Do you worry your teen has a Finsta? Based on recent surveys, most parents have considerable concern that our kids’ digital selves aren’t making kind or safe choices. After all, experimentation, taking social risks, and creative self-expression is healthy for teens. The problem is that social media can blast innocent mistakes to thousands of people at once. Fortunately, teens aren’t stupid. They usually “get” that trust is earned. To protect themselves, they form several virtual social groups from more intimate to public, much like they do in their nonvirtual lives. Is having a Finstagram dangerous? Or is it simply a smart caution to minimize social fallout from impulsive or questionable judgment? When a parent does uncover concerning content, is it worth the risk to confront the teen? How can a parent spot a Finsta?
What is a Finstagram?
As of June 2018, Instagram reached over 1 billion active users, the highest number of bloggers in the history of the wildly popular social media app.As Instagram grows and expands, so too does the pressure to create the “perfect profile,” resulting in an unspoken set of rules and expectations dictating what you can post, when you can post, and how you can post. To “keep it real,” young Instagram users often create Finstagramsor Finstas, which are fake private Instagram accounts exempt from the strict posting-rules of real Instagram profiles (Rinstas). Finstagram is a mashing of the words “fake” and “Instagram. Finstas are almost always a secondary account and only close friends are allowed to follow, thus excluding acquaintances, love interests, and the prying eyes of parents.
Posts in a Finsta are usually funny and embarrassing “behind-the-scenes” photos, like awkward candid faces, silly activities, or pictures that are not deemed ‘artsy’ enough for the Rinsta. Teens use their Finsta to express more intimate thoughts and feelings. Posts are often accompanied by long-winded captions explaining daily events or opinionated ranting – like how mean and unfair parents are. In general, Finstas can be considered a form of blogging where people ditch the superficial and fake façade of Rinstagrams and post uncensored photos to only a select few followers.
Because Finstas are “private,” teens can get reckless with their posting choices. Under this false sense of security, kids will post pictures of themselves and friends participating in demeaning, offensive, and sometimes even criminal behavior. Typical posts include party behavior like alcohol, e-cigarettes or vape pen use or revealing or sensual poses. Cruel commentary about fights and cyberbully-like exclusion are also typical Finsta content.
Consequences of Careless Finstagram Posting
One example of the effects of thoughtless Finsta posting is Sophie* and her family. Sophie posted a photo on her Finsta featuring herself and a friend vaping at the beach. The picture was seen by a parent and family friend of Sophie’s family, who spotted it on the Instagram feed of her daughter. The parent shared what she had seen with Sophie’s parents, knowing that if Sophie was familiar with e-cigarettes, it was likely that she was also experimenting with alcohol and other substances. Sophie’s parents were put in the complicated position of debating whether to confront Sophie about her actions, or to remain silent to preserve their relationship with their daughter.
A similar story is that of Lindsay*, who posted a revealing photo of herself seductively posing in a bodysuit and holding an unlit cigarette. She posted it on her Finstagram because she knew it was a suggestive photo, and did not want her parents or other adults to see it on her primary account. Unfortunately, someone brought the photo to the attention of her swim coach, whose concern for Lindsay’s action prompted her to ask to speak to Lindsay privately. Her coach expressed her disappointment over the photo and told Lindsay that “[she was] better than that.” Lindsay felt an overwhelming sense of shame and humiliation at having let down her coach, a young woman who she respected and whose opinion she valued. Not only was Lindsay devastated by the shame of her swim coach thinking less of her, but she was left wondering who betrayed her. The remainder of her swim season was spent scrutinizing each of her teammates and guessing at who might have ratted her out.
In both of these scenarios, the adults chose to confront the kids out of concern for their safety and potential future consequences, including professional relationships with employers, advisors, and coaches. Also, in each case, the discovery of the Finsta posts compromised the trust between adult and child. The truth is, the consequences could have been far worse.
The Dilemma Parents Face
Parenting teens is tough. It’s too easy to get caught up in emotional swings and crises, resulting in worried and freaked out parents and angry teens. Choosing which hill to die on can be confusing. Here are some issues to think about when deciding whether to confront your teen about unwise Finsta posts.
- Humiliating your child. Although teenagers like to act aloof and indifferent, the truth is that they crave the approval of prominent adults in their lives. No parent wants to humiliate their child, but sometimes facing the disappointment of respected mentors is the most effective way to get teens to quit their Finsta-ing ways.
- Dealing with punishment.There are times when the hassle of creating a punishment worthy of the crime seems like more work than it is worth. Do you ground them, or let them off with just a warning? Do you take their phone away, or do you also go through it to see what other activities they are keeping secret? And then there’s the fear that you might see something worsethan the initial incriminating photo. Consequences are necessary to teach a lesson, but don’t compromise your own sanity in the process. A compassionate conversation is probably enough for first-time and understandable slips. Remember, they are supposed to be making mistakes in order to learn.
- Inadvertently causing your child to be even more Kids who have been caught posting risky Finsta photos in the past may take greater measures to make sure they are not caught again. Firm and effective confrontation can help foster a sense of trust between adult and kid, while angry scolding will only push them farther away.
How to Spot a Finsta
- Ask your child. In the two stories above, the main cause of the lack of trust after the discovery of a Finsta resulted not from the uncovering of the secret account, but from the seemingly sneaky way the adults came across it. No one likes to feel like they are being spied on, and kids are more likely to try harder to keep secrets if they feel like their parents are constantly sleuthing their social media. By asking your kid face-to-face if they have any other Instagram accounts, you give them the chance to tell the truth, show you trust them, and create opportunity to better get to know your child.
- Check tagged photos. Instagram has a feature where you can look at all the photos someone has been tagged in on their profile. Scroll to see all photos your child was tagged in.
- Look for silly Instagram handles. Finstagram account handles are usually nicknames or an inside joke. If you recognize a nickname in the account name as something your child has referred to, it might be their Finsta.
Let’s face it: in a world where we are constantly surrounded and exposed to technology, there is no way to truly prevent kids from being active on social media. All we can do as parents is educate ourselves on the consequences and potential dangers of reckless Finsta posting and steer our kids in the right direction. Thanks to Claire Therriault for teaching us all about Finstagrams. To learn more about safe Instagramming, check out The GKIS Sensible Parent’s Guide to Instagram.
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
*Names changed to protect source confidentiality.
Instagram Monthly Active Users 2018 | Statistic.” Statista, The Statistics Portal , June 2018,
“Finstagram.” Urban Dictionary, 8 Dec. 2013, www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Finstagram.
Shah, Saqib. “Do You Finstagram? The New Way Teens Are Using Instagram in Private.” Digital Trends,
Digital Trends, 23 Feb. 2017, www.digitaltrends.com/social-media/finstagram-fake-instagram/.