What parents need to know about Instagram

Andrea TomkinsCanadian teens love to socialize online, and they especially love to share photos.

MediaSmarts’ 2014 study Young Canadians in a Wired World found that teens love using apps such as Instagram. And most interestingly, we learned that teens have developed many techniques to ensure their privacy and photos are respected. For example, when it comes to photos of them that other people have taken, a majority of Canadian kids expect that their friends will ask before posting a good photo of them, and almost all expect to be asked before an unflattering photo is posted. They also rely on personal connections when things go wrong, preferring to ask a friend to take down an unwanted photo over any other option.

It’s important to understand and promote the many positive benefits of apps like Instagram. Young people love them for communicating with family and friends and many young people are also using them for learning, creative expression, peer support and advocacy. It’s also important to recognize the critical role parents can play in guiding their kids’ online activities. When it comes to making good decisions about photos online – whether it’s how to control their own or what do with other people’s – Canadian kids should be able to rely on their parents for guidance. That’s why as parents, we need to be well informed about the issues our children face when they go online.

MediaSmarts is pleased to announce that we have partnered with Instagram and Connect Safely to launch a Parents’ Guide to Instagram to help prepare you to give your kids the guidance they need.

Instagram is a photography app that is used with a smart phone. You snap a photo, edit it, and then share it online with your network. The social networking part it is where the real appeal lies. There are loads of photo editing apps out there, but the social network attached to Instagram is what reels people in and what keeps people using it.

As an Instagram user you can follow people (meaning their photos will be on your Instagram home page) and they can follow you back. Following people in this way enables you to “like” or comment on their photos.

Instagram is pretty big in our house right now. I use it regularly, and so does one of my daughters. I’m ok with her using Instagram. I think photography is a great way for kids to express themselves creatively, and this is something I like to encourage. The social media side of it makes me a little more wary.

Here’s what parents need to know:

  • Users officially need to be 13 and older to start an Instagram account. I do recommend enforcing this rule at home because I’m not entirely convinced that younger kids are mature enough to use these kinds of social media applications.
  • Lay down some ground rules, and stress that if the rules are broken it is cause for immediate account deletion.

Our rules are:

  1. Only follow people you know personally. (This might be tricky, because user names are sometimes “TeddyBear456”.)
  2. Never share any personal information about yourself, where you live and go to school. 
  3. Don’t use geolocation services near personal landmarks, namely, home and school. In other words, turn off the option that allows others to know the exact location from where you’re publishing your photo.
  4. Never publish anything you wouldn’t want your parents, teachers, and grandparents to see. Photos can be shared widely, with anyone, in a matter of seconds.
  5. Practice the golden rule and treat others as you would like to be treated when you’re using Instagram. T.H.I.N.K. before you comment on a friend’s photo: is it True, Helpful, Inspiring, Necessary, Kind?
  6. Do not upload or tag photos of other people without their permission. If you snap a photo of your friends, always ask them before sharing it on Instagram.

It’s also good idea to make your child’s account private, otherwise anyone signed into Instagram can view photos on a public user's profile (which is easily accessed at www.instagram.com/username).

If the private setting is turned on, anyone who wants to see your child's photos will have to send a follow request, at which point it can be either approved or ignored.

Instagram has its own set of community guidelines and I think it’s a good idea to sit down and go over them together. They’re written in layman’s terms and are very easy to understand.  And don’t skip the privacy policy either. Instagram may be free to use, but we do pay a price for using it.

It’s a good idea for you and your child to learn how to use Instagram together. If you know how to use it, you know what the features are and how they work. For example, Instagram gives users the ability to block other users and the blocked user cannot view your child's photos or search for their Instagram account. And it helps to know that the blocked user is not notified when they are blocked. Phew.

As a parent, my job is to:

  • Follow my daughter on Instagram.
  • Peek at her photos and leave comments on the ones I really like to encourage those creative efforts and keep the juices flowing.
  • Check the comments on her photos every once in awhile and see who’s following who.
  • Chat about the activity on her account every once in awhile together. e.g. “Did you see that great photo that your friend TeddyBear456 posted?”

That subtly lets her know that I’m in the loop, and a pretty hip mama to boot! (Ha ha.) Are you on Instagram? Are your kids? Do you have guidelines at home? We’d love to hear about them.