Okay, before you write off this notion about Instagram and other social media... please bear with me. As a Youth Pastor, and father of tween and teenage daughters, this is a massively important subject that you really need to take a minute and look at. Let me start with the facts...
Porn is a hot topic... especially among the parents of teenagers. It is also a hot topic, and an absolute addiction to millions of young students around the world. Don't believe me? Depending on which source you listen to, the porn industry makes between 70 - 100 Billion dollars each year. Yup... I said BILLION. It is an industry that has infiltrated the hearts and minds of homes throughout the world. Porn causes broken relationships, broken homes, and unrealistic expectations of what a healthy (read Biblical) sexual relationship should really look like. Not to mention the absolute objectification of women's bodies. It is a slow, creeping evil that everyone knows is a problem, but few want to talk about... especially in church circles.
Instagram has also become a world-wide phenomena... In 2013, Instagram had just under 100 million active users. In June 2016, Instagram has grown to more than 500 million active users! (statia.com) Instagram is by far the most popular form of social media among teenagers, and is a constant topic of conversation among the teens I work with worldwide. Instagram started off as a great way to simply share pictures of your day, dog, etc. However, it has morphed into a much larger social hot-spot since Facebook bought Instagram in 2012, as is shown by its explosive growth since then.
So, what's the big deal? It's only some photos, right? Well yes... and NO. As a parent, do you have an Instagram account? Have you kept up with its newer features? If not, please take a few minutes to investigate it, even if that means picking up the phone of your child and opening the app! (I know, I can feel the massive eye-rolls coming from them... but you'll be glad you did) First thing, hit the home icon and scroll through the pictures of the people your son/daughter "follows." You might be a bit surprised at some of the people and political movements that they have regular exposure to. We have a standing rule at our house that our girls can only "follow" people (as well as letting others follow them) that they actually know. Anyone else has to get our approval. Sound archaic? Well, once you hit the next step, you probably will not think so.
Next, tap the "explore/search" icon... which is currently a magnifying glass. This used to be an easy way to type in a name and find friends and check out their photos. Now, it has become an advertising board, with thousands of photos designed to get people to look at and follow what has come to be known as the "Stars of Instagram." Continue to scroll through the endless stream of photos and see what you happen to notice. Sure, there's the normal teen selfie pics, vacation photos, and quotes... but there are also a LOT of pictures of nearly nude men and women in various types of poses. Not only photos, but also short videos that are meant to get you to click on the photo and look at it up close. This is where the problem truly begins...
Usually, in the caption of the photo is a way to see "other photos" that are not allowed on Instagram. Supposedly, Instagram does not allow nudity, or sexual acts to be depicted in photos. However, it is pretty obvious that they are not doing a great job of policing the content. How do I know this? I have personally reported a few photos (from people that I actually know) to the powers that be at Instagram, and am usually told by them that the suggestive photos (often of young people) are not "over the line." They are simply not able to keep up with the sheer volume of photos being uploaded every day.
Advertisers (including porn companies) have seen the loophole in things like Instagram and Snapchat (which is a very concerning app, as well) and are paying people to feature their products in their selfies and videos. The more likes and followers that a person gets, the more they can get paid. There are TONS of young men & women who make their entire living off of Instagram. Nothing wrong with making a living, but when that is coupled with very sexualized ads, you have an entry-level drug called "soft-core porn."
What do I mean by "soft-core porn"? Well, let me give you some examples. A young man or woman might not be brave enough to buy porn from a store or pay for downloads from the web. However, they will probably have no problem with looking at "forbidden" images if they think that they will not get caught. Victoria's Secret or JC Penny catalogs ring a bell for some of you? Soft-core porn is just an entry level area that somehow feels "safe" and less "dirty" than the real thing. This illusion quickly fades... Like anything new and exciting, it can become rather mundane, and the search for something new to bring the thrill and danger of doing something wrong can very easily lead people into the seedy and harmful world of full-on pornography.
In my years of ministry, I have seen lives torn apart, and marriages ruined over addictions to elicit images and videos. It is an addiction that is VERY hard to break. The sad thing is that it also saps our spiritual strength and influence with those around us... even if they do not know about one's addictions. Only through the power of God can these battles be won.
What are we to do, as parents? It may take some very bold steps to help guard the hearts, eyes, and minds of our kids. You may not be very popular for whatever decision you make, but our kids are worth it! Please do not turn a blind eye to this subject... check it out for yourself, but just be careful at how far you look. None of us are immune to sin... certainly something that I must admit to myself every single day!