This post is titled “Parents vs Instagram” but really I’m not against Instagram or social media in general. I’m actually a big fan! (Although I’m not a fan of snapchat and some others…) I’m not against them (and I don’t think all parents should be either) because they can be used for good, and can be fun and I enjoy sharing pictures of my food and kids. What I’m against is the enemy who uses it as a tool for his divisive works to get into the minds and hearts of our young adults.
We love Instagram…it’s a fun app for sharing photos and today, it’s the best way we get information out to our youth group. But while you might be clicking “like” on those pictures of lattes and videos of cats, your teen might be clicking “like” on photos of cuts, underage alcohol use or just vulgar posts. It’s a popular place for anonymous accounts to glamorize issues such as self-harm, eating disorders (#ana), suicidal desires, etc.
Speaking of anonymity, it also allows for an increased ease of bullying. There is no personal repercussion to an anonymous user telling someone over instagram, “You are ugly. You should just go kill yourself.” They are brutal.
As I browse the accounts people are following, I am shocked, saddened and heartbroken at what teenagers (particularly girls) will post, and even they what they will “like” and follow. Some of it may just be a cry for attention, a call for help, trying to fit in with a certain crowd, or all of the above, but it is concerning at the least.
Instagram is obviously aware of the issue on its platform because they have resources on their support pages for eating disorders. Accounts and posts can be reported for “self-harm (like cutting, suicidal content or eating disorders)” as this violates their Community Guidelines. Of course, this does not stop teens and they’ll even put “Don’t Report” in their bios so that they can have this outlet.
Ultimately parents, it’s up to you. While you can’t micro-manage everything they are doing on their devices, please create an understanding in your relationship that you have the right to monitor their phones and activity whenever you desire. You have the right AND the responsibility since they are living under your roof, using phones/devices/internet that you are paying for, and because you are the parent.
A word from my husband on how to parent with grace in this situation:
Create an atmosphere of grace so that your teens willingly come to you with questions or issues involving self-harm, eating disorders, etc. It’s not about monitoring devices or policing your teen to make sure they are behaving. That sort of approach has a tendency to breed hostility and create a “Me vs Them” mentality. The best approach is to cultivate a safe environment where your teen feels comfortable discussing their mistakes with you. Give grace like Jesus gave to you. Show them you are on their side, just like God is for us and not against us. Lift them up rather than tear them down. Don’t freak out and scream and curse at them. If they know you are for them, they are more likely to come to you for help.
Help your teen realize that…
…if they need this outlet, that you as parents, as well as mentors, pastors, other supportive role models, are there for them and can be their outlet.
… it is not ok to post in cyberspace where others in the same situation will only reinforce these destructive behaviors without providing the help and support that they need.
…when the goal is just to get likes and comments, the users behind these destructive accounts do not really care about who your teen is (a real person) or care about how the posts might actually affect your teen.
…what they post and even like is a representation of themselves, organizations they are members or leaders of and most importantly for Christians teens, it is a representation of Jesus.
Parents, please watch what accounts your teens are following and what images they are liking. Get usernames and passwords. If you are on the social network, follow them. Keep devices in your possession (or like our house, a “charging zone”) at night. Occasionally monitor, check history, read texts. Have access. It’s your right. It’s your job.
Here is some recommended reading on the topic:
A Parent’s Guide to Teenage Tech (This is VERY GOOD guide covering several popular apps and information!)