If you’re a parent of a teen, there’s a good chance that Instagram is the culprit behind a good chunk of their screen time. However, woven into the stream of reels, stories, selfies, and Insta-worthy moments, are potential risks to your child’s privacy and safety.
According to a recent Pew Research Center report, 62 percent of teens use Instagram, making it the third most popular social media platform after YouTube and TikTok. Teens use the photo and video-sharing platform to share their creativity, connect with friends, and get updates on their favorite celebrities and influencers.
Instagram’s format makes it easy for kids (and adults!) to spend hours using filters and stickers, commenting, liking posts, and counting likes. But all this fun can take a turn if kids misuse the platform or fail to take the risks seriously.
Whether your child is new to Instagram or a seasoned IG user, consider pausing to talk about the many aspects of the platform.
Here are a few critical topics to help you kick off those conversations.
Instagram Privacy & Safety Tips
1. Resist oversharing.
Acknowledging the impulsive behavior and maturity gaps unique to the teen years is essential. Do you feel like you are repeating yourself on these topics? That’s okay—it means you are doing it right. Repetition works. Advise them: Sharing too many personal details online can set them up for serious privacy risks, including identity theft, online scams, sextortion, or cyberbullying. Also, oversharing can negatively influence potential schools and employers who may disapprove of the content teens choose to share online.
Suggestion: Sit down together and review Instagram’s privacy settings to limit who can see your child’s content. Please encourage them to use strong passwords and two-factor authentication to secure accounts. Also, advise them to think twice before posting something and warn them about the risks of sharing intimate photos online (even with friends), as they can be easily shared or stolen. Now may be the time if you’ve never considered adding security software to protect your family devices. McAfee+ provides all-in-one privacy, identity, and device protection for families. It includes helpful features, including identity monitoring, password manager, unlimited VPN, file shredding, protection score, and parental controls. The software has updated features to include personal data cleanup and credit monitoring and reporting to protect kids from identity theft further.
2. Just say no to FOMO.
This acronym stands for Fear of Missing Out. This word came from the subtle undercurrent of emotions that can bubble up when using social media. It’s common for kids to feel anxious or even become depressed because they think they are being excluded from the party. FOMO can lead them to spend too much time and money on social media, neglect their family or school responsibilities, or engage in risky behaviors to fit in with or impress others.
Suggestion: Help your child understand that it’s normal to sometimes have FOMO feelings. Please encourage them to focus on their strengths and to develop fulfilling hobbies and interests offline. To reduce FOMO, encourage your child to take breaks from social media. Also, install software to help you manage family screen time.
3. Social Comparison.
Akin to FOMO, comparing oneself to others is an ever-present reality among teens that is only amplified on Instagram. According to several reports, Instagram’s photo-driven culture and photo filters that enhance facial and body features can make teens feel worse about their bodies and increase the risk of eating disorders, depression, and risky behaviors. Girls, especially, can develop low self-esteem, comparing themselves to unrealistic or edited images of celebrities, influencers, or friends. Social comparison can also lead to the fixation on getting more likes, followers, or comments on their posts.
Suggestion: Create a safe space for your teen to discuss this topic with you. Help them understand the differences between Instagram life and real life. Help them be aware of how they feel while using Instagram. Encourage them to follow accounts that inspire and uplift them and unfollow accounts that spark feelings of comparison, jealousy, or inferiority.
4. Talk about cyberbullying.
Hurtful events that impact teens, such as gossip, rumor spreading, peer pressure, criticism, and conflict, can increase in online communities. If your child posts online, they can receive mean or sexual comments from people they know and strangers (trolls). Cyberbullying can surface in many ways online, making kids feel anxious, fearful, isolated, and worthless.
Suggestions: Keep up on how kids bully one another online and check in with your child daily about what’s happening in their life. Encourage them not to respond to bullies and to block and report the person instead. Also, if they are getting bullied, remind them to take and store screenshots. Such evidence can be helpful if they need to confide with a parent, teacher, or law enforcement.
5. Emphasize digital literacy.
Understanding how to discern true and false information online is becoming more complicated daily. In the McAfee 2023 Threat Predictions: Evolution and Exploitation, experts predict that AI tools will enable more realistic and efficient manipulation of images and videos, which could increase disinformation and harm the public’s mental health. Understanding online content is a great way to help your kids build their confidence and security on Instagram and other networks.
Suggestion: Encourage critical thinking and guide kids to use fact-checking tools before believing or sharing content that could be fake and using ethical AI frameworks. Remind them of their digital footprints and how the things they do online can have long-lasting consequences.
It’s important to remember that all social networks come with inherent dangers and that Instagram has taken a number of steps to reduce the potential risks associated with its community by improving its security features and safety rules for kids. Remember, nothing protects your child like a solid parent-child relationship. As a parent or caregiver, you play a critical role in educating your child about their digital well-being and privacy. Working together, as a family, your child will be equipped to enjoy the good stuff and avoid the sketchy side of the digital world.
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