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The Connection Between Freedom and Porn Use in Kids

Updated: Jan 8



What connection exists between the amount of freedom a child has and the likelihood that they will become ensnared in pornography use? There is, it happens, a fairly strong correlation. Does it surprise you to know that kids whose freedom is restricted are more likely to use pornography?


Defend Young Minds carried out a research project to discover reasons children use pornography. Their findings uncovered several reasons, including curiosity and peer pressure. You can read a blog post on all the reasons kids turn to pornography here:



Defend Young Minds discovered one reason children choose to access porn is when they live in a home where they are given little freedom for independent play. By independent I mean not organized or supervised by parents. For example, being on a soccer team is not independent play as all the rules are arranged by adults, and all interactions are managed by adults. Independent play is a bunch of kids playing basketball on a cul-de-sac or exploring the neighborhood on bikes with no adults in sight.


Free Play and Mental Health


Pornography use is not the only negative result form restricting children from independent play. A recent article from The Washington Post interviewed Peter Gray,  a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Boston College, on his research into parenting trends and the resulting behavior of children. He found that over the last 50 years, parents have been progressively taking away children’s access to independent play and at the same time there has been an acceleration in mental health disorders among youth.


Peter said, “I began to look at research, which showed and documented that beginning as early as the 1960s until now, there has been a continuous, gradual but huge increase in anxiety, depression, and, most tragically, suicide among school-aged children and teens. Over that period of time, children have also been less and less free to do the things that make them happy and build the kind of character traits — of confidence, of internal locus of control, of agency — that allow them to feel like ‘the world is not too scary, because I can handle what life throws at me.’ This kind of attitude requires independent activity to develop, and we have been offering less and less of that activity.”


Essentially, children today have far less time to spend on their own, far less territory they are allowed to explore on their own, and far less time to be with peers unsupervised. All three of these are required for a child to build emotional resilience and confidence. All of these are required for a child to feel freedom.


The reason parents started supervising children more is because 50-60 years ago children had almost no supervision by parents and a lot of bad things happened to kids as a result. (Millennials Rising, Howe & Strauss) Those kids grew up to be parents—perhaps you are one of them—and those parents basically said, “That is not happening to my kid so I’m keeping my eye on them every second!” The problem is that culture has gone too far in protecting children and is now restricting children to the point they are being harmed by overprotection.


Parents are spending a LOT more time with their kids today than in the past three generations, and that is a good thing! However, there is a limit to what is healthy. A parent cannot be the kind of playmate that a child needs to learn confidence and independence. Do play with your kid but let them play without you as well.


Devices and Freedom


Some people blame devices for kids not playing together like they used to. It has been suggested by some that the reason kids don’t play together often is because they are always on devices. However, what some kids are saying in reply is, “We’re on our devices because we’re not allowed to hang out together.” Teenagers need to be with other people in their age group, away from adults. Removing that ability prevents teens from learning critical emotional and relational skills and makes them feel a lack of freedom.


This is happening right now. College professors I’ve spoken with tell me that virtually all incoming college freshmen act emotionally like 13-year-olds and seem incapable of making adult decisions. This is a result of not having enough freedom to learn to be independent and manage their own emotions.


The Porn Connection


When kids, older kids in particular, are not allowed the freedom to explore and hang out unsupervised with peers, pornography can become an enticing alternative. This happens in four ways:


  1. For a teenager, pornography feels like exploration and excitement. When they are not allowed to explore and find excitement in real life they will settle for a digital substitute. 

  2. Teenagers are designed to be attracted to risk. When they are not allowed to take risks in real life this need goes unmet. Pornography use feels risky, especially when parents do not approve, thus it can substitute for seeking risk. 

  3. Teens crave face-to-face interaction, although it takes a while to learn to navigate conflicts that come up. Pornography can feel like a relationship, especially in video format, and it lets the user always get their way. When not given enough practice with real interactions—ones not refereed by adults—pornography is an easy substitute for relationships.

  4. The highly sexual content of porn causes enormous amounts of dopamine to flood their system, giving them a drug-induced high to escape from what may feel like an otherwise restricted existence. 


In short, when normal unsupervised peer interaction and exploration are not allowed in adolescence pornography becomes an easy substitute to meet those needs. Children need increasing freedom as they get older or their confidence and ability to regulate their own emotions is stunted. The alternative is what we are seeing today: young adults who have the emotional maturity of a middle school kid who relies on things like pornography to make up for relationships they don’t know how to navigate.


Learn more with this FREE course: Understanding Adolescent Thinking Patterns


Helping Your Kids with Freedom


So, what can you do? How do you get started? With small steps. Here are a few ideas that could be used with almost any age child.


Jobs Around The House: Kids take longer to do jobs around the house and they often don’t do them well. However, they need the practice. Give them a job and leave them alone to do it. Do not step in and correct them. If they don’t do it as well as you’d like, but it is more or less okay, thank them, and when they leave fix it up as you like.


Let Them Take Risks: Start reigning in protecting your kids from all harm. For example, if they are walking along a tall partition or fence, maybe don’t say, “Get off that or you’ll get hurt!” Ask yourself, How badly will they get hurt if they fall? Will they break a bone? If not, maybe leave them alone if the risk of serious harm is not great. Growing confidence requires taking risks.


Unsupervised Play: Arrange time for your kid to play with peers with no supervision from you or other adults. Give no input as to what they will do. Do not resolve conflicts that arise. Do not solve problems that come up. Don’t watch them play. Learn to say, “I guess you’ll need to figure that out.” Unfortunately, in today’s world, it may be difficult to find other parents who are willing to let their kids take part.


When my son was twelve I would kick him out of the house during the summer and tell him to go find someone to play with outside. He usually came back soon after saying none of his friend’s parents would let them. He wanted to ride his bike but the other parents would not allow their kids to ride a bike more than one block from the house. I was dumbfounded. We live in a very quiet, safe neighborhood. Twelve is more than old enough to ride a bike unsupervised.


When my daughter was a senior in high school she wanted to go to the beach with friends. We live an hour from the beach. She and all her friends had driver's licenses and had been driving for a year or two, but none of the other parents would allow them to go that far without an adult driver. And these were all good, church-going kids. Some of those same parents were still trying to control what their kids did after going away to college! Kids can’t grow up if parents don’t let them.


I know it is scary to give freedom to your child, but it is absolutely necessary. For more help on how to navigate helping your kids explore freedom at every age, please see our online course:


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