This is the fourth in the series about Social Media for Kids, today dealing with what parents need to know about Instagram. Catch up on the earlier posts on Online Safety for Kids, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter first.
One of the most popular Social Media sites for young people at the moment is Instagram. As an image-based mobile site, it is ideal for kids to get their first experience of social networking.
Rules and Regulations of Instagram
As I mentioned in my post on Facebook, there is a common misconception that children under 13 years are legally banned from using social networking sites, but this is misleading. The truth is that companies would have to introduce extra checks and measures to ensure that their users are complying with COPPA, and for most of them it is simpler to say ‘No kids allowed’.
Instagram is owned by Facebook, so it comes as no surprise that their lower age limit is 13 years old. They state:
Instagram does not knowingly collect or solicit any information from anyone under the age of 13 or knowingly allow such persons to register for the Service. The Service and its content are not directed at children under the age of 13. In the event that we learn that we have collected personal information from a child under age 13 without parental consent, we will delete that information as quickly as possible.
Why Your Child Wants to Use Instagram
The most likely response to this, is that everyone else is using it! This incredibly popular photo sharing app is fun, communicative and creative. The site is mobile based – you can view on your computer, but not upload. Users can upload a photo from their phone, edit it with a range of filters, add a comment and share with their friends. The video feature enables users to share short 15 second videos.
Their friends (followers) can then comment on the photo or video, and/or [like] the post. There is an unofficial way of sharing (re-gramming) photos. They can also give a ‘shout out’, i.e. recommend someone to their followers.
Users can decide if they wish to simultaneously share the photos on other social networking sites, such as Twitter or Facebook, although this is probably not one of the most popular features for this age group.
Instagrammers use hashtags – lots and lots of hashtags! These help others find their posts, and comment on them. For anyone who follows a particular band or singer, or is interested in specific topics, hashtags are great ways to find others who are talking about the same thing.
Celebrities and YouTubers often have their own Instagram accounts, and may reply to their young fans. The possibility of direct communication is very exciting – and goes a long way to explaining the popularity of these networking services.
With the introduction of direct messaging, Instagram became even more interesting to kids. They now can chat privately, either one-to-one or in a group.
What You Should Warn Your Child About Instagram
For many parents, Instagram seems innocuous and pretty safe. With the press full of stories about bullying on Snapchat, or abuse on Twitter, Instagram can feel like the CBeebies of the online world – full of charming characters, fun and happiness all around.
In comparison to other networking sties, Instagram is much less problematic, but that maybe says more about the other sites, than IG. In the time that I’ve been using it, I’ve only once come across the kind of nasty behaviour that is commonplace elsewhere.
There have been stories about men/boys sending inappropriate photos to young girls, or making comments on their photos. One way of preventing this is to lock the user’s account, so that only people that your child accepts as a follower can contact them. Ensure that your child also knows how to block/report abusive accounts.
Others have told of accounts being ‘cloned’, which seems to be a weird spam thing, perhaps connected with the buying of fake followers.
With the sale of the service to Facebook, a whole range of new regulations came into place, mainly concerning privacy. If left to the default settings, your child will be broadcasting her location (via the photo map), her identity, image, and much more.
For the first steps into social networking, set the profile to private. As your child gets used to social networking, and gets more confident, you can think about opening it up. For the initial forays, keeping it to family and friends is safer.
Turn off the photo map geotagging option. You can do this in retrospect, by editing the photo map – select the photo in Photo Map, zoom in and select edit, and unpin photo.
As with all other social networking site, kids must be cautious about what they share. With this being image based, there is a danger of kids sharing personal or intimate photos. Talking to the kids openly and honestly about this, and setting clear boundaries is vital.
One issue that is not uncommon on Instagram, is the pressure to be popular, which is measurable via how many likes and followers the user collects. Some tweens and teens, particularly girls, have problems with this, and with the pressure to present themselves as “perfect”. Take the time to talk about body image, expectations of society and encourage your child to be honest on social media. It’s not wrong to try and get a good pic, or to use a selfie stick to take a flattering photo, but don’t get carried away!
Related to this, is the aforementioned buying of fake followers, and the ways people try to scam users into following them. My daughter noticed that people with thousands of followers would follow her, then unfollow at a later point. I explained that this is how some people trick others into following them. Its good for kids to know that these kind of things go on, and not to be fooled by people with thousands and thousands of followers. They aren’t cooler, or prettier, or funnier, so don’t feel bad about your 20 or 30 followers!
There can be pressure to give someone a ‘shout out’, i.e. recommend the person to your followers, which can make some kids feel uncomfortable.
The Bottom Line
With a bit of monitoring, Instagram can be a good introduction to social networking. Begin by setting some boundaries, and agreeing that it is ok that you check their account occasionally. Ensure that privacy settings are set, and that your child knows that they shouldn’t add random people as followers.
The normal rules of safe internet usage apply here – no using real name, posting pics of school or school uniform etc. Show your child how to block and report potential abuse, and have an honest conversation about being real on social media.