Keeping kids safe on Instagram: What parents need to know

Keeping kids safe on Instagram: What parents need to know

Instagram is a popular photos and video sharing and social networking site with millions, including tweens. It's all photos, right, so keeping kids safe on Instagram isn't a concern, right?

No. While Instagram is hugely popular among tweens and even elementary age kids, and many use it without incident, there are issues and parents absolutely need to be aware and informed.. Aside from the stated age requirement of 13, parents must know about privacy, cyberbullying, and content concerns about Instagram.

Let's start at the beginning.

What is Instagram?

It's an app that permits users to post pictures and videos taken with their smartphone to a social network. People within a user's network then like and comment on those images, and vice versa.

Tweens may say that that they are using it to be artistic, and it's true that there are beautiful photos on Instagram, but it can be a photo of anything, and you see a bit of everything on Instagram, from pics of ice cream sundaes and sunsets to inappropriately sexual pictures and images of alcohol and drug use. You can also write out a message, photograph the paper and post it.

Who uses it?

Instagram has 150 million monthly users, 60% of them outside the United States, according to Mashable. That stat includes millions of tweens.

Kids and tweens use Instagram as a way to circumvent parental restrictions on other social networking sites. Want to say something about someone else? Write it down, take a photo and post it. Or comment on someone else's photo. Suddenly, Instagram is not all that different than other sites.

What's the age requirement?

Like most other social networking sites, Instragram requires users to be age 13 or older per its Terms of Use. You can report an underage user here and find instructions for how parents can delete an account here.

What are the privacy settings?

Instagram gives users two options: private or public.  Either way, bios are visible to all and can be where predators start looking for underage victims.

With the public setting, "[a]nyone signed into the Instagram application can view photos or videos on a public user's Instagram profile . . . Once you set your posts to private, anyone who wants to see your child's posts will have to send your child a follow request which they can then approve or ignore." according to Instagram.

When signing up the, the user has the option to include a phone number as part of their public profile, SociallyActive.com points out.

Instagram map

Instagram map

It is also important to note that Instagram reveals user's locations. When I created an account, one of the first things it showed me was other users near me, many of them my daughter's classmates, and showed me where they lived. Scary.

Also, shared photographs can be geotagged, revealing the location of the photo using the latitude and longitude. Instagram encourages users to create a Photo Map. While it is possible to turn that off, it's clear from my usage that most tweens and teens don't do so and the world knows exactly where thy are and where they've been.

What other info is shared?

Kids on Instagram inadvertently share other info. A bunch of kids shared photos of their school schedules to determine who had class together. Seems harmless, but those schedules included information like address, phone number and some school schedules include social security numbers. That is NOT info you want your child broadcasting to the world.

With whom is this all shared? Can my kid connect with strangers on Instagram?

Even if the privacy settings are set to private, do you know who is following your child(ren)? Do your kids even know them? The number of followers kids have is often quite high, and they typically are friends of friends  and can be strangers.

Parents need to ask about every follower: Do you know this person in real life? If not, there shouldn't be an online relationship, or even an Instagram connection, with that person.

My kid tells me it's harmless. Is that true?

Nope. Similar to other social networking sites, Instagram can be used by tweens and teens to cyberbullying peers.

In fact, parents in Texas are filing a lawsuit about an Instagram account that cyberbullied their teen daughter for 9 months with 900 followers. The site by Klein High School students was titled "“2014 Klein Hoes” and featured photos of one girl in particular. That specific account was taken down after the parents of the targeted girl got a restraining order.

The parents are filing a lawsuit against the teens behind the account  for libel and all of their parents for negligence based on the Instagram account created to shame their teenager daughter.

“We’re being superaggressive about it, because this behavior really needs to stop,” Tej Paranjpe, the Houston-based attorney for parents Reymundo Shellie Esquivel, told Yahoo Shine. “It’s really an issue of principle.”

Shellie Esquivel asked in a segment on Today, “How many children is it going to take to commit suicide, to kill themselves, to hurt themselves … because of bullies out there? And the parents don't want to take responsibility."

And this doesn't just happen in Texas, it happens everywhere, including my backyard.

I was surprised when I joined Instagram a few months ago that many of the suggested friends it offered to me were my tween's peers. When I asked a parent of one of the kids, she mentioned that there was a problem with someone setting up a fake account to spread rumors about various students at my daughter's junior high. Other students determined who the offender was using Instagram's location settings and the school directory.

The tween using Instagram to taunt others then herself because the victim of bullying and cyberbullying.

Is Instagram moderated?6a0133eccb8b0d970b0168e7018945970c-200wi

Not really. Common Sense Media says, "mature content still appears in some photos and in the comment sections" and notes, "we'd love to see more moderation for photos and comments to be totally safe for kids." There are images of nudity, drug use and offensive language used in the comments.

Bottom line: For those 13 and up, it can be fun, but parents need to moderate. Have their password and check their accounts to see both what they are posting and who is following them. Parents should also be on Instagram, become familiar with the site and follow their kid(s), and also teach them to be aware and safe online.

There are several other apps that are popular with tweens but not always safe. Check out the Tween Us guides for parents:

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