WARNING:This is not a pleasant topic to read or write about. However, parents, grandparents, youth leaders, or anyone who cares about our children and teens need to become aware of these trends. Although these troubles are not new (self-mutilation and suicide have been around for a long time), with technology and social media at our children’s and young adults’ fingertips, there are new twists and stronger encouragements to these dangerous and old ways. We urge you to read this article, pray, continue to educate yourself, and have intentional and difficult conversations with the children and young adults in your life.
With so many strains of pornography on the market designed to scratch every deviant itch; it should be no surprise that we now have the label “suicide porn” to contend with. This title may not be what one would first expect upon hearing it; nonetheless, it preys upon those who are already weak, tortured, and at risk. Suicide Porn is content (pictures and/or words) that glamorizes self-harm and encourages its viewers to act on their sense of self-hatred or self-hurt. In social media platforms (like Instagram) viewers are often drawn in and encouraged to self-mutilate, are instructed by others as to how they can mutilate more effectively—more blood, better scars, etc. - and be assured, it can also lead to intentional or accidental suicide.
We’ve previously written a few articlesabout the television show 13 Reasons Why, encouraging our readers to sign American Family Association’s petition asking Netflix to pull this example of suicide porn from the air.
Some might consider 13 Reasons Why to be a tamer example of suicide porn compared to the readily available examples found on Instagram and other social media and video platforms; yet it is a problem nonetheless.
One deadly example has recently gained international media attention, after Molly, a 14 year-old girl from the United Kingdom, committed suicide in 2017 after “viewing disturbing content about suicide on Instagram and Pinterest.”
If you choose to go to the link given below, taking you to the Protect Young Eyes article—be warned—there are examples of the graphic images that can be found on Instagram.
Protect Young Eyes, in quoting from The Sunday Times (a UK periodical), shows the depths of despair some teens/adults go through and the great pain and confusion experienced by those who are left to deal with the aftermath of the suicide of a loved one. The following quotes come from the Protect Young Eyes article:
“Molly’s father said that ‘the more I looked, the more there was that chill horror that I was getting a glimpse into something that was unknown to me and had such profound effects on my lovely daughter. We went to one [account] Molly was following and what we found was just horrendous. They seemed to be completely encouraging of self-harm, linking depression to self-harm and to suicide, making it seem inevitable, normal, graphically showing things like cutting, biting, burning, bruising, taking pills. It was there, hiding in plain sight. We only looked at two sites because they were so harrowing and that’s what began it.’”
In another case, also presented by Protect Young Eyes, we read;
“A teen named Libby recently shared with the BBC that at her peak, at age 12, she was sharing pictures of her fresh cuts with 8,000 followers, who offered advice for how to make certain cuts that would produce the most blood.
“Libby’s father was stunned by what he read in the comments.
‘You shouldn’t have done it this way, you should have done it like that. Don’t do it here, do it there because there’s more blood.’
‘That is not someone trying to help you – that is someone getting off on it,’ according to her father.
“Libby says she was easily drawn into a tribe where she found comfort among others who also struggled with anxiety, depression, suicide, and self-harm. But was this affinity positive or negative? In Libby’s words, ‘You start becoming a part of it – you get almost stuck to it,’ she says. ‘I was very hooked on it. It was almost like you had to keep up with it otherwise people would turn away and stop caring.’
“Further on, Libby stated that her involvement with these individuals was an enabler because she would see them do horrible things and survive. In her mind, this told her, ‘I’m not that bad.’”
With suicide porn, other pornography, and bullying dangers so readily available on the internet and social media sites, what’s a parent or concerned adult to do?
One piece of advice from Protect Young Eyes is to get BARK.“For detecting inappropriate content (like suicide porn) – Instagram doesn’t provide any parental controls. The only solution we recommend for monitoring Instagram and other social platforms is BARK. On Android, BARK can even alert parents to inappropriate searches in Explore (not on iOS yet). It’s a start and honestly, the best we can do for now, until Instagram gives us some help.”
Such tools are a blessing to be sure; but, nothing can replace a caring adult’s words of wisdom, show of concern, and reminding our children/teens/young adults that they are precious to their Creator and that they’ve been made in the image of God. This must be done early and often. Sometimes it takes a pound of prevention to save an ounce of flesh. Such early childhood training is no guarantee but a good grounding in truth will often help in the overcoming of temptations.
Have intentional and difficult conversations with them. The younger you start the less awkward and intrusive it will feel for them and you. It’s never too early to let them know that they are loved, they’ve been created by the Lord for a purpose, and that Jesus died for them so that they could live holy lives and spend eternity with Him. Encourage them to cry out to God, as David did, instead of looking inward for a solution to their pain.
When encountering one who self-mutilates, remind them that self-mutilation only offers a temporary relief and that suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary and temporal problem. Christ offers help and hope for both now and for eternity.
Be involved in their friendships—online and off—setting boundaries, giving words of warning and of praise, and grounding all these things in Scripture.
As always, pray with them and for them that they would be kept from the evil one and that they would grow in holiness.
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