Instagram is a social media network (and corresponding app) through which users share images or short video clips. Unlike Snapchat, these images are available indefinitely and, unless a user has a “Private” account, can be seen by the general public.
Why do Teens like Instagram?
By collecting “followers” (people who “follow” a user’s account) and praise through positive commentary on their images, many teens can feel validated and important. The flip side of this can be pressure and stress to appear “perfect” to followers. Instagram encourages users to hone their images with filters and photography enhancements available in-app. These tools are meant to promote artistic quality, but can become major stressors for teens looking to achieve the most possible “likes” on a post.
What’s there to Worry About?
Instagram accounts, by default, are public-facing. They can be manually set to “Private” (which will require a follower to be approved by a user before seeing the user’s images). However, since teens do tend to use Instagram as a place to farm acknowledgment and respect by way of a following, this setting is not always used.
Since Instagram publishes location information with users’ posts, it is easy for an unwary teen to give away vital private information to the public eye. This feature can be manually toggled with each post, but a teen must be careful to do so when posting.
Images can be rich with harmful information. Teens must consider an entire image before posting it. Is there any incriminating or otherwise private information in the background of an image? Does an image reveal too much about a teen’s whereabouts to safely share it with the public internet? Encourage your teen to really think through each of these questions before posting.
Last, but certainly not least, Instagram can become a forum for severe negativity from a user’s followers. Teens can experience harassment, cyberbullying, and a host of other ugly reactions to their images.
Keeping your Teen Safe
There is no one-size-fits-all solution to the multitude of safety issues that Instagram poses. The best way for you to keep your teen safe and healthy is to have open dialog about your concerns. Research a few famous cases where celebrities gave away a bit too much information in a public forum. Discuss how your teen can avoid these pitfalls.
Another great way to stay honest about your teen’s social media use is to use social media yourself. Start an Instagram account; follow your teen; have your teen follow you. Model the type of behavior you would like your teen to use. Interact regularly with your teen via their feed. That way, you (and your teen) will have some awareness of accountability without feeling like you’re constantly censoring or hovering over your teen’s shoulder. Instagram is public, after all, and you are a member of the public. If your teen doesn’t want you to see an image, chances are the image isn’t suitable for Instagram.