Social media has fundamentally changed the way we live and interact with people we know (and don’t know, for that matter.) Most adults today didn’t have to worry with social media as children, and it brings in an entire new complexity to parenting for those of us with tweens and teens who want to be involved in social media today.
Because each social media platform is different, it’s critical for parents to know what to expect with each of them, so they can decide when (and whether or not) to allow their child to participate – and monitor their participation as necessary.
Parents, here’s your guide to Instagram.
According to Common Sense Media, this is an ideal app for children age 15+. Parents generally say it’s okay for 13+, and kids, of course, say it’s okay for ages 12+. First, let’s take a look at what Instagram is, and what their rules are for creating an account.
What is Instagram?
Instagram is a photo and video sharing application available for smartphones and tablets. There is a web version where you can view profiles and activity, but you cannot add content from there. You can only view it or comment on it.
The app includes photo editing tools that can be used to change its appearance before it’s posted to the account. Users can add captions to describe the photos – and hashtags as a way to help other users find the content, and ultimately get more Instagram followers.
Users can share photos and videos one of three ways: privately – to followers only, publicly – available to anyone on Instagram, or directly – to a maximum of 15 people.
As far as personal information on the account goes, there is a display name, which may or may not be the user’s actual name), the profile picture, and biography. These are visible to everyone, even those who do not follow your child – or that is, subscribe to their feed. This means you should insist your teen uses a username that isn’t their first name, and keep the display name the same as the username, or at least, not the same as their real name.
The profile picture should be age appropriate, and the biography should not be specific – rather generalized information. There is space for a link, which we recommend the teen not use, as it could be used to link to another social media profile where more information is available about your teen.
What Does Instagram Say About Creating Accounts and Network Activity?
Instagram’s Terms of Service say that users should be at least 13 years of age before joining the network, as a result of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, also known as COPPA. There is, however, no requirement to provide proof of age at sign up, so your child could sign up with or without your permission. If Instagram is notified of an underage account holder and can verify their age, the account will be deleted.
The terms also say users should not post “partially nude or sexually suggestive photos.” The terms do not prohibit photos that portray violence, drugs, or curse words. Users are able to flag photos for review, but mature content can easily in some photos and in the comment sections.
What Features Should I be Concerned With as a Parent?
Photos shared to Instagram are public and may have location information attached to them, unless parents take the time to adjust privacy settings.
Direct messages allow users to send private messages to and from one another, as well as the time you were last seen in the app – allowing people to see you’re online, just not answering their messages. A green status dot shows your friends you’re active in the app. Privacy/account settings allow this feature to be turned off.
Instagram also features IGTV, which allows users to subscribe to other users video collections, or channels, like YouTube.
Tinder users can access other Tinder users’ Instagram feeds directly from within the Tinder app, even on private Instagram feeds if Tinder integration is enabled.
A 2016 update gives users the ability to live stream video, and those video streams, along with selected private photos will disappear within 24 hours, much like Snapchat.
Users can remove followers, turn off comments, mute followers, and like others’ comments. If users want to poll their friends, they can attach a sticker to an image to get votes. Teens will see lots of product placement and marketing, and they can make purchases directly from buy links in the app.
What are the Risks of Using Instagram?
Instagram is just as risky as any other social media platform. Your child could easily encounter a number of serious online dangers such as bullies or child predators. Because people only tend to post flattering photos which are manipulated for an even better appearance with filters and other editing features, there are some who believe Instagram could impact body image and create fear of missing out, or FOMO.
If you plan on allowing your child to have an Instagram account, social media monitoring tools such as Bark can help you as a parent make sure your child is following rules you’ve put in place for using the account.
You should set limits on what your teenager is allowed to post, and discuss with them various social media strategies to keep them safe – including letting them know you will be monitoring their account. You should never assume that locking down the account to make it private, remove location data, and remove online indicators will be enough to protect your child.