Last week there was numerous newspaper articles and television stories about a father who is convinced that Instagram contributed to his 14 year old daughter taking her own life. This is because of the content that is readily available on Instagram concerning self harm and suicide. She was apparently viewing this very easily on the Instagram platform.
I’m not quite sure why this particular story has resonated with me so much, but it has. It’s mostly likely because as a father of five children, and quite frankly even the thought of one of them taking their own lives, well it’s unimaginable. What sprung to my mind was that if I was that girls father I would be looking for answers. I would need to know why somebody at just the tender age of 14 would feel so alone in the world that the only answer they saw out of it was to take their own life. Sadly the only person that can give those answers is no longer alive to say why.
I know I’d be looking back to see if I missed any signs that indicated that something was not right. The truth of the matter is we can mask the truth of what is going on in our minds, and appear completely happy and normal, whereas the truth is we are in turmoil, and on the edge of darkness. As I am sure was the case with this young person.
Those teenage years of 13-15 years old are most likely the toughest years any of us have had to live. The hormones are running riot, we are growing and changing from being a child to the cusp of adulthood. We have no idea where how we fit into society, what we want to be and do etc. It’s a huge journey of change, and I think we under estimate how difficult it can be for teenagers of any generation to find their place in society, in addition to the pressures put on teenagers to live up to certain expectations.
In the 21st century this has been magnified to such a level that it quite honestly terrifies me and makes me fear for our youth and in particular my own children.
With all the good things that the internet has brought us, and there are many resources that I believe have added quality to our lives, such as online therapy, you have to look at the flip side of the internet, and in particular social media. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and the numerous other social media platforms. I will say straight out that social media, if used properly and with care, can be a fantastic experience. Sadly that is not always the case. Like anything in life it is open to abuse and sadly the bad people in life will use it for all the wrong reasons and this is where our children need protecting. Sadly at this moment in time are being let down by the main players of social media.
The question I ask myself is why?
There are a multitude of reasons why and if I’m honest I don’t see it changing anytime soon.
Social media is in truth self-regulating. Yes it has guidelines that must be adhered to, but it is left to the platform to decide what posts stay online and what ones are taken down. With approximately 400 million users each day on Instagram, how can they possibly be aware of all of the content that should be instantly taken down?
The best and cleverest algorithm is never going to sort out content that is likely to cause issues and needs to be removed immediately. For that reason there needs to be a governing body that is independent. One which can then make decisions about whether something belongs online or not.
Another big issue is of course these platforms are billion dollar companies. Making money is far more important to them. I’m not sure the people that control these platforms actually really care about what is posted as long as the platform is making money to keep shareholders happy and the profits are the right margins at the end of the financial year.
Our young people and teenagers are being bombarded from as young as 13 via platforms like Instagram to look a certain way, wear certain clothes, use certain products, and so on and on. It goes on so often, and what’s worse is that this is endorsed by celebrities that teenagers look up to and treat as role models. Do these so called celebrities really care about how they could be affecting young people’s minds by using their impressionable minds to keep a brand happy? Most likely not.
Do the marketing people really care about how this all affects our teenagers? No is the simple answer. They just need to keep their client happy whatever the cost. One way I think to slow this down is to increase the age in which a person can have a social media account. I don’t think 16 is unreasonable and if a teenager wants to open an account then the checks on their age have to be stricter and please don’t tell me that is not possible, because everything is possible with effort.
As parents we must also be held accountable for what our children get up to online. I know that’s not easy, I accept that, but sometimes you have to give out a bit of tough love which seems to me to be a thing of the past. As parents we give in to easily, I know I have.
If your children won’t let you look at what they are doing online ask yourself why. Are they possibly hiding something and if they are insistent on not letting you look, remind them on who is paying the bill for their smart phone and cancel it. Don’t allow them access to the internet. I’m sure after that they might actually show you what they have been doing. I don’t believe for one minute its an invasion of their privacy, its called protecting them.
Most importantly before it gets to this stage of threats keep the line of communication open. Let them know that they can talk to you about anything, and that you won’t judge them or chastise them. You love them and you will help them.
Finally, and in conclusion, back to my question of did Instagram really help a 14 year old take her life? In my opinion they are part of a much bigger problem that is now a fundamental floor in society today that is making our teenagers feel inadequate, unworthy, unloved and simply not knowing where they belong and how they fit into society.
The image that is being portrayed online is false and unattainable by most of us which ultimately can make our teenagers feel like failures. So is it any wonder that they resort to taking their own live because they feel useless, helpless and vulnerable? Let’s open our minds as parents and realise that we have to talk to our children and find out what is going on in their lives. All of it, the good, the bad and the ugly.
We also as parents have a responsibility to educate our children from a young age that yes the internet has obviously very good benefits that can help to educate and improve our children’s lives, but they must also be very aware that the internet has a dark side which can, if they abuse it, harm them. Us educating them will hopefully protect them from the dark side of the internet and social media.
On a very final note I went to Facebook/Instagram HQ in London just before Christmas last year for an Instagram event that was all about how they are protecting young people while using their social media platform. I came away thinking yes, they are talking the talk which is fine, but it needs actions and that for me is where Instagram is failing miserably. A booklet with advice in is all well and good, but what they really need to do is police their platform to make sure content is in line with their guidelines, and there simply cannot be any excuses.
As I said at the beginning of the post I have absolutely no idea how as a father I would deal with with one of my children taking their own life. It must be unbearable for the father of Molly Russell. A living hell and something you will never get over. I don’t dare to begin to think or know what he is going through. Heartbreaking beyond belief.
As I have said their are numerous articles, but here is a link to one article of the heartbreaking story of Molly Russell here
Yesterday this very sad story has now sparked a debate over the fact that social media could be harming our young people. Social media platforms have been told in no uncertain terms to start acting and putting their platforms in order and start removing images that are deemed unsuitable for young people or face the consequences by the government and if they don’t the government will introduce legislation to deal with this problem. I only hope this is not just words and something will be done. We must protect our children.
I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.