Keeping your kids safe on Instagram.

As someone who has worked with social media from the start, and someone who volunteers with children, I’m sometimes asked about social media safety for kids. Instagram is popular amongst kids right now, so here are my thoughts and tips on keeping your kids safe when they’re using Instagram.

13+ only.

You have to be at least 13 to use Instagram, according to the company’s terms of service. I personally feel this is both unrealistic and unacceptable. We should be teaching children how to use technology safely, and in a way that will allow them benefit from it throughout their lives.

When I was in school, the Internet was something to be feared. We were assigned homework and told not to use the Internet for research, as it was not a reliable source. Even at the time, I remember thinking… ‘shouldn’t we be tought how to use the Internet to verify the source?’.

What is Instagram?

According to the company’s FAQ page:

Instagram is a fun and quirky way to share your life with friends through a series of pictures.

This video does a good job of explaining some of the basics of Instagram:

Something this video doesn’t cover is the Stories feature. It’s important to know how this works, and this video does a good job of providing an overview.

I would also suggest checking out the direct messages area (top right in the app — looks like a paper aeroplane). I’ll explain why in point 9 below.

Why your child should absolutely NOT use Instagram:

  • The Internet is not a safe place — anyone can share anything, and parental filters don’t do as good a job as anyone thinks they do

  • As mentioned, you need to be at least 13 to use Instagram (according to their own terms of service)

  • By using Instagram, your child will have access to anything and everything that has ever been publicly shared on Instagram (and it’s not all cat pictures and pics of sandy beaches)

  • Wherever children are online, there will be people looking to take advantage of them in some way.

Why your child should DEFINITELY be using Instagram:

  • The Internet is not a safe place — and kids need to learn that in the safest and most supportive environment possible

  • As parents, teachers, foster carers, etc. one of our most essential tasks is surely to prepare for the world as it exists today. Social media isn’t going anywhere, and kids need to know how to use this stuff

  • Peer pressure is another important factor. Kids want to do what their friends are doing, and whilst that alone isn’t a good excuse for saying yes, it certainly plays a massive part in why kids want to use the latest apps (and get the latest gadgets, trainers, fidget spinners, etc.). The pressure kids often feel to stay up-to-speed with friends can be overwhelming

  • Kids learn best by doing, not by being told. This is true of Internet safety in exactly the same way it’s true for everything else they’ll learn. Giving them support to stay safe whilst using technology is always going to be more powerful than just reading them the riot act and banning access to anything invented in the last 30 years.

Here are my tips for keeping your kids safe on Instagram.

  1. Say yes.
    If they ask about setting up an Instagram account, my advice is say yes. There are lots of reasons to say yes, but saying no may lead to them setting up an account without your knowledge — which is incredibly dangerous.

  2. Start using it yourself.
    If you don’t already have an account (or do, but don’t use it) then start using it. It’s important that you’re able to answer their questions, and they can feel comfortable discussing these things with you.

  3. Follow them and interact.
    Like their photos. Get relatives and friends involved. Share photos of you all and tag them. This is all about creativing an informed and safe environment where your kids can learn.

  4. Encourage them to try all the features.
    Kids are naturally inquisitive, and in my experience they’ve often been the first to use new features when they get released. They’re fearless. Encourage this interest. Learn with them.

  5. On which note… Instagram Live.
    One of the features kids seem to love is Instagram Live. This is part of the Stories feature (explained in the link above), and essentially allows you to live stream a video to your followers (or anyone, if your account isn’t private). I love to see kids using this technology in really creative ways, but again they just need to be aware of the risks. In a live video, anything could happen, and that anything could be saved via screenshot by anyone that’s watching, and shared around school within minutes.

  6. Private accounts?
    This probably seems like a no brainer, but there are a couple of issues. Making your account private means your pictures can’t be found by users that don’t follow you (e.g. using hashtags). More importantly, I think it gives kids a false sense of privacy. Having said that, I would suggest switching your kids’ accounts to private, but explain to them that nothing shared online is private (anyone that follows them could screenshot their photos and share them publicly, for example).

  7. Let them follow who they want.
    They may want to follow thousands of people. I wouldn’t really see that as a problem. But I would keep an eye on who follows and interacts with them. With a private account, you need to approve each follower before they see what you’ve shared, so that makes this process easier.

  8. Get them to think about what information they share.
    I’m not one of those paranoid social media users that scans every photo in case there could be something pinned to my noticeboard in the background that a mastermind criminal could use to break into my house, lock me in a cupboard, and assume my identity. But I would suggest talking with kids about what they share… it’s scarily easy to look at the accounts of most children and quickly figure out what school they go to, roughly where they live, what form they’re in, etc.

  9. Use the account switcher.
    This is the point where we may cross the line from enthusiastic/hip parent that’s down with the kids, to complete stalker. It’s possible to add multiple accounts to your app, which could include your child’s account. Below you can see my option to easily switch between my personal and work Instagram accounts. I would suggest that using this option would be dependant on the age of your child, and the level of trust involved. I would only suggest doing it with their knowledge, but importantly it allows you to see messages that are sent directly to them (there’s still the option to delete these messages, but it puts you in some control at least).

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Talk to them.

As mentioned, everything listed here is about creating a safe and informed environment for kids online. Every step is designed to keep them safe, but also to make them feel comfortable to come to you if they are worried about a friend request they receive, a comment someone has left, etc.

Through Instagram, you can teach them how to deal with online bullying, grooming, inappropriate content, etc. Kids learn so much better by doing.

I hope this was useful. Drop me an email with any suggestions for changes or additions.

Gareth K Thomas