Instagram is booming. It's simple to use and fun to keep up with. At face value, it seems incredibly harmless, and maybe even a safe site for kids. It is easy, private, and full of pictures! But, after a few years as an Instagrammer, I have decided that those feelings are fairly naive. Only you know what your children are mature enough to handle, but before you say yes (or even if you already have), here are a few things you need to think about before letting them set up their own Instagram account:
- Direct Messaging: In the top right corner of the home screen, there is a little mailbox that holds all of your Instagram direct messages. This is where kids can send private pictures and messages to each other instead of posting them for the world to see. Why is this important? This is a hot spot for nude picture exchanges and requests. This is also a place where teens can have some pretty unsavory group conversations and where group bullying can happen. How can you stay aware? Many parents falsely think that as long as they are “following” their son or daughter that they see everything that they are posting, but that is not the case. Many teen exchanges happen through direct messages. You should check these regularly by jumping on their phone or logging into their account. You can also link your account to your child's account. Go into the settings tab, and press "add account." By entering the account and password for your child, you can easily switch from your account to his anytime of the day. This makes staying informed much easier. Hopefully there are no surprises.
- Explore Options: Along the bottom of the Instagram screen is a magnifying glass that allows you to explore Instagram. You can search top posts, hashtags, people, or places. You can find anything and everything on Instagram. Why is this important? Unfortunately, even innocent searches can turn up really sleazy images. Along those lines, purposeful searches for pornography will yield a cash crop of pictures and/or videos that your teen will have a hard time forgetting. How can you stay aware? Don’t think your kids don’t understand how to use this feature. Talk about it. There is no search history on Instagram, so all of these searches can be done in private and you cannot filter accounts with a ratings system or monitor them from afar. If you don’t feel your child is old enough or mature enough to handle these options positively, allow them Instagram on your phone or personal computer, only where you can be aware of what is going on.
- Model Accounts: As a decently secure woman, I still get sucked into the “beat yourself up about your body” thinking when I follow too many fitness accounts of women with perfect bodies posing and flexing in workout gear. Transfer these feelings to a teenage girl who follows superstars and fashion icons, and it’s simple to see how it would be easy to get down about the face/body/life you’ve been given. Why is this important? Positive body image is key for so many aspects of life, but it is super hard to cultivate during the teenage years. Social media makes it more difficult than ever and the unrealistic physical expectations for both boys and girls have gotten out of control. How can you stay aware? Talk to your kids about who they follow and why they follow them. Go through their “following” list together on a regular basis and weed unnecessary accounts out and add some good ones in. Remind them about how easy it is to distort pictures through posing, cropping, and filters. Check in often about how they are feeling about themselves and their body. Intervene when you see signs that make you worry.
- Unknown requests: The other day I received a request from a girl named Amanda. I know quite a few Amandas, but with the tiny picture I had to go from, I wasn’t sure if it was someone I really knew. So, I clicked on her information and was accosted with an entire page of pornographic shots of some woman I certainly didn’t know. Why is this important? Whether you have a girl or a boy, these images are NOT things you want them to see. I clicked out as quickly as I could, but what I saw was incredibly disturbing. It breaks my heart to think that such young kids would see such distorted, adult things. How can you stay aware? For one, make sure your child’s account is private, then remind your children to never accept a follower request from someone they don’t know. Have a time when you can go through their requests together and decide if it is someone who should really be following them. Jump on their account and check out their followers and the people they are following on a regular basis, talk to them about the people who make you feel uncomfortable and tell them why. Remind them to never click on a name out of curiosity. There is too much garbage out there. If they happen to see pornography, be sure they feel comfortable telling you what happened and where they saw it.
- Hurt feelings: The minute your child gets on Instagram, he or she will be immediately aware of all the fun that they are not a part of. Instagram is a place where people love to post birthday parties, best friend shout outs and weekend adventures that will often not include your son or daughter. Why is this important? Even those who claim they don’t really care usually do when they see it plastered all over social media. For those who admit to caring, it can be heart breaking to be left out over and over again. How you can stay aware? Be honest with your children. Let them know that this is sure to happen and they need to be prepared for it. Encourage them to only follow people who are their actual friends. If it gets to be too much, shut down the account for a while and reevaluate. Does it bring peace and happiness to their life? If not, maybe it is unnecessary. Remind them that it is okay not to be so plugged in.
- Rating posts and TBH (to be honest) posts: I wrote an entire article about this one HERE, so take a look if you haven’t yet. It is so important for our kids to value themselves because of who they are, not because of how many likes and followers they have.
- Instagram Stories: This is a new feature Instagram has made available very recently. Instagram stories are short videos or pictures with captions that disappear in 24 hours and are seen at the top of the Instagram screen in small circles. The videos are available for all followers to see, but comments cannot be left directly on a story. Instead, viewers message the account owner a private message. Why is this important? Depending on who is posting them, videos can be especially vulgar, hurtful or crude and since they disappear within 24 hours, it is easy to miss something your child may have posted or that might have been important. How can you stay aware? The best way to keep this one in check is to be vigilant about the people you allow your child to follow on Instagram. If you know and trust the people they follow, there is less of a chance those people are posting videos you would not approve of. When you check up on his or her account, don't forget to click on the stories too.
Being aware, open and honest with your children is incredibly important. There is no magic age for when kids are old enough to use social media, so if you don’t think your child is ready to take on the responsibilities or temptations that come with Instagram, honestly tell them why and remind them that you are protecting them until you feel they are ready to deal with these types of adult situations. You should absolutely have a high level of trust with your son or daughter and open communication before allowing unlimited apps to be an option. If they are dying to try Instagram, and you feel okay about it, start with a trial run on your phone where you are the password holder. These kids have a lifetime to worry about their online presence, giving them an extra year or two of freedom from that pressure is not the worst thing a parent could do. One day, maybe a long ways down the road, they will thank you for holding out until they were ready for this great big social media world.
This post by Brooke Romney originally appeared on Brooke Romney Writes. It has been published here with the author's permission. Brooke Romney is a freelance writer and author of the blog Brooke Romney Writes.