The most popular social media network among adults is Facebook by far. But for teens, Snapchat wins by a sliver over Facebook-owned Instagram. I haven't allowed my kids to download Snapchat, so I am starting this series of parents' social media how-to columns with Instagram.
On an average day, people all over the world share a combined 80 million photos on Instagram. One reason teenagers flock to Instagram is its focus on photographs, instead of text-heavy Facebook and Twitter. When my twins turned 13 and I allowed them to enter the world of social media, they only wanted to join one. I was so grateful that I would only have a single social network to monitor, until I realized that Instagram is a difficult social media tiger to tame.
Here are some tips:
Let me begin by saying if your child is going to be on Instagram, then you should be on Instagram. This goes for all social media networks. Follow your children and as many of their friends as possible. This is important not only for monitoring purposes but also as a way to be part of their world. Be mindful, though, that you don't become one of those annoying parents who comments and likes every photo your child posts. Chat with your children about their preferences. My kids want me to like their photos — for numbers' sake — but not to comment (too embarrassing).
Instagram accounts are public by default. While many users like to get as many followers as possible for bragging rights, this is not the right option for kids. When helping your child set up a new account — because you should always know their password — be aware that their username, profile pic and bio will always be public. Talk with your children about what is appropriate to put in a bio since everyone in the world has the ability to see it at any time. Once you set up the account, immediately go to the profile and turn on the private account setting. Then your child will have to approve each person who requests to follow them. Especially in the beginning, every person who wants to follow your child should be their actual friend in real life. This way, you can at least have an idea of what types of things those users will post. On the flip side, your child should only follow people he or she actually know as well. Be wary of allowing them to follow celebrities. Everyone from Geraldo Rivera to Miley Cyrus has used Instagram to post very inappropriate photos. Check their followers every so often to make sure you know everyone on that list. If your child can't tell you who they are, get rid of them. Parents should know that anyone — they don't have to be a follower — can send a photo or video to your child directly. You may want to tell your child not to open those direct messages if it's from someone they don't know.
There is always the chance that even someone your child knows will post photos that make your child — or you — uncomfortable. Know that if the account is set to private, then a user can remove a follower and that person will not be notified. Same goes for blocking someone. Users are not notified if you block them. When you block someone, they cannot view your posts or even search for your Instagram account. There is also no need for anyone to know exactly where you are at any given time. The "add to map" feature allows you to add locations to your photos. Luckily, Instagram has it turned off by default. Make sure you kids never turn it on.
While Instagram rules say users may not post partially nude or suggestive photos, people still do it. One of my kids has looked up fitness videos on Instagram. This causes the network to believe they should suggest my child view every scantily clad photo or video of a person working out. I have gone through those suggestions over and over, asking Instagram to show fewer posts similar to those. I did it every night for a week and it did help cut down on those types of suggestions. If you need to do the same, click the three dots below the post you don't like, click "report inappropriate" and follow the instructions. It will ask you why the post is inappropriate. If the post doesn't follow community guidelines, Instagram will remove it.
Instagram does not allow parents to filter content. The only way you can protect your child from seeing explicit photographs is to be careful about who they follow. But there is always the search function that can be a problem. Instagram makes it pretty difficult to search obvious terms like #porn, but there are many ways people have found to sneak past the guidelines. My previous column on the secret language of emojis will fill you in on the possibilities.
Instagram is a fun way to share photos and know what everyone is doing. Parents just need to be cautious and diligent to make sure this social media network experience is a good one.