- because all those things give me this sort of immediate sense of control.
And I just keep avoiding the thing that makes me feel anxious and not in control – but ultimately, at the end of the day, I don't feel good. I don't feel good about the way I made decisions. I might have a clean house, but I don't feel good about ultimately that I didn't stay focused on what was more important.
And so, helping our kids just even understand that, the thing that really helps me in those moments is recognizing I am uncomfortable, and that's why I'm finding suddenly on Instagram – but staying in the discomfort is the way that I get stronger.
It gets easier the longer I'm there. The more that I write, the better I feel. It is the way to feel good at the end of the day, is to stay uncomfortable – stay in the discomfort.
And so, helping our kids, just-- Because what happens with pornography is it's so terrifying for parents. And again, it's a whole world that we sort of has evolved quickly and ahead of our, kind of, clarity, societally about how to handle such ease of access.
And so, we tend to be highly anxious if our child has been looking at pornography. But the more we can help our kids normalize what is actually appealing to them about it, why--
You know, pornography's just like Cheetos in the sense like it is designed to speak to what human beings like. We like sex, okay? And we like naked people; and we, you know-- And so, there's nothing wrong with our kids that they are enticed by that and find it--
There's even like this kind of-- much like eating chocolate, this kind of liminal experience of…you sort of step out of your anxiety, and it feels good to be there. So, that's normal. That's different than it's healthy or good for you – or a good coping strategy.
And I think the more that we can educate our kids about the cost that it has to them without bringing a lot of, 'You're going to-- you're going to go down this slippery slope of debauchery,' and 'You're a porn addict', and 'We got to get you into this program,' and so on.
I mean, your child may need help, but it's better served if your child needs help kind of dealing with their life rather than escaping into the comforts that they may find through screens – one of those being pornography. And so, that's the thing that brings our kids a sense of self and self-confidence and ability to be in relationships.
Why being able to handle uncomfortable emotions is beneficial
Crystal The Parenting Coach: I love this idea of like keeping them in the discomfort. I'm curious how that would look like – actually how to teach that, right? Like yeah, we want to get used to being able to handle those uncomfortable emotions and not always just go to whatever it is that we're going to. How do you teach that to your teens?
Dr. Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: Well, you got to tolerate it yourself as a parent, which is really hard for us as parents. And, you know, so when I was growing up – I sound so much like an old person – but, back in my day--
But it's true. Like, there were eight children in my family. We really had to make money on our own for anything extra that we wanted after age 12. And we were put sort of necessarily, because there were so many of us, into difficulty.
And I look back on that now, and I think-- At the time I thought, 'I'm not going to do that to my kids, I'm going to-- like, if I can provide comforts for them, I will.' Because I had friends whose parents would buy them everything.
But the thing is, is that all those places in which I had to figure out my own way, that's how I built self-confidence. That's how I built a sense of self as someone who could handle herself in the world…that didn't need a man to kind of fill in for a parent that didn't need – that could choose a man as a partner, not as a surrogate parent – that I could trust myself.
Okay. It was in all of those places in which I didn't have parents hovering, rushing in or telling me what to do. And so, what we often do now – because I think that generationally, my family wasn't as unusual…you know, relative to other families, there was a lot of that.
But now because we have fewer children, we treat our kids like they are reflections on us – that they are our prizes. We've only got a couple of them, or four of them or whatever. And so, they're less dispensable. I don't mean like that we should think of kids as-- But you know, when you had like 19 of them, there wasn't time to hover.
Now, we're taking our kids to every-- going to every party, standing there. And so, we do so much of this kind of coddling of our children that we actually interfere in them forging their own lives.
And you don't want to be negligent, obviously; you don't want to be unaware – but kids need to work out their own relationship to reality and to others and to their own, you know, defining who they want to be in the world. And that takes making mistakes, that takes uncertainty, that takes anxiety.
And, when we don't-- When we get anxious, because our kids get anxious, we want to rush in and solve it. And, you know, I've totally been like that. Like, I'll be like, don't, don't, I'm like stopping myself from trying to just give the answer or solve the problem…and recognizing that I am interfering with the developmental course that belongs to them that they need. And that I lived through anxiety, they will too.
Crystal The Parenting Coach: Oh, that's so good. And I think that helps them with more than just pornography, and more than just the screens.
Dr. Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: Absolutely.
Crystal The Parenting Coach: That's like the deeper skill that you want to--
Dr. Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: Exactly.
How to teach teens about pornography in a healthy way – not shame-based and not fear-based
Crystal The Parenting Coach: And I also wonder on the sexuality side of it, we understand like it's created to make us want to look at it and want more and all of that…and that's what pornography does.
So, when you're teaching about pornography to your kids or you're trying to maybe prevent more long-term pornography use in them, how do you teach it in a way that's healthy and not shame-based and not fear-based – but also sharing those like boundaries and learning and growth?
Especially if you were raised in a home where – I speak to so many people in our generation, the generations before – where it was literally not talked about; like, it was just not a conversation you had.
Dr. Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: Right.
Crystal The Parenting Coach: So, how do you as a parent get to the space where you feel confident and comfortable in having?
Dr. Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: Yeah. I have a whole course on this of; How to Talk To Your Kids About Sex, how to talk to them about pornography. And a lot of it is looking at your own inherited ideas and kind of where you stand.
But again, I think it's really valuable to just talk to your kids and help them be critical consumers of the messages that are out there to them; people are trying to manipulate our children. They're trying to manipulate us into buying things, consuming things, believing things.
And so, the best way you can equip your child is to help them recognize that various entities are trying to use sexuality or their insecurities to get them to want things and to buy things.
And so, just giving your children that understanding can help them. And so, instead of like, you know, "Don't look at that"…instead, to help your child see – yeah, they're using sexuality to sell you alcohol or to sell you this product, they're trying to--
You know, or to help them think about, why do you think they're using the beautiful woman? What is the message they're trying to give you?
And it just allows your child to think more about; what forces may be being attempting to be played out on them. And to say, you know…yes, as a human being, as a normal healthy human being, sexuality is going to appeal to you most likely – so, of course advertisers want to use it, of course, you're going to find it appealing if you run into it. That doesn't make you bad, it makes you human. The question is whether or not a steady diet of this is going to give you the life that you want.
And so, it's also helping our children rather than the fear to think about, what is it that I'm trying to create with my life? If I want to have a good meaningful sexual relationship down the road – when I'm an adult and ready to commit to someone – is pornography going to make me closer or farther from that ability to really create that?
It's not weird that I like it, it's just not going to get me what I want.
Crystal The Parenting Coach: Yeah. And that's such a simple way of like thinking about it when you're like, 'Oh, do we just zoom out like in the future?'
Dr. Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: Exactly.
Crystal The Parenting Coach: Like in the future, what do you want your future to look like? What do you think a healthy relationship looks like, and how is pornography going to keep you from having that healthy relationship?
Dr. Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: Right. Exactly. You know, like when I'm being a bad parent…I'll say like, 'Wait, what are you doing? Have you working on your assignment? Have you gotten that done yet?' Blah, blah, blah, blah. And I'm coming in and I'm trying to micromanage my child's choices into the right ones. Okay.
Crystal The Parenting Coach: Oh, I do this all the time, terrible.
Dr. Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: Rather than all I have to do, it's so basic that it's embarrassing that I forget sometimes, which is; how are you feeling about that class? Are you-- Are you staying--
You know, I have a child who kind of tends to fall behind a little bit; are you staying on top? You know, how are you feeling about it? Are you--
And it's just a way-- You know, he's said to me that, "It helps me if you sometimes just ask me", because then it makes him start thinking about it. Right? And so, because what it is, is it pushes him into the question of; how do I feel about how I'm doing with respect to these expectations? And allows him to move into the self-defining position. When I'm micromanaging it, it pushes him out of it and he just has to manage me.
Crystal The Parenting Coach: Yeah.
Dr. Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: Not helpful to anybody.
How to empower our kids to self-regulate
Crystal The Parenting Coach: Well, and I love that your answers are always like, it's just the deeper root of it. Like, what are we really trying to teach here? Like, it's easy like; I was totally doing this today with my kiddos that homeschool, where I was like, 'Wait a second, you're just doing random YouTube again. Like, what have you even got done?' Like all the little things…instead of being like, 'Okay, what's really happening here? What's your goal for the week? What's your goal for the month?'
And really zooming out is the skill we want to teach them, because that's something that when they leave us, and we're not home to micromanage them all the time, they can have.
Dr. Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: That's right. Right. Because we want our children-- And what you're pointing to is we want our children to self-author, self-regulate. We want them to be capable of choosing in a way that creates the life they desire.
And so, the more we're pointing them to, what do you want around this? I don't mean to say that you don't hold any restrictions – but back to their responsibility of what they're trying to create, the more likely they're going to do it because they don't want to live unhappy lives.
And if it's always in a power struggle with mom and dad, then you're pushing them into compliance or defiance that is very short term, short-lived, and tends to not go well when the authority figure is away.
Crystal The Parenting Coach: Yeah, it's not teaching them any of those base skills.
Dr. Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: That's right. And so, like, I grew up in a home where my mom was very-- she just always believed that eating healthy food was good for the psyche, the soul. And so, we just had very little access to sugar.
She didn't ever shame it, it just almost didn't come up. She just didn't-- We didn't buy sugar cereals. My mom would make granola, she would make oatmeal, you know-- My friends all knew, don't eat at the Fifes. Like, that was the worst place you--
Crystal The Parenting Coach: Don't eat there.
Dr. Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: Yeah. It was-- So, when I went away to my freshman year, I'm like, score – you know, peanut butter and fluff – like all the things that I didn't have. Now, my mom wasn't shaming--
Crystal The Parenting Coach: That's exactly how I felt.
Dr. Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: Yeah. Yeah. My mom wasn't shaming it. It wasn't like I couldn't, I wasn't allowed – but it was kind of like, 'Oh, all these things that I saw my friends having, I want to have them.' So, I ate all the worst things; and I put on like, probably, 25 pounds my freshman year.
Crystal The Parenting Coach: Yeah.
Dr. Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: So, at the end I was like, 'Wait a minute, maybe mom was onto something.' Okay, so then it was sort of in more the self-authoring position like, 'I can eat like this if I want to', but I'd already had this sort of role modeling of how to eat in a healthy way, that--
You know, I didn't come home from school and my mom did not shame me about my weight; it didn't come up. Okay. Like, it was on me to figure out what I was going to do with my life and my choices around food.
So, you can-- You can set up a healthy environment and your kids may, when they have more autonomy, say, "You know what? I'm going to do 24/7 screens, finally…you know, I get--"
But when they've been grown-- When they have grown up in an environment of moderation and love and guidelines, I think the chances are much more likely that they can kind of go back to that out of their own volition, their own choosing, because they've already seen how to do it.
Crystal The Parenting Coach: They see how it makes them feel, right? My 10-year-old always tells me, "I am going to find a wife who lets me play Nintendo Switch all day long, all day." He's like, "That's all I want in a wife."
And I'm like, "Okay, perfect."
But I remember, like you, graduating and the first two things I bought were cheese whizz and white bread – neither of which we had at our house, and I ate it like every day. But after like five days, I was like, 'I don't really know if I like this that much.' And I really do--
I, like you noticed, how is this food making me feel in my body, in my mind, in my spirit? And that is really what's important.
And again, with screens, how do screens make me feel? What's happening to my body? What's happening to my mind? What's happening to my spirit? How can I feel that? And when is too much, too much? Because even as an adult with like a fully developed prefrontal cortex, I still spend too much time on Instagram, and then feel junky; and then notice like, 'Okay, wait a second, this is too much.'
Dr. Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: Yes. Exactly. Exactly.
What to do when you have a child struggling with pornography
Crystal The Parenting Coach: So, I think it is like teaching those deeper skills that we want to teach. But I do want to make sure I end off with this question; in case somebody feels like, okay, well, I'm in the thick of it right now…I have a child that is struggling with pornography, and what do I do now?
Like I haven't taught these skills, or maybe I have and just haven't turned out well. What do they do? And again, because I know if we add too much fear and shame, it's just going to perpetuate the pornography use…what would you say is kind of their first step?
Dr. Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: Again, I talk about this a lot more in my kids' course, but let me see if I can just get-- First of all, you want to think about it less in terms of controlling…meaning, let's say you could just blow up the internet – there could be value in that.
But in a lot of ways, you still maybe have a problem to be solved in your child's self-regulation and their choices and their ability to choose well. So, there is something to limit, right?
But what's going on that my child is choosing this? That's maybe the more important question.
And is it just that they're bored and it's available, and they're curious?
So, it's not necessarily that their child has a pathology.
Crystal The Parenting Coach: Yeah.
Dr. Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: Or is it that there's something really going on? They have social anxiety, they're having a hard time dealing, they feel too much anxiety at home, they're picking up on the stresses in our marriage; a lot of times, kids feel a lot of anxieties.
They don't know how to cope with them, and then they go to screens or to pornography to find a kind of outlet or a comfort. And so, the more you can address the root of the problem while educating your kids about pornography and screens and these sometimes comfortable but misery stabilizing behaviors, then the more you're giving them a path.
I generally would not recommend most addiction, sex addiction programs for adolescents because – I can't speak for all of them, but most of them use too much fear…and sort of naming the child as having a pathology, having an addiction, and making the child's self-confidence and sense of self unnecessarily plummet while, without maybe realizing it, taking away the child's sense of agency.
And that is never, ever helpful. You want your child to understand themselves as a chooser. Right? Now, you want to give them some context to understand…'Yeah, when I'm feeling stressed, I also go pick up my phone, I also go look for things that give me immediate comfort - it's very human.'
That doesn't make you a strange child or a strange person; it just makes you a human being. The thing is, though, it's a costly process to build a habit around. And so, the more that you're aware of it, you know, the more you can think of better ways to kind of find comfort.
So, you're not pathologizing, but you're also educating that it has a cost – on your sense of self, on the habits and the patterns that you learn. And then, you know, then you go and also work on legislation to change.
Crystal The Parenting Coach: Yeah.
Dr. Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: I do think we need, on a more global level, to address some of the social media challenges that our kids face, and you know, and access to pornography and so on. Not because I think sex is bad, to be clear – I think it's a wonderful part of being human, but I think we should be cautious about what we allow advertisers and businesses-- how much access they should have to our children.
Crystal The Parenting Coach: Yeah. I think that's such an important conversation, and one that I hadn't even really thought of when it came to this. But I think it is really important to have that conversation. And I love what you said about not pathologizing our kids because I think so much in our church and our community, our home, it can kind of easily slide into like…you do this thing, and that means that you are this. Right?
Dr. Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: That's right.
Crystal The Parenting Coach: Even just with diagnoses, which I know can sometimes be really helpful and supportive in understanding ourselves, but can also give us this idea of like, 'Well, now life is going to be like this--'
Dr. Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: That's right.
Crystal The Parenting Coach: Like, 'I can never achieve this.'
Dr. Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: Right.
Crystal The Parenting Coach: And so, I think having that ideology around like, how can I build their self-confidence and keep their self-confidence – and help them learn agency and choice, and support them without it being this like devastating blow of like now addict?
Dr. Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: Exactly. You know, we can have habitual patterns. All of us have them; how we handle certain situations, what we do when we confront something.
And the habitual pattern may feel like an addiction, which is very different than the idea of an addiction – which is your brain is running you, you're not running you.
And so, the more you understand as a habitual pattern, the more you can say, "Well, what is the pattern, and when does it emerge? And what is an alternative I could choose? And how would I break that habit?"
It just infuses it with agency and choice, even if it's not easy. But you still have the ability to forge your life in a way that you feel good about and is better for you.
Crystal The Parenting Coach: I love that. Do you have this in a course? Do you have a course on pornography?
Dr. Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: I do.
Crystal The Parenting Coach: Okay.
Dr. Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: Well, I don't on pornography alone; I have it in the How to Talk to your Kids about Sex course. And I have a whole section on pornography; and how to talk to our kids about it, how to think about it.
I also talk a lot about it in a course that I do for men called The Art of Loving. And I am talking to men about a lot of the messages that they received around sexuality and pornography and attraction – and how a lot of times those messages actually make pornography-- you know, compulsivity around porn go up, not down.
And how they can change their relationship to their thinking about themselves, sexuality, pornography, and so on, to have outcomes that sustain their sense of wellbeing and self-confidence and allow them to be more loving sexual partners.
How to teach sexuality in a healthy way, despite not having the same open discussion in your own childhood
Crystal The Parenting Coach: Okay. I love that. What about women who want to teach their kids about sexuality in a healthy way, but struggle with it themselves because it's not something that they were taught or modeled when they were growing up? What is the first course they should--
Dr. Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: Then I would go to The Art of Desire course, which is like the companion course of Art of Loving - Art of Loving is for men, Art of Desire is for women. Same thing; what are some of the traditions that we learned around sexuality, around being a female? Lots of fear, lots of anxiety.
And then also as a mother, often this kind of idea like…it's on me to keep my kids from being a screw up. And so, a lot of times, our sense of self…actually, it is so linked to our children that it interferes with our ability to facilitate their autonomy – their ability to self-author. So, the women's course is The Art of Desire – men's is Art of Loving; and then, also the How to Talk To Your Kids About Sex courses. Those would be--
Crystal The Parenting Coach: Perfect. We talk about that a lot in the like, well, wait a second, why does it bother me so much that my child is doing such and such? It's because I'm making it mean something about me and my self-worth and how I'm showing up as the mom. And instead of that I just have human kids that also have their own--
Dr. Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: That's right.
Crystal The Parenting Coach: -ideas and personalities and agencies.
Dr. Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: That's right. That's right. Yeah.
Crystal The Parenting Coach: Okay. I love that you have all of these courses. Those are all digital courses that people can access?
Dr. Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: Yes. Yes.
Crystal The Parenting Coach: Okay. We'll have links to those in the show notes. And, do you do anything in person as well? Is it all digital?
Dr. Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: Yes, I do. So, we're doing the women's course in England. I think it's-- I think we might have a seat or two available, that's in September. We're doing The Art of Desire course in England, which will be in September.
Crystal The Parenting Coach: Oh, so good.
Dr. Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: Yeah. And then I'm doing the men's course, The Art of Loving just in St. George – not in English, sorry – but I think there's a few spots left for that.
Crystal The Parenting Coach: Okay.
Dr. Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: And then I have-- I think there's two other courses, but those are-- those are the couples' courses, those are both sold out in the fall. But I don't have a live version of the kids' course at this point. So, yeah.
Crystal The Parenting Coach: Okay, all of those sound lovely. So, go see Dr. Finlayson-Fife in England. Thank you so much for coming on again, and for answering these questions that I just really feel like are so important – and for adding your ideas and insight.
And also, that kind of plea to like…let's figure out how to make this a global change and not just an individual change in our family, but how can we help our communities and our churches and the world by changing legislation? So, thank you so much.
Dr. Jennifer Finlayson-Fife: Yeah, absolutely. Thanks for having me.
Crystal The Parenting Coach: Thanks for listening. If you'd like to help spread this work to the world, share this episode on social media and tag me – send it to a friend, or leave a quick rating and review below so more people can find me. If you'd like more guidance on your own parenting journey, reach out.