WE HAVE A HUGE PROBLEM
Harvey Weinstein. Bill Cosby. Kevin Spacey. Anthony Weiner. Roger Ailes. Bill O’Reilly. Mark Halperin. And the list goes on, and on, and on. The recent, disturbing flood of allegations of sexual misconduct has brought to light the pervasiveness of sexual harassment and abuse at nearly every level of our society. To the hundreds of brave women who have come forward with boldness, we say thank you for your courage, and trust that this movement will continue to gain momentum. May this momentum open the pathways toward hope and healing, and protect hundreds more from this horrendous abuse.
At one end of this abusive spectrum are men of power. These are men in business, entertainment, politics, academia, the medical field – literally every industry – that have long used their power and position to selfishly harass or abuse others to fuel their ego or simply meet their perceived “needs” (AKA lusts) for instant gratification. How very disturbing.
There is also a group on the other end of the spectrum. These are not so much the manipulators and narcissistic abusers, but the “socially awkward” – those that are trying to navigate through a highly confusing social, relational, hormonal, and emotional landscape. Teens and young adults long for connection and relationship, but many are unsure of how to build relationships in a healthy way. This can lead to problematic sexual behavior that is abusive, even if the motive is different.
The challenges on this end of the spectrum are almost predictable. The prevalence of Autism Spectrum Disorders is increasing. Anxiety disorders are the most widely diagnosed among teens and adults, and the incidents of anxiety and depression are sharply rising among teens in the U.S. We are more “connected” electronically than ever before. According to a MarketingLand report*, 94% of teens use Facebook and have an average of 425.4 Facebook friends. And, teen use of Twitter and Instagram is rapidly increasing. But we’ve perhaps never had such an interpersonally DISCONNECTED generation.
In simple terms, the combination of reduced social skills, increased anxiety & depression, a warped sense of normal sexuality through exposure to pornography, and uncertainty of how to meet emotional needs is a perfect storm for some young people in trying to navigate the waters of adolescence and young adulthood.
Of course, easy access to pornography, and the increasing availability of deviant and violent pornography can perpetuate the problem. Internet pornography use among teens is increasing, which according to WebRoot.com, “hinders the development of healthy sexuality.”** But it’s not just teens. Here are some sobering numbers re: internet pornography use in general that may fuel an attitude of objectification that can lead to abuse:**
- Every second 28,258 users are watching pornography on the internet
- Every second $3,075.64 is being spent on pornography on the internet
- 40 million American people regularly visit porn sites
- One third of porn viewers are women
- 34% of internet users have experienced unwanted exposure to pornographic content through ads, pop up ads, misdirected links or emails
- About 200,000 Americans are “porn addicts”
BUILDING CHARACTER THROUGH MORAL DEVELOPMENT
To be sure, there are many external forces that influence our habits, spark our arousal, enhance or diminish our interpersonal skills, and essentially shape our attitudes and behavior toward others. There is much work to be done to develop and implement boundaries and constructs around how we act toward others, as well as to the penalties and consequences for abusive behavior.
But at its core, there seems to be a shift in – perhaps even an absence of – values that embrace the worth of every soul, or a sense of universal morality. Perhaps it’s a lack of high-character.
The discussion of morality is a slippery one. In a room full of a representative sample of average Americans, it may be nearly impossible to come to consensus on a societal moral code everyone could live with. At least one that was very specific. Dianne K. Daeg de Mott states, “Definitions of what is or is not moral are currently in a state of upheaval within individual societies…at least, in the Western world. Controversies rage over the morality of warfare (especially nuclear), ecological conservation, genetic research and manipulation, alternative fertility and childbearing methods, abortion, sexuality, pornography, drug use, euthanasia, racism, sexism, and human rights issues, among others.”+
Indeed, to be “inclusive” and “tolerant,” we’ve created a society that has embraced moral relativism, which makes it difficult to collectively decide on our operational moral code. At the extreme, moral relativism perpetuates the belief that anything goes.
But if there’s one thing I hope we can all agree on, it’s that ABUSE HAS GOT TO STOP! We need to be people of high character. From the socially awkward on one end, to the power and control freaks on the other, and everything in between, ABUSE HAS GOT TO STOP! At EVERY level, from grassroots to organizational/political leadership, we need CHAMPIONS for the cause – champions for healthy relationships and sexual safety.
BE A CHAMPION
So, what does it mean to “be a champion for healthy relationships and sexual safety?” I really love the descriptive language for champion on merriam-webster.com: “warrior,” “fighter,” “advocate,” “defender,” and my favorite, “One that does battle for another’s rights or honor.” Not only are those beautiful words, but they describe exactly what is needed in today’s fight for healthy relationships and sexual safety.
Join the fight. In order to combat the abuses that are occurring all around us, we need more Champions. We need YOU. Make the commitment NOW to be a CHAMPION for healthy relationships and sexual safety.
START WHERE YOU ARE
The key is to start. Start where you’re at, with what you’ve got. Make a commitment to do something every day – no matter how big or small – to promote healthy relationships and sexual safety. And it might be easier than you think. Here is a list of some things that everyday champions can do:
- Be nice. This might be a little ambiguous, or…it might just be simply powerful. Examine how you treat everyone, from your family to the kid taking your order at a fast-food restaurant, to the annoying driver on the freeway. Those lessons we learned in kindergarten about please, thank you, and general courtesy should be part of us.
- Put parental blocks on your internet and electronic devices for ALL of you, not just the kids.
- One night a week, meet together as a family and talk openly about social issues, mutual concerns, or life in general. Make it a point to have FUN, but also model listening and understanding so you can manage the deeper issues. This is a great time to discuss family values and the importance of high character.
- Say “No” to pornography. There are many different and opposing views on this one, but it might be worth exploring whether it impacts your behavior in any negative ways. If it does, even just a little, might be time to pull the plug on it.
- When we’re in a positive emotional and mental state, we’re much better at protecting and strengthening our relationships.
- Use the challenges of today as discussion points for the moral development of your children. Of course, you’ll want to be age-appropriate with the topics, but teens today are likely aware of the sexual scandals and abuse widely reported on hundreds of media outlets. Have discussions that highlight decisions about right or wrong, empathy, etc.
- Ask questions! At first, it may drive your kids crazy! But when you explain that you love them too much not to ask the direct questions, and when you ask in respectful, caring ways, it can become a wonderful process. But it takes work!
- Establish clear rules and boundaries around electronics with your kids. Nothing should be downloaded onto their devices without your INFORMED permission (install access passwords) AND a discussion about the pros, cons, and parameters of their use.
- Remove TVs and computers from your kids’ rooms. And, gather their phones and tablets at night. The risks are too high – they tend to stumble upon inappropriate material (or seek it out), stay up too late texting friends or browsing social media, or whatever. They sleep better. You’ll likely see that they develop a more balance “relationship” with electronics.
- Have regular, thought-out date nights with your significant other, and make your own relationship a priority.
- Take time every few weeks to educate yourself as to what’s popular – and potentially dangerous – with teens today. Be more aware of what kids are facing out there.
- Go to marriage counseling. If you’ve had a rough time, but believe in marriage and healthy relationships, work through the tough stuff. A skilled marital therapist can be a tremendous resource in helping you each get above the fray and find that pathway back to that happy, supportive relationship. CHAMPION your own growth first.
- Try to do something nice for someone – even a stranger – every day.
- Change your language. Does your humor or sarcasm take shots at women, marriage, or other groups of people? You may not mean anything by it, but you can now see that it’s wrong. It sends the wrong message – one that you don’t even agree with. So, be more careful about the words you use and how you say things.
- Control your anger. Lashing out toward others is wrong. It makes things worse, and creates fear and distrust. Take steps to slow things down, take a moment to respond rather than react, and problem-solve, rather than freak out. That’s actually a big step for some of us, but worth the effort.
- Practice gratitude. Channeling your thoughts toward things you are truly grateful for has a profound impact on our mood. When those thoughts and feelings of gratitude focus on the people in our lives, it bolsters our commitment to improving those relationships.
- See the good in others and comment on it. I don’t know why we tend to pick on others’ mistakes, flaws, even their looks. In the moment, I guess we think it’s funny. But it can be hurtful. And, it’s probably more about how we feel about ourselves. It’s not fair, it’s not nice, and it’s just wrong. You’ll feel a lot better when you focus on and point out the good stuff.
- Stand up to bullying. When you see it or hear it, do your best to stop it.
And the list goes on and on. Please share what you are doing to champion the cause of promoting healthy relationships and sexual safety. Even if it’s a small thing, your VOICE as you champion this cause can echo far and wide. Today, there are dozens, perhaps hundreds of stories highlighting sexual harassment and abuse stories of our brothers and sisters. Let’s make the stories of tomorrow focus on hope, on healing, and on the champions for healthy relationships and sexual safety.
Here’s to the CHAMPIONS!
Kaizen Academy is a residential treatment center for teen boys struggling with sexual behavior problems. We take a comprehensive approach that not only works toward helping to stop inappropriate behavior, but to instill healthy outlets and attitudes to ultimately create safety and thriving in our homes and in our society. We’re proud to be making a positive difference in these areas, and invite you to champion the cause within your sphere of influence as well! – http://www.kaizenrtc.com.
* MarketingLand report, May 2013 (https://marketingland.com/pew-the-average-teenager-has-425-4-facebook-friends-44847)
+ Dianne K. Daeg de Mott, http://psychology.jrank.org/pages/431/Moral-Development.html