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Instagram is the second most popular social media app among teens, with 78% using the social media platform in 2018. Instagram has become a necessary tool to manage relationships and participate in public culture.[1] Teens love to develop their virtual identities, follow friends and popular celebrities, and keep track of popular culture. Relative to other platforms, Instagram is easy to use, encourages creative content with photo filters, and has privacy and protective report features that are easy to access. But there are danger potentials and parenting strategies you should be aware of before you give permission for this social media staple.

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 (a phone number is optional).

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 dollars. As of April 2019, Instagram has 500 million daily active users.[2] It is the gateway app for most young social media users.

How old is old enough for adoption?

Instagram Terms of Use state, “You must be at least 13 years old to use the Service.” I recommend sixth grade as the youngest adoption age for Instagram and only under the following conditions:

  • Require your child to create a persuasive PowerPointthat covers risks, benefits, and privacy and protection features so you both know the ins and outs of Instagram’s features. For more information about how to create and judge a persuasive PowerPoint about a social media app along with other useful screen safety strategies, check out our Connected Family Online Course.
  • Add it to your free GKIS Connected Family Agreement as an “OK” or a “not yet,” so parameters, rules and regulations, and etiquette issues are understood. (If you haven’t downloaded it yet, enter your name and email on our GetKidsInternetSafe home page and it will be emailed immediately.)
  • Require the account to be set to private and you agree on the number and nature of followers and frequency of posting.
  • Ensure you are friended and you have their username and password for backside control.

Instagram Basics

Instagram’s big appeal is its image-based simplicity. Here are its regularly used features:

  • Stories (like Snapchat) that allow the user to post a collection of photos or videos to their profile. The story lasts 24 hours then disappears.
  • Your personal photo & video collection profile with captions that others can love, comment, and share.
  • Photo filters that offer limited editings, like color and hue.
  • Option to tag and @mention others or your post.
  • Links to other social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr.
  • The ability to search and explore public profiles and follow favorites, like celebrity profiles.
  • Instagram offers suggestions of videos and posts you might like as well as potential FB contacts to follow.

What are Instagram’s popular features? 

  • Direct Messenger allows users to start a conversation with friends.
    • Send messages, photos, videos, and posts. You can even video chat with up to 6 friends.
  • Watch long-form videos where users can create and watch videos that are not limited to one minute.
    • Similar to Stories or photos and videos you see in your Feed, you can like, comment, or share IGTV videos with friends.
  • Shop as You Scroll allows users to find products in your Feed and Stories that you’re curious about.
    • Tap the Product Tag to see the price, item name, and even have the ability to buy it directly from Instagram. There is also a save ion that will automatically add the item to your private Shopping Collection.
  • Search & Explore offers fresh content based on people you follow and posts you like.
    • Refresh the Explore page to see a new set of photos and videos, all created based on your interests.
  • Close Friendsallows for private messaging and posting to occur on Instagram, similar to private stories on Snapchat.
    • Start at the main page of Instagram, press the top-right icon of three bars, choose which followers you’d like to add to your list, and press Done.

What is included in the personal profile?

  • Number of posts, followers, and following
  • Username (can be a nickname)
  • Bio (like a website and other social media contact info here like Kik messenger, Skype, Facebook)
  • Your collection of photos and videos with the date posted, likes, and comments
  • Tagged photos and videos of you
  • Photos and videos you save

What are the privacy options?

Profiles are set to public by default. To change this, follow these steps:

                  • Go to the settings icon, select the Privacy icon, and under Account Privacy turn the Private Account toggle on to require the approval of follow requests. If your profile is private, posts will not appear on the EXPLORE tab and only followers can see your posts.

Teens typically create more than one account for improved privacy options. Instagram allows you to simply toggle between the two. I require my teens to keep even their main profile on “private.” But they also generate a second account, offered referred to as a “Finsta” (a spam Instagram account) where they only friend their closest friends. Be aware that the posts on the finsta accounts are where the most questionable content is posted. Don’t forget to spot-check those from your child’s phone directly. You can’t just assume you’ll see everything they are up to on your feed.

Be aware that if your child posts other contact information on their profile (like Skype or Kik usernames), the public can view that and reach out to them even if their post is set to “private.” Another tricky workaround that people aren’t usually aware of is that if you SHARE your Instagram post on another social media platform like Twitter, your Twitter followers can click on the link and see your private post.

What Instagram trends and slang should I know about?

Clickbait: The practice of using a provocative title with the sole purpose of driving clicks.

Finsta: “Fake Instagram account.” Followed by a close circle of friends where teens post their casual, authentic side, where they can let their guard down a bit, act silly and not edit out every blemish.

 #influencer: Instagram is becoming a huge platform for brands to publicize their company. 48.8% of brands use Instagram for promotional purposes. They pay people who are “Instagram famous” to show these brands on their profiles.

Rinsta: “Real Instagram account.” Usually accessible by a wider audience for teens polished and idealized selves.

Slide into someone’s DMs: The practice of randomly sending a DM to someone.

Throwing shade: The act of publicly denouncing or disrespecting someone. Often used in reference to sarcastic remarks against someone or something.

VSCO: The term originally referred to an app used for simple photo edits. It is now commonly used to make fun of girls who use the app.[3]

What are the risks for use?

Cyberbully potential:

  • Bullies posting unflattering or humiliating tagged or @mentioned photos and videos (@drtracybennett is a loser).
  • Cruel comments or hashtags (#annoying).
  • Fake accounts and impersonation.
  • Influencers making certain activities or expensive clothes/makeup seem normal.

Tracking potential:

  • Users can include contact information on comments or in their bio. Although posts are set to private, anyone can see your profile photo, username, and bio.
  • Photos and videos may be geotagged so the location can be tracked. For safety, turn off this feature on your device by turning off the “location” option for “camera.” To prevent Instagram from capturing your location on the iPhone, go to the phone’s settings, tap Instagram, select Location, and choose the “Never” option.

Attention-seeking potential:

  • Users often try to attract large numbers of followers with poor posting or comment choices.
  • There are numerous other apps that are affiliated with Instagram and they give the option to buy likes for your posts and even buy more followers.

Inappropriate content potential:

  • Sexualized, cutting, violent, politicized, and eating disorder images and inappropriate memes are commonplace and easily found when viewing photos and videos from the Explore tab.

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

  • If your child’s profile is public anyone, including Instagram users your child does not follow, can send them messages, photos, or videos directly. If your child’s account is private, then the messages will be sent to their “message requests” instead of directly to their inbox. From there, you or your child can proceed to decline or accept the message. 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 and stories. (There is an option to let anyone see your Stories, followers or not, make sure this setting is turned off). 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), go to your profile page, select the three-line icon located at the top right corner above “Edit Profile”, select “Settings”, and “Report a Problem” in the Help area. From there Instagram offers many categories for the report with specific instructions.

  • Spam or Abuse
  • Something Isn’t Working
  • General Feedback
  • Image or Video Quality Issue
  • After the Block or Report is completed, that person cannot search for you or view your photos. However,  mutual followers can still see your likes and comments on other people’s pictures. Blocked users can also still @mention you. You will receive a notification that they mentioned you but it will not show you the comment they made unless you unblock them. You must change your username to avoid mentions.
  • If an unwanted comment on your page appears, simply swipe on it and select the “!” icon to report Spam or Scam or Abusive Content or simply trash it.
  • Instagram’s help center page also encourages social media awareness by providing “Tips for Parents” and “A Parent’s Guide to Instagram.”

Instagram Safety Ideas

Make the account private.

Block problem users.

Report problematic posts.

Manage comments.

Review your profile often and delete old or questionable photos.

Finesse your posts to favorably reflect positive activities, experiences, and character traits (like a digital resume).

Track your time.

Parents – check for extra accounts and other social media follow requests.

Social media can be really fun, but it has its risks. If you think your child is ready for an Instagram account or if they are on it and you want to optimize safety and resilience, YOU WILL LOVE OUR GKIS Social Media Readiness Training Course. It covers social media risks to digital injury and teaches tweens and teens the psychological wellness tools they need to thrive!

Thanks to Isabel Campos for her research and help with writing this article.

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

Photo Credit

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

Work Cited

[1](Boyd, 2014)
[2](West, 2019)
[3](Zote, 2019)

Picture of Isabel Campos
Isabel Campos