BLOG: Parents Beware of Instagram. A Story of One Mother’s Surprise Discovery
“Parents: BEWARE INSTAGRAM!!!! Just found out last night that our 10yo has had an account for two days – that we didn’t know about. Most of his 5th grade friends do (??!!) – and it’s an eye-opener. Watch your kids, friends!”
When I posted this on Facebook (I know, irony…), it set off an instant barrage of comments and messages. We were watching TV as a family when my fifth grader checked his iPod and said, “wow—my Instagram account is blowing up.”
Cue the record scratch because our world came to a screeching halt.
“What Instagram account?” I asked.
“Instagram—everyone in my class has one. I got mine yesterday,” he explained.
Wha-wha-whaaaat??? Honestly, nothing more stunning in our parenting years has happened yet. I don’t think I am exaggerating. Our 10-year-old, without us knowing (or helping), opened and was active on a social media account. A real one. And it was easy. He gained access through the internet on his iPod Touch, using an email account we set up solely so he could use its live camera feature (FaceTime) to talk to us and maybe a couple friends we knew well.
In the next 12 hours, I learned so much more about Instagram and what social media is like for our children than I ever expected. My husband opened an account immediately to be able to monitor what was being posted.
I thought it was just photo sharing.
On Instagram, like Facebook, you can “Like” photos that people post. But, you can also comment on them.
Cruising through my son’s new account the next morning, I was shocked to read the commentary that his friends were providing—and not all of it was nice. Worse, these were kids I knew. Kids that come over to our house. Sure, they were being 10. But the whole wide world could see them—checking each other out, judging outfits, breaking up with their boyfriends/girlfriends. And it wasn’t pretty.
And while I was floored to read some of the outright bullying that was happening on these comment threads, I was more shocked to see that some of the children had followers numbering in the hundreds. What 10-year-old knows two hundred people?
Yet these people—most of them strangers, I’d bet—had been given access to every photo and word that these kids put down. And location. A feature of Instagram pics is the location stamp—which tells viewers where it was taken. So by posting a single photo, a child can reveal their name (most kids used their whole real names as their IDs), what they were doing and where they were.
After I took some deep breaths and locked my son’s account to private, my knee-jerk panic subsided and I knew that this was a teaching moment. It wasn’t real-life to take away his account until he was 18. (OK, maybe 13—which Instagram says is the official account-holding age.) After all, social media is here to stay.
Our children crave these instant connections, like we do. And they will live on social media, laugh on it, and learn from their mistakes on it, like we do. But it’s up to us as parents to teach them to be responsible SAFE users and help them navigate the big wide cyberworld out there.
So parents—lock down your child’s Instagram security (there’s a privacy setting, use it), approve their followers, and keep a watch on their language. Like any social setting, remind them to mind their manners. Watch out for any identifiers that are too personal–names, location stamps. Remember to tell them that the intention behind the photo they post or the comment they leave might be fleeting, but the impression is permanent.
And once that’s all taken care of, sit back and look at the world through your kids’ eyes. Because Instagram is pretty cool. And really, so are they.