Over 300 million users post an average of 70 million photos and hit the like button 2.5 billion times a day on Instagram. That’s a lot of ‘grammin’ goin’ on. It’s easy as the mom of a teenager to give this beautiful social hub a smiling, compliant nod. After all, the photo-based social network is fun to use, browse through, and for the most part, to monitor kids on.
However, with Instagram’s influence skyrocketing among tweens and teens, the potential physical and emotional danger zones for teens specifically are also becoming more and more blatant.
Here’s a brief overview of what to look for on your child’s Instagram:
- Perfection overload. Unlike Facebook or Twitter, Instagram is the more sophisticated network where content is more curated by the user. Much like managing their personal brand, users post less frequently and use the app’s photo filters to ensure they share only the best images. While this can be effective for businesses on Instagram, for teens this never-ending, Photoshopped feed creates a perception of other people that is more imagined than real. This constant ping of envy and comparison can eventually dismantle a teen’s self-esteem. Discuss photo editing apps and the distored influence they can have on reality. Also, take time to talk about how much is too much when it comes to posting selfies. This is also a great time to talk about both the pros and cons of vanity versus modesty and humility.
- Like Addiction. Instagram is a 24/7 popularity poll for tweens and teens, almost like a never-ending campaign for Mayor of Coolkidsville. If a photo gets a hefty amount of likes a teen can feel affirmed and worthy and if a photo tanks, he or she might take that very personally. Coach your teen and help her cultivate healthy perspectives and find her worth offline and in close relationships.
- Privacy Settings. Your teen’s photos and videos will appear in Instagram’s public feed if her account is not set to private. So be sure to check her settings (it’s easy and takes less than a minute) as well as her friend list. Periodically browse her posts and—just as important—examine the commenters, their tone, and hashtag use.
- Hashtag Search. When a hashtag (#) is used that hashtag can be searched on Instagram and your child’s photo can show up in anyone’s feed if your child’s account isn’t private. That means strangers who share similar interests (called out with a hashtag) may connect with your child.
- Alarming Hashtags. Some Instagrammers disguise the intensity and danger of a post by using hashtags such as #ana, #thinspro (anorexia), #nsfw #XXX #Instasex #kiksex (sexually suggestive or explicit images) #sue, #secretsociety123 (suicide/self-harm), #bodycheck, #ed (eating disorder), #cutting #self-harm (cutting oneself), #dv (domestic violence), #abuse (sexual abuse). Be sure to look for these red flags on your child’s account and in any of her connections.
- Photo Mapping. Be sure your child has location services set to OFF. If not, Instagram’s geo location function is extremely reliable and will locate a user down to their street name. Anyone can zoom in on the time, date, and place a photo was posted, thus the ability to locate the user.
- Direct Messages. If your child’s Instagram feed looks too good to be true, take a few more steps. You may find that she has a whole other group of friends in her Instagram in-box. Much like email or chat, Instagram direct simply allows users to chat behind the public feed.
Toni Birdsong is a Family Safety Evangelist to McAfee. You can find her on Twitter @McAfee_Family.
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