5 things parents should know about Instagram

Someone taking a picture of the sea with their smartphone

In the world of social media, one of the hottest platforms at the moment is the photo sharing platform Instagram, especially with young people. Like everybody, teens use it to capture special moments, but also to have conversations in a fun way – using photos, filters, comments, captions, emoticons, hashtags and links to elsewhere to talk about things and share interests.

At the end of 2014 the Professionals Online Safety Helpline were delighted to be asked by Instagram to help them produce a Parents’ Guide for users in the UK, When it comes to making good decisions about photos online, whether it’s how to control your own or what do with other peoples, young people in the UK should be able to ask their parents for guidance. That’s why parents need to be well informed about the issues teens face when they go online. This guide will help prepare parents to give young people the guidance they need, but read on for a sneak peak of the content.

Top 5 questions parents have about Instagram

1. Why do teens love Instagram?

Because they love media, sharing it and socializing with it on their phones, and Instagram makes all that doable in a simple, eye-catching way. Teens like taking, cropping, enhancing, sharing and commenting on photos and videos. But the commenting isn’t just commenting — in effect, they’re socializing in mixed-media conversations that include plenty of likes and links too. 

2. Does Instagram have a minimum age?

Yes, it’s 13, which is similar to most other online services. But Instagram doesn’t ask users to specify their age, and there are many younger children who use the service, often with their parents’ permission. Whether Instagram is “safe” depends more on how it’s used than on the age of the user, but Instagram will delete underage accounts if they’re notified and can verify that the users are under 13.

3. What are the risks in using Instagram?

Although there isn’t anything inherently dangerous about Instagram, the main things parents worry about are typical of all social media: mean behaviour among peers and inappropriate photos or videos that can hurt a child’s reputation or attract the wrong kind of attention. There is also a concern that strangers can contact teens  directly. Young people can learn to manage these risks, which is why we’ve written this guide.

4. How can my child report someone who’s pretending to be them?

As with all social media, being respectful of ourselves and others makes us safer. Our posts and  comments reflect on us and others in our photos and videos. Whether serious or silly, they become part of our public image. Respecting others in how media is shared, tagged and commented on reduces risk. Sometimes people create fake accounts to humiliate or harass others. This kind of behaviour violates Instagram’s community guidelines and you can report fake accounts here: https://help.instagram.com/contact/636276399721841

5. Should my teen’s profile be private?

For many young people, part of the fun of Instagram is developing a big following – a good thing for parents and teens to talk about. Having a public account on Instagram means that anyone can follow you. A private account means that you have to approve anyone who wants to follow you, so many parents let their kids start using Instagram with a private account. But there isn’t any guarantee that your child won’t be seen on Instagram or any other photo-sharing service, because people post photos of each other. Even not having an Instagram account can’t ensure that a child won’t appear in a photo on there. How positive or negative a young person’s experience is on Instagram or anywhere online depends as much on the person and his or her friends as on the app.

Keep the lines of communication open

There are many options for digital socialising, with new ones popping up on different platforms all the time. Some do a better job of protecting privacy and safety than others, and parents can’t possibly be on top of all of them. We also can’t always understand the context of photos, videos and comments teens are part of in social media. That’s why it’s important to keep the lines of communication with your teens as open  as possible and to work together to figure out what’s appropriate for them, in terms of safety, privacy, reputation and time management. It generally just works better to talk with teens about their favourite tools – with genuine interest, not fear – because then, they’re more likely to come to you if they ever need help.

Further Information

The full guide can be accessed here in PDF format. We encourage you to distribute amongst parents within your school community.

If you have any concerns or incidents concerning the use of Instagram or other social media platforms, please contact us on the Professionals Online Safety Helpline, our number is 0844 381 4772 and we're available Monday-Friday, 10am-4pm. Alternatively you can email us at  helpline@saferinternet.org.uk.

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