I don’t like the term “dangerous apps.” Apps are not inherently dangerous. What I like to focus on is the behaviors on the apps and how we can teach responsible behaviors on any digital platform. Instagram tries to control inappropriate content, but it is an enormous task to effectively combat. Control over the content seems to ebb and flow. Sometimes inappropriate content is easier to access than at other times. Instagram has a reporting function and also has ways for inappropriate content to be identified and removed, but with anything, people will find ways around the controls.
If they have not been exposed to sexualized content, drugs and mental health topics before Instagram, there is a high potential for them to be exposed after they create an Instagram profile. If you have had prevention discussions around these topics then you could feel more comfortable letting your 13-year-old use Instagram.
Discuss help seeking strategies with your youth, such as what do to if they would see someone posting about mental health issues, depression, self-harm or suicide. Teach them to use the reporting functions built into Instagram and to keep an open line of communication with you as the parent. As of today, a hashtag search of #blithe will give you a preview into the mental health content.
There is a high level of sexual content available. You should be prepared for your kids to see this content as it’s easy to stumble upon and kids are curious about sex at that age. Talk to your children about not posting sexual or provocative content. Teach them about self-esteem based upon the content of their character not the appearance of their body. As of today, a hashtag search of #newd will start your research if you would like to understand how to sculpt this conversation. Search #ganjagirls for a combination of marijuana and sexualized content.
There is “sponsored” content (ads) on Instagram. A quick scroll through my feed today gave me ads related to Coors Light, Monster energy drink, Enclosed, Dark & Stylish (both lingerie companies) and Asia Charm. Asia Charm states it is an “online dating site” where you can meet Asian women.
Be aware of “Finstas” (Fake Instagram Accounts) as well. Youth will sometimes have a well-curated appropriate account that you know of, but will also make a Finsta account that you will not be aware of and more questionable behaviors will occur on this Finsta account. They may have several Finsta accounts.
Instagram Safety Tips:
My #1 recommendation: If you are going to let your child have an Instagram account, you should have an account as well so that you can effectively educate them on how to use it responsibly.
Here are some other suggestions.
- Do not use full names as usernames.
- Do not have full names in bio’s. Even if the account is private, they can still be searchable by name in their bio. Bio’s are not private (and neither are links to other accounts they post in the bio).
- Set the account to private.
- Here is how to set the privacy settings.
- Only accept followers of people they know in person.
- Remove any unknown followers that they currently have.
- Do not post personal information such as drivers license, school ID’s, state ID’s, phone numbers, birth certificates, school schedules and other identifying information.
- Turn off location services.
- Do not respond to Direct Messages from people they don’t know.
- Use the reporting system when they see inappropriate content.
- Here is how to report content.
- Talk to a parent if they see a concerning post from a friend (mental health, bullying, inappropriate posts).
- Report bullying both through Instagrams reporting function and to a parent.
- Save screenshots of bullying behaviors.
- Block bullies.
- Stick with the age restrictions
- Even though an account is private, privacy isn’t guaranteed. Once a post is shared it is totally out of the users’ control.
- A digital reputation begins the moment an account is opened. What they post now could affect them later in life.
I would not recommend children less than 13 use the app even though the current app rating is 12+.