Open Letter of Apology to Teenagers

I shared this last year after a weekend retreat with the male high school students. I learned a lot that weekend. Mostly, I learned that we as adults are not doing a good job of listening to our kids. Let’s make a commitment to listen. And change.

Dear teenagers,

On behalf of adults everywhere, I want to apologize.

We have made your lives too busy. We remember our high school experience and the experiences of all of our friends and family members. And we want you to live all of it. We want you to be involved in sports, theater, afterschool programs, volunteer projects, church groups, and get certified in CPR. We have pushed and pushed and pushed until your schedules are way too full. We have made you feel like failures when you cannot keep up. We have encouraged you to choose activities over your spiritual life. We think your commitment to your sports team is more important than your commitment to your spiritual development.

We have made you so busy, you are not sleeping well and you are not eating well. We encourage you to eat quickly so you microwave a dinner or grab a value meal from a fast food restaurant. If you eat at all. You are tired and unhealthy and we push you even harder. We are pushing too hard and we are sorry.

We are also sorry that we have cared more about test scores and college admission than we have about education. We have grown up and become teachers and administrators. We have looked for more bottom line results to show that we are doing an effective job. We have been emphasizing the importance of getting high scores on achievement tests, SATs, and ACTs. We have failed to realize how stressed out you are about taking these tests.

We are in the position of voting people in, campaigning for what is important, and being involved in your education. We have become lazy and done little more than complain. And as we have stood by you have been falling deeper and deeper into your anxiety. We are sorry.

We are sorry that we have underestimated you. You are intelligent, caring, and passionate for justice in the world. But we treat you like you are little more than wound up balls of hormones. Yes, you are struggling with temptation and yes, you are struggling with physical, mental, and emotional development. But you also know that you want people to be treated fairly. You want people to be treated with respect and equality.

You may face the temptation to look at pornography, but deep down you know how terrible it is for people, especially women, to be degraded that way. And you feel you cannot talk to us about it because we have hidden all of our struggles from you. We pretend we have it all together and we hold you to such unimaginably high expectations that we have left no space for you to feel like you can ask for help.

You have been fighting and fighting and fighting to do the right things, but we have not supported you the way we should have. Now, you are self-harming, using drugs, and being medicated for anxiety or depression in astronomical numbers.

And it is our fault.

We are sorry. We want to start listening. We want to start helping. So please keep talking. Please talk to us even when it seems like we aren’t listening. Because we probably aren’t. But we need to. So talk to us until we listen.

Tell us how tired you are. Tell us how committed you are to fighting for justice. Tell us how much you thirst for knowledge. Tell us how much you want to explore and question spirituality.

Tell us what we need to hear.

Tell us until we listen.

Because listening is the best way we can show you we are sorry.

Signed,

Adults

Follow-up: #nomoreporn

I need your help.

On Monday, I shared this post about what I need to do to stop porn. I ask that you it, comment on it, and share it. Let’s get this conversation going among as many people as possible. Let’s be as loud as we can about the destructive nature of pornography. Let’s brainstorm and implement ideas that can bring about the end.

Let’s even start a hashtag movement: #nomoreporn

#nomoreporn:

  • Because our daughters and sons are more than their private parts.
  • Because sexuality is beautiful when shared appropriately.
  • Because kids are becoming addicted at younger and younger ages.
  • Because you are beautiful the way you are.
  • Because I value your humanity.
  • Because I do not want young women trafficked in this country anymore.

What else can you add?

_________________________

After sharing my post on Monday, a friend shared a story with me: there is a woman whose partner wants them to watch porn together. She does because she thinks that’s what she needs to do to be a good spouse. She cries most of the time because she knows she cannot live up to the images and activities portrayed on the screen.

And that is one of the dangers of pornography: it cannot deliver what it promises. Porn is to sexual intimacy what the WWE is to athletics. It is fake. It is contrived. It is nothing more than actors being told what to do.

If we are going to help bring an end to the destruction the porn industry wreaks on our culture, we must start talking about it. Parents, we need to be talking to our kids. We need to be talking about sexuality in healthy and appropriate ways.

It’s embarrassing.

It’s uncomfortable.

It’s necessary.

These are conversations we need to have. We need to be sharing stories with one another: stories of struggle and redemption. Stories of purity and triumph. Stories of temptation and turning to spiritual guides for help. Stories of our own journeys through adolescence.

Are you willing to take part in bringing an end to porn? Are you willing to do what is necessary to limit the access your children may have—even if it is no more than having conversation? Are you willing to share your story? Are you willing to encourage those who do?

We can end it. But we need each other’s help.

Please share this post, and the previous post, and share your ideas, your triumphs, your hashtag. It’s a movement: #nomoreporn

No More Porn

Let me start by saying I was recently guilty of the behavior I am going to address in this post. More on that later.

_________________________

Several months ago, I attended a Man Retreat. It was a weekend devoted to answering the question, “What does it mean to be a man of God?” I was one of a handful of adult chaperones (which, in hindsight, sounds kind of ridiculous!). Although I have written about that weekend before, I want to bring up one of the topics that was discussed once again.

It is time to say, “No more porn.” As we had times of open discussion, the young men in my group talked about how much they hate pornography—the entire industry. Yes! 14-18 year old young men HATE what pornography is doing. They hate the accessibility. They hate the prevalence. They hate how it objectifies women. They hate to think that one day one of their sisters, or cousins, or aunts, or mothers could be involved. They hate that their friends talk about such things as “car porn” or “food porn.”

I walked away from that weekend convinced that this current generation of adolescents will be the group that brings an end to pornography as we know it.

“That’s a bold statement,” you might say. Or you might tell me, “That’s an awfully small sample size to base such a claim on.” And perhaps you would be right.

But I will stand by it. And if I am going to stand by it, I need to act on it. So how can I do that?

First, I need to say, “No more porn.” Sure, I can point to the fact that there are no dirty magazines or movies in my house. But I need to ask if my children see in my everyday actions that I truly hate the way pornography objectifies people. Do I make inappropriate comments when certain actors or actresses are on the screen? Do I watch movies that do not fit the industry’s definition of “porn,” yet would still embarrass me to watch if my parents, or my pastor, or my Savior were present? Am I calling out the destructive portrayal of women that my children witness in the shows they watch? Am I searching out stories that show the value of a person based on who they are, not what they do with their private parts?

Second, I need to stop saying the word “porn” as if it is a neutral word. Calling things “porn” only serves to de-sensitize us to the damaging nature of pornography. Looking at amazing cars is not “car porn.” If I happen to drool over pictures of desserts, I should not call it “food porn.” When we do that, we make it sound like pornography is nothing more than a joke, a humorous yet facile way to describe something. (Huffington Post, I’m looking at you.) But that is wrong. Pornography is destructive. Pornography kills relationships. Did you know that there is now something called “Pornography-induced erectile dysfunction”? And did you know it is occurring in men in their 20s? Stop using the word as if it is little more than a punchline.

Third, I need to stop excusing porn. Every time someone says, “It objectifies men, too,” or “It’s their own choice to be in those movies,” or, “Hey, it’s just a way to make a living,” we are saying we don’t care that women are trafficked and treated as sex slaves so that a few people can get rich off of destroying numerous lives to provide a quick release. Girls are lured into the industry with promises of acting roles and are treated like prostitutes with the movie producers being the pimps. They are used and dumped when they no longer generate revenue. And yes, pornography objectifies both men and women and serves to subjugate sexuality to nothing more than a quick fix. But I cannot minimize the damage the porn industry does to women by saying, “It hurts men, too.” Because when I say that, what I’m really saying is, “Leave my secret sin alone because if you dig any deeper, I’m going to have to come clean.” Instead, say something like, “Yes, this industry is destroying our young women and men and it must be stopped.”

_________________________

I said I messed up recently. A friend of mine posted a funny question on facebook about movie titles that could double as porn titles. I read all the comments. I laughed. I even added one of my own.

And then I remembered a small group of high school men I spent time with a few months ago. They had said, “We need to stop laughing about pornography.” THEY said it. Not me. Not the other adult small group leader. The young men. The teenagers. The highschoolers. The ones so overcome with hormones right now they can barely see straight.

Their words convicted me. So I deleted my comment. I didn’t read anyone else’s comment. And let me say that I am not angry with my friend who posted the question. Because he just did what a lot of us do. He is not a mean-spirited person. He is not someone who contributes to the defamation of women. He is a great husband and father. He just asked a question similar to questions I have asked in the past.

Too often, I have treated pornography as a joke. I have pretended that since I am not in the industry I have no responsibility for the damage that is done. And that is wrong.

So I want to change that. I want to say loudly: NO. MORE. PORN.

It ends now.

I will remove the word from my vocabulary, unless I use the word to call it out for the destructive evil that it is.

I will not let it be treated as a joke.

I will not remain silent in the face of mistreatment of women or the misrepresentation of sexuality.

I will allow the words of teenagers to convict me when I am wrong.

I will not let people tell me that young people don’t realize what is going on or that they don’t care.

I will encourage young women and men to appreciate who they are.

I will pray that young women and men have the courage that I so often lack.

We can stop it. We must stop it.

NO. MORE. PORN.