Giving kids rattlesnakes—the dangers of ‘smart’ phones (part I)

Letting our children have cell phones is like giving them venomous snakes and hoping they won’t get bit. Rationalizing or believing our children won’t wander into dangerous paths via technology is ignorant. 

Dr. Jill Manning, the author of What’s the Big Deal About Pornography, wrote “Parents who grew up in the pre-Internet era often have a hard time comprehending the full scope of dangers and the risks their children are exposed to in the virtual world” (Manning, 2008, p. 146). 

From cyberbullying to sexting and from random chatting with strangers and sexual predators to scenes of extraordinary violence, children today face dangers in a more prolific and rampant manner than any other time in history…and that’s all available at the tips of their fingers. Feeding kids unnatural amounts of dopamine acquired from social media “likes,” video gaming points, and porn images does not allow for a normal emotional adjustment like in years past.

Food and sports give a burst of the feel-good neurotransmitter dopamine and so does sex, but now kids are exposed to sex and salacious sexual images because of the billion-dollar online porn industry, which is, as President Russell M. Nelson called porn both “pervasive and pernicious” (Nelson, 2005). Could this transformation of mind-numbing chemicals, as well outlined well by therapist Maurice Harker in his book Like Dragons Did They Fight, cause some of these problems (Harker, 2012)? Undoubtedly.

Porn Changes Our Brains

Could these struggles between dopamine and sexual self-mastery, as well going against an individual’s value and cultural system, be a causation for elevated depression or anxiety or the high rate of suicide among youth (CDC, 2020)? I submit that absolutely plays a part. Regardless, images and messages of violence and sex do have an impact on developing minds.

Sadly, images and videos of both sexually explicit behaviors and extreme violence are virtually ubiquitous on the world wide web, via texting, or through apps, as well as social media. So why do we give our kids unfettered access? 

Like addiction to illicit drugs and alcohol, regularly accessing pornography can literally change our brain structures. Pornography can have the same changes on the brain as drugs and alcohol (Withnall, 2013). While parents and societies tend to restrict access to tobacco, alcohol, and harmful drugs to children, as a society we have not done enough to keep kids from the harmful effects of pornographic images.

When kids learn about what sex is from porn, it ruins the wonderful processes of intimacy and sex by giving unrealistic expectations and sometimes awful and degrading behaviors. Porn is not reality. Porn ruins love. In fact, repeated studies show that porn lowers relationship satisfaction and quality (FightTheNewDrug, 2021).

The Dangers of Violence

Former US Surgeon General C. Everett Koop said that violence and pornography is a felony against the human spirit (Reisman, 1991). One study revealed that repeated viewing of X-rated films (even if non-violent) makes one’s own partner seem less attractive, makes women’s friendliness seem more sexual, and makes sexual aggression seem less serious (Harris, 1994).

Read that again! That is a serious accusation, and I wholeheartedly believe it. Additionally, there are numerous studies linking pornography to sexual aggression and deviance (Myers, 1998).

In my book The Work of Death, I wrote that violence in the media has been linked to violence in society by at least all of the following professional health organizations:  the American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association, the National Institute of Mental Health, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the U.S. Surgeon General (Denning, 2014).

Moreover, I pointed out that the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Psychological Association and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry didn’t mince words when they reported: Media violence harms children. Watching it makes children less sensitive to real violence. In some children, it can cause violence (Denning, 2014). Whether it’s television or online videos, access to violence is both abundant and extremely dangerous.

Comparison and Healthy Human Interaction

Not only is porn, violence, and cyberbullying causing a problem with our children, but so is mimicking and comparison. Comparison to others and damage to self-esteem from social media not only affects those who engage in these outlets, even if implicit or subconscious, but screen time takes away from genuine human interaction.

A façade of social support by way of so-called online “friends” can never replace actual human-to-human face-to-face contact and interaction. Elder David A. Bednar pointed out that some young people “neglect eternal relationships for digital distractions, diversions, and detours that have no lasting value” (Bednar, 2009). It’s not just that unhealthy screen time takes away from health social contact, but it gives a false understanding of the reality of life—”of things as they really are” (Jacob 4:13). 

In sum, acknowledging there are dangers lurking through technology use but not understanding the threat is like suggesting phones or tablets or computers in their rooms are merely baby rattlesnakes. Baby rattlers are still poisonous and deadly. As parents we need to truly understand the risks and dangers. In future articles, I will outline some tech options and education that can help parents.


Bednar, D. A. (2009, May 3). Things as they really are. CES fireside address at BYU-Idaho. (2020). Underlying cause of death, 1999-2020 results. Suicide among teens ages 15-19 is the third leading cause of death.

Denning, J. J. (2014). The work of death. Kindle Direct Publishing. (2021, May 14). How porn can negatively impact love and intimacy

Harker, M. W. (2012). Like dragons did they fight: A look into the addiction fighting principles of the sons of Helaman program. Kindle Direct Publishing.

Manning, J. C. (2008). What’s the big deal about pornography? A guide for the internet generation. Shadow Mountain. 

Myers, D. G. (1998). Psychology (5th ed.). Worth Publishers.

Nelson, R. M. (2005). Faith and families

Reisman, J. A. (1991). ‘Soft porn’ plays hardball: Its tragic effects on women, children and the family. Huntington House Publishers.

Withnall, A. (2013, Sept. 22). Pornography addiction leads to same brain activity as alcoholism or drug abuse, study shows

Jeffrey Denning

Jeffrey has written award-winning articles for the Washington Times,, and other publications. He is the author of seven books, including Warrior SOS: Military Veterans’ Stories of Faith, Emotional Survival and Living with PTSD. He teaches courses on peer support, suicide prevention, and other mental wellness and resilience to public safety professionals. If you would like Jeff to speak at your event or training please contact him HERE.

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