It's a fact of life today that most young people see social media as something they can't do without. There are certainly positive aspects to this, allowing them to interact with their peers in ways impossible to previous generations, but there can also be serious dangers. One problem you face as parents is that, even if you use social media yourself, you probably have no experience of using it as a teenager, certainly not on the scale it's used now. One of the most popular social media platforms is Instagram. So how can you ensure your teenager stays safe when using it?
What Is Instagram?
Instagram is a platform, owned by Facebook, specifically for sharing photos and videos. These can only be uploaded from a phone, making it ideal for taking and sharing images straight away. Many teens use it for posting selfies. Like other platforms, Instagram allows users to build followings and comment on other people's posts. Images can be shared publicly (meaning anyone can see them, even if they're not signed into an account), privately (meaning only followers can see them) or directly (meaning that only the people you send to can see them). The whole account can also be set up to be either public or private. Theoretically, you have to be at least thirteen to set up an Instagram account, and Instagram will delete an account they find is held by someone too young. In practice, however, since they depend on the information the user gives, many under-thirteens may have accounts.
What Are the Dangers of Using Instagram?
Some of the dangers for young people on Instagram are very clear. For one thing, there are predators who'll try to groom and exploit them, perhaps even tracking them down physically. For another, it's the perfect setting for bullying. Not only does it give the bully a wider audience, but there's also nowhere to escape from it. There are also less-tangible dangers, though, particularly on an image-based platform. Teenagers are under immense pressure nowadays to live up to unrealistic (and often undesirable) ideals in their appearance. Comparing themselves to others on Instagram could lead to depression, eating disorders, self-harm and even thoughts of suicide. This doesn't necessarily imply your teen shouldn't have an Instagram account, but make sure you have parental settings in place that will allow you to keep track of what's happening.
Setting Up the Profile
If possible, it's best to be involved in setting up your child's Instagram account. Simply forbidding a teenager to have an account is likely to result in them going behind your back, so it's better to work with them. First of all, the account should start, at least, set to private. Your child will probably want a public account, to build a following, but you can offer a deal — if they can prove they can use Instagram responsibly, then they can go public. The username should be something other than your child's real name, while their photo and biography should be appropriate for their age and not make them too easy for strangers to identify. Also, note that the private information section will have a field for phone number — make sure this is left blank.
Managing Who Sees the Posts
If the account is public, there's no way to prevent anyone from seeing your child's posts, but users you think are inappropriate can be blocked, stopping them from replying or sending a private message. If you feel someone is either stalking or bullying your child, blocking them should be the first action. You can also report them to Instagram, who will suspend the account if they accept this as necessary. This is an anonymous process, so you can reassure your child that the person won't know the complaint came from them.
Managing What Photos Appear on Instagram
There are a number of reasons why a photo or video on Instagram might be unwise, from attracting the wrong kind of attention (e.g. showing them in a swimsuit) or giving away too much information about how to find the poster, such as showing their street or school. There could even be content that might come back to haunt them when they try to get a job. If your teen does make a mistake like this, it's easy to take a post down. However, there's no guarantee someone hasn't already downloaded the content, while there's no way of preventing another user from posting a picture or video of your child.
Talk to Your Teenager
Perhaps the single most important way of ensuring your teenager stays safe on Instagram is to talk to them about it. Encourage the positive things they want to do on the platform, so you don't come over as opposing everything they do, but remind them of the possible dangers. And try to foster an environment where they feel able to come to you with anything disturbing that happens. Register with TutorExtra for more tips and insights into keeping your kids safe online.