Instagram has a reputation among children for being the coolest social media platform today, and among parents as being the safest. A dangerous combination indeed, as it results in a number of teenagers using Instagram without parental oversight.
As one of the newer platforms, and one without the risqué reputation of Snapchat, fewer parents really know how to manage their children’s exposure to content on Instagram, or even understand the risks that come with the platform.
What is Instagram?
Instagram is structured as a simple photo and video sharing interface. It’s immensely popular among teenagers, who use the medium almost as a digital diary – recording their day, their successes, their happy moments, and even their meals. Some teenagers maintain two Instagram profiles: a ‘real’ one (‘Rinstagram’) through which they share their perfect pictures, and a ‘fake’ one (‘Finstagram’) which reflects their goofier moments.
Instagram is steadily gaining popularity over Facebook, as there is less sponsored or irrelevant content, and users can follow just those they choose to and can choose whether or not to allow a particular person to follow them.
In under ten years, Instagram has grown to over 800 million active users and is considered the ‘most important’ social media platform by over 30% of teenagers. It’s important, therefore, for parents to understand the features of this platform, and the risks attached to Instagram usage.
Here's an excellent introduction to Instagram for parents from Common Sense Media:
1. Live Sharing of Geotagged Personal Photos
Teenagers use Instagram to share photos and videos of their daily routine, with a huge percentage sharing selfies and photos of their meals. These photos are shared with a time and location tag on Instagram, creating a timeline of activities their friends can engage with.
The flip side: Not everyone knows that, by default, images and videos shared on Instagram are shared Public. As the images are also geotagged by default, your child’s live photo diary is, in essence, open to anyone by default. This is open to misuse and abuse. It’s advisable, therefore, to check the privacy setting on your children’s Instagram profiles.
2. No Limitation on Nature of Images Shared
Instagram permits users to share photos and videos on any subject, prepared in any style. This gives teenagers a great avenue to explore their creativity and push the boundaries of the visual medium.
The flip side: Where there are images and videos, unfortunately, there is the risk of exposure to pornography and inappropriate imagery. Adult or graphic content is a risk that comes with any web-based application, and parental supervision is advisable to monitor the nature of the content your child is exposed to. Instagram permits users from the age of thirteen and older, but most authorities agree that ideally, parents should encourage their children not to get on to the platform until age fifteen at least.
3. Hashtags to Categorize Content
Every user tags their posts with hashtags that connect the images with others of its kind. For instance, photos of food are often shared with hashtags like #InstaFood or #FoodPorn. That way, when these hashtags are selected, similar photos appear.
The flip side: Photos can be shared with any hashtag, including those that are abusive or trolling, or which attack the self-esteem of the victim. While Instagram has guidelines in place to check cyberbullying, it makes sense to keep an eye on your child’s profile to keep them safe.
Tagging your friends, whether or not you’re following them, is easy on Instagram. The user just needs to add the “@username” of the person they’d like to tag as part of the post content. The image is added to their profile under the Photos of You section.
The flip side: By default, images in which one is tagged are automatically shared in the Photos of You section, though this setting can be changed easily. Cyberbullies can take advantage of this loophole by tagging their victim’s profile to offensive images. While you can’t prevent other users from tagging your teenager’s profile on any post, no matter how irrelevant it may be, do advise them to keep checking the posts they’re tagged in and removing unwanted tags.
5. Finsta Accounts
It’s a rare soul who is completely honest online! On Instagram, most images shared are filled with happiness and beauty. Every Instagram user aims to build an online reputation of a charmed life, with some going so far as to maintain a separate ‘fake Instagram’ account (or ‘Finsta’) for their less photogenic or edgier moments. It’s a great way to open up online!
The flip side: Many Finstas are created for the explicit purpose of hiding information from parents and family members. This is a normal part of growing up, so don’t panic. Communicate openly with your children and encourage them to keep you in the loop. Make sure that they understand the risks of maintaining a hidden or anonymous account – the edgier the behaviour showcased on the Finsta, the higher the risk of cyberbullying or stalking.
What You Need To Do As A Parent
- Parents should consider using an online safety and filtering software such as Mobicip; to keep an eye on the kinds of apps that their kids access on their smartphones and monitor their usage.
- Parents should actively engage or follow their children on social media without being too inquisitive; the idea is to teach them to be responsible without stifling their expression of creativity. As Instagram cannot be strictly monitored using conventional web filters, the best ways to monitor your teenager’s Instagram activity are to be their ‘follower’ and make it clear that you are watching. Make sure your kids stay safe and have fun online!
- Ensure that your child's account is set to private. The whole world need not have access to your kid's photos and images.
- Advise your kids to "friend" only known people or acquaintances. "Stranger Danger" is relevant in the digital world too!
Instagram should be restricted among young tweens. High-school should be the entry level for Instagram. You, as parents, are ultimately responsible for the amounts of digital exposure that your kids go through. Parents hold the key to instilling a sense of online discipline and digital citizenship in today's digital natives.