Mar 07, 2018

Five girls and boys sitting outside on a bench taking selfie using a selfie stick

Instagram – Thought it was just an app to add filters and edit photos on the go? Oh no, it is much more than that!

With the rise of social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, it has also sparked new types of photo sharing apps that have evolved into a whole new field of Social Media on their own. Mobile photo sharing apps like Instagram began with the idea that it allowed users to share photos and videos of their daily lives on the go from their mobile device. As a young adult myself, I use Instagram as a way to capture unique shots of what is going on around me and to network with others in the creative field. But, as Instagram has evolved and was now recently acquired by Facebook, it has to compete in the bigger world of Social Media. It has done so by adding some unique features to its app, which parents of young children should be aware of. 

This medium of sharing is a whole new world to try and navigate, especially for parents who are trying to adjust themselves to the tech world. It can be difficult to sift through the many articles about this new and exciting app, but hopefully this simple explanation can clarify what parents need to know about Instagram. Here are 5 features and settings that parents should be aware of in order to keep your children out of sticky situations while using the Instagram App:

1. Direct Messaging

  • Keeping in Touch with Friends: Instagram's new Direct Messaging feature is a great way for kids to keep in touch with large groups of friends, through the process of creating "group messages." Originally, this feature was intended for the purpose of sending and sharing photos among friends and being able to comment on them. Now in order to compete with other social messaging and networking sites, this feature has evolved into this generation's new form of instant messenger. For kids on Instagram, it provides quick an easy access to messaging among their large circles of friends, which is always available on the go on their mobile devices.

2. Privacy Settings

  • Public Vs. Private Profiles: As a young 20 year old entering the professional world, I switched my Instagram profile to public about a year or two ago in order to have more reach when it comes to social networking. This means that anyone can view my entire profile, including many future employers or businesses. Knowing this I am usually very careful about what I post to Instagram.

    It is recommended that many younger Instagram users keep their profile set to "private." This means that only certain people can see their posts and full profile. And in order for someone to become a follower of your child's profile, they must send a request and your child can either accept or deny this request.

3. Competition for "Likes" & Followers

  • Unlike other social networking sites that are all about written statuses or "tweets" that express kid's ideas, Instagram features solely an image and a small caption to capture other user's attention. This unique platform allows kids to use their creativity and imagination to create attention-grabbing images as a form of self-expression. Other users who are followers can "like" the photo if they find it creative or interesting as well.
  • Parental encouragement of their child's creative form of self-expression is great for their young minds. But, competition for the most "likes" on a photo or followers on your child's profile can cause them to sometimes push it too far to the point of acting inappropriately and sharing images that can be detrimental in the future of these users.

    Parents should keep an eye on the content that their children are posting on their account to make sure it stays age appropriate and safe. Also, having a discussion about not always having to have to most popular photo is a smart way to remind kids that they should not be influenced by what everyone else is posting, but should stay focused on what they are interested in.

4. Geo-tagging & Hashtags

  • Just like many other social media sites, Instagram users have the ability to "Add a Location" to their photos. This form of check-in feature can pose a potentially dangerous threat to the safety of your entire family. By posting a vacation photo with a Geo-tag, it can alert dangerous individuals that you are not at home, which creates a situation where your home and family could fall victim to criminals. This practice could also alert child predators to your child's location, making them a potential victim. This feature can be disabled to prevent future use in "Location Services."
  • Ever hear a young kid refer to the pound symbol as a "hashtag", and think "Huh, what?" Instagram, like Twitter and other social networking sites, features searchable picture tagging. By using the "#" symbol and a unique catch phrase or word, it enables new viewers and attention to be drawn to your kid's posts. Although mostly positive, these hashtags can pose a safety threat and draw unwanted attention to your kid's posts. Discussing the consequences of using inappropriate or suggestive hashtags can help kids learn how to be more responsible on social media platforms in the future.

5. Potentially Dangerous Situations

  • Cyber-Bullying: Although Instagram's new direct messaging feature is a great way to connect and share opinions; it also opens the door for a new form of cyber-bullying. Other kids now have the power to gang-up on their peers by sharing cruel words and opinions, which can quickly turn into malicious harassment. Comments on photos are an even more public way of expressing potentially harassing messages. According to a joint survey by Facebook and Seventeen Magazine,51% of girls saw hurtful posts about other girls online at least once a week. Proper monitoring of your child's online conversations is key to preventing these situations. Also, talking to your child about what to do if they find themselves in a similar situation is essential to making sure everyone in your family is being safe while online.

    (Please note that Instagram does have an in-app reporting feature to report bullying.)
  • "Sexting": With Instagram's new direct messaging feature young users are now able to send not just text messages, but photos in private messages as well. Kids have tried to use this method to send inappropriate or revealing photos to friends and even strangers, as they believe these private messages will remain "private." This is simply not the case, as many of these photos can be saved and sent elsewhere. Monitoring whom your children are talking to and what they are sending is vital for avoiding such dangerous situations.

With the proper guidance, Instagram has the potential to be a great mobile app that allows your children to creatively share their personal views and interests. But, making sure they know how to use it responsibly is key to maintaining your families Internet safety. As a parent, if you find yourself having difficulty with starting these conversations with your children there are some great tools available to help you.

At the end of the day, what is most important is allowing your children to learn how to safely and responsibly share their original content. Encourage your children to post and connect with their peers safely. Happy sharing!

Emily Hartung

Emily Hartung is a successful college student at Kutztown University of Pennsylvania studying Communication Design. She has always been fascinated by the world of Advertising and Social Media, and hopes to offer a unique take on today's changing tech world from the younger generation's perspective.