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The GKIS Sensible Parent’s Guide to Instagram


All social media platforms carry risk. However, like it or not, social media is now part of the normal teen experience. Compared to the current, ever-changing selection, Instagram is still a good option to start your preteen’s social media experience. Relative to other platforms, Instagram is simple to use, encourages creative content with photo filters that are fun to use. Privacy and protective report features are also easy to access.

Despite these positive features, I still recommend seventh grade as the youngest adoption age and only under the following conditions: setup is preceded by comprehensive social media etiquette education, the account is set to private, and followers, posts, and comments are continually monitored. Prior to 13 years old, kids still have limited ability to understand potential consequences and lack social impulse control. By seventh grade they have had significant screen media and social experience and are no longer transitioning into middle school. (If seventh grade is a transition year in your community, I recommend waiting six months until spring for the introduction). Of course, every family circumstance is unique. Parents must ultimately use their best informed judgment.

What is Instagram?

Instagram is a free mobile social media app that offers photo or video sharing to followers or a select group of friends. Videos range from 3 to 15 seconds. All you need to sign up is an email address and a username (phone number is optional). Instagram Terms of Use state, “You must be at least 13 years old to use the Service.”

What are Instagram’s popular features?

Instagram’s big appeal is its image-based simplicity. Here’s a step-by-step description of how to use it:

  • Take or select a photo,
  • Choose and apply an optional photo filter to make it look even cooler,
  • Write a caption,
  • Tag people on the photo,
  • Link it on other social media platforms
    • Offered links include Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Flickr, Foursquare, VK, and Mixi and Weibo (last two are for users in Japan and China), and
  • Post it so your followers can like it, comment on it, or share it.

Once posted the user has the further option to delete, edit, or email the post. Other users can @mention you on posts. Users follow friends (searched, suggested, or connected via Facebook or contacts) and celebrity profiles.

What is included in the personal profile?

  • How many posts
  • How many followers
  • How many following
  • Number of views
  • Username (can be a nickname)
  • Website
  • Bio (some post other social media contact info here like Kik messenger, Skype, FaceBook)
  • Your collection of photos with the date posted, likes, and comments
  • Tagged photos of you

What are the privacy options?

Public viewing is the default. You must go to EDIT PROFILE and turn the Posts are Private toggle to on to require approval of follow requests.

If your profile is private, posts will not appear on the EXPLORE tab and only followers can see your posts.

How long has it been around and how popular is it?

Instagram was created by Stanford graduates Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger, and launched in October 2010. Within two months, Instagram gained over a million users. In 2011, Apple named Instagram iPhone app of the year. In April 2012, Instagram was acquired by Facebook for a billion US dollars in cash and stock. As of November 2014, Instagram boasts 200 million active monthly users. Due to its familiarity and simplicity, Instagram is often adopted by the youngest social media users.

What Instagram trends and slang should I know about?

Weekend Hashtag Project: Instagram’s Community Team chooses a weekend project every Friday so followers can post theme photos. A hashtag (#) prior to a theme word (#TGIF) becomes a hyperlink that you can click on to see other photos that were similarly hashtagged/categorized.

#TBT: When Instagram offered the ability to incorporate hashtags in 2011, Throwback Thursday (TBT) was introduced. This refers to phenomenon of posting favorite old pictures on your profile, like images from childhood or important events.

Selfies: If the word “selfie” is still a mystery, you definitely need to be reading the GKIS weekly blog. A selfie refers to a picture taken of oneself, usually with a phone or digital camera. Oxford Dictionary named it the 2013 Word of the Year.

What are the risks for use?

Cyberbully potential:

  • Bullies posting unflattering or humiliating tagged or @mentioned photos (@drtracybennett is a loser).
  • Cruel comments or hashtags (#annoying).
  • Fake accounts and impersonation.

Tracking potential:

  • Users can include contact information on comments or in their bio.
  • Photos can be geotagged so location of photos can be tracked. For safety, turn off this feature by turning off the toggle Add to Photo Map.


Attention-seeking potential:

  • Users often try to attract large numbers of followers with poor image choices.

Inappropriate content potential:

  • Sexualized images and inappropriate memes are commonplace and easily found when viewing photos from the Explore tab.

Ability to send and receive instant messages, photos, or videos directly:

  • Anyone, including Instagram users your child does not follow, can send them messages, photos, or videos directly. If the sender is not a follower, the message will appear in their request folder (follower photos and videos go in their direct folder). If one ignores the request folder, the sent item will disappear after two weeks.

What are the protection features?

  • By setting your profile to private, only followers can see your posts. However, keep in mind that ANYONE can see your profile information (profile image, username, and bio), even non-followers.
  • If you come across an inappropriate photo (or you are tagged inappropriately), users can anonymously Report Photo and choose from:
    • I don’t like this photo.
    • This photo is spam or a scam.
    • This photo puts people at risk.
    • This photo shouldn’t be on Instagram.

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  •  If a follower is inappropriate, select Block User or Report Inappropriate. Once blocked, that person cannot search for you or view your photos. They get no notification that they’ve been blocked. However, unlike FaceBook blocking, mutual followers can still see your likes and comments on other people’s pictures. Blocked users can also still @mention you. You must change your username to avoid mentions.


  • If an unwanted comment on your page appears, simply swipe on it to Delete & Report Abuse or simply select Delete.


  • If inappropriate comments appear on somebody else’s picture, swipe on it and report it as Spam or Scam or Abusive Content.


So that is Instagram in a nutshell. For more detailed information, check out Instagram’s Tips for Parents. I know many parents would rest easier if social media didn’t exist at all. But it does and appears to be here to stay. Crippling your teenager’s social life by forbidding social media use is not realistic in most situations. Therefore, rather than shut it down so they’ll sneak it anyway, or alternatively bury your head and let them remain unmonitored, it’s best to educate yourself and become your child’s informed ally.

GetKidsInternetSafe (GKIS) philosophy encourages a positive, low-key, healthy partnership between parents and kids that facilitates learning in many critical life areas. What are your experiences with Instagram? Have you run across problems, or do you consider this a positive early adoption option? Please let me know what you think in the comments below!

I’m the mom psychologist who will help you GetKidsInternetSafe.

Onward to More Awesome Parenting,
Tracy S. Bennett, Ph.D.
Mom, Clinical Psychologist, CSUCI Adjunct Faculty

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