Tor Constantino shares parental precautions for the #1 photo-sharing site among kids.
The inescapable ability of anyone with a smartphone to snap pictures, coupled with an inexplicable need to publicly share those images, has made the photo-sharing app extremely popular—especially among young people.
According to the Pew report, 53% of young adults between the ages of 18-to-29 have an active Instagram account and according to Nielsen—Instagram is the top-photo-sharing site among minors between the ages of 12-to-17.
While most parents understand Facebook, very few parents understand Instagram (which is owned by Facebook) or are even aware their tweens or teens have an Instagram account.
Much like Facebook, Instagram allows for “followers” and “likes.” However, the vast majority of Instagram’s user-generated-content is electronic images and photos.
The cool thing about Instagram is that it allows users to easily apply photographic filters and visual effects that can transform mundane images into spectacular works of art.
But there are real dangers with the app as well ….
1. Privacy Settings
The default sharing setting for Instagram is public. And since anybody can follow anyone on Instagram, any image shared can be seen by anybody. That can be dangerous if the public images contain visual locators of your kids’ school, home or after-school hangouts. Abductions are real and they occur.
Preteens and teens don’t worry about being abducted, but concerned parents need to give it thought. If you’re paying for your child’s smartphone and they use Instagram—it’s reasonable to have them only use the “private” setting to better control who can view their images.
2. Location Tagging
The app has a function that allows Instagram users to tag an image with a specific geographic location. This is another risky aspect of the app that kids should not use because of the reasons mentioned above.
It doesn’t matter if all the other kids are tagging the after-school meetup at the local mall—don’t let your kids use that feature.
What possible reason or benefit is there in allowing your children to broadcast to strangers their exact physical location?
Friends of ours experienced this firsthand with their 7th grade daughter, whom we’ll call “Emily” to protect her identity.
Emily had an Instagram account because all of her friends did—no big deal right? Well, someone took a photo of her and set-up another Instagram account pretending to be Emily. The fake account featured every swear word imaginable and vile pictures used to pick “cyber-fights” with other students and teachers.
Even though the real Emily had nothing to do with the fake account, it resulted in hard feelings among many students and faculty at her school for more than a year. This was a form of indirect bullying by an impersonator against Emily and others.
Tweens don’t think this type of thing happens … until it does.
4. Inappropriate Use
While there are lots of beautiful images on Instagram, there’s no way to filter porn or explicit adult images randomly shared on a feed that your child might follow.
The only options would be to allow your kids to only follow people you both know and trust, as well as following everyone your child follows with your own Instagram account—such is the cost of being an involved parent.
My wife and I have two daughters in their early teens. We are raising them to be strong, smart and independent young women who are much more than their physical attributes—Instagram doesn’t support those values.
By it’s inherent visual nature, Instagram supports physical beauty above virtually every other value. In fact, there are numerous offshoot galleries of Instagram that feature images of girls, teens and women who are all ranked by their “hotness”—often without their knowledge or consent.
There are also reports of boys as young as middle school age swapping “hot” Instagram images via their mobile phones like sexy-cyber-Pokemon cards or something. As a dad with daughters, I find that kind of objectification offensive and I don’t want them to be a part of it.
If your tween child is not on Instagram yet—delay it as long as you can because the risks are high and the benefits are unclear. By the way, Instagram has a stated policy requiring all users be at least 13 years old—but who are they kidding? Nobody enforces that so it’s up to the parents.
If your child is on Instagram and they balk at some of these suggestions intended for their protection, start a dialogue with them based on the following, open-ended questions:
- Why is it important for you to have an Instagram account?
- What are the benefits of sharing your photos with your friends? How about with complete strangers? (if they have a public setting)
- What are the risks of sharing your photos with friends or strangers?
Maybe this is all overkill, but I know that nobody cares for my kids as much as I do—that includes anybody they might follow on Instagram.
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