Estimated read time : 8 minutes
It took 8 years and quite a few untoward incidents for the photo/video messaging app Instagram to release its official A Parent’s Guide to Instagram in an effort to help parents understand the platform better and take necessary steps to keep their teens safe on the social app.
The other day when my teenage daughter asked at what age she can have an Instagram account, I said wait till 20; to which she said but it’s “allowed” to have an Instagram account at 13 and that many of her friends are on this social media App. “What, Already?” “Yes, and I feel sort of “left out’ when they talk about things they shared on group chat or the fun they have in swapping funny pictures.” Now my mind started racing, supposedly I allow her to have an account on Instagram, what if she spends more time in applying effects and captions to her pics and videos rather than studying, what if she ends up viewing something not meant for her eyes, or worse, what if she is exposed to cyberbullying. But thinking calmly, I realised however hard I may try, it’s not possible to immune my kid from the cons which come as a package deal with the pros of any social media site, for that matter.
The only way out is to help my kid use it responsibly whenever she signs up for Instagram and in getting myself familiarised about the various “safeguards” (as explained in Instagram guide) I can use to help my daughter have safe “stay” on this platform. As explained by Instagram:
“We know many parents and guardians think about what their teens are doing online, and we feel a great responsibility to make sure Instagram is a positive place for them to connect and share. That’s why we’ve created A Parent’s Guide. The guide can be accessed here
1. The child can start the Instagram account with “Private” settings. ( Go to Settings and add Private)
2. Your teenager can block ( no-one can see or comment on a post, story or live feed) any account he/she doesn’t want to interact with. A person won’t be notified if he is blocked. Go to the profile of the person you wish to block, tap on “…” and a select block from the options.
3. In case you teenager receives comments with an intention of bullying him/her, they can “Report” it from within the app by tapping “…” in the top right-hand corner of the post or profile which will further ask to choose from two options: if it’s spam, or inappropriate. Reporting is totally anonymous and if the account is reported multiple times, the account might be blocked temporarily. Alternatively, your teenager can also “block” the abuser as explained in 2nd point.
4. To filter out inappropriate and offensive comments automatically by default, your teenager can do the following: Go to his profile, then to Settings and tap Comment Controls (under Privacy and Security). Tap next to Hide Offensive Comments to turn it on. Your teenager can also hide comments which contain inappropriate words or phrases. For this too the route is the same: Profile- settings- comment controls- turn on hiding offensive comments- turn on Manual filter and now choose words and phrases and the App will hide comments which have these words and phrases.
5. A teenager can choose who sees his story. Settings- Privacy and Security- Story Controls.
6. Teenagers can control whom he wants to interact with; first, go to Settings- Privacy and Security- comment controls. In this section, your kid can control who can comment on his post. Similarly, teens can block the accounts from which they don’t want comments.
Other than above, Parents need to put some technology rules and follow some do’s (as explained further) to make Instagram a safe place for your teenager to interact, connect and share with his/her peers.
Here I am not talking about placing strict boundaries around your teenager Instagram use, which obviously will be a fraught activity; because how will you deal with secret “insta” or “spam” accounts which children can create on Instagram in order to evade their “helicopter” parents.
As explained by Urban Dictionary: Instagram, Insta for short, is a mixture of fake and Instagram. People get a second Instagram account along with their real Instagrams, Instagram, to post any pictures or videos they desire. The photos or videos posted are usually funny or embarrassing. Only your closest friends follow this account.
Or what will you do if your teenager and his friend watch “stuff” on Instagram on his friend’s mobile; not much for sure.
Parents need to have open conversations with their kids about any social media tool, for that matter. Though not yet a teenager but when my nine years old asked me with questions like why people post pictures on Instagram, who are the “followers”; I was not surprised; after all, this is a social media age and we really can’t pull off our kids away from it, in spite of knowing some of its drawbacks; moreover, she knows I am on Insta:). Anyways, I did explain my little one about Instagram in an age-appropriate manner hoping she won’t ask me next if she could have an account on Instagram.
And as far as my teenager goes, I don’t know when I will allow her to have an Instagram account but I have a long list of do’s in my mind before she has one. Foremost, I will definitely help her follow all the features as mentioned in the Instagram Parents guide. Secondly, I will certainly explain to her a few online etiquettes which she has to follow; like not to use nasty hashtags, or post someone’s private information and always to double-check the messages before she hits send. Such simple things will enable her to have a positive online presence.
There are other ways too to monitor your teenager activities on Instagram. If you share a good rapport with your teenager, check his/her phone for direct messaging service which is quite common (Facebook, WhatsApp are passe’) among teenagers these days. (FYI, Instagram is not just posting and commenting on pictures, it allows direct messaging and group chats too in DM. It also allows disappearing photo messages through direct messaging)
Let’s also accept that our teenagers will see all types of videos and stories on Instagram, that they will be hooked onto the lives of their teenage idols, celebrities etc, and that it will definitely affect their behaviour and thinking. As repetitive it may sound, but it’s up to us to teach them the difference between reel life and real-life (Yup, it’s not easy being a parent in this era). A teenager should be taught that they neither should compare themselves with any famous celebrity nor curate their lives in a way so as to project a perfect image on Instagram.
Talking of videos, do you know in case your teenager clicks on any sexually explicit pics on a search page, the Instagram app tracks your child because of which they will start getting more posts of similar nature. You should always keep a track on it and block/report the user or account.
But again I would say keep the lines of communication open to help your teenager become a responsible Instagram user.
The use of Instagram by your teenager should is always be accompanied by conversations around its uses and drawbacks, at least till the time he/she is mature enough to themselves handle any social site. Make the whole chat friendly enough that they feel comfortable enough to answer even when you ask “ have you ever seen anything disturbing on Instagram which we should talk about?’
Please Note: the article first appeared on the author’s website – www.bytetrails.com