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Opinion: There Is Something Seriously Wrong With Some Moms Today

How is setting up an Instagram account to sell suggestive photos of your daughter not child abuse and exploitation?

spinner image hand holding smartphone with Instagram photo on it, surrounded by reaction emojis including smiley faces, hearts, roses and fire
Photo Collage: MOA Staff; [Source: Getty Images (2)]

I had a major “Whoa, Nelly” moment when I read the Feb. 22, 2024 front-page New York Times article revealing how some moms are creating and managing Instagram accounts for their underage daughters, selling access to photos of their young girls wearing skimpy outfits and posing suggestively.

Why would any mother in her right mind do such a thing, you might ask, or have they simply all gone off the rails? The moms’ purported goal (besides collecting the money that pedophiles and creeps pay to see these photos that were too graphic/explicit for the Times to even publish) is to help their children become popular social media stars — influencers. Influencers, for the uninitiated, are people on the Internet who make money by getting others to buy whatever it is they are promoting. And in this case, that appears to be underage girls — their daughters.

Some of the more successful mom-run accounts reel in six figures a year, the Times reported. Some offer multiple membership levels, which at the top end promise “exclusive content” and AMA (ask me anything) sessions with their underage daughters. Others charge for chat room access with the girl. (Now what could possibly go wrong there?) And lest you still have any doubt what this is all about, some moms have sold their daughters’ worn leotards to Internet strangers.

Child abuse, exploitation, child pornography, pedophilia and emotional harm to innocent children: There is so much wrong going down here that it’s hard to know exactly where to begin — and even harder to resist screaming “just throw them all in jail and lose the key already.”

Some aspects of the practice are reminiscent of child beauty pageants popular in the 1960s, in which young girls wore faces full of heavy makeup and looked freakishly like grown women even though they were barely tall enough to reach the bathroom faucet without a step stool. I hoped that all that went away as we became more enlightened about what it was doing to our kids. You know, stuff like causing depression, low self-esteem and eating disorders, according to the American Psychological Association.

But faster than you can say “JonBenét Ramsey is still dead,” the pageant culture grew and found its way to reality TV shows like Toddlers & Tiaras and Here Comes Honey Boo Boo. To date, France remains the only Western country to ban beauty pageants for children under 16. 

On some level, what the Times investigation really discovered is that access to the Internet, once again, has unleashed some people’s most vile instincts and, under a cloak of anonymity, has allowed them to pollute the lives of others. The men — some with a history of sex crimes convictions — who follow these Instagram accounts have flattered, badgered and blackmailed the girls and their parents seeking racier photos. Some even openly fantasize on other platforms about sexually abusing the girls they follow on Instagram. One guy actually thanked Instagram for making the images so readily available to him.

How many shades of wrong are we up to?

The Times recognized that this story has many villains — obviously including the pedophiles who haunt accounts like these. Supply and demand will always matter. But there are others: the Wild West nature of social media platforms, the lack of effective self-policing of these sites, and the narrow definition of our federal laws about what actually constitutes child pornography. In 1964, Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart described his test for obscenity, saying, “I know it when I see it.” But apparently, we don’t anymore.

For me, the bulk of the blame lands squarely on the moms who set up these accounts. At its core, a mother’s job is to love, nurture, protect and teach her babies; to prepare them for a future where they matter and their contributions matter. Where are values in all of this? How on Earth is any of it good for the kids?

No, this is not just another extracurricular activity like playing soccer. Nor is it a confidence-builder, or a place where new friendships are formed and nourished. It won’t make their daughters more popular, smarter, or feel more valued. It is a gateway that equates their worth with their willingness to be objectified, sexualized and exploited. I can’t think of a worse lesson to teach young girls.

One of the most triggering points for me were the moms’ justifications for doing this. Like the mom in Australia who said she really didn’t want her child to be exploited on the Internet, but then added, “But she’s been doing this so long now. Her numbers are so big. What do we do? Just stop it and walk away?”

Or the New Jersey mom who boasted that her account has led to modeling work and so she now thinks her daughter “can help pay for college if she does it right.” Or the mother in Alabama who suggested she was merely keeping up with the times. “Social media is the way of our future, and I feel like they’ll be behind if they don’t know what’s going on,” the mother said.

And while in most cases, it’s the moms who open and manage these accounts, the dads — even the ones who never lay a finger on the keyboard — bear responsibility as well. Are they all guilty of a total lack of involvement in their daughters’ lives? Do they even know this is going on? If they do, their silence is hardly golden.

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