Did Instagram Contribute To A 14 Year Old Taking Her Own Life?

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.

11 thoughts on “Did Instagram Contribute To A 14 Year Old Taking Her Own Life?

  1. The title of this post is heartbreaking enough – to think this happened to a child so young is beyond sad. I agree with what you said about those teenage years being the toughest, and I think they’ve become a thousand times more challenging these last few years because of social media. It really is up to us to do all we can to protect them – tough love and keeping an eye on what they’re exposed to on social media, and all. #GlobalBlogging

  2. What a brilliant post Nige, yet obviously heartbreaking too. Firstly, if Molly’s parents ever read this, they should know that every parent feels their pain and offers their thoughts and prayers. Secondly, you are right. Parents need to be aware what their child is doing. For some children, the fact that Instagram portrays ‘perfection’ will be water off a ducks back -my children laugh at some of the content -but their will be others who, perhaps, are more sensitive, that will feel insecure and worthless. We know our own children and we know whether they should have accounts in their teens. My worry is for all the parents who have no idea what their children are doing online. They need to be more responsible for what their child is accessing and take note. I think the social media platforms must take some responsibility here too; it’s not fair to put everything back to the parent. Like you say, there needs to be more checks for age or for inappropriate content. Did I read that Facebook, Instagram, Messenger and WhatsApp are joining up? This will be a hugely powerful company. A monopoly. I think the government need to get involved and manage the content better. Yet, they won’t as money rules this world now, sadly. #globalblogging

  3. Well, first of all I think it’s right to remember that a youngster has indeed taken their life. Whatever the reason, that’s absolutely tragic.

    That said, this is another example of online media being treated separately to print and broadcast media. They are regulated, online platforms, specially social platforms, are not. I predict the social platforms will be forced into line. They can target us with incredible accuracy with advertising. That same tech can easily be turned on its head to review content that could be damaging.

    There is also a need for parents to keep on top of this stuff. Parents need to educate themselves and understand how these platforms work so they can keep an eye on how their offspring use it.

  4. It’s absolutely terrifying the strain social media has put on our kids mental health, the pressure to look a certain way, to post certain ‘perfect cool’ selfies, to be seen to be having the time of their lives and thinking everyone else is. And tragically in this case, information and images that may have attributed to a little girl taking her own life. As you say Nigel, it’s unimaginable what her parents and family are going through, the devastation that they are left trying to live through. The worst thing ever to happen to any parent. My 10 year old was reading in her The Week paper that YouTube have banned these extreme danger videos, so it must be time for Instagram and Facebook to closely monitor what is accessible to kids. The whole thing leaves me very worried for my kids and how they’ll cope in this tech driven social media obsessed society. All we can do is protect them and teach them how to navigate it as much as poss.

  5. I agree but it’s hard for parents to keep up with it all. I love Instagram and have only ever seen “nice” pics. I didn’t know the darker side existed.
    When my daughter was young she wanted to join a chat room so I logged on and I pretended to be a 14 year old girl (like her). As we chatted away, I asked her how she knew the person we were talking to was who they said they were. Why would they lie? She asked. Well I am. As far as I know she never went on there again and joined a group where you had to be invited and she knew them in real life. A lesson learned. Luckily fb and insta didn’t exist then.

  6. Such a tragic story. As many people have pointed out, my thoughts and prayers go to her parents.

    And she is not the first. I must admit, this part of the internet really does concern me. I am sure that I would try to watch and inform my child into using the internet safely, but teenagers often hide away and keep secrets from their parents. I know I did. And I was relatively sensible back in the day.

    I would only hope that more regulation does come into play.

  7. There is so much here and you said so much. As far as the internet, it’s a double edged sword. It seems that in order to make these companies tow the line the government will have to get involved. However, getting the government involved can and will back fire on all of us. Here in the U.S our politicians are trying to pass a bill in congress that they say will help keep people safe but what it will actually do is charge us to use any website. Because it comes down to this: The government is going to help those sites make more money and it will make the government more money. It has nothing to do with us. I would personally prefer if the social media platforms took more responsibility and actually did something but I don’t see that happening either. At least not any time soon.
    As far as the young people I feel very strongly that parents need to get more involved and they need to start taking more responsibility as far as setting rules around the internet usage and what not. I have a teen and a tween and while I don’t hover over them and watch their every move I do know what sites they are using and what they are doing. Both boys only use certain sites and neither of them has social media. Thankfully, for me neither of them are interested in it right now, which takes a load off my shoulders. I know the day will come when they will want to but like you also suggest, I keep an open door policy in my home. They know they can come to me and even then, because they are at the age where they don’t want to share everything with mom, I ask questions. I will at least once a week sit down with them and ask them questions. I’m not afraid to butt in when I need to in order to make sure my children are safe.
    I think for a lot of parents, this is a tricky decision because we don’t want to invade their privacy but we also want to keep them safe. How much do we pry? I think that’s the question every parent asks themselves. This was a thought provoking post and I am so sorry this beautiful young girl took her own life. It’s just heartbreaking! #GlobalBlogging

  8. Nigel this is a heartbreaking story and of course it has sadly provoked conversation and debate in many households as a result. There is no right or wrong way to manage our teens’ use of social media, we all approach it our own way but being aware and vigilant as parents and keeping those lines of communication open at all times is essential. Moreover as you say there is huge burden of responsibility among these platforms to work together to ensure our children are safe online. It is tragic that it takes the loss of a young and precious life to bring it back to the top of the agenda again. Let’s hope changes will be made to ensure this is not repeated. A great piece Nigel. Thank you for linking with us. #TweensTeensBeyond

  9. This is a tragic story Nige and my feeling is that we have to talk about this – your post is a great example of how to generate a debate. The abilities and complexities of social media have outstripped any sort of control and we are living in a massive social experiment. We have all come to accept a status quo position without really understanding the implications. But how can we? No generation has faced this before and we have no historical precedents to follow! We’re just making it up as we go along. Tragic stories like this bring us up short and we should all get involved in shaping how things will be in the future. Not just a couple of billionaires in California! Brilliant post Nige and thanks so much for sharing at #TweensTeensBeyond

  10. Such a heartbreaking story, thank you for sharing some important points about social media. I think all the companies could do so much better, but like you said, they are about making money first. I think every parent must be vigilant about checking what their kids are viewing and especially discussing what is staged/fake/unattainable so that impressionable kids don’t think they are not good enough. It’s a major issue that requires approaches from many angles in order to prevent more deaths. #GlobalBlogging

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