Supernormal Stimuli and 3 Steps to Train Your Child

The First Reason Kids Get Sucked in by Porn

Fifteen-year-old Sarah’s brow furrowed as she recounted her story of being stuck on porn at age 8.

As a homeschooled child, Sarah (not her real name) had many advantages in avoiding inappropriate content online. She didn’t ride a school bus packed with kids watching cell phones, and she missed the naughty jokes on the playground. But she did overhear some boys saying words she just didn’t know, so she picked up her dad’s phone to search what she had heard.

Each search produced a parade of images and video that shocked and confused her and ignited feelings she didn’t understand. Like every child, she was curious about what people looked like naked, but this was so much more than that. And each image and video led to another, and only the sound of her parents’ footsteps could break the trance.

In secrecy, day after day, week after week, month after month, she watched porn for two years before her parents discovered her habit and provided help.

At 15, she brought her dad to our Covenant Eyes booth at a Teach Them Diligently conference to sign up for Accountability and Filtering services, and she grabbed a handful of flyers to take home. “So many of my friends are struggling too,” she said.

Sarah’s story is common. Children today, who know little to nothing about sex, stumble into hardcore and deviant porn. Because they are unprepared for what they see, they fall headlong into its neurologically stimulating trap. Often, they have feelings that this must be wrong, but their brains won’t turn away. Feelings of shame, secrecy, and fear help them keep their secret from parents, yet they are less reserved about sharing their discoveries with other children. And thus, pornography is being spread from child to child like the secret handshake of an exclusive club, except the membership is sadly broad and destructive.

Parents shudder at this thought. Surely, their beautiful, sweet, and playful child would never be curious (like you and I were curious at that age). And even if they did see pornography, wouldn’t they just look away? It wouldn’t dig its claws into them, right? If they did see porn, wouldn’t it be better to just ignore it, because talking to them about it might make them more curious, right?

An untrained child has such a difficult time looking away from pornography, but as parents we can prepare and train our kids to turn, run, and tell, so that porn doesn’t have an opportunity to stain their minds and how they view the world.

Holy Smokes, What’s That?

Porn is not sex; it is a hijacking of what God created.

Today’s graphic online pornography commandeers the brain’s neurology with what science calls supernormal stimuli. In basic scientific terms, supernormal stimuli are artificially enhanced. They subvert and hijack our natural appetites and motivational systems and overstimulate our neural pathways.

In common terms, porn can light up a brain, including an unsuspecting and inexperienced child’s brain.

Since the 1950s, a myriad of studies by Niko Tinbergen and others have shown songbirds feeding fake babies who had wider and redder mouths, peacocks choosing exaggerated dummies for mating, and butterflies trying to mate with bright cardboard replicas and ignoring other real butterflies.

We see supernormal stimuli affecting people today as they choose saltier, sweeter, and fattier processed foods. Our senses are artificially stimulated far above what we find in nature.

If those supernormal stimuli change behavior, they pale in comparison to today’s pornography, which activates fireworks shows in the arousal and rewards systems of the brain.

Online, a person can surf through dozens, even hundreds, of images and videos at a time. Seeing so much pornography, which is often shocking, violent, and even bizarre, isn’t normal. And our brains become hijacked.

Supernormal stimulus is just the first step. Cravings and seeking behavior for porn come with repetition.  And often, adults who struggle most with pornography were exposed at early ages.

So, that’s a lot of bad news.

The good news is you can train your child to know what pornography is and how they can defend themselves.

Let me leave you with three actionable steps you can take now.

  • First, use a porn blocker to prevent accidents and get a report of your child’s online activity and turn curiosity and interests in to conversations. Blocking prevents accidental exposure, while the report shows curiosity, intentions, and even tricks used to try to get around a blocker. Use the code TTD and get 30 days free at covenanteyes.com.
  • Depending on the age of your child, read with them either Good Pictures, Bad Pictures or Good Pictures, Bad Pictures Jr. These books provide age-appropriate information, and teach your child to recognize inappropriate content, to look away, and to tell a trusted adult. Simply put, they learn to turn, run, and tell.
  • Download a free e-book called Equipped: Raising Godly Digital Natives to help you start teaching and instructing your child today. Get it free at covenanteyes.com/ebooks.


Sam Black is a vice president at Covenant Eyes Internet Accountability, a speaker, and the author of The Porn Circuit: Understand Your Brain and Break Porn Habits in 90 Days.  He joined the Covenant Eyes team in 2007 after 18 years as a journalist and has edited 16 books on the impact of pornography, how to protect our families, and how God’s grace brings restoration. He has been married for 23 years and is a father of two.



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