What every parent needs to know about Instagram

Many well intending parents have refused their tweens access to Facebook after hearing horror stories about cyber bullying and paedophiles.  So clever tweens, eager to enter the social media world, are doing the switcheroo and turning to Instagram. What they don't tell their parents is that Instagram isn't just photo sharing. It has all the features of social media, including the dark sides.  Snapping innocent photos of pets, drawings and social outings is just the beginning of what Instagram offers.

Basic Facts

  • Instagram is a free APP.
  • To the uneducated eye Instagram can look like a photography APP. It isn't.
  • Children need an email address to download the APP. There is a lot of sense in holding off on giving your child their own email address. This way they have to use yours to download things unless they are computer savvy enough to create their own.  
  • On sign up Instagram gives you a birthday picker. Technically children have to be over 13 to use Instagram. There are many good reasons for this.
  • Many youngsters go ahead and download APPs on I-pads and smart phones without asking their parent's permission. Before their parents know it they are operating a social media account without any supervision.

Profiling Yourself Online

  • When tweens profile themselves online they often fail to understand the gravity of including personal information such as where they live or where they go to school. Instagram allows them to 'show' such personal information and map a story of their lives that paedophiles can follow through photos.
  • Making profiles private, so only an "appropriate" profile picture which doesn't give away a tweens location is absolutely essential.  Many teens don't make their profiles private when they set up their account.
  • Most alarming in profiles is when children advertise their other social media sites in their personal information. For example: Skype, KIK, Facebook. This enables followers to interact with them through other social media sites.  This is highly dangerous.

Value Based Decisions

Even if your tween has set up the strictest privacy settings on Instagram they have to make the following value based decisions each time they use the site. I work with over 13's each day who struggle to find the maturity to make wise choices on social media let alone those under this age.  It is absolutely essential that parents recognise that the best defence against paedophiles and pornography is supervision and communication. Nothing can replace an active parent.

While using Instagram tweens will need to decide when to:

  • Block people who they do not want to continue to follow 
  • Report abuse
  • Delete people's inappropriate comments (Remember users can't delete comments from other people's photos regardless of how inappropriate they are. That means they are exposed to whatever comments are written on the people's sites they follow.)
  • Decline or accept people who ask to follow them
  • Choose who they want to follow by requesting to follow them or simply clicking 'follow' if that persons privacy settings are not private
  • Comment on followers photos and have them comment on their photos

Where Can it All Go Wrong

In the past month the following tween cases have walked into my office: 

  • A mother of a 12 year old who found that her tween was following "Sexy Babe" which exposed her to pornography.  Her daughter was too embarrassed to show her mother her profile. Her daughter had 1147 followers which her mother didn't know about.
  • A father of a 10 year old who found a boy was 'liking' all his daughter's pictures. It is foubtful whether it was a boy her own age with good intentions, especially since he commented on one of her photos asking for her email address so they could stay in touch.
  • A family of an 11 year old who was sharing inappropriate semi-naked photos of herself via Instagram with a male she didn't know.   

Steps Every Family Should Take

  • Check whether your son or daughter already has an Instagram account
  • If they do, it's ideal to respect the legal age for using Instagram. It's there for a reason. 
  • Be open about the dangers associated with social media so the conversation is open – Cyber Bullying, Paedophiles and Pornography are just a few you know your kids may come across when they are online.
  • Create a social media contract for your home which outlines expectations of its use. Some things you might include in the contract are

– time limits

– no technology whatsoever in bedrooms

– a rechargeable area for technology during the night

– rules for how social media is to be used

– consequences for when rules are broken

Michelle is a leading expert on Cyber Safety and speaks extensively in schools and community organisations.  For information about Michelle's presentations for primary, high school or parents please contact her via her website.

Are your kids on Instagram? Do you follow what they are doing online?

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