TIME Social Media

What Porn and Social Media Have In Common

Porn has changed our view of sex. Now the online world is skewing our expectations for relationships

When I was a kid, I had to work really hard to find porn, but today kids have to work really hard to avoid porn.

It’s not just on porn sites. There are more than 20 million porn sites, but now there’s more porn on Tumblr than there is on some of these porn sites. We live in a world where the number one app right now for teenagers is Snapchat – an app that allows you to take a photo or video of yourself and send it to your friends and in 10 seconds, it disappears.

Snapchat knows that the majority of their audience is under 16, and some are using it to send inappropriate pictures of themselves. Facebook just offered to buy Snapchat for $3 billion, just because they want that younger demographic. They know what Snapchat’s for. We live in a society that rewards companies like that, even though we know that they sometimes encourage bad behavior. The online world has skewed our expectations and our view of the world.

People watching porn have come to make that their expectation. They think, “That’s what sex is. That’s what sex should look like.” Similarly, we place more value on how many likes that is going to get or how many Facebook friends I have than our face-to-face interactions.

My 10-year-old son has a Twitter account, and he was 300 friends on Twitter. He only has five friends in real life. I find it odd sometimes that he’s more worried about what his followers think than his real friends. I tell him, “But that’s not real.”

We live in a world that is so connected. We can FaceTime with someone in a different country. Some say we are the most connected generation of all time. But I think we are the most disconnected. Because that image you just got from that girl on Snapchat that disappears doesn’t have a connection. While I don’t think these are all bad things – the Internet, social media – it’s created this desire in us for something that is a fantasy. It’s not reality.

As a parent, I’m thinking, “How do we deal with this?” My kids are asking me every day about something, and I don’t even know what it is, much less how to handle it. How do I handle a house that by 2016 will 16 devices connected to the Internet? How do we just be present with one another? How do we handle this with our kids?

Staying informed and involved in the social media world will become more and more important in the next few years. Eighty percent of parents say they have no idea how to monitor their kids’ social media activities, according to a study released by McAfee. If you don’t know what’s going on in their world, how can you help them make good decisions?

If we as parents aren’t telling our kids how to handle social media, someone else will – and those people don’t always have our kids’ best interests at heart. I’ll be honest, I feel pretty lost in the social media world sometimes, but I know it’s important, and I know other parents feel the same way. That’s why I worked with others who are experts in the field to create iParent.TV, a subscription-based service that keeps parents ahead of the tech curve through reviews, articles, and videos.

But even more vital than staying informed is teaching our kids to unplug and experience the “real world.”

I think something special might happen if we put the devices down, sit around the table and have conversations face-to-face – if we build connections that way. That’s a connection you’re not going to be able to get online.

Craig Gross is the founder iParent.TV and of the website XXXchurch.com, two efforts designed to help those addicted to pornography and to protect children from exposure to pornographic material.

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