One of the founders of a group that aims to educate young people about the dangers of pornography visited Bear River High School last week to spread his organization’s message to a group of young teens and parents.
Clay Olsen, who co-founded Fight the New Drug in 2009, came to town last Friday armed with some alarming statistics about how pornography has grown and changed in the digital age, and how it is reaching kids at younger and younger ages as the multi-billion dollar industry evolves.
Olsen said that in 2008, about 15 percent of boys aged 12 and under had viewed some sort of pornographic material for the first time. In 2016, that number had risen to almost 50 percent, and in 2019, to nearly two-thirds of boys that age.
“It’s not like it’s always been this way,” Olsen told the young people in attendance at his presentation. “You guys are dealing with this issue to an intensity and scale that no generation in the world has ever seen.”
He said Fight the New Drug, perhaps known best for its tagline “Porn Kills Love,” put on the first school assembly in the organization’s history at BRHS nine years ago, when the group was just getting started.
“It’s great to be back,” he said.
Since then, he said it has found its way into more than 150 countries and has more than 5 million followers around the world.
“What we wanted to create 10 years ago was a movement,” Olsen said, “not just in the form of an educational organization, but a movement where young people can take ownership and say ‘We can do this. Let’s fight for real love and avoid the hollow counterfeit that is pornography.’”
He said the proliferation of pornography in the digital age has become so insidious that kids are being exposed to it at age nine, or even younger.
“The younger they are exposed to this, the more impressionable they are,” he said. “What does that teach them about love and intimacy and relationships that is completely shaping them in the opposite direction from what is healthy?”
Fight the New Drug’s most recent big projects include a new phone app called Fortify that young people can use, and a three-part documentary called “Brain, Heart, World” that focuses on three major ways in which pornography is having a negative impact. The first part focuses on how it is impacting individuals on a neurological basis, the second on how it’s affecting peoples’ relationships and connections with each other, and the third on how it’s affecting society and the world at large.
Olsen showed the “brain” part of the film to last Friday’s crowd. It focuses on the stories of three young people who talked about how they first came into contact with pornography, how they got hooked on it, and how they ultimately were able to distance themselves from it. It also features several experts who describe how pornography can be every bit as addictive as a drug.
“Individuals that consume this content need more, more often and more extreme content to just to maintain their level of normality,” he said, “so again it kind of pushes the boundaries, so over time we go into areas we didn’t think we would in the past. It’s not a good trajectory, obviously, and we can do something about it.”
The latter part of Olsen’s presentation was directed at parents — specifically, how to approach their kids about the subject and help them through the temptations and pressures that surround them.
He said parents typically have three main questions: “When should I talk about it, how do I bring it up, and what should I say?”
To answer the first question, he used a phrase that he repeated several times throughout the presentation: “Sooner than you think.
“If they are accessing the internet on their own, you already ought to have had these conversations,” he said.
It’s critical to make it an ongoing conversation instead of just a one-time event, he added.
To the second question, he said, “first of all, stay calm and breathe.
“The more we can look at this in a non-emotionally reactive way, the better the result is going to be,” he said. “Make it natural. If you’re sitting in a restaurant and see something inappropriate and you know your child saw it, don’t pretend it’s not there. Use it to open a conversation about what is and what is not healthy.”
As for the third question, he said it’s important to ask questions and listen.
“You don’t actually say a whole lot,” he said. “Don’t come out lecturing. Find out what they know, what they think they know, what misconceptions they have, and understand where they’re at, so that you, based on your education and awareness, can come back and formulate a response based on that understanding.”
As part of that, he talked about what not to do.
“Don’t assume your child is an addict,” he said. “We need to stop talking about the word addiction like an on-off switch, and look at it more like a dimmer switch — a spectrum of struggle.”
He also said it’s important to avoid shaming them.
“That is toxic to their capacity to not only address the challenge, but to overcome that challenge,” he said. “We need to respond with love and support and understanding and encouragement to move in a healthy direction.”
It’s also important for parents not to blame themselves if a child gets caught up in pornography.
“We have to recognize that they are being pushed from behind with enormous force in our current culture,” he said. “It is not your fault.”
Olsen said that while the world of pornography presents an ever-increasing challenge for today’s youth, there has been substantial progress, and Utah has been at the forefront as the first state to officially declare it a public health risk.
“Now 16 states have passed the same declaration,” he said. “It’s just like what we’ve done with tobacco. Do people still smoke? Of course they do, and they have a right to, but now they’re aware of the potential risks and consequences. We haven’t really done that with this topic, but it’s happening slowly.”
That, he said, is cause for optimism.
“There is hope in all of this. It’s not all doom and gloom.”
A new statewide initiative focused on internet safety, especially as it applies to children, officially launched this week.
Be Awesome Online is designed to deepen the understanding and knowledge of parents, families and teachers about digital safety tools and resources and to mobilize schools and communities to engage families around best practices and shared learning.
The movement is sponsored by My Discovery Destination!, a local nonprofit group focused on strengthening families and building character. My Discovery Destination! is working with local schools, businesses, and community organizations to address digital literacy, using resources from both national and state organizations in an online format for families to access at their convenience.
Designed to empower parents with resources and tools to help their children be safe and responsible online, Be Awesome Online consists of daily challenges to be issued in bite-size, mini-lessons about how to safely navigate the challenges and pitfalls of the internet.
The initiative officially kicked off on Tuesday, Feb. 11, which has been designated Safer Internet Day. A celebration with Gov. Gary Herbert in support of the initiative is slated for 10 a.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 18 at the Utah State Capitol.
“By inviting communities statewide to join together to address this important topic, our goal is to focus all eyes on educating kids and families, increase the awareness and impact of the efforts of so many organizations working tirelessly to serve Utah families, and focus our entire state on learning to Be Awesome Online,” said Sharilee Griffiths, Executive Director of My Discovery Destination!
Locally, the Box Elder School District, PTA, city governments and local businesses are coming together to address this issue.
“Internet safety is so important to our families right now and it relates to suicide prevention, human trafficking, pornography, etc.,” said Tori Jones, My Discovery Destination! community coordinator in Box Elder County. “I’m very glad to see our leadership ready to tackle this issue and stand up to help our families learn to be safe online.“
In conjunction with the online resources, family workshops will be held in communities across the state in April. The first event will be held at 5:30 p.m. April 13 at Adele C. Young Intermediate School in Brigham City, followed by one at 3:30 p.m. April 18 at Garland Elementary. The events will feature activities for all ages, internet safety breakout sessions in a variety of categories, and a free dinner for those who attend.
“Parenting in the digital age is complex,” Griffiths said. “This Be Awesome Online initiative will give parents tools to get people thinking and talking about internet safety in their homes, and then learning and acting on a schedule that works for their family.”
Be Awesome Online is also offering internships to students in grades 9-12. Opportunities are available in a range of areas, including social media, marketing, training, event planning, graphic design, journalism and more. Internships will last from February through May.
Anyone who is interested can text ‘myDD’ to 555888, which connects people with a smartphone app that provides all the information needed to get involved.
To apply for an internship with the program, visit http://MyDiscoveryDestination.com/kts
The Be Awesome Online approach is organized into six categories:
• Be Secure Online: Privacy and security are every bit as important online as offline. Families need to safeguard valuable information to avoid potential dangers such as identity theft, human trafficking, and damaging devices, reputations, and relationships. Parents can use parental controls to help kids while they learn how to navigate the online world they live in.
• Be Aware Online: Kids need to know that not everything they see online is real. Parents and kids alike need to learn how to spot fake emails, accounts, news, and even pictures. Being aware that people and situations online aren’t always what they seem to be is crucial to online safety.
• Be Smart Online: Technology is such a fun way to stay connected to family and friends across the country or across the street. However, it can also open our lives and private matters to the world if we aren’t careful. It’s important for kids and adults alike to know what to share, where to share it, and when to share it to avoid situations that can have lasting consequences.
• Do Good Online: Technology has changed our world. Every industry has been forever changed in the past two decades. The same goes for our personal lives and how we interact with people. Technology can amplify the impact of our behavior, whether it’s positive or negative. Kids need to know that their actions online have an impact on others, for better or worse.
• Be Brave Online: When kids encounter questionable content and situations that make them uncomfortable, they need to know that they can talk to a trusted adult. Parents can encourage this by fostering open, non-judgmental communication at home. They can also help kids identify other trusted adults that they can go to when needed.
• Be Safe Online: The internet puts the world at our fingertips. It also brings the world into our homes, which means parents must always be on guard to protect our kids from dangers like pornography and human trafficking.
One local family will receive a new home in Tremonton through a nonprofit organization that has helped more than 29 million people worldwide in finding safe, comfortable and affordable housing.
Habitat for Humanity is partnering with Tremonton City to build a new home at 316 W. 400 North. Specifically, the group’s local affiliate, Habitat for Humanity of Northern Utah, is taking on the project.
Susie Witt, executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Northern Utah’s Brigham City office, said the Tremonton home will be modeled after a home the organization built in Brigham City last year.
Witt said her office has about 20 applications on hand at any given time, and builds one or two houses every year.
“It’s a big need in Box Elder County, and not just Brigham City,” Witt said. “We cover the whole area.”
It’s not a free ride for the family that will receive the home. Families are selected through a rigorous application process, and while they receive an interest-free loan and pay no more than 30 percent of their monthly income, they still have to pay for the mortgage and demonstrate the ability to do so before being chosen.
Habitat for Humanity representatives visit in person with applicants, and make their selections based on who has the most need.
“It’s a hard process,” she said. “You want to give it to all of them, and you can’t.”
The family that was chosen to receive the home has a son with cerebral palsy, so the house will be built to accommodate his specific needs. Witt said that while her organization doesn’t build extravagant homes, those special needs will make the project more expensive than a typical one.
“We have to do some different things for this house that will cost more than normal, so we’re trying to find as much help as we can get,” she said.
The organization relies on a combination of volunteer labor, cash donations, grants and donated materials, and is looking to partner with anyone who is able and willing to provide those resources, she said.
Tremonton City is one of the partners in the project and has agreed to chip in $6,200 through its Redevelopment Agency to cover impact fees for the project. The city will also waive $1,500 in building and connection fees.
Witt said the mortgage payments on Habitat for Humanity homes go straight back into building the next home, “so every dollar keeps going around in a circle.
“We don’t have any debt per se,” she said. “We just stop the process if we run out of money.”
However, she said that hasn’t happened in the six years since she joined the organization.
“We’ve had zero foreclosures since I started,” she said.
Habitat for Humanity is a Christian housing ministry founded in 1976 by Millard and Linda Fuller. The Northern Utah affiliate has been around since 1981, and Witt said it was the 14th independent group to become affiliated with the international organization.
She said the local program has been very cost effective, as last year’s home in Brigham City was built for $145,000 and recently appraised at $266,000.
“It really worked out well last time, so we’re hoping to do the same thing for this family,” she said.
Law enforcement authorities in the Tremonton area were temporarily on high alert last week after a teen made an online post suggesting that plans for a school shooting could be in the works, but a police investigation determined there was no real threat.
Early last week, the Tremonton Police Department discovered that a local teen had posted a picture of himself on the popular social media website Snapchat holding some sort of toy gun. A caption underneath the picture read something along the lines of “Don’t go to school tomorrow,” Police Chief Kurt Fertig said.
Fertig said the department took the post seriously, and tracked down and interviewed the teen.
“He said it was a joke, and we found nothing that made us believe it wasn’t,” he said. “Obviously it was not a well thought-out post, and not funny.”
In the picture, the teen appeared to be playing laser tag or a similar game using a toy gun. The threat was not directed at any particular school, person or group of people.
Police are not pursuing any criminal action against the teen, who is of high-school age but is not a student at Bear River High School. However, police increased their presence at local schools last week as a precaution, Fertig said.
“Anytime we have something like that, we up our presence at schools the next day so people feel more comfortable,” he said. “We assess how serious (the threat) is, and determine the right steps to take.”
The teen’s identity was not released because he is a minor.
The merger of the Tremonton and Garland police departments last year made a resource officer available at schools throughout the area instead of just Bear River High, and Fertig said last week’s incident illustrates the benefit of having that additional resource available.
The post has since been removed. Snapchat servers are designed to automatically delete all “Snaps” — pictures or short videos — after they’ve been viewed by all recipients, or after 30 days if they remain unopened.
First released in 2011, Snapchat now has more than 200 million daily, active users worldwide. The platform is especially popular with young people aged 16 and under.