Category Archives: Addiction

Sex (A little porn never hurt anyone, right…?)


porn-hook

As with any behavior we engage in there are payoffs and there are consequences.    This post explores the negative consequences of obsessive and compulsive consumption of pornography.

  1.  Misusing sexuality or unhealthy sexual expression for the gratification of personal lusts and desires rather than the divine purpose if was gifted to use for (pro-creation and monogamous bonding/attachment) creates a host of attachments neuro-chemically and emotionally.  When we complete a sex act (climax) we have engaged a process that includes attaching (oxytocin/vasopressin) to the object of our sexual desire.  If these objects are images on a screen then we form a connection with those objects that was intended for your partner.  Repeated gratification to pornography can lead to difficulty bonding with a loved one in meaningful ways, emotionally and physically.
  2. Because of the impact of porn, our ability to connect with others emotionally is reduced.  The real problem is that our understanding of the true nature of sexual relationships gets polluted with porn consumption (creates fantasy).  Porn creates something less life-giving, commitment-solidifying, joy-producing for transient, sensual, immediate gratification.  As a result we learn that porn consumption, leading to masturbation and climax can be a powerful “mood altering experience” helping us deal with the stress of day-to-day life.
  3. Regular pornography viewing can also create a distorted perspective on reality.  It reinforces body types that are not natural, sexual positions that are only for a good camera angle not a natural position during sex, it creates expectations for our and our partners sexual behaviors and puts pressure on both to perform as what is seen on the screen.  Neural wiring changes occur due to regular porn viewing that reinforces our desires for what we see on the screen.   We begin to crave in real life what we see on screen.  This can also lead to a sense of emotional disconnect in which we are observes of our own sex acts rather than fully present with our partner.
  4. Emotional deregulation can occur when we become dependent on porn to relieve stress or make us feel pleasure.  When we are frustrated with our partner being sexually unavailable we turn to porn out of frustration or to extract secret revenge for their scorn after a fight.
  5. In order to consume porn regularly we must disengage morally.  This is dangerous because if done frequently or repetitively we lose our ability to empathize with others.  Moral disengagement allows us to do that which is socially unacceptable by blaming others, justifying our behavior as deserved or just, or by displacement of responsibility of our choices.
  6. Porn will likely reinforce negative gender stereotypes.  Cultural messages still support traditional gender roles and elevate the notion that women exist for men’s pleasure in a male dominated world.
  7. The shame and guilt that often accompanies pornography related problems is intense.  One the episode is over these feelings rush in and drives the behaviors underground to keep them hidden from others.  This leads to isolation and disconnect from important relationships.  This can lead to depression or hopelessness and helplessness.  The feeling that one is trapped in a shame cycle is often reported.

This list is not exhaustive but is a good gauge of what can happen to an individual that compulsively and/or obsessively consumes pornography.  In the next post we will look at ways to walk alongside someone stuck in the labyrinth of pornography.

Sex (There’s An App For That)


3xgalleryiphonepicIf you’re a youth worker then you already know about the abundance of pornography due to modern technology. If you don’t, you should pay attention. Due to new technology porn has never been more accessible, affordable, or anonymous than it is today. At the same time, sale of Smart phones to adolescents is driving the mobile phone industry. Add these two factors together and you have a new way to engage in an old struggle.

Young people are historically impulsive and vulnerable to addictive behaviors. This is not a revelation to anyone but the temptations and opportunities to act on those impulses have increased significantly in recent years. Viewing pornography almost seems like a rite of passage and current research tells us that first exposure to pornography is occurring at an average age of 11-years-old. The natural but curious nature of sex often makes it hard for even the most convicted teenager to resist the compulsion to revisit these sites again and again.

Accessible – Youth have unlimited means of accessing outlets to pornographic material today; smart phones, apps, tablets, gaming systems, the internet, television, pay-per-view, and peer-to-peer sexting. There are a myriad of ways that kids can intentionally or unintentionally view material that captivate their bodies and brains in a powerful way.

Affordable – Access to porn has typically come with a price tag that served as a barrier for most young people accessing such material. Today, much like a drug dealer that fronts you a sample to “hook” you, porn website offer free samples in short increments with the same intention.

Anonymous – Because much of this is done of personal i-Devices the stigma typically associated with these behaviors is diminished. One can privately browse content for hours and easily delete any browsing record of such indiscretions. Instead of going to the seedy gas station to buy a magazine, or to the backroom of the video store to find the adult movie selection, technology allows those outlets to come directly to the consumer.

I do not want to demonize the adolescent’s desire for sexual expression. God gave us a sexual desire and it is good. It is important to distinguish between normal sexual curiosity and unhealthy/unsafe sexual practices. Nevertheless, we know that when anyone engages in a behaviors repeatedly neurological changes can occur, rewiring our brains to a “new” norm. Compulsive pornography consumption will fundamentally change the way we, especially our youth, will experience sex. Everything from expectations about sex to the physical experience of sex to our ability to attach to others in an intimate fashion will be impacted.

All is not hopeless. In this blog series we will continue to unpack to the problems associated with sex, as experienced as the norm today, and how we might have better conversations with our youth, their parents, and ourselves about sex and sexual behaviors.

Youth Ministry and the Glee Effect


Cory MonteithThis past Saturday my wife I and I were anxiously awaiting the verdict of the trail for George Zimmerman, the man accused of shooting 17 year old Trayvon Martin.  While this “trial of the century” was capturing America’s attention another story was unfolding in a Canadian hotel.  Glee superstar and main man Finn, played by Cory Monteith, was found dead in his hotel room.

We won’t know the cause of his death for several days but speculation abounds regarding substance use and suicide, a history of depression, etc.  The horrible irony is that the writers for Glee have attempted to bring light to these and other issues that youth face on a daily basis.

Update: Autopsy reports say the a combination of heroin and alcohol contributed to Cory’s death.

No one can deny the impact Glee has had on youth culture over the last several years.  At the very least it has provided a soundtrack for the lives of countless youth.  More importantly Glee has given our youth a voice in a world where very few believe anyone is listening.  I heard from countless teens who expressed a form of solidarity with the characters from the show.  It had every stereotype one could imagine and they all found common ground singing for the lovable Mr. Schuester in Glee Club.  It was here that they all found meaning and a sense of belonging.  Glee Club became their refuge from a crazy world of bullies, expectations, pressure, stress, and the myriad of difficulties of being a teenager.  They often spoke of Glee Club in transcendent language.

I came to see Glee Club, as portrayed on the show, as a desire for a safer world in which youth can navigate the journey to adulthood, ripe with mentors willing to walk alongside them regardless of the personal cost.  Glee changed the expectations young people had for their schools, homes, and relationships with each other.  I’m wondering if, with Cory’s death, it will leave many of the show’s Gleeks feeling a sense of hopelessness that nothing they had come to believe in will actually make a difference.  This could be soil for fruitful conversations about what is worth putting our hope and trust in.

I have said to my wife during more than one viewing of Glee that I felt like these kids could be the kids from our community or youth group.  Hearing about Cory’s untimely death impacted me emotionally and I wept upon receiving the news.  Finn, Cory’s character, was the arch-type male student, popular, pretty girlfriend, football quarterback, and could rock some Journey like no one else.  I’m concerned about the level of celebrity worship in our culture.  I’m concerned about its impact on our youth, who take their cues for living life from their idols, whether they’re conscious of it or not.  This misplaced investment is fruitless and leads to despair.  When a celebrity of Cory’s stature can’t escape the pull of destructive choices then what are the kids in our communities supposed to do?

Cue the church…

Glee struck a chord with young people like I’ve never seen before.  It spoke of the things that no one else would speak about and they did it creatively and honestly.  Many in the camp of Christianity wrote off Glee as obviously secular with an agenda but many failed to hear the messages of our youth that were reflected in the show’s storytelling.  Weekly, the show masterfully addressed the deepest longing of our kids and one could hear it only they would listen.

What if our youth ministries, what if our churches, what if our faith communities had the magnetic pull that Glee had for so many?  I really believe that kids vote with their presence, meaning, if our ministries even remotely smell like the shallow offerings the world has to offer they will not partake of it.  I believe in my core that youth will choose that which is most compelling.  We love to blame the youth for being apathetic regarding their spiritual growth and commitment to their faith but what if it wasn’t them?  What if it was our ministries?  What if we created deep ministries, like Glee, where students who felt they weren’t wanted anywhere could find a place to belong?  What if they were safe communities where they could let down their guard and be real and honest about the things in their lives that are important and troubling to them, issues like depression, stress, sexuality, self-injury, self-image, or their futures?  What if they felt they mattered because we loved them in spite of what they do and not just because they jump through our hoops and fit our mold of what we think they should be?  What if there were a number of adults who would commit to walking alongside them, regardless of how difficult it became?  What if our ministries were places of real hope that pointed to the Source of all hope? How is it that Glee has been kicking our butts when it comes to influencing and reaching our kids?  And I don’t buy the line, “Because it appeals to their fleshly desires” or what ever version of that sentiment might be.  I think it is because it speaks to the longings that are most important to youth and it does so in a meaningful way.

My heart is broken for Cory Monteith.  It’s broken because in spite of the Glee’s efforts to create the world described above, it still falls short.  Cory’s death is a reminder to us all that this world is broken and God’s children, apart from Him, are broken.  It reminds me that when we seek the satisfaction of those deep longings apart from Christ the world will always come up short.  I pray that our ministries are a place where the deepest longings of our hearts are fully satisfied through our ever growing relationship with Christ and His body.  It is there and only there we might experience the Kingdom on earth, as it is in heaven.

Don’t stop believing…

Criminal Youth and Injuries Unseen


criminalCriminality is often the result of a consistent pattern of distorted thinking errors (forgetting the Imago Dei in everyone and listening to the lies of the enemy) that results in irresponsible and hurtful behavior. One of the most common errors in thinking is the failure to consider injury to others.

As a general rule, young people (and many adults) do not consider the effect of their actions on others. Brief moments of guilt or remorse are quickly replaced with feelings of being a victim themselves or self-righteousness for the harm they have caused. When offenders express what appears as sincere regret, careful examination will show that these overtures are typically used to tell others what they want to hear.  They are often more sorry they were caught than remorseful for harm they have caused by their actions. 

Congruent with failing to consider injury to others, youth involved in criminal behaviors also don’t consider themselves bad people. The drug dealer will argue he isn’t forcing anyone to buy drugs. The drug addict will claim she isn’t hurting anyone but herself. The violent or aggressive individual will say he didn’t mean to hurt anyone and the thief will say she has to make a living somehow.  When adolescents with criminal thinking heed the advice of scripture and can honestly think about the injury they have caused, they begin to change their distorted sense of self worth and align it with the Imago Dei. They can then more accurately conclude that they are a victimizer more than a victim and have deeply harmed others.  They can do so because the faith community lives and dies by grace and mercy, seeking to restore people with their God and those around them.

Replacing the thinking error of failing to consider injury to others involves becoming aware of the full impact of abusive and criminal behavior.  It is important that one not only look at legally defined criminal behavior, but also examine irresponsible actions such as lying, deceit, conning, game playing, vindictiveness, and other tactics. For lasting change to occur it is essential that these students go beyond immediate injury and consider the “ripple effect.”  For example, in the case of property theft, consideration should be made regarding the crime’s affect on the business owner’s attitude, feelings, friends and family.

The effect on the offender’s attitude, friends and family should also be explored along with the ripple effect of the crime in relation to property values, feelings of safety, insurance rates, and a host of other consequences. The purpose of this activity is to aid the young person in developing, expanding and sustaining a moral conscience by aligning it with the Holy Spirit. God gives us the gift of guilt but it is only of value if it is used to break our heart of undesirable behavior and develop a sensitive, well formed conscience that is in sync with the Father’s. Criminally-minded youth do have a conscience but render it inoperative through repeated patterns of corrosion and dissociation. Feelings of guilt and remorse are corroded and thoughts about the impact of their behavior are cut off.

Regularly and thoughtfully contemplating injury to others helps redevelop the criminal conscience and strengthens it for deterring insensitive and criminal acts in the future.  This is only effective if there is an abundance of grace awaiting them when they are ready to let go of their criminal behaviors and they are only likely to do this if there is an open and loving community expressing the love and restorative mission of the Father.

The Functionality of Sin


ducttapeTraditional youth ministry training didn’t really prepare me for the acute problems my kids were showing up with at our youth ministry. I got into to youth ministry because the first time I walked into a youth ministry gathering I felt a connection, a calling to speak into their lives. I wanted desperately to impact their lives for the Kindgom. The typical fare in most youth ministry training programs is maybe a psych 110 class or an adolescent development overview but very little in the way of preparing me to minister effectively to them. Take Whitney, a 15 year old high school sophomore who had recently been hospitalized for depression, self-injury and suicidal ideation. When she was brought to our youth group by one of our “professional evangelism daters” we just weren’t sure what to do in order to walk with her and her family through the next couple of years. This started us on a journey of seeking to understand these fringe issues (which really aren’t fringe any longer), to be better equipped to love these kids that God was sending us. We believed we were called to be good stewards of the kids He sent us and that meant pulling our head out of the sand, rolling up our sleeves and getting our hands dirty.
Sin is such a complex issue, everything from understanding what it is to what it isn’t, to what are the systemic causes of it, to how we deal with the fallout of sin, to how we put programs in place to create an environment that not only discourages sin but fosters the belief that everyone, EVERYONE, is a child of God and treated accordingly.

Dr. Brene` Brown, in her book I Thought It Was Just Me (but it isn’t): Telling the Truth about Perfectionism, Inadequacy, and Power explains her research on the subject of shame as a study on the power of connection and the dangers of disconnection. When one considers the process to the product that is a sinful individual we must first understand that our primary drive is to be connected. God first existed in community and we are created in Their image, aren’t we? The longing to belong serves many purposes; survival, fulfillment, success, and procreation. Growing up as blank slates our families, environments, and culture shape how we “learn” to connect. We are taught skills and styles of connecting to others. Sometimes these means are healthy and affirming, and God honoring, placing God at the helm and others accordingly. Other times we are not taught healthy ways of connecting. We are taught that violence, aggression, manipulation and other illegitimate means are what are necessary to get what you need and want.

When we are not affirmed as worthy of being connected to others we learn to see ourselves as deficient, broken, not valuable, insignificant, etc., but our need for connection doesn’t leave us, we simply learn other ways to get what we need.

If this is done well, as God first intended, then it significantly increases the likelihood of having generations of people who choose to enter into a relationship with Him, just as He ordained from the beginning of time.
When this doesn’t go as God intended the opposite result is the outcome. Brokenness in God’s creation exists. God’s children all fighting and pining instead of cooperating to satisfy the deepest longings of their heart. Longings placed in them to direct them to God and each other, in that order. We experience sin and its collateral damage when we invert that order, placing me and others before our relationship with God the Father.

This is where sin becomes functional. Sin becomes a means to an end. For a long time we have demonized our sinful youth as just giving in to their hedonic nature. What if there was more going on than just simple pleasure seeking? What is we began to ask the question, “What purpose does sin have?”. Would this change the way we approach our youth and their sinful behaviors? What if we started having conversations about other ways, more God-honoring ways, to meet the deepest longings of their hearts? What if we spoke the language of their heart and longings? What if we told them of a God who can satisfy these longings in real ways, so that it is God’s love that draws them not the fear of Him. What if we created space in our homes and gathering places where youth felt they belonged and mattered? If we could do this, with the help of the Spirit, would they drop their cheap substitute (sin) for the real deal (God)? What do we have to lose?

Building Bridges (art of connecting pt. 1)


One of the Apostle Paul’s most famous speeches took place at Mars Hill, the Areopagus, in Athens.  He noted that they appeared to be a very religious lot of people due to the sheer number of statues they had to their gods.  In a brilliant move he identified the one statue that was for the “unknown” god and he saw his bridge.  Paul then launched into his epic sermon about the “unknown” God and described our Father to the Greeks.  He masterfully used a technique called bridge building to connect with his audience.

Kids today are completely enmeshed in pop culture.  We could, and should be aware of what is shaping our youth today and much of what we see and hear impacts them more than we know.  But I’m not simply talking about knowing what the newest Katy Perry song is blazing up the charts, what I’m talking about is building a bridge with a language of the soul.

In order to connect with young people they first have to know that you’re interested and trustworthy.  They are most likely already suspicious of adults anyway.  Too often we have an agenda for them and they know that.  It’s what drives them underground many times.  What we’re talking about here is a fundamental belief that we have something in common with the young people we love and hope to reach.

If we say things like, “Teens today are just so much more _________ than we were.” or “Kids today are just lazy and apathetic.” we create distance between us and them.  If we fail to see that they have the same longings that drove us then and drive us now there will be no bridge to walk across.  All we will have to work with is a shallow relationship and all the change we’re likely to affect is shallow compliance to an empty belief system.  We have to find common ground and that common ground should be our shared humanity.

In his ground breaking book Hurt: Inside the World of Today’s Teenagers, Chap Clark identifies six intrinsic longings of all students.  Those longings are: to belong, to matter, to be wanted, to be uniquely ourselves, for a safe place, and to be taken seriously.  Who among us can’t relate to those longings?  I work with drug addicted emerging adults.  Daily they express to me their desire to satisfy those very longings and that much of their behavior was an attempt to do just that.

After some small talk I usually ask a student where in their life do they feel they belong.  Where do they and what do they do that makes them feel like they matter?  Who takes you seriously?  Where are the safest places for you to just be yourself?  These are the questions that matter to students even if they don’t have the language to articulate them.

What the Apostle Paul did was provide an opportunity for those in the crowd to have their longings satisfied in a permanent manner by depending on the One true God.  A civilization that worships everything is an empty civilization desperately searching for meaning.  They apparently hadn’t found that in the many false gods they worshipped.

We have the same opportunity to connect the kids in our community to the very God that Paul preached about to the Greeks but first we must take to time to build a bridge by learning about them and their longings.  There is ALWAYS a bridge and it’s up to us to find it.

Curriculum For Discussing Teen Suicide


With teen suicide getting more attention in the news lately it has been revealed that there is a lack of resources to effectively discuss the subject with our students.  It is important to have these discussion but it is equally important to have good discussions.  The following are guideline for having those discussions, in a formal setting, with your students and their parents.

A special concern for the leader to take into account is that you can’t discuss suicide without touching on your own feelings – students’ and your own.  Discussion of suicide will not burden the student and isn’t likely to “plant” the idea in their heads.  The teacher must also recognize that this topic needs to be discussed so that students have accurate information, even if someone in the community is not supportive.  The following teaching strategies are recommended:

  • Provide structure and ground rules for the class.
  • Recognize cultural differences and protect students’ privacy. (unless there is disclosure to harm oneself)
  • Give honestly of yourself in the discussions.
  • Be familiar with referral procedures.
  • Stress that everyone can be depressed at some time.
  • Be alert and sensitive to students who are upset.
  • Don’t try to scare students.
  • Provide some lightness through a positive emphasis and permit some humor.
  • Assist students and be available, but recognize that you are not a therapist.

The first lesson promotes an understanding of the problem of youth suicide.  Students can be asked a number of questions to stimulate their thinking and to clarify the many misperceptions that exist regarding depression and suicide.  Students are also asked to identify community resources to assist suicidal youths.  Students are asked to visit such agencies and to gather information about them.

The second lesson emphasizes the warning signs and stresses that depression is common and often situational in nature.  A group sharing time could be useful that encourages students to think about a time when they were depressed.  The exercise focuses on how they felt and acted at the time, to whom they talked, and what helped them through the depressed period.

The third lesson centers on stress, substance use, and suicidal risk.  The variety of stressors that teenagers face are emphasized.  The relationship between stress and drug/alcohol use is emphasized.  Positive steps to cope with stress are taught.  Consider bringing in a counselor/therapist to facilitate this discussion. 

The goal of the fourth lesson if to help students communicate with and assist a suicidal friend.  It is pointed out that secrets must not be kept about suicidal behavior.  Activities could include role-playing communication skills.  Steps in helping a suicidal friend are identified; who to contact , how to listen, identifying negative emotions, role-playing a number of scenarios where one student responds to a suicidal friend.  In these role-plays, showing caring, providing empathetic responses, giving support, and lending perspective are emphasized.  (this is not an attempt to pawn off this responsibility on our youth, it is simply a reality that a student is more likely to tell another student that they are suicidal that an adult.  This is an attempt to equip students with “what is the first step” information and to hopefully neutralize a situation until an adult can engage)

The final lesson focuses on help available in the community agencies that they contacted as part of the homework for the first lesson.  A master list of community services is made for each student and how to contact help in case of an emergency.  It is suggestion that students receive a wallet-sized card with community resource information on it, including resources available at their school. 

*  Each lesson should provide goals, and objectives, and homework of some sort.

A local youth group would bi-annually facilitate a 6 week series they called “Coping With…” and would bring in local professionals to share with students and their families.  In this series they would address the many stressors/problems that youth face today, such as; anger, bullying, substance use, finances, dating violence, grief/death, suicide, depression, and other dark subject.  The students families were always invited and even had a specific class gear directly towards them.  The parents’ class usually addressed issues such as technology, early screening for depression, systemic abandonment, etc.

If you want more information on developing a “Coping With…” series for your youth ministry please email us at cschaffner@fringeconversations.com